Entries by Dr. Harriet Fraad (37)


Manifesto for a Left Turn - American Sociological Association

Co authored October 2008. Full Manifesto For A Left Turn PDF article available online.

Manifesto for a Left Turn

It is time for a left turn. The current capitalist disaster gives us the chance to reverse the forty year decline of an organized and socially influential American left. The ascendancy of the political and ideological right keeps generating disasters. It has caused our current severe economic meltdown causing ever widening social inequalities and widespread personal pain. The Democratic Party, trade unions, remaining leftists, and recent social movements all seem unwilling or unable to take needed action separately or together, to end those disasters. A new left turn is now necessary to re chart a political course toward genuine social equality, sustainability, and peace. Building such a left is our project.

Ever widening cracks in the edifice of Capital create new possibilities for transformation. This manifesto calls for a new radical project at a critical juncture in history.  We call upon progressives to forgo mobilizing exclusively around their own particular issue, and to perceive and refocus their struggles as part of a larger movement for social transformation.

Illusions about the Democratic Party as a potential vehicle for significant social change need to be discarded. A left turn can build on the history of the American left in the twentieth century, embracing the militancy of the sit-down strikes of the 1930s and the commitment to participatory democracy of the black freedom movement, the women’s movement and the New Left of the 1960s. Yet that Left turn must also be rooted in the analysis of the specific conditions of the current epoch.

This manifesto aims to contribute to that left turn by:

Facing the crisis of the left in the US today and building a unified, diverse and class conscious left movement.
By engaging people where and how they live in our nation of dwindling opportunities and isolated lives.
Politically, coming to terms with the fact that even as liberals and leftists cling to the possibility of changing America through incremental change, the reform era which emerged at the turn of the 20th century and dominated political struggles and political discourse for three quarters of the 20th century has come to an end. Its demise has proven to be that of a broad based mass left movement as well. We will change that.

Creating principles for a new left turn.  It is time to revisit the unfulfilled emancipatory project of the enlightenment and its commitment to the radical imagination.  The anti-capitalist project can rethink the system of production at its base and analyze the new mechanisms of ever greater exploitation in the workplace and in the culture at large. We will experiment with new ideas of collective ownership, and collective responsibility for decisions on production and distribution at each workplace.

We can create new cultural and social spaces that  facilitate the  power to implement a genuine radical democracy. A parallel principle would be to rethink the relationship between Nature and production- We will then find creative ways to proceed that respect the ecological effects of our decisions.

Alongside these demands, we can rethink personal relationships within the framework of class transformation and innovative and creative  psychic economies whether those relationships are intimate, family relationships or connections at the workplace or in government. As vital as questions of principle are those of organization.

We do not propose to organize a new political formation out of whole cloth. We are mindful of two dangers: premature declarations of “parties” before the conditions for their emergence have matured, and starting an organization before many of the historical and contemporary issues outlined in this statement are discussed among a wide range of thoughtful people.

This is a working document now, as it will be in all the fazes of its development. We begin with the deep conviction that we can create a powerful positive non-capitalist mass movement- a movement that can transform America.

We can create a system in which the people whose labor creates wealth make the decisions about what to do with the wealth they create.

We can advocate and experiment with all sorts of collective controls over natural and productive resources.
We can have democratic organization of our workplaces, community organizations, homes and families.
We can decommodify essential services such as socialized medicine on the model of France, which includes quality mental as well as physical health care and subsidized expert quality mass transit based on models from France, Germany and others, We can follow the examples of Argentine and Brazilian workers who have reopened plants shuttered by employers and overturned Capital’s prerogatives.

Yes we can create workers, consumers and farmers cooperatives to take back the control of production and consumption Yes we can take back our cities Yes we can provide free quality childcare, education and afterschool and summer care for all US children from birth through higher education. Yes we can end all artificial barriers between people whether racial, sexual, Ethnic or religious. Many of these goals are already achieved in other Western nations. We can do it here too.

We invite your engagement with the basic project.


A Site of Family Disintegration and Revolutionary Personal Change

First published in Transform! European Journal for Alternative thinking and Political Dialogue, March 2008

Post-Bush America is a land of personal suffering, family disintegration, and desperation for women and children. The US family has experienced a class revolution in family and personal life. In fact, that revolution in family and personal life is the only class revolution occurring. It is not recognised as such because class is the most repressed discourse in America. Race, gender and ethnicity are recognised, class is not.

Conditions for US women and families began deteriorating in 1970. Under Bush that deterioration increased dramatically. In 1970 real wages froze for the first time in more than a century. For the previous 150 years, between 1820 and 1970, every generation benefited from higher wages than the previous generation had. Even in the Great Depression, real wages increased because prices fell faster than wages. That was the basis of the “American Dream.” All this stopped in 1970. From that time forward, workersʼ productivity kept rising while real wages froze1. The American family wage for white male workers had basically supported dependent wives and children until 19702. Before 1970, every generation was able to increase their consumption. Americansʼ sense of self worth was in large part dependent on their increased ability to consume. Net worth and self worth were commingled. By the time Bush took over in the year 2000, Americans had become increasingly desperate. Their sense of personal value was cut with their salaries. Consumption was undermined and with it self worth.

What Produced the Crisis in Personal and Family Life? Family desperation pushed women into the labour force to increase household income. Adolescents began to work to afford the ever-increasing consumption pushed by American culture. In 1970, 40 % of US women were in the labour force, many part time3. By the year 2000, 77 % of US women were in the labour force, most full time with ever scarcer governmental support for day care, after-school programmes and elder-care social programmes4 Womenʼs work outside of the home helped, but it could not make up for what was lost. Womenʼs work has its own costs: not only the obvious expense of additional clothing and of transportation, but also the costs of purchasing some of the goods and services that women produced at home, free of charge The latest figures indicate that if a stay-at-home mother in the US were replaced by paid services the cost would be $116,805 a year. The domestic services provided by a mom who works outside of the home would cost $68,406 per year. (CNN, 2008, CBC News, 2008). Families were still financially hurting. Their standard of living sharply deteriorated. Working women were now unable to perform household and emotional labour full time and there was still not enough money for consumption. Families became dependent on credit card debt in order to live. Since productivity increased sharply while wages froze, the wealthiest Americans were appropriating vast amounts of surplus labour for themselves. As one illustration of what that means, Americans went from being the Western nation with the most equal distribution of wealth in 1970 to the Western nation with the least equal distribution of wealth in 20085. Basically, the capitalist class then issued credit cards in order to loan to the workers the money appropriated from their surplus labour. The interest on credit cards is from 17 % to 22 %6. By the time Bush took power in 2000 there was a crisis of the volatile combination of reduced salaries and accelerated debt. Bush won the elections of 2000 and 2004 in part by selling the fantasy that the US was king of the world and the US male king of his household. This fantasy was offered when the US economy was no longer singularly dominant and the family was already falling apart. These fantasies are now much more difficult to sustain. Bush has cut many of the already hobbled social programmes that allowed families to survive. We are now losing two wars. The precarious house of credit card debt has fallen.

Families are in trouble. US family life depended on womenʼs full-time domestic labour to physically maintain home life, and on womenʼs emotional labour to emotionally sustain family security and emotional well-being. At present, three quarters of US women work outside the home. They return from work in the paid labour force to work a second shift of emotional and domestic labour7. Sixty percent of American women with children under two are in the paid labour force. Women with children under one year old who work full time are twice the number of those working part time (US Department of Labour, Bureau of labour Statistics, 2005). Almost 80 % of mothers with children from 6 to 11 years old are in the labour force. Because there is no government support for American working mothers, 85 % of US infants are in substandard day care while their mothers work. During these formative years the children may spend their days crowded into small spaces sitting in front of televisions in soiled diapers. They may have neither adequate toys, nor play space or supervision. The first two years are crucial years for brain formation8. There is no federal regulation of day care centres9. Only 15 % of US children receive quality childcare. Quality care is very expensive10.
Eighty-two percent of childcare and 70 % of housework is still done by women alone. Because of their work at home, married womenʼs work week is 7 hours longer than their husbands11. Married women who are employed outside of the home do, on average, more household labour than their unemployed husbands12.
The family as we knew it is over. American men cannot and do not sufficiently support their wives and children. Women are overworked and miserable. In a new development, US women are now rejecting marriage. For the first time in American history, the majority of women are single13. Two thirds of divorces are now initiated by women14. Half of first marriages and 60 % of second marriages end in legal separation or divorce. This does not take into account all of the people who end their marriages outside of the legal system15. Women are deserting marriage because the division of labour on which marriage was previously based, with women performing domestic, sexual and emotional labour in households economically sustained by men, has come to an end.

Women are no longer as willing to maintain menʼs domestic sexual and emotional lives as a “second shift.” In fact, now women are willing to take a financial hit in order to escape exploitation in the home. US women without children earn as much or more money than their husbands. They can and do leave marriages without financial privation. Women with children suffer financially. Alimony payments are rarely granted and full child-support payments are not delivered in full16.

What Does This Have to Do With A Class Revolution? As we have said, Americans are overwhelmingly unaware of class, while these changes in households and family life represent the only class revolution occurring in the US. What kind of class transformation is happening? In a nutshell, the celebrated and ostensibly “traditional” nuclear family consisted of a feudal arrangement. The woman produced domestic use-values – cooked food, order, cleanliness – and use-value services such as childcare, care for the sick, emotional services, and sexual services. Her husband, by virtue of his birth right as a male, was obliged to financially support his wife and children in this feudal household. The man, by virtue of maleness, had the right to appropriate and distribute the domestic use-values and emotional use- value services his wife produced. These patterns have changed. The womenʼs liberation movement has eroded the legal basis of menʼs rights in the household. For example, spousal violence is no longer legally tolerated. However, male feudal privilege lingers. Domestic violence is still the leading cause of injury and homicide for women between the ages of 15 and 44 17 (97). Spousal rape is now illegal in all 50 states. However, even today there are lighter penalties for spousal rape than for stranger rape. In 20 states it is still legal for a man to have non- consensual sex with his wife if she is mentally ill or physically incapacitated18. Laws have been passed that make it harder for divorced fathers to abandon their children financially. More fathers are now legally mandated to contribute to their childrenʼs support; however, women rarely receive even the full amount of the inadequate support granted to them.

As the feudal family slowly withers it is replaced by other family forms with other prominent class processes. The fastest growing family form is Marxʼs “ancient” form of household which I call the individual form in which an individual, a man, a woman or a person with dependent children, or unrelated individuals live in a household where each individual produces, appropriates and distributes her/his own domestic surplus. Twenty percent of Americans never marry. Individual households are Americaʼs fastest growing family form. Most children will spend at least part of their childhood outside of a family with their 2 biological parents. The individual family form is fast becoming the dominant form of US household. It is encouraged by American individualistic ideology, feminists stressing female independence and males who want an escape from financial obligations to women and children.

In addition, two other class forms of households are emerging. One is a communist household of adults and or adults and children. These households operate according to the communist precept “from each according to his/her abilities, to each according to his/her needs.” Domestic tasks and emotional work are shared as is work outside of the home when appropriate. This family form is encouraged by many family therapists, feminists, progressive people, and working couples without children as well as some with children. It is a slowly growing family form. There is another form proselytised and reinforced by forces that vigorously resist the collapse of the feudal household. They sustain a necrophilic romance with a dead family form. This is the family of the religious right which captures around 40 % of Americans. It is what I call the fascist feudal family, so named because of its similarity to families in the Third Reich. In the Third Reich women were to preoccupy themselves with “Kirche, Küche and Kinder” – church, kitchen and children. They were denied control over their own bodies through the prohibition of birth control and abortion. The Führer was the leader of the man and the man was the leader of the woman19. Women were to remain as subordinate as they are within the Southern Baptist Convention on men and women in which God is the leader of men who ordains males to lead females. Women are in charge of hearth and home20. In the Third Reich women worked up to 60 hours a week in munitions factories but they earned low wages ostensibly because factory work was not their life mission. Taking care of men and children was their gender mission and was constant regardless of their long hours in labour outside the home. This is the family model advocated by James Dobsonʼs Focus on the Family, the Southern Baptist Convention and by fundamentalist churches throughout America. It is the family of Sarah Palinʼs financial backers and promoters. This model is difficult to maintain in todayʼs world which is why the divorce rate in red states and amongst fundamentalists is even higher than it is in the less fundamentalist blue states21. American women are less likely to remain submissive while working to support themselves and their children along with a man who alone cannot provide for them.

Secure marriages belong to the past. Families and individuals are fracturing under the pressures of transformed landscapes of economic and intimate life. Secure families have been a basic personal support system for all Americans, particularly women. Womenʼs emotional labour connecting with children, relatives and friends has meant emotional survival and sustenance for children, men and other women. It was these networks of women at home which, in hard times, allowed families to take care of an extra child when a woman went to work or to move in together in hard times, or bring over extra food when a neighbour, friend or relative lost a job or was ill. All of these crucial primary networks are breaking up. American women who try to keep their families happy and healthy must now work outside the home while there is criminally inadequate childcare for their children. Exhausted women return from their jobs to households needing domestic labour and to both men and children desperately needing attention. Men whose working conditions and salaries have deteriorated want women to take care of them when they return. They are reluctant to help with childcare. They want to be cared for as their fathers were which may explain why 70 % of housework is still done by women. Womenʼs lives are ever more demanding, exhausting and lonely. They initiate divorces to rid themselves of menʼs demands, feeling that the greater incomes men generate do not compensate them for the extra burdens men represent. Married women are now the most emotionally depressed people in America22. Their lives have become immeasurably more difficult. Their struggles are invisible both to their husbands and to their government. There is no acknowledgement of the unique and ravaging set of problems they face.

The American left is not a unified vital alternative force. It presents nothing but action around particular feminist issues. It lacks a revolutionary programme addressing the interconnected issues of national priorities and family disintegration. The family and personal life, which are central parts of peopleʼs and particularly womenʼs lives, are parts of life that the left has left alone. The religious right focuses on the family. “Focus on the Family” is one of the nations richest, most powerful right-wing fundamentalist institutions replete with radio programmes, a publishing house, a church and a religious estate for the whole family to attend. Fundamentalist churches support womenʼs traditional feudal domestic producer roles in the home and reinforce the importance of womenʼs jobs as child nurturers. At the same time, they passionately oppose every social support that women need such as quality child and after-school care, free health insurance, abortion rights and maternity and paternity leaves.

Sarah Palinʼs popularity is that of the impossible fantasy of fulfilling all of womenʼs obligations at once. Palin presents herself as a hockey mom, doting on her children while running the state of Alaska and at the same time looking like a sex symbol. Women, and particularly the minority who remain married, want so badly to believe that they can do the impossible that many do not interrogate her impossible claims. A slight majority of married women voted for McCain/Palin. Even though Palin does nothing to address womenʼs concerns and much to deny them, she vowed to break the glass ceiling holding women down, protect special-needs children and run the nation. Unmarried women who reject the feudal family, who are suffering, and who want real change voted for Obama en masse. Unmarried women with children voted 74 to 25 in favour of Obama. Unmarried women without children voted 69 to 31 for Obama. Unmarried women gave Obama his victory with 12 million votes. They saw in Obama hope in the only nonsexist candidate America has ever had. McCain was enraged. He shook his fingers at the audience insisting that he had the answers. His platform relied on fear mongering and war. In contrast, Obama was quiet and thoughtful. He opposed the war in Iraq. He advocated negotiation, consideration and hope. Twelve million single women chose Obama and rejected the military swagger and impossible certainty of machismo.

What can the left offer to these 12 million women? I will present some ideas that can serve as the beginning of a relevant left programme. We need to begin by elaborating the skills and knowledge involved in emotional labour. At present womenʼs emotional labour is so undervalued that it is unrecognised. There is no vocabulary to define the knowledge and name the skills that enable women to anticipate and meet peopleʼs emotional needs from infancy through adulthood. There are no accessible definitions of that body of knowledge that emerges from attuning oneself to meeting otherʼs needs, and caring for them physically while letting them know that they are valued and loved23. The left needs to design and explicate a way to reward skills of empathy and connection. We should also elaborate the jobs that domestic work involves, then cite their crucial importance and then create programmes to ease womenʼs domestic labour burden.
A few ideas for platforms that stem from the recognition and amelioration of womenʼs exploitation in domestic labour are providing:

  • low-cost nutritious family restaurants
  • options for healthy nutritious take out food
  • subsidised house-cleaning and laundry services
  • child-care provision modelled on the French Child Care System
  • quality after-school programmes in education, sports and the arts

We also need programmes that could help ameliorate womenʼs burdens of emotional labour in addition to acknowledging all the skills and labour involved in caring for others. Some ideas for programmes are: l    providing extra income for jobs that require emotional labour and explicitly rewarding the emotional services provided. These are usually female jobs such as nursing, social work, and teaching infants, toddlers, and children from 5 to 8 years old. These are currently some of the least well paid positions in the US.

  • creating an explicitly acknowledged financial incentive to compensate service workers for the part of their jobs that requires emotional effort directed at the customer. These incentives might operate for such jobs as health care personnel, social workers, counsellors. Emotional helpers would earn a supplement for providing emotional caring on the job.
  • creating free counselling centres for couples and families where the explicit labour of understanding and emotionally serving others is valued and taught.
  • mandating that ubiquitous, popular 12-step programmes such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Anorexics Anonymous, Bulemics Anonymous, Child-Abuse Anonymous, Sex-Abuse Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Relationships Anonymous all include a 13th step which looks at the conditions of existence of addictions in oppressive, authoritarian families and profit-hungry corporations such as the liquor interests, the diet and fashion industries, the pharmaceutical industry, the pornography industry and the industries producing junk food.

Other parts of a left programme built on the above analysis could be:

  • organising to end gender discrimination in all kinds of labour in both the home and the workplace.
  • mandating adequate and equal wages for men and women.
  • work to end hiring discrimination against all women and particularly mothers.
  • a comprehensive birth control curriculum beginning in the early grades stressing respectful honest decisions about creating a life for which men and women will share equal responsibility. Scandinavians already have comprehensive birth-control curricula that begin in the early grades with studying plant reproduction which can be stopped if any step in the process is eliminated. As children get into higher grades the curriculum could stress personal relationships and sexual responsibility. In higher grades education might include teaching responsibility for the needs of the other person who may be created as well as the crucial importance of planning if one wants a family.
  • providing courses throughout peopleʼs life span for both children and adults to teach skills in working out difficulties in relationships with respect and consideration for the other whether that other is a child or an adult. These courses could give ample opportunities for discussion of strategies for creating egalitarian, communist emotional relationships.

In summary, it is crucial for the left to create a language for and an appreciation of womenʼs domestic labour, our emotional labour and our labour in caring for other people. An explanation of what that labour entails is a crucial step in enhancing womenʼs positions at home and in the workplace. The class analysis presented here is a basis on which to create such a language, awareness and action. Post-Bush America is a land of personal crisis and family disaster. Obama cannot address the hopes he raised. It is time for the left to address the problems, literally where we live.


1    Resnick, S. and Wolff, R. 2003. “Exploitation, Consumption, and the Uniqueness of U.S. Capitalism. Historical Materialism V.11 N.4.p.209-226 Wolff, R. 2008. “When Capitalism Hits the Fan.” Lecture video. http://video.com/1962208

2    Minority males never earned a family wage that could support dependent wives and children. White males were, in effect, granted a wage supplement for their white race and male gender.

3    Lee, M. and Mather, M. 2008. “U.S. Labor Force Trends.” Figure 1. “U.S. Labor Force Participation of Men and Women 1970-2007. 5. Population Bulletin. V.63 N.2.2008. Population Reference Bureau.

4    In the year 2000, 77 % of US women were in the labour force (Babcock, L. and Laschever, S. 2003. Women Donʼt Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press 2003, 41-62.) By the year 2006, the percentage of women in the labor force decreased to 75 % because womenʼs burdens of childcare and eldercare increased with the drastic cuts in social services for the elderly and children under Bush ( Porter, E. 2006.”Women In The Workplace: Trend Is Reversing.” San Francisco Chronicle. March 2, 2006.

5    OECD. www:oecd.org/els/social/inequality.

6    Wolff, R. 2008. “When Capitalism Hits the Fan.” Lecture video. http://vimeo.com/1962208 7    The term “second shift” is adopted from Arlie Hochschildʼs excellent book of that name (1989, New York: Viking.) 8    Fraad, H. 2008. “American Children- Who Cares?” The Journal of Psychohistory. p. 394-399.

9    The US demands licensing for manicurists, pedicurists and hairdressers but not for personnel in childcare centers and for day care workers.

10    The fortunate few who receive quality care are from privileged homes or are in the one excellent national programme, Head Start. However, more than half of the preschoolers who qualify for Head Start are turned away for lack of places. Child care costs are unaffordable for most families. The average annual cost for placing one four- year-old child in day care ranges from approximately $4,000 to $8,500 per child per year, the equivalent of state college tuition. One out of three families with young children pays $25,000 a year or more for childcare for their children. Most families have more than one child. Childcare costs for a single mother can consume up to 50 % of her income ( Fraad, footnote 8, p.397).

11    The US Bureau of Labour (2006) in its survey of time use in households provides a chart showing that married women who were employed full time outside the household and had young children spent on the average an additional 3.4 hours per day on household activities and caring for household members. In a chart ”Weekday Time Use of Married Women Living with Young Children, by Employment Status,” the US Department of Labor reports in 2006 that married women who were full- time homemakers and cared for young children performed household labor on the average eight hours per day. Some female responsibilities were not counted in any of the surveys, such as the time spent in arranging childrenʼs schedules, taking them to play dates, dentists and doctors, preparing for school projects, arranging for sitters. We can assume that those activities would add, to give the most minimal estimate, one hour a week. According to the average given in the US Department of Labor statistics and in other studies, unemployed women spend at least forty-three and a half hours a week in household labor.

12    Uchitelle, l. and Leonhardt, D. 2006. “Men Not Working and Not Wanting Just Any Job.” The New York Times, July 31, 2006. p.D1.

13    Roberts, S. January 16, 2007. “Most Women Now Live Without A Husband.” The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com.

14    Brinig, M. and Allen, D. 2000 “ʼThese Boots Are Made For Walkingʼ: Why Most Divorce Filers Are Women” American Law and Economics Review 2-1 (2000): p.126-169.

15    Divorce statistics are based on predictions and are not precise. However, all but the most politically and religiously conservative statisticians agree that 50 % of first marriages and 60 % of second marriages will end in legal divorce “Divorce Rate USA” 2008. http://www.divorcemagazine.com). Of course many people separate without legalizing their separations or their divorces. Therefore the rate of de facto ended marriages is higher than the divorce rate. The above-cited article in Divorce Magazine provides the latest statistics on divorce based on the National Center for Health and US Census reports

16    Womenʼs fears of losing economic security are well founded. It is remarkable that so many are willing to risk poverty in order to avoid domestic and emotional exploitation. After divorce, womenʼs standard of living now is now declining at a rate between 29 percent and 36 percent, (Bennett, L. 2007. The Feminine Mistake. New York: Hyperion, 2007. 97-125; Grall, T. 2006, “Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Supports.” Census Population Reports. United States Bureau of the Census. July 2006; Garrison, M. 2001.”The Economic Consequences of Divorce”. Duke University Journal of Gender Law and Policy.V.8. p. 119-126; 128, Hamilton, V. 2004.”Mistaking Marriage for Social Policy.” Virginia Journal of Social Policy and Law.V.11 p.306-362. The deterioration for mothers and children reflects the impact of no-fault divorce laws. These laws set new standards for alimony and property awards based on treating both sexes „equally“ rather than taking into account the economic realities of womenʼs and childrenʼs actual financial opportunities and needs. The laws ignore the impact on womenʼs lifetime salaries of maternity leaves that are unpaid for almost all women and still damaging to the earnings of those who do receive some compensation. They also ignore the time spent on home and children which keeps women from opportunities for advancement through overtime, after-work socialising and out-of-town or after-hours work assignments. They ignore the incapacity of older women who must return to the job market without up-to-date job training, skill, or experience. By the year 2004, 64.2 % of American mothers were awarded support. However only 45.2 %, less than half of them, ever received the child support that was legally granted. (Grall, 2006 cited above). Although there is improvement the situation is dire.

17    Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and National Committee on Violence Against Women. 2000. “Findings from the National Committee on Violence Against Women Survey, July, 2000.” US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. NCJ 181867 p.97.

18    Stritof, S., and Stritof, B. 2008. “An Evolution of Law: Spousal Rape Recently Prosecutable.” Times Standard. March 23, 2008. p.101.

19    Koontz, C. 1987. Mothers in the Fatherland. New York: Saint Martinʼs Press.

20    Baptist Faith and Message. June 13-14, 2000. “Southern Baptist Cnvention on Men and Women. Orlando, Florida.

21    Belluck, P. November 14, 2004. “ To Avoid Divorce Move to Massachusetts. The New York Times Week in Review.

22    Americans are now in a period of intense misery. More than 11 % of women and 5 % of men are taking anti-depressants (Barber, C. 2008. Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating A Nation New York:Panthon Books, 2008). This illustrates that more than twice as many women as men are desperate enough to seek psychiatric help.

23    The closest thing that exists is in the scientific fields of mother-child attachment. And studies of the importance of connection in brain development and human well-being. Sterling new examples in the field are the following books: Daniel Stern 2004. The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York: W.W. Norton, and John Cacioppo and William Patrick.2008. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. New York: W.W. Norton


American Children, Who Cares?

First published in  The Journal of Psychohistory, Volume 35 Spring 2008

In this time of cuts to children’s benefits, the few that we have, we ask ourselves; “As a nation, how do we stand in providing for our future, our children?” The future and the state of our children are dismal. In the recent UNICEF Report Card 7:An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, US children scored next to last, twentieth out of twenty-one nations in child well being and last , twenty first in child health. Our child mortality rates and rates of child poverty, place us behind every other wealthy nation in the world. Why? To answer that question, let us look at a nation which has the same proportion of children born into poverty that we have. France and the United States have the same proportion, 25% of children who are born into poverty. However after calculating taxes and benefits, even though one in every four children in France and the US are both born poor, only 6% of French children and 22% of US children live in poverty. How can that be?

The answer lies in the extensive state provided system of child and parent benefits that France provides in contrast to the meager and inadequate system of state supports we provide. In America the majority of mothers must work outside of the home to survive. When a US mother goes to work, she loses most of her cash benefits and receives no government assistance for herself or her child. Whereas, when a French child is born, whether his or her mother works or not, s/he is born into an enriching and sustaining system of maternal and child benefits. This is particularly noteworthy because the US considers itself a child oriented society and France has no such self designation. The French state believes that their future as a nation lies in their children. Apparently the US state does not. What does this mean? In order to understand that question, let us compare the life situations of French mothers and young children to the comparable situation of American mothers and children. I am aware that I am using the word mothers here. I am doing so because mothers are still the overwhelmingly dominant, responsible child carers in both France and the US. Both American and French fathers help out within the context of the overwhelming maternal responsibility for and organization of children’s lives.

Let us look at one salient aspect of French child care, their system of nurturing children from birth to six years old. We will compare that system to the US system of childcare for the same period of children’s lives. Let us start before a child is born. French mothers get 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. They may take up to three years off and return to work with job protection. Their pre-and post natal care is free. Their post natal care includes re-education of the maternal body with a personal coach providing exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor and restore the body to its original pre-pregnant state. While mothers are home with their children in the first several months, a helper is provided to baby sit so the mother can have some time off while the helper does laundry and cleaning as well as child care. Mothers are trained in proper nutrition and care for themselves and their children. Perhaps this is why the infant mortality rate in France is 43% lower than the infant mortality rate in the US. If a French mother is at risk because she is a teenager or because she has abused another child, or has another problem that may risk her child’s health, a social worker is assigned to the family for five years to help the mother and child cope and thrive. Fathers are allowed two weeks of fully paid paternity leave.

In the US a mother or, if she has one, her insurance company has to pay for all of the pre-and post natal medical care she may receive. There are poverty programs which pay for hospital stays and prenatal and infant medical care. However they are few, far between, and only for the poorest mothers. All others pay out of their usually restricted health insurance plans which may include co-pays. The US guarantees that a mother can take a total of 12 weeks a year to remain at home with her family without pay If a mother wants to take all 12 weeks of her unpaid leave as a maternity leave, she must negotiate the details of her leave and return with her employer. This can involve considerable employer pressure on the young mother. Fully 75% of US mothers nationwide who wanted the 12 weeks of leave could not afford to take it (Crittenden. 2001 P. 259) There is only one state, California, which allows partially paid maternity leaves at 55% of salary for six weeks. Four other states allow women mandated disability leaves for pregnancy and childbirth. Here too workers need to negotiate their leaves with their employers. No state provides free medical care, postnatal coaching, or assistance for mothers at home. At risk mothers who are teenagers or have had a prior abuse history are not given extra support. This is dangerous because the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western industrialized world. Forty percent of American children are born to single mothers who are most at risk for poverty and privation for themselves and their children.

French parents who have two children are given an allowance of $430. a month for the first three years of their children’s lives whether they work or not. If a parent has three children, the allowance doubles. Parents who work part time or stay home with two or more children are given special subsidies for baby sitting and or family day care centers with licensed sitters and child care providers. Parents without money or single parents are given further subsidies in the form of allowances for the beginning of each school year and housing subsidies. The US provides none of those supports to parents and their children. Changes in welfare provision mean that even the poorest of mothers must leave her children and work outside of the home without the provision of quality day care for her children.

The French supply an ample variety of subsidized and excellent preschool opportunities for infants from two months to three years old.  There are Creches for working parents, and drop in centers ( Haltes Garderies), and licensed babysitters for parents who work part time or do not work ouside of the home. Creches are open 11 hours a day. Parents who need more care get that care for their children for approximately $1.00 an hour. All of these services are subsidized, licensed, and regulated. Parents pay a portion of the costs based on a sliding scale according to income. The average cost parents pay is $11.00 a day. Creches are directed by specially trained pediatric nurses. All educators hold an equivalent of a B.A. degree and the equivalent of a Masters’ degree in early childhood education and child development. There is an educator for every 12.5 children and ample assistants keeping the ratio at 5 infants or 8 toddlers to each adult. Assistants have a vocational high school degree in early childhood education and one year of specialized training in child development. All Crèche preschool educators and assistants are well paid and receive full benefits. There is little staff turnover. Crèches are located in specially built, small scale, and imaginative, child friendly spaces. Medical care, inoculations, exams, etc. are provided by the Crèche.

Education becomes totally free of charge for French children at 3 years old. Fully 100% of French children attend Ecoles Maternelles, special little preschools built in charming specially designed and varied facilities with cafeterias, outdoor play spaces and sleeping areas for naps. Full medical care is provided as are psychological services and any other services deemed necessary. Special needs children are integrated into regular classrooms. All French daycare is regulated, licensed and inspected and meets stringent standards for health, safety and education.

While 100% of France’s children receive quality regulated enriched childcare, only 15% of American children receive quality day care. These fortunate few are from wealthy homes or are in Head Start or other exceptional child care centers. However, more than half of the preschoolers who qualify for Head Start are turned away for lack of places. Child care costs are unaffordable for most families. The costs range from $5,000 to $25,000 per child per year, the equivalent of state collegeand at te upper end private college tuition. One out of three families with young children pays $25,000 a year or more for childcare for their children. Medical care is not provided.

There is extensive staff turnover and burn out because child care work is badly paid in America. Child care workers earn between $6.75 and $10.00 and hour. Their average salary for full time work is $18,000 a year. Workers in family day care centers earn less than the minimum wage often taking home salaries of $11,000 to $13,000 a year. Child care workers earn less than parking attendants or cashiers at fast food restaurants (Crittenden, 2001 P.205). In addition, most US child care workers get no benefits. Their turnover rate of almost 50% a year means that American preschoolers, unlike their French counterparts, do not get the continuity of care so important to little children.

US childcare is largely unregulated without standards and often unsafe. During Jimmy Carter’s presidency, minimal federal child care regulations were passed. Federal funds were allocated to enforce the regulations. Federal regulations were repealed under Reagan’s presidency and have not existed since. Fully 39 states in the United States have no educational training or licensure requirements for child care workers. All 50 states have educational and licensing requirements for manicurists and pedicurists and hairdressers but not child care workers. There are millions of US children whose parents can not afford to stay home nor provide decent childcare. Sixty percent of mothers with children under one are in the labor force. Millions of their children are neglected.

What are the results? The results are generations of mentally and physically underdeveloped human beings who are the majority of America’s future citizens. The years of zero to two years old are critical years for human brain formation. The years from zero to five years old are critical for developing emotional security, the ability to make moral judgments, and to develop basic reasoning skills (Siegel 1999, Siegel and Hartzell, 2005, Gerhardt 2004, Smith 2005). In the years from zero to three child intelligence is developed through sensory motor play for which children need a safe space to play and explore their surroundings. Three to five are years in which intelligence develops through representational play.  Children from three to five years old need time and space to pretend, to draw, paint, dance sing and hear and tell stories. The substandard daycare endured by 85% of American infants and young children means that they are parked in front of television sets in crowded apartments without the chance to develop the basic intellectual and emotional skills that they will need in order to function as mature accomplished adults.

Twenty two percent of US children are raised in poverty. Children are the poorest citizens in America. That means they are likely to live in substandard housing, in more dangerous neighborhoods. They are more at risk for child abuse since poverty is the best predictor of child abuse. Children born to parents with the fewest coping resources, and the most depleting dead end jobs are most likely to suffer their parents lashing out at the only people on whom they can vent, their children. Poor children go from substandard childcare arrangement to inferior schools. They have only the slightest chance to become the thoughtful, mature, compassionate, productive citizens that America needs.

France provides a rich environment for young children. We as a nation which spends six billion dollars a week in hopeless brutal wars leaves millions of our children in bleak neglect. They are our future.


Toiling in the Field of Emotion

First published in The Journal of Psychohistory Jan 1, 2008

What is Emotional Labor?

Emotional labor is the expenditure of time, effort and energy utilizing brain and muscle to understand and fulfill emotional needs. By emotional needs, I mean the human needs for feeling wanted, appreciated, loved, and cared for. Individuals’ emotional needs are often unspoken or unknown/unconscious.  Emotional labor often occurs together with physical labor (producing physical goods or services), but emotional labor differs from physical labor by aiming to produce the specific feelings of being wanted, appreciated, loved and/or cared for. Of course like all powerful forces, emotional labor may be used to cruelly undermine others or frustrate their emotional needs as well as help them. I do not discuss that aspect of emotional labor in this article.

Emotional labor is directed towards understanding and fulfilling one’s own and also other human beings’ emotional needs. My focus in this article is on emotional labor devoted to another’s emotional needs. Such emotional labor involves:
 First, watching and more generally engaging that person for all possible clues as to her/his emotional needs. This entails using all one’s capacities for analysis, empathy, using brain, muscle and emotion to comprehend and assess those needs whether they are spoken or conscious or unconscious. Second, designing a strategy to meet those needs in the other person based on one’s assessment of that other’s needs. Third, executing that strategy: taking concrete steps to meet what have been identified as the other’s emotional needs.

A simple example: A parent performs emotional labor to identify and meet his/her infant’s needs for love, security, etc. If the baby cries, the parent will try to sense whether that cry may indicate physical needs such as hunger or a wet diaper or emotional needs for being held or otherwise connected to the caregiver in order to feel  loved , connected and secure. An infant will need both emotional comfort by itself, and also, emotional care given in the process of performing physical tasks. Under some circumstances, a parent’s emotional labor may aim at determining whether an infant needs some reassuring distance to offset moments of over-stimulation by parents or others. The parent may provide that form of emotional care as well. Carers and infants communicate through sensual emotive responses that they send to and receive from one another. Satisfying communication involves an intricate mutual dance. If either partner cannot receive the other’s signals a painful disruption occurs. The infant may cry repeatedly or withdraw from the contact s/he desperately needs for survival. The caregiver may become frustrated and rejecting and further disrupt the relationship.

Emotional labor is produced in addition to and along side of the physical labor involved in feeding, clothing, and sheltering children. It is the loving care of intuiting a child’s signals, picking up those signals and meeting the child’s emotional needs. It involves sensitivity to the communications that an infant transmits, the sounds, gestures and facial expressions that indicate her or his need, or upset or joy. It involves sensitive non-verbal communications that let an infant know that her/his needs are recognized, acknowledged met and at the same time, that the process of meeting the infant’s needs is enjoyed by the caretaker. While I am not focused on the caretaker meeting his/her own emotional needs, this is a case in which a caretaker’s joy in caring simultaneously fulfills both the caretakers’ needs for connection and the needs of the person s/he cares for. Children can recognize the caregiver’s emotion and therefore benefit from the caretaker’s joy or suffer from the caregiver’s boredom, indifference, anger, etc. The relative new field of attachment theory eplores and explains thes interactions without the benefit of Hchschild’ s term, “emotional labor.

That recognition and non verbal emotional communication establish the foundation of the child’s awareness of the larger society, its intuitive grasp of the basic fact that others’ statements and actions matter to the child, much as its own messages matter to others. This process – what we might call the socialization of the brain - happens in a healthy child during the first two years of life. It is that socialized brain which is the foundation of all human emotional and intellectual life and all relationships. Without the development of the socialized brain, the child can have neither a full emotional life nor a developed rational mind. Both a full emotional life and a developed rational mind develop from that foundation of caring, sensitive interaction and recognition of the child. In fact all connections in the brain, no matter how complex and seemingly abstractly intellectual, begin with emotion.  Children who do not receive a minimum of emotionally caring labor literally fail to thrive. They cannot turn over, sit up or accomplish the requisite developmental milestones that permit them to live.

A more complex example of emotional labor: A man comes home from work angry. His wife or partner performs emotional labor to determine whether he needs to be alone, to connect, to be busy, to be comforted, to discuss or to explore what may have caused the anger, to be encouraged to go out and walk to release anger etc. S/he devises a strategy to meet the needs s/he identifies. Perhaps s/he asks him directly. Perhaps s/he avoids just that because her partner neither acknowledges his needs nor acknowledges the work s/he is doing to help him. And finally, she uses her brain, muscle, and emotion to execute a strategy to provide needed comfort in the hope of producing the feelings she believes he seeks, in order to satisfy his emotional needs.

Now that we have introduced the concept of emotional labor, it is relevant to ask: Why is the category of emotional labor significant for Marxian analysis?

Emotional labor like most labor has a class dimension. It involves a differentiation between necessary and surplus labor in the most basic Marxian sense. Necessary emotional labor is that amount of emotional labor, self care self appreciation, self soothing, which is needed to sustain one’s basic mental health. Surplus labor is that amount of emotional labor one produces over and above what is needed for psychological survival. Surplus emotional labor may be extended to others in the family, friend colleagues, etc. If the demands of others sap not only one’s surplus labor but one’s necessary labor one can experience a range of symptoms from burnout to neurosis to madness.

There are three classes processes involved with emotional labor that parallel the three class processes involved in physical labor. There are those who produce surplus emotional labor, the producers. There are those who enable emotional labor by providing its conditions of existence, the enablers. And there are those who appropriate the surplus labor of others without reciprocating the emotional labor they receive. They exploit others emotional labor in a classic Marxian sense. They are they exploiters.  
When we look at sites where emotional labor is primarily produced, such as  the household we can ask the salient questions of Marxian analytics:

  •     Are emotional surpluses produced in the household?
  •     Does emotional exploitation occur in the household?
  •     How does it happen? What are the conditions of its existence?
  •     How does the production of emotional labor interact with the production of physical labor in the household?
  •     Why has recognition of emotional labor remained repressed?
  •     How does emotional labor interact with the many non class processes in the household such as gender, age and race.
  •     What are some of the results of emotional exploitation

These are class questions that help us to analyze life’s complexity. Life’s complexity can never to reduced to the clarifying categories that human knowledge designs. The questions I ask shed light on one aspect of emotional life rather than give absolute all encompassing answers . I will not look at the question of how he production of emotional labor in the household interact with the production of surplus labor outside of the household. Even though I understand that emotional labor facilitates all relationships whether intimate relationships in families or employer-employee or inter-employee relationships at work. That is too much to consider in this chapter.

Emotional labor has often been invisible to those who benefit from it, to those This invisibility results in part from social norms that require disguising the emotional labor one is doing for the other. Thus, recipients of emotional labor may deny its existence because they cannot admit their emotional needs. Performers may be complicit in such denials to save recipients from the pain of recognizing their repressed emotional needs or to save themselves from recognizing that their hard work is exploited and denied. If performers and recipients of emotional labor are differentially gendered, social norms may impose a need for men and women alike to be blind to emotional labor and fixate only on the labor that produces goods and services other than those emotional services that produce feelings of being loved, appreciated, cared for, and wanted.

In our previous example, the wife who encounters her angry husband may conceal to him or even to both her husband and herself the work she is doing to guess what bothers him while she simultaneously tries to create opportunities for him to understand and manage his anger. She may disguise from her angry husband the fact that she is spending time and energy as she labors to help him. Her various suggestions of what to do or her attempts to engage him may be presented as if they were addressing the woman’s own need to connect and talk. She may disguise from herself her own need for a household not stressed by anger, just as she may be unconscious of the emotional labor she devotes to meeting his needs. The wife may collude with repressing her awareness of the emotional labor she performs for her husband because she too may need to pretend that her husband is an inhuman powerhouse without emotional needs. Neither she nor he recognizes the labor this repression entails. In this episode the wife is emotionally exploited. Her husband appropriates her emotional labor without recognition, no less gratitude or reciprocity. Gender, a non class process is enabling this exploitation. The wife and the husband may have expectations that the wife is either genetically engineered or mandated by God to understand her husband’s feelings and work to please him. They may believe as did feudal serfs that their role of birth order as male and female proscribes wifely emotional labor not reciprocated by the lord of the manor, her husband. If you think this is far fetched such subordination is mandated by the Southern Baptist Convention on Men and Women (2000).

Emotional labor is something we all recognize without being aware of how to define it or what it actually entails. It is a knowledge that exists ”avant le lettre,” before the concept is formulated. It is repressed from awareness. Yet, the history of all novels is in part an attempt to explore this concept.  Emotional labor exists in all attempts at personal expression. There are five recent academic explorations which attempt to clarify this concept. One is Arlie Hochschild’s brief definition of emotional labor (1983) and her deeper explorations of the emotional relationships of foreign nannies with both their own children at home and their foreign charges. Hers include explicit discussions of emotional labor, a term that Hochschild coined (1983).
A second area of research that is relevant to emotional labor is the research of Pam Smith on the importance of emotional labor in nursing care. Smith, Hochschild and I use the important and clarifying concept of emotional labor.

A third area of research that is relevant to emotional labor is the research on attachment theory which explores parent interaction with infants and children. And other intense emotional interactions such as that between therapist and client, 2204

A fourth is brain research exploring and creating photographic images ofmother child communication, and a fifth is the social science explorations of what is called “caring labor,” i.e. physical and emotional care combined without being differentiated (Folbre 2001, Eisler 2007).

When a concept is formulated, one can finally see it with greater clarity. I want to clarify both the concept of emotional labor and the concept of class two highly repressed concepts.

Why has Emotional Labor Been Repressed?

Definitions of emotional labor are not readily available because the concept is repressed and therefore unacknowledged. One reason that it has remained outside of our conscious vocabulary is that emotional labor is associated with women’s labor and particularly women’s gendered work in the home and family. Just as women’s domestic labors in cooking and cleaning were invisible until they were explored in successive women’s movement inspired texts, emotional labor has been overwhelmingly erased from consciousness. Once we notice emotional labor we see that it is a large component of traditionally female fields such as early childhood education, nursing, social work, psyholical counseling and personal secretarial work. Women’s emotional labor in these jobs, like our work at home, is expected without being named. That is a striking omission in the light of the fact that emotional labor is a crucial to life itself. Children who receive only physical care and not emotional care literally fail to thrive. They die. In a far more trivial example, we have all felt the difference between being waited and receiving the same dinner from a bored, indifferent, or hostile waiter or one who seems pleased to provide us with food and seervice.

If emotional labor is even obliquely mentioned, it is often attributed to a genetic nest making mandate on the part of women’s nature, if not a God driven destiny in much the same way as women’s housework was considered a natural outgrowth of love, nest making, or a program installed by God. Emotional labor is not even implicitly recognized in men, as if that crucial emotional part of life were not part of the felt experience of half of the human race. My focus here on women in no way connotes that men are total strangers to emotional labor. In fact, one of my purposes here is to expand and explore the concept so that men can recognize, value, and greatly expand the emotional labor that they perform and the potential they have to embrace and expand their repertoire of emotional capabilities.

Women’s emotional and physical labor is merged with pure sentimentality in the US, particularly around Mother’s Day. However, neither a description of the emotional nor physical work actually involved in parenting, nor any substantial rewards are forthcoming. In fact, women who are mothers are penalized for their emotional labor In 2008, a study by salary.com reported that the value of a full-time mother’s labor is $116,805. The monetary value of a second-shift mothers work in mothering is $68,405.

Women’s emotional and physical work is not only under or unacknowledged, women’s labor as mothers is an economic disadvantage. Correll  and Paik (2007) performed an experiment to see if there were a motherhood penalty in the job market. She found that among women aged 27 to 33 who have never had children, women's earnings approached 98 percent of men's. Mothers were half as likely to be hired as childless women or men with or without children. Mothers were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than non-mothers. Correll’s study is the most recent version of studies with similar results.

Emotional labor and physical caring labor is twice penalized in America. Americans, unlike their European counterparts, bear the burdens of losing income and of shouldering most of the costs of raising their children. The cost in dollars directly spent to raise a child to age eighteen in the US are now in the $145,000 range. This does not include college or graduate school costs or wages lost because of child care responsibilities or the value of physical or emotional caring labor. Parenthood and particularly motherhood with their huge demands for both physical and emotional labor are, in fact, economically punished. When the cost of time spent in child rearing is added to the cost of parenting children, the economic price of raising one child to age 18 are $410,000 for low salaried parents, $811,997 for middle income parents and $1,502,231 for high income parents. These costs are accruing to US families who have seen a steady decline in real wages since 1970. In our land of dollars, children are an economic liability. The best predictor of poverty in th US is having a child. If anything is truly valued in the US it is compensated with high salaries and perks. The absence of support for American parents in maternity or paternity benefits, paid family leaves, child care and after school support, or job credit show how physical and emotional parenting labor is actually valued.

Religions have obliquely acknowledged mothers’ caring labors both physical and emotional. However religion has relegated mothers to the status of inferiors. Women have been responsible for what the Catholic Church calls “hearth and home.” That sphere which the Southern Baptist Faith and Message declares is part of women’s job of support and subordination within the family. Part of a wife and mother’s feminine job is “to graciously submit to the servant leadership of her husband.” She, as a woman and mother, is not allowed to become a minister,  as in the Catholic faith she is not allowed to become a priest nor in the Muslim faith a Mullah nor in the Orthodox Jewish faith, a rabbi. The religious right joins employers in devaluing emotional labor as well as domestic labor by devaluing the mothers who perform that labor in its primal site, the family. Orthodox religions ideologically endorse the idea of family while subordinating its primary creators, mothers, and supporting the destruction of the most basic financial supports for families from quality public child care centers and maternity and paternity leaves to paid vacations, to family leave, to free health care for parents and their children.

US degradation of women’s caring physical and emotional work creates the sad situation of mothers who are unrecognized, overworked and underpaid. They lack the leisure, the confidence, the subsidy, and the belief in the importance of child rearing labor that would make it likely for them to bask in the importance of child care and of their children. People are social animals. It is difficult to sustain oneself in the joy of maternity without social supports. Children demand a great deal. The work they require is not only uncompensated, it is financially punished. Increased rates of child abuse and neglect illustrate the indifference and the rage parents direct at their children for their very existence, which is in financial terms a burden on their parents. The greater the time that children spend in the home with parents, usually mothers, the greater the increase in child abuse. If mothers and indeed both parents are afforded time where children are cared for or educated outside of the home, children suffer less and so do mothers. Primary conditions for reducing women’s and children’s emotional exploitation in the home are providing universal quality childcare, infant care and after school programs as well as maternity and paternity leaves, and family subsidies. At present the United States has fewer of these family supports than any other wealthy industrialized nation in the world (UNICEF 2007).

Both gender and race play roles in emotional exploitation. Poorly paid service work is often performed by America’s minorities and women. Service workers get tips as a measure of their ability to show their eagerness to serve, i.e. their emotional labor. Women’s pink collar jobs and careers are often extensions of physical and emotional caring roles in the home. Day care workers are among the most poorly paid US workers. Early childhood education, social work and nursing are both emotional labor intensive professions, traditionally women’s professions the lowest paid professions.

Even though 82% of childcare is still done by women, (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006) mothers are not the only ones whose emotional labor is exploited, invisible and unrecognized. Failure to acknowledge the emotional and physical caring work of fathers and husbands contributes to the damaging gender stereotype of emotionally barren maleness to which many young men aspire. Many forms of popular male rap music celebrate humiliating women, calling them “bitches and hos”.

There is little in popular youth culture that celebrates the caring labor of fathers or mothers. The only popular cultural form that celebrates parents is country music. Their sentimentalized family celebration is part of the rightwing populism of many fundamentalists. They romanticize parenthood while denying or opposing its conditions of existence in quality public childcare, parental leaves, health insurance elder care, etc. lack of cultural or economic recognition of the emotional labor of parenting further enhances its exploitation.
Parenting is so devalued that for the first time the majority of US couples do not consider child rearing a crucial or desirable aspect of their lives together.The only Americans who now have numerous children are immigrants who have not yet adjusted to the realities and costs of American life.

Parents’ and particularly mothers’ emotional labor is exploited in a classic Marxian sense. Parents emotionally labor to produce emotionally healthy viable citizens for the future of their nation. Those children’s labor will be in turn exploited as they become the workers of tomorrow. Parenting results will be appropriated and distributed by future employers and the state. Yet parents receive neither payment nor rewards from their society. Other Western Industrialized societies such as the Scandinavian societies and France provide child allowances, child school supplies, school clothing subsidies, free or highly subsidized childcare and subsidized housing for parents. America provides little or nothing, exploiting particularly mothers’ physical and emotional labor.

Children’s Emotional Labor

Children’s emotional labor is another example of the invisibility of emotional labor and its exploitation. In the Western industrialized world children’s labor for money is outlawed. Here children’s physical labor is relatively insignificant. Their emotional labor is entirely obscured.  Children strain, they use brain, muscle and emotion to meet the largely unspoken emotional needs of their parents. They produce emotional surplus for their parents while their labor of pleasing is unrecognized and far to often appropriated and not reciprocated in a classic case of exploitation. A veritable explosion of therapies, 12 step programs and self help books, films and tapes documents children’s emotional exploitation, their depleted reserves of emotional labor and their sufferings as denied emotionally exploited beings. Here too a culture of pretence enables exploitation. The very idea that being pregnant however accidental and casual qualifies people to become the sensitive informed physical and emotional guardians of totally vulnerable life is absurd.  That ideology and many others enable children’s exploitation.

Why do children work emotionally? They do so because their survival over the ages has depended on pleasing the adults responsible for that survival. Until the 1800s birth control largely consisted of killing those children one did not want or leaving them at the marketplace to be picked up by strangers or abandoned to the elements.. Those children who survived in yesteryear, learned what most children who were killed did not. That is, how to please their omnipotent caretakers. Therefore, those of us whose ancestors survived usually learned how to please. The human brain illustrates exactly that point.  Infant brains contain an extra large number of mirror neurons that allow them to pick up crucial emotional messages from their caretakers. Mirror neurons permit babies to be highly attuned to the moods of their parents. A three month old infant can notice the narrowing of a parent’s pupils in fear or anger in the way that many adults cannot.
Even though at present it is illegal to kill one’s children, young children do not know their legal rights. Many strive to be what their parents want as if their survival depended on it. Of course, parents have and also communicate all sorts of simultaneous and contradictory desires and children are multi diimensional and react to physical or emotional distress in some ways that do not please their parent but rather illustrate their biological needs for comfort and their limited means of communicating. Children strive and pick up the signals they can manage to receive within their own dispositions, biological imperatives and sensitivities amidst the confusing welter of wishes their parents present. Children’s self subjugation can be accompanied by rebellions against that subjugation in self destruction, cruelty to other children or animals, emotional withdrawal or acting out against their parents.

Children, like other humans, are highly complicated. The ways that children strive to be what their parents need and the emotional toll that takes is equally complex. The damage is usually only apparent as children mature into wounded adults. These impaired adults have not received the necessary emotional labor that they needed to flourish. Their normal emotional needs are needs for acceptance as unique, valued and lovable people. In order to please and to survive, they have tried to decipher and embody personal qualities their parents seem to require even if those qualities violate their own emotional needs. In one example Christian Fundamentalist child rearing demands unquestioning obedience to parental authority. Fundamentalist children learn that their natural desires to question, speak out and rebel are devilish manifestations that precipitate severe parental rejection. Dobson’s best selling child rearing books suggest physical punishments, shunning etc to break a rebellious child’s will. Fundamentalist children learn to despise their curiosity, and wishes for developmentally appropriate independence and empowerment. They identify with and conform to their authoritarian parents instead of their own needs. They emotionally labor for their parents by being the child that their parent wants instead of their own sometimes affectionate, sometimes questioning, sometimes rebelling selves. Wishes to express their disallowed questions and rebellions enter into an unspeakable realm of unconscious wishes while they labor to both repress their need for emotionally necessary labor, repress the process whereby they serve their parents and also conform to their parents needs for unquestioned obedience. Such children learn to reject their emotional needs as bad. Their internalized definition of bad is adapted from their omnipotent caretaker’s definition of bad which is whatever the caretaker does not want, Children reject themselves to identify with the omnipotent parent-leader. Emotional exploitation is a window into a class aspect of the exploitation of children that complexly interacts with psychological aspects of children’s exploitation. That exploitation also lends itself to belief in dominating authorities in school, in church and in government. Projection of goodness on to the dominating authority and badness on to one’s own feelings, thoughts and reactions extends into adulthood with damaging consequences.

Damaged Adults Emotional Labor and the Authoritarian Family

Part of the reason I am exploring these questions as a leftist is that we need to understand exploitation and root it out wherever lives. It flourishes in the family. The family is an area that the left neglects to its peril since it is an arena in which Americans are passionately engaged. US society is focused almost exclusively on personal life which the right wing engages and the left ignores. This makes us irrelevant to millions of Americans.

The study emotional of exploitation in the family may shed light on crucial questions for the left. What allows people to support leaders and governments that deny their needs? Why don’t people organize against their financial exploitation or political oppression? What keeps people from forming viable organizations to create a supportive socialist government, which respects the needs and demands of the majority? In short, what keeps people from insisting on personal, social, and political freedom? There are three great schools of thought that see these questions through the lense of psychology of the family One is The Frankfort School, a second is the work of Louis Althusser and a third is psychohistory. All three provide key insights that pave our way. In this section, I will briefly summarize what each school of thought offers to help answer these questions.

The Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt school found that one of the primary reactionary forces holding back human progress is right wing authoritarianism as manifested in as the authoritarian personality nurtured and formed in the authoritarian family.  As David Smith attests, the Frankfurt School’s findings are still accurate. today A 60% majority of US adults are attracted to authoritarian leaders, another 20% are sadistically enmeshed in authoritarianism and a third 20% are utterly opposed to authoritarianism just as they were in the Weimar period before the establishment of the Third Reich Smith (2007).

The Frankfurt School’s Research studied our questions. They asked what social conditions encourage and enable the passive, ambivalent 60% majority to dare and rebel against dictators and what other social conditions foster blind obedience to dictators? They found that fearful conditions such as Pre World War Two Germany’s rapid inflation and the bombing of the Reichstag could precipitate the ambivalent 60% majority to blindly obey Hitler and the Nazi Party and condemn those who did not obey. Anyone  who questioned was attacked as unpatriotic, toxic, or weak. Those labeled “toxic and weak” joined those whose very gender or ethnicity designated their toxicity or weakness such as women, homosexuals, Communists, Socialists, Jews, Minorities, etc.

We note that the steady decline in US male wages since 1970,combined with the vast transformation of the US family and bombing of the world trade center, seem to have had the same effect in the United States. After the trauma of the World Trade Center (WTC) bombings combined with the severe economic loss of the family wage for suffered by white male workers and a revolution in family structures and roles caused such trauma that Americans temporarily transformed their perceptions of an unpopular, selected, not elected president who stole votes to perceiving Bush as a leader who could not be questioned After the World Trade Center bombing, all those opposing Bush were branded as unpatriotic, weak, terrorist sympathizers. Right wing forces that condemn feminism, homosexuality and foreigners burgeoned. They are the champions of today’s authoritarian families.

The authoritarian family is a rigidly hierarchical family structured in the fashion advocated by the US religious right of all faiths. Women and children in these families are to willingly, and without question, subordinate themselves to the male family head. Children’s and women’s natural rage against their own oppression is turned against those who do not obey and are branded as bad.

I believe that right wing authoritarian personalities are first developed in both the authoritarian family and what I will call, the detached family. The detached family provides neither security, nor protection, nor guidance for children. This would include US families of stressed overworked overwhelmed parents and their neglected children. Detached families may include families with parents who live out their own antiauthoritarian fantasies by ignoring their children’s antisocial behavior. Detached families often produce children looking desperately for structure, and boundaries. They find both in strictly hierarchical organizations requiring unquestioned submission to authority. They find their safe boundaries in rigid, authoritarian religious and or secular groups.

The children from these detached or authoritarian families, work emotionally to serve their authoritarian or detached families and hide their rage at their subordination, their neglect, and their emotional exploitation.. They turn that rage on their vulnerable selves and hate their own needs, and everyone else’s. They perceive as weak, their normal needs for acceptance and protection in vulnerability. Others perceived as weak, or needy: the poor, women, children, gays are therefore deserving of the rage and or abandonment the children experienced from their domineering or neglectful parents.

Luis Althusser

Another body of work that is central to exploring what forces create authoritarian personalities and authoritarian families is Luis Althusser.

Althusser defined and explored forces that discipline human beings in a particularly insidious way. They develop deep unconscious patterns of submission to authority. These patterns operate seemingly automatically as profoundly embraced convictions of personal unworthiness in the face of omniscient and omnipotent authorities to whom one must abdicate ones own independent judgment and will. These forces police the population far more effectively than an external police force could. They are internalized police, “ideological state apparatuses.” The most important ideological state apparatus is the family. The second most powerful ideological state apparatus is religion. In church and family people learn to know their place and what is more important, to deeply internalize their place as subordinates within the power structure. They learn the lines of dominance and submission in their families before they develop an awareness of what they are learning. Women and children learn their “God given” submissive roles and men their dominant roles as dominant over underlings, cowering before superiors and deniers of emotion and the emotional labor they receive. Emotional patterns of subordination before dominant authorities develop in their brain stems before children know what is happening.

The seemingly omnipotent father and mother of the authoritarian family are not only duplicated, they are exaggerated in the worship of the Holy Father and often the Blessed Mother as well. One subordinates ones self to the dictates of religion as a continuation of one’s subordination to the dictates of the family. Catechisms of church, temple, or mosque are internalized as understandings of the way things are in oneself and the world. Althusser (1993) developed the depth of insight into the ideological state apparatuses of family and religion that open the door to my analysis of emotional labor. He unlike his Leftist contemporaries recognized the power of emotional labor in its life lessons of dominance and subordination in the Siamese twin institutions of the authoritarian family and religion.

The left has also largely abandoned its passionate critique of religion. A critique which is now desperately needed. The seemingly omnipotent authorities in the family or religion are absolute. They do not wonder aloud about the legitimacy of their authority or their right to mandate obedience. It is a rare parent or priests who asks his/her child or parishioner to obey because s/he thinks it will work out best and has responsibility and therefore must make a decision, no matter how possible it may be that the parent/ .priest may be mistaken. That kind of explanation considers the equal humanity of another human being and the limit of any human authority. Instead, children and worshippers are to obey because their parents/priests know absolutely what is good or bad.  Most parents, like their God infused religious leaders and corrupt secular leaders show no doubt, no hesitation to condemn, and none of the emotionally difficult labor of trying to make a just decision. Parental and religious authorities and corrupt leaders have the answers. Part of the authoritarian style of most parents and religious figures as well as authoritarian state heads is to deny the human condition of vulnerability and insecurity. Authoritarians take an emotionally invulnerable position that relegates indecision, pain and doubt, the limitations, insecurity and weakness that are the human emotional condition to lowly ones like women, children, and gays. Women’s absolute position can only be asserted with children who stand even lower they stand in the authoritarian assertion hierarchy.


Psychohistory is another force that helps us understand the origin of authoritarian personality structures. Crucial to psychohistorical theory is the concept of the killer caretaker. Because US children are largely abandoned by our social institutions, they are raised by caretakers, overwhelmingly mothers, who are unrecognized and unsupported. These mothers often vent their powerlessness and resentment on their vulnerable children. They communicate both love and also strong ambivalence including death wishes towards their children. They may demand unquestioned obedience. They may project the idea of their absolute knowledge, and authority on to the only people who must obey them. Children with rageful ambivalent parents may well pick up their parents’ murderous feelings toward them when the children show thoughts or wishes different from those their parents have. These children fear the revenge of the omnipotent parent, the “killer caretaker “if they dare to disagree. Right wing religious child rearing texts extol what is an element of most family life. They celebrate a hierarchy in which children must conform without question.

In times of crisis about 60% of US adults regress to their childhood conviction that safety will be gained by strict obedience to and reverence for the authoritarian leader who is a replacement for the killer caretaker such as  der Fuhrer, or the President. Here too, rage at ones abject submission is vented on those who are disobedient or designated poisonous or inferior such as feminists, homosexuals, immigrants, welfare moms, people of color, etc.

Let us return to our original concern for emotional labor. Emotional labor is the work to care for and about others. It is also the work to figure out what is the right thing to do for others’ emotional well being i.e. how to please, to nurture and to care for others. The acknowledgement and allowance for need, and vulnerability which are built into the developmental level of children and are the province of women are despised by right wing authoritarians. Within the authoritarian personality, need is weakness and those who attend to the weak are inferiors.


While it is related to physical labor and is part of the familiar institutions of social life, emotional labor has a structure and dynamic of its own. Respect for emotional toil is central to the Left project of understanding authoritarian personalities and repressive ideological state apparatuses in order to dethrone and replace them. This is particularly important since right wing authoritarian values dominated America since 9/11. Only now has the majority of the population rejected our right wing authoritarian president whose absolute certainty of victory in the war on Iraq has failed along side of his absolute endorsement of the Market to deliver US prosperity. Now, in spite of a pathetic lack of courageous leadership, the American people are looking for different values and priorities that could include a well organized and sophisticated Left. Now is a time when the acknowledgement of emotional labor is crucial. Emotional labor which is so rarely acknowledged and has not even been adequately defined is central to our Left project. The Left is failing in America. We need to abandon the worn catechisms of the US left. Addressing issues of emotional labor just might help.


Book Review: Household Accounts: Working-Class Economies in the Interwar United States

This is a discussion of three books which raise serious questions for psychohistorians. Their emphasis on wives does not include a heavy emphasis on mothering. That in itself is a historically new development. Women’s lives have been historically tied to children.

Wifework. Susan Maushart. New York: Bloomsbury.
Susan Maushart’s brilliantly written book is a description of the very uneven benefits that accrue to men women from marriage. After reading her book one is not at all surprised that most divorces are initiated by women and that most US women are single. Maushart has researched her topic. Her well described chapters on husband wife interaction are carefully footnoted. She describes women’s 3 ring domestic circus of domestic labor, childcare and emotional labor. Her chapter titles capture her  humor and irony. She describes women’s work cleaning and cooking in “Mars and Venus Scrub the Toilet”. She details women’s labor in maintaining all aspects of their children’s lives in “Equality Go Bye Byes”, and investigates women’s role in the emotional labor of sustaining husbands in “The Wifely Art of Caregiving, Giving Receiving…Getting Depressed.”

Maushart’s Wifework presents marriage as exploitation of women’s domestic labor, child care, and emotional labor. The statistics reinforce her view. In spite of vocal support for a partnership of equals, women still do 70% of domestic labor and 82% of childcare. Women’s work week is considerable longer than men’s. For Maushart, marriage is an unequal partnership in which husbands are entitled and wives are exploited. Maushart does not explore the social structure that perpetuates the dismal status quo for women in marriage. She accepts Chodorow’s thesis that men will be emotionally socialized to the point of being responsive partners only if and when they are reared equally by both sexes which at the moment does not seem possible. She explores what exists rather than why it continues to exist or how one might change it. Although marriage is presented as a nonegalitarian exploitation of women, mothering is celebrated. It must be remembered that Wifework was written by Maushart about wives’ work in Australia where unmarried women with children are heavily subsidized. Therefore she does not explore the justified financial fears that US women have when they contemplate leaving exploitative marriages. In terms of the psychogenic pump, Maushart’s work is a positive development. As mothers are given recognition and help, they are more able to support their children in becoming strong, secure citizens who can in turn love their children, thus slowly improving the lives of all people.

Children’s lives are disrupted with divorce. However, Maushart’s regrets about marriage are reversed when she writes about childcare in terms that glow without denying the complex difficulties that are involved. We live in a nation that subsidizes neither single mothers nor childcare. Maushart’s example holds out the possibility that with subsidy especially for single mothers, America’s children could be welcome and cherished.

A History of the Wife. 2001. Marilyn Yalom. New York: Harper Collins
Marion Yalom writes an ambitious history of the wife from the ancient world of the Biblical Greek and Roman models of marriage to the marriages of the year 2000.

She examines the roles of sexuality, financial access for wives, customs, laws and social regard for women as a gender. Yalom shows that the position of wives has steadily improved. In the ancient world wives were semi-chattel without rights, deprived of independent assets, without entitlement to sexual pleasure or vocations outside of marriage. The book ends with US women’s possibilities as wives today when there are prevalent views of wives as equal human partners with financial possibilities, legal equality, sexual entitlement and vocational possibilities. Yalom does not cover the regression of wives’ equality in today’s Christian Right, Orthodox Jewish, Mormon or Muslim communities. She does not explicitly discuss the role of social forces such as fascism, religion, socialism and communism in pressing for changes in the positions of women and wives. She does indicate that the scarcity of quality public childcare creates extras burdens on women. However, Yalom does not discuss the big discrepancies in income for unmarried women and mothers in the US. American married women with children earn 75% of men’s salaries while childless, unmarried women earn 90% of men’s salaries. There is a wage penalty that accompanies motherhood here. Ironically, Yalom suggests that the new romance that has replaced marriage is the romance of having children in spite of the financial handicaps that imposes. That augurs well for the possibility of improving American life in the generations to come.

Marriage, A History. 2005 Stephanie Coontz. Viking: New York.
Marriage, A History describes the slow transition of marriage from a required arrangement designed for the benefit of kin, and family to a voluntary love relationship between two people. Coontz describes the change of status for women in marriage from imprisoned subordinates to equals, friends, and lovers. She very articulately explains that the very equality women have won has led to marriage as an option rather than marriage as necessary for a woman’s survival. Love is now demanded in marriage which is a victory. Divorce is an option if men and women’s needs are not met. Therefore, for the first time in history marriage has its best chance to be chosen and to be loving as well as its best likelihood to end in divorce. Coontz does not discuss the impact of unpredictable marriages on children. That is a crucial topic for psychohistorians looking at the impact of childhood on our nation’s future.

Each of these books concentrates on a different aspect of marriage and wives’ roles within marriage. In Wifework, Maushart explores the problems of current marriage in the Western World, where the rhetoric of love masks the exploitation of women’s labor in domestic work, emotional caretaking and childcare.  In A History of the Wife, Yalom explores the role of the wife as it has evolved through history. In Marriage, a History, Coontz explores the institution of marriage in its changing social and political context throughout history. Each of these books makes an important contribution to our understanding of marriage. However, none of these books asked some further critical questions about marriage which need to be interrogated.
What are the social supports, and the social subversions of marriage as an institution now? Is marriage a suitable vehicle for child rearing in the Western industrialized nations now? If not, what can replace its apparent failures?

These are crucial questions because we live in a time of maximum celebration and hyperbole about marriage and family while the social structure that would support families is eroding. What are these social supports? Most consist of relief from the overwhelming emotional and financial responsibility for children. American marriages are burdened by full responsibility for health care, infant and child day care, after school and vacation programs higher educational costs and a relentless commercial, advertisement driven, imperative to consume on ever dwindling salaries.

Politicians invoke the family as the cornerstone of society. However, families falter and disintegrate. The latest census revealed that forty percent of Americans are born outside of marriage. Fewer and fewer families can provide quality infant child care, after school care, higher education costs, health care or other basic family supports. The United States has fewer family supports than any other Western industrialized nation. America also has the most divorces, the greatest number of children living in poverty, and the second to least overall well being for its children. These conditions force us to question whether marriage with children, in a basically unstable family unit is an ideal way to raise children?

In response to that question, I would say “No”. Since 40% of births are of children without 2 present parents, the responsibility and financial burdens of children are borne by a single woman who cannot alone support those burdens or the emotional labor that accompanies them. In the US now, 50% of first marriages and 60% of second marriages end in legal separation or divorce and many marriages end without legalities. Children of divorce often suffer the upheaval of losing their homes, schools friends and sense of security. They are frequently plunged into the midst of bitter parental battles and the emotional pain of being a party to hatred between the adults who once made their world safe.

A disproportionate share of American children with single parents live in poverty. However single parent’s children do not necessarily have to live in poverty. Sweden has more single mothers than the US but has some of the least child poverty in the world. The Swedish government generously subsidizes both single parents and their children.

The capacity to biologically conceive a child with planning or by accident has absolutely nothing to do with the ability to nurture a child. Most of America’s children will not even have the stability achieved in a family however inept the parenting in that family may be. Therefore, the family has to be supported for the mass of American children to thrive. No OECD nation spending 10% or more of GDP on social programs has a child poverty rate above 10%. Likewise, no OECD nation spending less than 5% or less of GDP on social programs has a child poverty rate below 15%. Here poverty is but one factor in the complexity that determines children’s well being. Child poverty is emblematic of our nation’s priorities as the richest nation in the world.
 None of the books above discuss either the urgent need for massive intervention to support American families or the need to create alternatives to America’s disappearing and failed nuclear families.

Yalom’s and Maushart’s books include women’s wish to be mothers. They attest to the fact that although many women do not want to marry or remarry, most want to have children. Maushart and her children in Australia received government support as she divorced and thereafter. Maushart’s devotion to her children did not have to be subordinate to her children’s financial survival which certainly detracts from the care US children receive. Yalom points out (399) that motherhood may have replaced marriage as a fantasy of America’s young women. However, she does not explain what will happen to that fantasy when it meets the realities of marital instability, lower wages and so little government help.

Marriage has indeed changed in America. It is far more voluntary and unstable than ever before in history. Wives have come to be recognized as full human beings. However, children are left behind in a way that none of the above books address. It is time to focus on our children. To do so, we need to envision an alternative to the American family.