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Bowman and Cole Do Working Mothers Oppress-1

Bowman and Cole Do Working Mothers Oppress-1 - John R...

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[ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2009, vol. 35, no. 1] 2009 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0097-9740/2009/3501-0003$10.00 J o h n R . B o w m a n A l y s o n M . C o l e Do Working Mothers Oppress Other Women? The Swedish “Maid Debate” and the Welfare State Politics of Gender Equality C onsider the following scenario. An election in a major Western de- mocracy leads to a change in government. Soon after a new cabinet is appointed, one of the ministers is forced to resign in disgrace for not paying social security taxes for her child-care worker. Concurrently, the media stages a heated debate about whether working women should, under any circumstances, be hiring other women to clean their houses. For most feminist critics of the U.S. welfare state, such public scandals featuring the transgressions of women who penetrated formerly male do- mains of power have a disturbingly familiar ring, conjuring images of Zoe ¨ Baird, President Bill Clinton’s ill-fated attorney general appointee, and the more recent “mommy wars,” which resurrected disputes over the possibility and desirability of balancing paid employment and child rearing. They serve as yet another reminder of the gross inadequacy of family policy in the United States, where a lack of public services forces most families to patch together private solutions. These struggles have caused many of us to look longingly across the Atlantic to the social democratic welfare regimes of Scandinavia, where generous family leave and high- quality public preschools allow working parents to juggle their multiple roles successfully without resorting to the informal labor market (Gornick and Meyers 2003). The catch is that the scandal described above in fact occurred in Swe- den, the Nordic country that comes “closest to facilitating the dual-earner, We received financial support to conduct this research from the Queens College Equity Studies Research Center. We are grateful to Anne Lise Ellingsæter for drawing our attention to the “maid debate” in Sweden and to Oz Frankel, Phil Green, Joan Tronto, Susan Wood- ward, Lenny Markovitz, and the two anonymous referees for commenting on earlier drafts of the article. Special thanks go to Anita Nyberg for reading and discussing at length a previous version of this essay and for helping us locate Swedish sources.
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158 Bowman and Cole care-sharing family, in which both mothers and fathers are economic pro- viders and carers for children” (Leira 2006, 43–44). In the fall of 2006, the newly elected center-right government led by Fredrik Reinfeldt was immediately embroiled in a “nannygate” controversy when it was revealed that two of the recently appointed female ministers had hired household help under the table. In the mid-1990s, a proposal to provide tax relief for families who employ workers to perform housework unleashed the pigdebatt (maid debate), which focused on the question of whether middle-class women who hire such help are creating a new class of marginal workers and perpetuating the regressive notion of “women’s work.”
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