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Archive for the ‘co-sleeping’ Category

This response from Eliza at tea plus oranges is such a considered response that it’s hard to imagine it was written with a sleeping baby on her chest… and reading it was a lovely opportunity to revisit those first early months of motherhood. All my love to new parents.

If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

I’m interested to see how this will pan out. It’s something we’ve talked about a lot at various stages of our relationship, mainly in relation to balancing two careers. We met at uni as two ambitious law student types, and he fully supports the idea that I should be able to go forth professionally and do interesting, meaningful things in paid work, as well as being an available and attentive parent. However, there is an inevitable tension in trying to carve out an equal relationship in a non-equal society. “Lean in” feminism emphasises the need for a supportive partner; but the limits of individual action in working around structural problems also apply to the concerted actions of a couple. He wants to support my career, but doesn’t want to sacrifice his. That’s fair enough. Why should either of us have to? Why can’t employment conditions accommodate family life for both partners? Yet, they don’t. So we intend to find some way of realigning the division of labour once we’re through the early years of parenthood (in which I want to be at home with my babies). Watch this space.

He took four weeks’ leave when bubs was born, which was really really fantastic. I’m now passionate about the feminist importance of paternity leave. There was a revelation in that month – he “gets” household management now. Five years of living together, I’ve done more than half the domestic load, but since bubs arrived that has changed. All it took was four weeks in which I completely abdicated responsibility for everything other than breastfeeding… He’s back at work now, and while our relationship may look very traditional at the moment, in many ways it’s more equal than ever (we’re both exhausted). I’m really grateful to be able to spend a full year at home with bubs. In an ideal world, we’d have better maternity leave provisions, so that women’s ability to do this doesn’t depend on the work status of the father. In the meantime, I’m pretty glad to have a breadwinner spouse just now.

(You can find all the many other responses in this series here. If you’d like to respond to these questions yourself you can either email me your answers and I’ll put them on blue milk as a guest post or you can post them elsewhere and let me know and I’ll link to them).

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Comments received on an article I write for The Guardian in which I mention briefly that I am no longer with Bill, the father of my children:

“You might also consider giving the father custody or putting the children up for adoption with a home that is able to be more child oriented. Just a suggestion”.

“I wonder, for what whimsical and self-indulgent reason you chose ( these days it’s always the women who chose ), to split up with your children’s father”.

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The grief is long and deep. A good part of the grief involves worrying about one another’s grief. One evening my eight year old daughter, Lauca, is worn out and sad.. and I am too. We lie down on my bed together in tears. Cormac comes in, and while only four years old he none the less performs some kind of quintessential male ritual of discomfort with emotion for us.

Cheer up, cheer up you two, cheer up, he says.

Oh for godsake, I say, cuddling him up to me, it is ok to cry.

I am amused that I have to reassure him so. This is Cormac, he has a crying jag virtually every day of his life and he is quite happy to use them for something as routine as being required to take his plate back to the kitchen or to find his shoes.

When we are all quiet again together on my bed I tell them the fun of crying is over and everyone into the shower with me so I can supervise hair-washing.

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Me: Please don’t feed the kids chocolate at your house for breakfast. That’s real divorced not-even-trying dad behaviour.

Bill: Worried you can’t compete?

(We both laugh).

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A friend tells me that she lies in bed awake at night frightened for my future. I know she means it kindly but I am hurt by her sense of hopelessness for me. I am alright, I say, I really am. I decide I shouldn’t tell her about the nights when the children are staying with their father and I sometimes sigh with pleasure in my empty house. And then there are the nights when I do not even stay home in my empty house.

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Everything becomes adventurous and untested. I have a strange energy. One day I see a government policy announcement in the paper and I have mixed feelings about it. As I am leaving work that evening I write a quick pitch to the editor at The Guardian. On the way home I stop at the supermarket for dinner ingredients and then I go to a friend’s house to pick up my two children. As well as collecting my children from school and kindergarten she has bathed them with her own children. I am grateful to her for trimming half an hour from my evening’s tasks for me. At home I check my emails and see that the editor has accepted the pitch but that they want the piece tomorrow by start of business.

I decide I can do this. So, I cook dinner, exchange accounts with the kids about the day, read bedtime stories, cuddle them to sleep, clean up the kitchen and then, begin writing. I give myself until midnight to finish it. In the morning I proofread my piece while we are all cleaning our teeth. I email it to the editor and then hurry up hurry up hurry up us out the front door to our various places – kindergarten, school and the train station for the commute to work. The article is published by the time I reach the office.

The piece happens to mention briefly that I am no longer with Bill, the father of my children. I receive some of the most hostile comments I have seen on an article of mine.

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a asleep

Cormac sleeps with his bow.

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After all that debate around whether attachment parenting is anti-feminist for mothers this is an interesting finding:

Results showed that feminists were more likely to support attachment parenting practices than non-feminists, and non-feminists were more likely to endorse strict schedules for children. These results suggest that attachment parenting is a type of parenting that is attractive to feminist women.

Interestingly, non-feminists, and mothers in particular, held misperceptions about the typical feminist who they saw as largely uninterested in the time-intensive and hands-on practices associated with attachment parenting. Non-feminists perceived feminists as less interested in attachment parenting than they were when, in fact, the feminists were more interested.

The study, which was mentioned in PSYPOST, is relatively small but the results are noteworthy. The findings make intuitive sense to me because, anecdotally, among the feminist mothers I follow on Twitter and at other blogs more of them seem to be into AP than not. But then you could reasonably argue that there is a significant amount of self-selection bias in my own sampling, too. This is not to say that I don’t also really dig my feminist parenting people who are not into AP. Just, these are interesting thoughts.

(Thanks to Dylan for the link).

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If you cannot afford separate master bedrooms in your house may I suggest co-sleeping and bed-hopping with your children as a suitable substitute for retaining this kind of ‘novelty’ feeling with your partner?

 

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There’s an Elisabeth Badinter triptych happening at Huffington Post at the moment that’s worth reading.

Here’s Badinter’s essay (she’s not all bad, in my books, some of her thinking has merit; for instance, there is an unnecessary preoccupation with perfectionism in contemporary motherhood):

Nature knows only one way to be a mother. This is not the case for women, who are endowed with consciousness, personal histories, desires and differing ambitions. What some do well and with pleasure, others do badly or out of duty. By failing to take account of women’s diversity, by imposing a single ideal of motherhood, by pursuing the notion of a perfect mother — one who has the exclusive responsibility of making or breaking her children — we fall into a trap. We neglect the other business of modern women: the unfinished assault on the glass ceiling, the fight to close the salary gap, the struggle for equality at home. We overlook women’s need for financial independence at a moment when one marriage in two ends in divorce.

We also fail to remember that raising a child doesn’t last forever, that when children grow up we have thirty or forty years left to live. To make a child the alpha and omega of a woman’s life deals a terrible blow to women’s autonomy and to the equality of the sexes.

And Badinter’s interview (I think Lisa Belkin narrows in on one of the weaker aspects of Badinter’s argument here):

I agree that women are at a disadvantage at work, and are not free to completely fulfill themselves in the workplace, if they follow the recommendations of doctors, such as breastfeeding exclusively for six months. But isn’t a better solution to change the workplace? Isn’t that where the problem lies?
Businesses certainly need to make improvements to help young mothers, particularly by setting up nurseries on the premises. But this problem can be solved. What is more difficult today is to get people to acknowledge that not all women want to breastfeed and no one has the right to pressure them to do so. You can be just as good a mother giving a bottle. But in some countries, this statement has become almost unspeakable.

And this from Melissa Fay Greene on how maternal desire ultimately trumps Badinter’s argument:

Most mothers are doing the best they can. They swing-shift, job-share, freelance, temp, telecommute, fill in, work part-time, babysit for others, substitute, carpool, invent and consult. Young American mothers today, to an incredible degree, are discovering how to generate income from home, online. Millions of women see the rearing of children as the richest, most meaningful work they will ever do. But even the Most Extreme Devotees of Mothering live in the real world; they, too, must buy groceries and gas, pay rent or a mortgage, and pay back student loans. Some will make do with the old car, the small house, the clothes from the consignment shop, if it will allow them to stay home with their children another year. Like everyone in this recession-hit world, most hope that someday, when they re-enter the job market, they will find work equivalent to their skills and talents.

To choose — whether for weeks, months, or years — l’idéologie du naturalisme, attachment parenting, is not to forgo all ambition. It is not to create a retro scene that, as Badinter writes, “sexist men can celebrate” nor is it to grimly and with a sense of biological destiny take up a life of “masochism and sacrifice.” It is to enter into the world of the baby and young child with passion and creativity for as long as a mother finds it enriching and necessary and for as long as she and her partner, if she has one, can afford it. The high energy and joy of my early years of mothering were highlights of my life. It wasn’t a trade-off. I wasn’t choosing the rearing of happy children over the desire for a career. I always wanted both.

More of my views on Badinter’s ideas here: Oppressed by breastfeeding, The mediocre mother, The split, How did the patriarchy influence parenting and what problems did it cause?, Feminism and attachment parenting and why they’ve more in common than in conflict, Why attachment parenting needs feminism, Can attachment parenting be saved?, and The accidental attachment parent.

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Here is a very interesting critique of Elisabeth Badinter’s arguments on motherhood from Anne Manne in The Monthly. (I’m not sure for how long they provide free access to the article so read it sooner than later). I find some of the analysis a little muddled, but in essence I think Manne and I are in agreement, we both have concerns over the scapegoating of babies in the tensions women experience between motherhood and the patriarchy.

Whenever a cultural flashpoint occurs – and Badinter has clearly struck a chord – it is worth travelling upstream to find the head of the river. If the history of parenthood is a history of ambivalence, then where do we sit in the continuum? Ambivalence towards children is mounting. Last year Jennifer Senior caused a stir with a story in New York magazine, ‘All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting’. It backed surveys showing that parents were less happy than their childless counterparts, a contention that Badinter also brandishes. Parents, Senior argued, might love their kids but they hated their lives. Life shrank to the size of a teacup. Everything turned to shit. Senior herself arrived home only to be pelted in the head with wooden blocks. She based her article on a Texan study which showed working mothers were happier doing almost anything other than childcare, even housework.

Recently I was interviewed by a feminist writer about my thoughts on where the resurgence in attachment parenting fits with feminism. I raised a number of challenges but I also higlighted what I see as harmonies between feminism and this style of parenting. There are two significant areas of overlap in my opinion. The first is that attachment parenting, at least in theory, is a style of parenting allowing women to perform parenting within their everyday lives. When babies are breastfed, co-sleeping and carried they’re potentially very portable. You can be caring for your baby while also getting shit done. In practice this isn’t always the case. The workplace, and public space in general, can be pretty child unfriendly and not every mother decides this is how she wants to live her life. But in theory it should be possible – women should be able to be full participants in life without being marginalised by their gender. And that’s feminism.

Secondly, attachment parenting is also supposed to be about attending to, listening to, and encouraging reciprocal communication with a child. It is about respecting the full humanity of a person regardless of their abilities, age and status. And that’s feminism, too.

I think Manne believes the same to be true.

What is going on here? We all know of the women’s movement as one of the most important and compelling social movements of the 1960s. Less recognised is that another movement, one championing the humane treatment of children, was born in the ’60s. Like feminism, it has fearless and profound thinkers, passionate advocates as well as the usual crackpots. Unlike women, however, children cannot speak for themselves. As a consequence, the discourse bringing greater sensitivity and a new ethic of care towards children has emerged hesitantly, uncertainly, through the last century. It has run parallel to but is often overshadowed by the struggles over gender. Like feminism, it has at its core something deep and humane. It depends upon the same kind of ‘putting one’s self in the shoes of another’, of overcoming a sense of difference to extend our empathy, imagination and capacity for identification.

At its best, feminism is about justice. It calls us to a certain kind of attentiveness. So, too, is the movement for better treatment of children. Here lies ‘the conflict’. At the very same moment when we are offering women long-overdue opportunities, we also expect them to enact the new ethic of care, but with minimal help. One consequence of this conflict has been the revival of deeply flawed arguments about what is ‘natural’.

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We do these lists from time to time. See also, here. They might bore you silly, feel free to ignore them, they’re just a time capsule for us.

Mine.

  1. That you make your own lunch for school every day and that sometimes you even make my lunch for work. (Montessori winning!).
  2. Lately you’ve been interested in disability. You like to feel what it might be like to be blind and you ask about the lives of people with various disabilities..  and for a while you gave your dolls physical disabilities and converted their strollers into wheel chairs. I loved how effortlessly you explored all that – I loved that it was matter of fact for you, that it wasn’t playing with pity, just difference and variation in the world.
  3. I love that you can sleep in your own bed the whole night.. quite a bit now. I love that this meant you had your first successful sleep-over on the Xmas holidays.
  4. You really rise to a challenge these days. If work is set for you then you pretty much give it your best shot even when it is really hard work, like once you mistook an entire term’s worth of homework for one week’s homework and you just methodically worked away at it, morning and evening, until finally at the end of the week you burst into tears while we were getting ready for work and confessed that you didn’t have it all finished and that’s when I realised what you’d been trying to do, you poor darling little thing.
  5. You brush your hair and wipe your face this year, after years of me complaining about it. I really appreciate the effort.
  6. I like your hair. A lot. I just think your ponytail is the bees knees. You’re beautiful, little one. Your face is changing and sometimes you remind me of my best friend in high school. You have her pointy chin and her eyebrows and her dimple and her sparkly eyes. You mostly look like your father, but maybe there is a bit of this friend of mine in you, too. I don’t know how that works.
  7. You’re very resilient, you’re very adaptable. I feel like we’re doing well with you right now, like we haven’t totally broken you through our incompetence.
  8. You’re incredibly responsible and compassionate about animals. You always remember to feed and water your guinea pigs, and you get quite hysterical if your father is being lazy about closing the front gate in case our hens get out or dogs get in.
  9. I’m having this lovely peaceful moment with you as a parent right now. A lot of parenting feels like you have some balls in the air but not all of them at the same time, but right now, you’ve got it all going on and I am just enjoying this feeling so much. You’re really well-rounded all of a sudden – really enjoying your academic work and taking the challenges of being accelerated a grade in your stride, you’re developing all these new physical skills from your circus class (and envy-inducing flexibility), and you’re reading novels by yourself now, and you’ve got this happy little circle of friends you hang out with… and then you come home and make beautiful art and craft things.
  10. You’ve got amazing comic timing and you’re very perceptive. Like the time we were both crying – you, because you were upset for me and me, because I was feeling hurt and stressed out by something (completely separate to our little family) – and then we were talking about stress and worry and you said “well, you would know” with just this deadpan, perfect timing of yours and we both just laughed and laughed.
  11. We’ve talked about sex and drugs and rock n roll, when you’ve asked or we’ve come across something you need to know about (like used syringes in the park ) – but you’re still the kind of kid who refuses to watch PG rated movies in case they upset/scare you. It is people feeling sad or lost that you’re scared of seeing and I like that about you. You have such a combination of social justice worldliness and sweet, little kid innocence. You point out sexism and racism to me all the time when you see it. But you wouldn’t want to see a cartoon fox get its tail shot off.

His.

  1. You are finally reading. And you prefer it to being read to.
  2. Seeing how much stronger and physically able you are becoming after starting circus class.
  3. It has taken nearly seven years but we finally have you a (nearly) regular bedtime.
  4. You sometimes now give us a little bit of credit, as your parents, for not being completely ignorant. There was a period there where you seemed to disbelieve anything we said.
  5. I love all the magical little craft things that you make and your ability to whip up these amazing gift cards overcomes my ability to remember to buy any.
  6. I love how witty you are and how we can make and share jokes together.
  7. I love how unaffected you still are by appearance and I am dreading that passing one day in you.
  8. I love that you are such a lovely big sister to your brother and that you are so patient with him.
  9. I am really enjoying how much you are my little mate while your little brother is still so close to your mother. I suspect I will lose this shortly when your brother grows out of his toddlerhood and your mother is more available to you.
  10. That you remind me to pay our two speeding fines and that even remember how much they are going to cost.

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There’s this thing we do, it is supposed to be four times a year but it generally isn’t, and it is really a little time capsule for the kids and us to read in years to come and it is likely horribly boring for everyone else… so, feel free to ignore these particular posts.

(See also, here for what we enjoyed most this time).

Mine.

  1. I feel so terribly sad for you about your night terrors. They happen more nights than not. They often have you quite frightened and distraught. Apparently there is next to nothing we can do to stop them happening to you so they pretty much have me a little frightened and distraught at times, too.
  2. How messy you make your bedroom. The guinea pig cage is actually the cleanest thing in your room. I think I have another fifteen years or so where I will need to just grin and bear this before you likely grow out of this one.
  3. Two times in the last six months you have been in situations where I thought oh my god you could have died and that isn’t something one recovers from easily as a parent.
  4. You talk at volume as soon as you wake up in the morning, regardless of what time it is and regardless of who else is still asleep. You do this even on the nights when you sleep with Cormac and I and Bill escapes to the solitude of the spare queen bed.
  5. You still have the loudest cry of anybody I know and you’re not afraid to use it.
  6. We’re very disorganised about your homework because of the whole ‘working back late and not picking you and getting home until it is your bedtime’ problem. You’re quite conscientious about your homework, in bursts. This homework thing is a lot of pressure, that and getting to school late because the morning multiple drop-offs routine is so tight are where I most feel the work and family thing is in conflict for you.
  7. When you and your little brother are tired and cranky and you just fight continuously in the back of the car while I am trying to drive. And I am tired and cranky, too. It feels like I am about to be shattered.
  8. I wish we had more time together, just the two of us. I still miss our old closeness. You’re still a little introvert and while you’re getting better at talking about problems with me you still won’t share worries and concerns easily.
  9. You were spending very little time on the computer for a while there but now you’re absorbed in some new computer game again and we’re letting you spend too much time on the computer on the weekends and I hate it when we suck like that as parents.
  10. There is always a long list in my head of things I should be doing more of with you – one of them at the moment is designing and constructing things with you, which apparently you need to do more of for school – and I wish I felt like I was ticking off more of these things.
  11. Late last year I had this big worry about you and how maybe you weren’t doing enough to take care of your personal appearance and how I wondered about how this looked, like people would think I didn’t care about you as a mother if you got about in the stained, torn, too-small-for-you clothes while your brother and I looked more or less presentable. I also worried about whether you were going to start getting teased or left out by other little girls you play with who I can see are just starting to really embrace girly culture. Then I decided that your lack of self-awareness was really a blessing and that I should just relax. And about the same time you decided to start letting me brush your hair and you even wiped food off your face before you went out for the day and you would sometimes spoil me by asking if a certain outfit went together before wearing it. Anyway, I worried a lot more than I needed to about all that.

His.

  1. You still are capable of making an enormous mess. You leave everything out because all of it is special and unfinished and can’t be parted with. I think you are a bit like me in that respect.
  2. Your craft is so messy.
  3. You can be quite needy. I can be ironing clothes and making breakfast for you and your brother and trying to get to work on time and you want me to stop everything to come and see something in your room and you’re unwilling to believe it isn’t possible for me to do that.
  4. I wish you would unpack your school bag or at least not threaten to vomit when you have to unpack your own lunchbox.
  5. I wish you could talk more quietly.
  6. I wish you would stop using Windows on your computer, which you only do to annoy me and it causes lots of networking problems.
  7. You try and get me to play these ‘six year old girl’ hand slapping games with you and I do not like these games. Go find another 6 year old girl to play those with, please.
  8. You always pretend to be hungry when it’s bedtime, it is your delaying tactic and you really work hard to believe it yourself.
  9. Sometimes when you are sent to find something, like your school uniform, you put zero effort into it and instead you lie on your bed and cry about not finding it when it will be right there next to you on the bed. You have brought disgrace to the term “having a girl look”.
  10. I wish you would widen your food choices. I find it difficult coming up with recipes that don’t use any cheese or tomato ever.  We’re already vegetarians, we’ve ruled out meat, we can’t rule out much more.

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(Image: Good lord, am I really posting pictures of my breast on the Internet again? And oh how he has grown since this photo was taken, which by the way was me breastfeeding on the beach. How sandy. I first posted this piece almost two years ago but a lot of these same issues are still being thrashed out in the media today.)

In responding to French author, Elisabeth Badinter’s new book, which argues that believing women must breastfeed is reducing women to the status of an animal species, I was tempted to write nothing more than You know, we actually are animals, right? But then I thought, that would be typical of you blue milk, you lazy sloth-like animal.

(I find the insinuation (which is not altogether uncommon) that the act of lactation is somehow degrading a curious thought. You mothers, you lactating mammals, how humiliating for you. Why exactly?)

She talks of an “underground ideological war”, of the “strong resurgence of naturalism”, of “guilting mothers”.

Badinter is right about the tyranny of motherhood. Beware of any new parenting trend that relies heavily on an already-over-stretched you for its achievement and which imposes almost no additional burden on anyone else (including the other parent). And be especially cautious of it if it also comes with a side-helping of guilt. Here is how Badinter sees it:

What is a “good mother” today?
She’s one who goes back to the fundamentals. She breast-feeds for six months; she doesn’t put her baby in a day-care center because a baby needs to be with her mother and not in a nest of germs; she doesn’t trust anything artificial and worries about the environment. For her, jarred baby food is a sign of selfishness: we’re back to Mommy’s mashed purée. A good mother is always there to listen, must watch over the child’s physical and psychological well-being; it’s a full-time job. I forgot to add, since she breast-feeds on demand, she’s supposed to let the baby sleep in the conjugal bed, which quashes intimacy for the parents and freezes out the father.

But equally, beware of the expert who tries to have you imagine that your baby is a tyrant.

Small as they are, babies hold their mothers prisoners: a mother is at the beck and call of her child, she has to accommodate herself to the child’s schedule, who sometimes gets to be prince/ss in the conjugal bed.

This is not only unhelpful but frankly, while we’re talking as feminists, it’s patriarchy-enabling. Babies are helpless little beings designed to fall in love and elicit love and just to, generally, survive. Really, however infuriating it gets caring for them, that is all a baby is trying to do – survive and love. (Sometimes it helps to look them in the face and acknowledge that to yourself). Whenever the tussle for fairness, for support, for scarce resources, for needs being met is waged between a mother and a baby somebody is being let off the hook, and I would argue that it is a whole society of somebodies. Take or leave ‘attachment parenting’ as you wish but raising human infants is not supposed to be done in isolation by a single caregiver, and yet overwhelming levels of individualism combined with conservative gender roles have positioned us in exactly that place. In our suburbs there is no-one else in the room when a mother reaches the end of her tether – there is no-one left to negotiate with – it is just an adult and a baby, crying in each other’s faces, desperate. No good or equitable negotiation is going to come out of that situation. It is this dynamic that makes “equality between the sexes and freedom for women impossible”, not a tyrannical infant nor a doormat of a mother.

But then you can’t entirely blame feminists like Badinter for being nervous about any ambitions to elevate motherhood either. They haven’t seen much good come out of the institution of motherhood for women – servitude, guilt, martyrdom, rampant biological determinism and invisibility. Still, given that most women end up being mothers, and given that a good deal of us even strongly desire motherhood, there is no point throwing that particular baby out with the bath water. We won’t elevate women anytime soon by denigrating motherhood. And for feminism, we are still trying to resolve that split: whether the path to true liberation is via refusing ‘caring work’ and fully incorporating ourselves into the market economy by emulating ‘male labour’, or whether liberation will only come when we instead put our energies towards agitating for full recognition of traditional ‘female work’ (ie. domestic and caring work) in the economy.

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