In December 2013 I attended a feminist research methodologies workshop convened by Space&Place Research Collaborative (https://www.maynoothuniversity.ie/geography/about-spaceplace) with Professor Linda McDowell, a feminist economic geographer. Attendees at the workshop were mostly women, working as artists, academics and architects, some employed and some with their own practices. Professor McDowell introduced some of her research on women in the labour market and discussed her own relationship to work, leading to conversation among the wider group about our experiences. A recurring theme was the difficulty of maintaining one’s own practice and professional visibility, not to mention earning power, after having children.
It occurred to me then that quarto was more integrated with core feminist principles and interests informing my academic and art practices than I realised. In a work world where women still tend to occupy low- to middle-level jobs and to work part-time (at lower pay than men working part-time) to accommodate what Madeleine Bunting calls ‘caring responsibilities’, quarto offers me and my sisters something unusual. Three of us have young families. One of us lives in Belfast, the others in regional towns. Through working together, we can take on projects that require more qualifications and experience and more time commitment than any one of us can offer. We can take on projects at geographical distances from where we live, knowing that we will share the travelling. We can juggle project work between us depending on our changing caring responsibilities. Also, in stepping out into self-employment I have found the emotional support of working with my sisters invaluable. Work-wise, quarto has enabled me to work for better pay, at more flexible hours and with more job satisfaction than would have been possible in many forms of employment.
To me, this is an aspect of feminism at work. Of course, quarto depends on what the market offers in terms of paid projects. However, working with women who not only understand what it is to work as women and to work part-time around family life, but have ambition for the quality of work we can do and the fulfilment we can gain from it, is deeply satisfying to me as a feminist. As Bunting suggests:
[I]f women have been moved into the workplace only for their traditional caring labour to be abandoned, outsourced or squeezed to the edges… [t]he mission of feminism to achieve equality will have been hijacked by a capitalism eager for cheap, flexible labour and emotional skills on its own terms.
I would add that not only families but all workplaces are missing out on a wealth of skill, experience and talent when it is made difficult or impossible for women (and men) to work flexibly and/or part-time on their own terms and for decent wages.