Do We Want To ‘Have It All’?

The workshop ‘Who Cares? Gender, Care Provision, and Inequality’, put on by the Centre of Gender History at the University of Glasgow, was a follow up event to the WWV workshop that took place in April. Using a similar structure of bringing together care practitioners, academics and policy makers, the workshop addressed issues around the gendered assumptions and implications on the paid and unpaid care economy.

An emerging idea, highlighted by Professor Jane Mair of the University of Glasgow, was the issue of a new stereotype of independent, self-sufficient individuals, which ignores the care commitments that large numbers of society hold. This idea that ‘you can have it all’, implies everyone should be able to have a high profile, highly paid career and live exciting lives while simultaneously and effortlessly raising a happy family. Professor Nicole Busby showed images put out by the EU of women, working while preparing food or holding a young child. While this is a lifestyle choice that people should be able to make, participants at the workshop seemed to think it is not one we should be expecting, or imposing on women. It suggests that those who choose caring for children, elderly or ill relatives, over a career, as a higher priority, or see it as just un-reconcilable with working life, as somehow doing it wrong. In this model, where is the place of care?


Italy’s MEP Licia Ronzulli, with her daughter Vittoria in the European Parliament. The Telegraph called her ‘a poster girl for working mothers’, but is this what women should have to do?

This conversation echoes the individualist/ relational arguments that have coloured feminism since the time of Mary Wollstonecraft; do we advocate complete, uncompromising equality with men, or do we create policy and perceptions that cater to ‘differences’?

Recent feminist thought has obviously nuanced this debate significantly, acknowledging individual experience and ‘difference’ between all people, rather than either side of a defined gender line. Particularly differences in experience that have been formed through institutionalised discrimination against certain groups, women of course being one. However, the persistence of this ‘have it all’ stereotype, worryingly seems to miss these ideas.

It was suggested that this stereotype seemed to echo the male breadwinner model, of an autonomous individual who ‘has it all’ at the expense of their care obligations being fulfilled by others: men who achieve high status careers while their wife cares for the family; wealthy families who succeed in their jobs while their children are cared for by others; etc. This ideal sees care as a burden or a disadvantage, and this is reflected in the legal terminology. Perhaps women, and in fact everyone, should be striving towards an ideal where care is acknowledged as an essential foundation of society and valued respectively.

This idea that care work, both paid and unpaid, is undervalued in society, resonated throughout the workshop, with all the speakers addressing issues ranging from the low pay given to care workers, to the lack of quantitative value for the care work done in relationships. In all the cases looked at, women were disproportionately the ones fulfilling the role of carer.

Later discussions raised the question of the feasibility of commercialised care; whether the role of supporting vulnerable people should be assessed through an economic lens or whether we need a new way to value care.

Speakers agreed on the need for interdisciplinary, intergenerational and interdependent thought on care work, so we can provide support for vulnerable people that fulfils their needs, giving them respect and dignity, without negatively impacting the care giver’s mental or financial situation.

Maybe we need to re-think our perception of what it really means to ‘have it all’.


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow


History is in the past: the social relevance of historical research

In scholarly research, it is possible to construct a world out of your towers of books, built on a foundation of statistics and references. We can create distance between the scholar and the subject. We risk writing for and about, rather than with. Replacing voices with our own.

As historians, we have the privileged power of hindsight. We are able to label actions and events as causes and consequences, trace narrative threads that were invisible to contemporary actors. This can add another layer of distance. Another filter on our perspective, coloured by what we know happened afterwards, events these actors could only speculate about.

Yet scholarly work is obviously invaluable and the social relevance of historical research is crucial. The advantage hindsight gives us the possibility of predicting the future. R. G. Collingwood wrote “nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done”. Nuanced and thoughtful historical perspectives are one way to form positive and effective policy.

What use is the world of theory if it does not intersect with a world of action?

The Women, Work and Value workshop, that took place on Monday 25th April, aimed to address this issue of distance. Set up as a knowledge exchange between scholars and experts in the field of care, the event took steps to bridge potential gaps between these groups. It aimed to bring scholarly and historical research into line and into conversation with the work of social actors.

Helen McCarthy from History and Policy discussed the importance of conveying historical work effectively and creatively to politicians and civil servants. A running theme throughout the workshop was the idea that scholars and experts from NGOS and non-profits organisations must work together. Only then can we put forward strong cases for effective policy change.

The importance of this kind of collaboration is becoming more and more visible and is a central pillar of feminist research. In June, the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow is putting on a similar knowledge exchange, also aiming to connect scholars and practitioners working on in the field of care and the care economy.

joint poster

For more information about the event and how to attend, contact Dr Valerie Wright at the University of Glasgow:


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

‘We Try Harder And Get Paid Less’: Visiting Glasgow Women’s Library

The next Women, Work and Value workshop is taking place on April 25th at the University of Glasgow. The event will focus on women, gender and the care economy and feature contributions from local non-profit organisations Work/Care/Share, Engender, and Close the Gap. Preparations are well under way and everyone is excited to see what comes from this event.

final wwv poster.png

However, we couldn’t hold an event about women’s history in Glasgow without taking a little trip to the Glasgow Women’s Library. The GWL was established in 1991 when a feminist group called Women in Profile decided to take women’s history off those dusty shelves marked ‘miscellaneous’ and create a space where it was a central focus. The GWL, situated in Glasgow’s East End, now has a large lending library and a fascinating archival collection of historical and contemporary artefacts relating to women.

To honour this amazing institution and resource, we decided to use an image from the GWL’s archives in our promotion of the Glasgow based WWV workshop. The image shows a collection of feminist badges that formed part of the GWL’s Badges of Honour project in 2014. People across the world were invited to share important badges from their lives and the stories that accompanied them.

These political badges are interesting artefacts because not only do they embody a range of campaigns for women’s rights, from the national to the very small scale, but they also represent the individual women who wore them with pride, purpose and possibly fear. Each has a specific and unique story, whether we know what that is or not.

womens library badges.jpg

Badges are a fitting form of feminist protest because they are worn on someone’s clothing, making the body itself a site of resistance and place of political discussion. These badges come from the collection of Peter Gilpin, who had been collecting political badges since the 1970s. Like the feminists of this period advocated, these badges literally made the person political.

The range of campaigns and slogans in this collection is broad. From the funny to the fiercely aggressive, each of these badges, whether advocating for access to abortion or lesbian rights, is representative of a group of people who felt passionately about issues affecting women. As a singular image, these badges show us the variety, scale and commitment of feminist campaigns of the past.

The upcoming WWV workshop is titled, ‘Gender, Work and the Care Economy: historical perspectives, contemporary challenges.’ Some of the badges from the GWL’s collection give us valuable insight into women’s work and the care economy at the time they were created and worn. Many of them focus on women’s right to work, with obvious slogans like ‘women on the peoples march for jobs ’83’, and ‘a women’s right to work’. Some of them address the more subtle issue of the women’s expected role as carers and housekeepers. One badge reads ‘wages for housework’ and another shows a woman hung up on a washing line with the word housework below. These badges clearly show the desire that some women felt to be freed from the social obligation to stay in the home and care for their family. Others read ‘woman’s place is in the house and senate’ and ‘women make policy, not coffee’, playing cleverly on social expectations and stereotypes.

One badge states in bold, red letters: ‘we try harder and get paid less’. It is difficult to trace the campaign that this badge was part of, but it seems to have originated in America, most likely created in the 1970s by a woman named Jo Ann Evans Gardner who lived in Pittsburgh.[1] This badge struck me as especially relevant because the point it is making is still seen by many as an issue in today’s society. Not only is there still a significant pay gap between men and women in many jobs. Not only are many women still expected to take on the brunt housework and childcare, often as well as having a job. Many women also have to bear the burden of extra emotion labour; a second, third or even fourth shift that is usually unpaid.

The WWV workshop aims to investigate this field. We will look at care as a profession but also as an expectation imposed on women in other types of employment. How is the care economy central to the wider gender structures and gender inequality of work, in the workplace and on the labour market? Are women still expected to be more caring than men and how does this affect how they are treated in their jobs?

The GWL’s badge collection shows us that these are questions women have been asking for decades. They challenge us to ask, what has changed? How have these inequalities been improved, or have they not? They encourage us to question, what still needs to be done?

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

[1] Jo Freeman, ‘Say It With Buttons’, Ms. Magazine, (1974)