The following is a guest post by Tara Hunt, aka @MissRogue.
The NFB documentary about Marilyn Waring’s work, Who’s Counting?, changed my life.
I was in my second year of university in Calgary, Alberta, not far from where I had been raised. The small town where I grew up was an ideal place for kids. There was a lovely community and the world seemed to work as it should. I hadn’t thought about the socioeconomic implications of calculating Gross Domestic Product as the core measure of a country’s success. And it probably doesn’t occur to many others that this simple measurement affects matters from policy to funding to the general types of things we value in the world. But Who’s Counting? opened my eyes to this.
Marilyn Waring is a powerhouse of a human being. Born and raised in New Zealand, she has dedicated most of her life to addressing the inequalities in what we value in the world, in an attempt to have women’s work (often unpaid) considered a societal contribution that is as valuable, if not more valuable, than much of the paid work that contributes to the GDP.
In 1988, she published If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics (also published under Counting for Nothing: What Men Value and What Women are Worth), a sharp assessment of what we do and don’t value by only calculating paid work into the GDP. She raises many of the same examples used in the NFB Film, such as oil spills, drug trade (through money moving around, policing and incarceration) and war as contributing to the GDP, while child rearing, housework and taking care of one’s aging family members are not.
As Marilyn explains, what we measure matters. When driving towards specific goals in, say, increasing the GDP to show growth, policies change to encourage economic growth, but remove costs in social growth. For example, a country wanting to increase the GDP may remove or reduce fines on companies that commit environmental damage in order to raise that company’s yearly earnings and shift the burden onto the education system, an ostensible drain on the economy.
I watched the NFB documentary before I read Marilyn’s book then ran out to the bookstore the very next day. Since that day, my own career has shifted gears. Before watching this film and being exposed to Marilyn’s work, I was blindly following a deeply systemic bias towards people who work for pay.
My own mother had sacrificed a career to raise my brother and me, which I didn’t respect. After Who’s Counting? I realized what everyone should: The economy requires many levels of labour to support it, and men who spend long hours advancing their careers AND have a family are very lucky that they have a wife at home who doesn’t ask for a salary to support his career advancement.
Growing up, I rarely saw my father as he was always working. My mother packed our lunches, cleaned the house, took us to extra-curricular activities, helped us with homework, coached us on life, offered us a shoulder to cry on, kept the garden growing to supplement our diets with fresh veggies, kept us active and eating right and catalyzed who we are today: successful, happy members of the world.
As the years have passed and I have been raising a child on my own – juggling my career and parenting role, quite often unsuccessfully – I’ve further realized what she did was no easy task. In fact, I pay third parties to do much of the work my mother did when I was growing up, so that I can focus on my career. Housekeepers, tutors, take-out restaurants, child psychologists, taxis, personal trainers, fresh fruit and vegetable delivery people and nutritionists have all been hired along the way to do the work I cannot complete on the home front. I probably spend tens of thousands of dollars per year on what my mother used to do for free.
Marilyn’s work continues, and I had the honour of meeting her in 2007 in Wellington, New Zealand, to discuss what she is working on today. I also look forward to interviewing her for this blog and updating her activities, which continue.
She still advocates for major reform to the way countries measure their health and growth, and you can see her work reflected in projects like the Genuine Progress Indicator, the Human Development Index and even in my own work on raising the awareness on the importance of social capital. In Canada, the project out of the Atlantic, Genuine Progress Index has been gaining momentum over the years.
I encourage everyone to watch this film. Expect it to change the way you look at the world. Big thanks to the NFB for bringing Marilyn’s work to me in such a clear, accessible format.
Tara “missrogue” Hunt, named as one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company Magazine, has spent the past 15 years living her life online. In April 2009, her book on Web 2.0 and community marketing The Whuffie Factor was released with Crown Publishing. She lives in Montreal, travels around the world speaking, is writing her next book (working title ‘Happiness as Your Business Model’), is a mother of a teenager, caregiver of a small dog and is working on the launch of her startup, Shwowp. She is working on changing the world in her spare time.