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Introduction to the week

Welcome to Week 3 of the course.
HANNAH TELLING: Welcome to week three. This week we’re exploring work and care. Now when we think of work, we often think of the activities we do in the office, in the classroom, or on the construction site– labour that we receive payment for. When we think of care, we often turn instead to unpaid activities– to child rearing, care for our elderly relatives, and reproductive labour or giving birth. Yet historically, the division between work and care has never been clear-cut. These activities have always overlapped. In the past, women would employ other women, often those from the lower classes of society, to breastfeed their infants, for instance.
This in turn gave mothers the freedom to engage in paid employment themselves, as spinners, weavers, brewers, and even as estate managers for their husbands. If a married man died in early modern Scotland, his wife expected financial compensation for continuing to care for the children of the marriage, and would even take her husband’s kin to court to secure payment. Work and care have also been fundamentally gendered throughout history. Physical labour and whole swathes of professional work have, until recently, been coded as male, whilst teaching and care work have been seen to be the natural calling of women.
Whilst today women are represented more equally in the workforce, the persistence of the gender pay gap reveals that, on the whole, women around the world continue to be paid less than men for the same labour. Plus, on average, mothers perform nine hours more of housework than fathers per week, amounting to an extra three months’ work in a full-time job per year. This has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID pandemic, as our homes have become our offices, and the kitchen table has replaced the classroom. The entrenched gendered attitudes towards caring responsibilities have become ever more visible. We can gain a better understanding of modern patterns of work and care by looking back and exploring our histories.
This week, we will be exploring work and care through a gendered historical lens. How has the division between work and care been interpreted and reinterpreted within feminist discourse? What do stories from history and the objects of the past reveal about alternative approaches to gendered work and caring responsibilities over time? Join us as our team takes you through cutting edge historical research into work and care, for women’s work and its links with empire in the early modern world to the gender-ing of work and the effects of deindustrialization in the 20th century. And the Equal Pay protests in the 1970s that saw almost every woman in the country just take the day off.

We hope you enjoyed learning about Sex and Intimacy last week! You should now have an understanding of how our bodies and desires have been understood and regulated in past societies.

This week, we will explore Work and Care. This video introduces some of the topics and ideas that we are going to explore, from feminist (re)definitions of paid and unpaid labour and the gendering of work and care throughout history, to historical protests for equal pay and how everyday material culture provides a fascinating insight into the operation of gender in the past.

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A Global History of Sex and Gender: Bodies and Power in the Modern World

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