Was Winning Women’s Right to Work a Mistake?
The pandemic has revealed how tired women are from work and housework. Did the gains from second-wave feminism deliver liberation or overworked and underpaid women?
In her 2016 Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, Ali Wong performed her set while looking very pregnant onstage. This was the first time I heard anti-work rhetoric, and it was framed in opposition to feminism. Wearing a dress, flats, and her unborn child in her belly, Wong joked that feminists had been wrong to conquer the right to work. “I don’t wanna lean in, okay? I wanna lie down,” she fervently told the audience. “I want to lie the fuck down. I think feminism is the worst thing that ever happened to women. Our job used to be no job. We had it so good.”
This critique of work sounded almost sacrilegious to me at the time. I’m one generation removed from women who always put their family and home first, who gave up on their careers to take care of their children. And here was a pregnant woman blatantly suggesting that having fought for the right to work was a mistake and that being expected to work is, essentially, a scam of modern womanhood. She continued: “We could have done the smart thing, which would have been to continue playing dumb for the next century and be like, ‘We’re dumb women. We don’t know how to do anything. So, I guess we better just stay at home all day and eat snacks and watch Ellen.’” At this point, Wong is perplexed by the “achievements” of second-wave feminists: “And then, all these women had to show off and be like, ‘We could do it! We could do anything.’ Bitch, shut up! Don’t tell them the secret. They ruined it for us, and now we’re expected to work.”
The effect of Wong’s performance of a critique of paid work while looking very pregnant is both curious and familiar. She is, indeed, at work while doing the work of reproduction, and she is complaining about having to do paid work in addition to undertaking reproductive labor. She challenges the corporate liberal feminist perspective of Sheryl Sandberg, by doing exactly what Sandberg preaches: Wong is doing it all while decrying doing it all because doing it all is exhausting.