It is one of those mornings where a difficult decision has to be made. Luci, almost 20 months old, has been sick since the Friday night after Thanksgiving, and my husband is out of PTO and I do not yet have eligible sick or vacation time. I do, however, have a job that has a modicum of flexibility. So, on Monday, I take our daughter to the pediatrician’s 7:30 a.m. walk-in hours, to find out why she has been throwing up phlegm and waking up in the middle of the night with labored breathing. She is diagnosed with Respiratory Syncytial Virus, and I am told she may return to preschool the following day, barring any complications.
But today, today Luci’s care is all mine, which I love, but I also worry, as many parents do, what staying home means, not only for our little girl, but also for our bottom line.
Other questions arise too: How much is Luci’s comfort and care worth? How do you break down the cost of transport to a doctor’s office? The hours I have spent up with my beloved toddler, who wakes at 11 p.m., 2 a.m., 4 a.m. coughing and wheezing. I clear the snot from her nose (often against her will), console her as she becomes ill, clean us both up (and wash, dry, and fold all the laundry involved), and get her back to sleep in clean sheets, blankets, and pajamas? How do you estimate the value of staying home, even a day, so my husband may pursue his career?
These are some of the important questions artist Patti Maciesz wanted to explore as she navigated motherhood and uncovered the unpaid, often “invisible” work most, if not all, women perform as caregivers and mothers. Maciesz’s art showcases the time she spends with her toddler son Abe, which she began tracking after the Women’s March in 2017. Paying attention to the care she gave her then infant son helped Maciesz create her art project, Bill the Patriarchy, which asks women to estimate the number of hours they perform cleaning, child care, cooking, emotional labor, household management, driving, and other work. Maciesz creates invoices from those who take her short quiz on her homepage, which she then emails to survey respondents, showing women what their “value” would be in terms of dollars and cents. So far, Maciesz said, on average, the unpaid wages reported by each respondent has totaled $100,000 per year.
“If men got pregnant, they would be on disability on Week 2,” Maciesz said by phone earlier this month. “There is a problem with the whole idea to shut that down and show up at work while pregnant. There is something about child-rearing and capitalism that just does not fucking work. What if we got paid for it? Compensating for all the work? Really feeling like we got a fair shot?”
The goal of Bill the Patriarchy, Maciesz said, is to get people to start thinking about and acting against the inequity of unpaid labor many women still contribute inside the home and to American society as a whole. “The main thing I’m really trying to do is just show the value in women’s work,” Masciesz said in a video on her website. “We really attribute value to things in this country through money. I really love the idea of thinking about the time that I spend on childcare as billable hours.”
Maciesz encourages quiz respondents to fax their messages to elected representatives in Congress to not only make visible their contributions to society at-large but also to create a sea change of advocacy for universal childcare and compensation for unpaid domestic work. So far, over 3,000 people have taken Maciesz’s quiz, but those respondents are only the tip of the iceberg, she said. According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 11 million stay-at-home parents in America, with 25 percent of those parents living in poverty.
Maciesz knows, however, the premise of “billing the patriarchy” is controversial, but she believes it is time for women to receive just compensation for the important, unpaid job of raising the next generation.
“People laugh at me,” Maciesz said, “but I don’t think it’s unreasonable if you are paid. You do get financial help from the government [for eldercare].” Perhaps one of the main reasons government programs, such as Medicaid or Veterans Administration benefits, do exist to defray the costs of caring for aging parents is “babies don’t vote,” as Maciesz’s husband pointed out during a conversation.
“People may think of what I’m doing is asking for handouts, but it’s not,” Maciesz said. “I’m asking for pay. I truly believe that once we know, truly know, our value we will not work for free.”