Care work – be it mopping up bodily effluvia, getting up in the night for a crying infant, spending hours on end listening to the ramblings of a relative who doesn’t recall who you are – is not aspirational. It’s wearing, dealing with the demands of bodies, hemmed in on all sides by mess, exhaustion and an absence of mental stimulation. Most people who do this work are women, trained from the day they are born to feel shame at any lack of that mythical nurturing instinct. Men tell themselves women do care work because they want to; we tell ourselves we do it because every other woman wants to, hence there must be something wrong with us if we don’t.
It has been said, over and over, so many times it has become boring and almost meaningless, that austerity hits women hardest. Of course it does. Year on year, more of the work that goes into caring for bodies is taken from the state and offloaded onto women, by a Tory government that claims to hate dependency. It’s a government that doesn’t want 18- to 21-year-olds to receive housing benefit, or for families to “rely on the state” to care for elderly relatives, or for a bereaved parent with young children to get too comfortable outside of paid work. It wants people to stand, if not on their own two feet, then on the backs of unpaid carers. After all, we are supposed to think, if care work is kept in the family, it doesn’t really count.