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Rooms of our own: designing spaces to succeed, Alice Pinheiro Walla

Women regularly lend themselves to a huge amount of emotional labor, a burden that, however ripe of individual and social consequences, goes widely  unacknowledged. The caretaker role they are assigned invariably has them trapped in a lose-lose situation. We stand to lose something from fulfilling unfair expectations that we take at heart everybody else’s mental hygiene and deal with a disproportionate share of the work required to maintain it.

It is not a question of lack of commitment or expertise, but rather a deeply unequal system – from implicit biases to unequal support for their careers.
The imposition of care work on women leads to a stratification of duties, as it works in practice to reinforce gender inequality and deprive women spaces to challenge it. The way it deepens the problem is by rendering women virtually unable to act to subvert their condition, as giving up the care work at any point (especially when no one else is ready to take it on instead) is hardly an option. Society’s very survival would be at stake, were women to suddenly refuse to carry out all the extra work expected from them as women. But depriving their loved ones and people who depend on them of immediate, necessary care when they are the only provider is something that women can hardly want themselves, so that they are subtly coerced into providing it in the end.
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Acknowledgement of the burden of emotional labor as well as of the necessity for an equal division of it certainly results from an account of social relations that is aware of the role of gender. As such, it cannot prescind from an understanding that, both in the public and private spheres, individuals are driven to perform pre-conceived roles according to their social status – and the source of these roles are historical processes whose legitimacy is not a given but needs to be called into question.

With all the talking of women aspiring to more prestigious positions, we should mention that (a few women) successfully breaking the glass ceiling would not yet amount to gender equality being achieved. The illusion of emancipation for the few reveals a further, hidden reality of oppression, as for some women the gap will be inevitably wider than for others. This cannot go unsaid, for women’s struggle cannot be itself seen as exclusive, as if it only concerned women already in the position to bargain and make claims. From academia to manufacturing to rural areas around the globe, the fight will be as multifaceted as it is uniting.

In this video, Alice Pinheiro Walla shares with us her impressions on women’s care work in contemporary society. The concept of care work became especially relevant during the 1980s. Her view: women and other minorities should not only reappropriate spaces and opportunities they have long been denied, but also create new ones in order to rebalance power across social groups according to more egalitarian criteria.

Alice Pinheiro Walla is Associate Professor at the Philosophy Department at McMaster University, Canada. 

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