- 東京女子大学紀要論集 (ISSN:04934350)
- vol.57, no.2, pp.151-183, 2007-03
Caregiving is obviously an indispensable and foundational labor of liberal society. But the market and political economy long associated with liberalism leave caregivers, who are overwhelmingly women, profoundly vulnerable. Caregiving for the young or for the elderly not only creates enormous economic vulnerability for caregivers but also prevents them from participating in political and cultural life on equal terms with other citizens. In a liberal world that depends crucially upon caregiving labor, it would be reasonable to suppose that the rights of caregivers might be given a very high priority. However, according to R. West, despite the crucial role of care in producing autonomous and independent individuals, there has never been a right to material support for those who do this work. Caregivers have never enjoyed rights to either the financial or the in-kind assistance that would guarantee them some measure of security in their caregiving work. She claims that individuals should have a fundamental right to care for their dependents in liberal societies, so that caregiving does not impoverish the caregiver, leaving her and her dependents vulnerable. In liberal societies, rights protect individuals' autonomy, choices, contracts, property, conscience, and so forth, while no regime of rights protects caregivers or caregiving labor. Rights have never been viewed as a source of support for caregivers within liberalism. Rather, in contemporary liberal societies, rights have helped women when they are acting as individuals in their individualistic and atomistic lives. Thus women, like men, enjoy rights of autonomy, conscience, movement, association, contract, property, and so on. Women also now enjoy "nondiscrimination" rights not to be irrationally categorized or classified according to stereotypical notions of women's nature, a stereotype generally derived from their work as caregivers. That is, a woman has a right not to be stereotypically presumed to be a caregiver, and if she is a caregiver, she has a rightnot to be stereotypically presumed to have certain traits, such as an inability to engage in market wage labor or fulfill political, civic roles, because of her caregiving work. Furthermore, in almost all contemporary liberal societies, so-called privacy rights typically protect women who, acting individualistically, decide not to be caregivers or to limit their caregiving obligations. But it is important to recognize that, whether chosen or not, caregiving potentially impoverishes the caregivers, for reasons that quite sharply distinguish it from other "chosen" paths of life. As E. Kittay argues, caregivers, because of both moral and emotional imperatives, are unlikely to use traditional levers of economic struggle to remedy the risks of impoverishment and diminished opportunities brought on by this labor. Unpaid caregiving is not work that caregivers (should) simply abandon, when an equal or more rewarding opportunity presents itself. Caregivers cannot be regarded as autonomous, "at will" employees, who can terminate their employment at any time, should a better opportunity come along. Unlike employees-at-will, caregivers enjoy no such autonomy. They are not free to leave the job at any point and thereby exert pressure to improve their working conditions by virtue of their legal freedom to walk off the job. Rather, caregivers are emotionally and ethically committed to the work of caring for their dependents. They do not unionize or strike for better working conditions, and they do not commodify their labor. Consequently, caregivers have all the vulnerability but none of the solace and certainly none of the security from the "at will" aspect of their employment. Their "autonomy" does not protect them. If caregiving is not to impoverish or diminish the opportunities of those who engage in it they need familial, community, or state support, whether or not the decision to embark on the caregiving path was voluntarily taken. Some feminists and women's studies scholars including notably C. Gilligan and N. Noddings have argued that the obvious incapacity of liberalism to embrace dependency work reflects an even larger incongruence. The ethic of rights, Gilligan and Noddings argue, has been constructed in a way that is diametrically antithetical to an ethic of caregiving. If so, then it is not at all surprising that rights have not been reconfigured so as to protect the vulnerabilities to which caregiving leads. The modes of thought to construct the former are radically at odds with the modes of being central to the doing of the latter. Liberal rights fail to protect caregivers fundamentally because the "rights mentality" is at war with caring labor. Like the dependency critique developed by M. Fineman and E. Kittay, the ethical critique suggested in the work of Gilligan and Noddings (and others) suggests that liberalism and the rights at its core are in some fundamental way incompatible with the work of caregiving. According to both of these lines of analysis the exclusion of caregivers (who are overwhelmingly women) from liberalism's domain is structural and even definitional. It will not be overcome by insisting on the formal equality of women to men or the equal availability to all of previously gendered roles either in the world of wage work or domestic labor. Caregivers will continue to be excluded, regardless of whether or not women are welcomed to liberalism's domain and regardless of whether it is women or men doing the caregiving work. What has not been systematically explored to date in either the liberal and constitutional literature on rights, or the philosophical writing on the ethic of care, is the possibility of constructing liberal rights so as to protect the interests, needs, material security, and aspirations of caregivers. Liberalism has unquestionably, to date been hostile to caregivers and caregiving labor but it may be excessively pessimistic to assume that liberalism is configured by definition so as to exclude the consideration of caregivers or the work they do. Liberalism and rights may prove more pliable than that. It is not at any rate obvious that a generous and reconfigured liberalism understood as a philosophical guide to political choice, is dependent upon a false and counter-experiential account of human nature. Probably what we ought to conclude from the inhumane failure of the liberal rights tradition to date to extend protective rights to the needs of caregivers is that liberalism needs to be amended. At all events it seems that the most "natural" conclusion to draw from both Gilligan and Noddings's demonstration of our rights culture's failure to acknowledge the ethical dimension of care and Fineman's and Kittay's critique of liberalism's failure to protect the caregiving labor required by our human condition, is that liberalism ought be expanded so as to embrace a right to care with all deliberate speed.