Barbara Pocock, 2006, Federation Press.
How I wish I had read this book when it was published in 2006.
Common wisdom, as taught in both Human Geography and Public Health, is that as women become more educated they have less children. The implication is that having many children is stupid. But is it even possible to have many children, or to have children early in life, as reproductive biologists now tell us we ought? What are the real pressures on women and their families that make traditional families difficult to create and nurture?
Barbara Pocock dug deeper than the explanation offered by common wisdom. She conducted focus groups to find out what the ‘market’ was really doing to our work, social and intimate lives. She shows how the market enters realms which were previously uncommercialised – reproduction, body organs, care, children, spirituality, laughter, cultural expression – because there is money to be made. This means we become ever more dependent on the market for almost everything we do.
Her nuanced and compassionate analysis is refreshing to read. She understands both how markets work AND how families work, and is keenly aware of the tumultuous sphere in which the two meet. She considers the price paid for the commodification of our lives, especially to children. She explores the consequences of a labour market gone wrong: “damaging babies and children, widening inequality, weakening communities or loading up women with impossible workloads cloaked by private guilt.” Sound familiar, ladies?
As women have entered the market en masse over the past 150 years, women have filled these new markets: nursing, teaching, childcare, cleaning, cooking, sales, factory work. Some of these jobs women would not do except that they need the money, being dependent on the market for almost everything they and their families do. The targeting of children as a new consumer market puts additional pressure on mothers to earn more and more. And don’t even get me started on the pressure applied to women by way of other women’s (carefully orchestrated) posts on pinterest and instragram and facebook… our fake lives making other women feel inadequate…
And now women’s bodies become the goods, as well as the labour, for ever expanding new markets: surrogacy, prostitution, eggs for IVF, pornography.
The undercurrent of Barbara’s wonderful book is something that went unsaid: what is the ‘market’? It occurred to me that what she really meant by the market was quite simple greed and discontent. We really are a discontented group of people here in Australia. It reminds me of this quote, apparently by Gail Dines: “If tomorrow, women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business.”