Teresa Feldmann is a prolific creative whose approach to design is inquisitive and free-flowing yet practical: her explorative mind often leads her to reimagine existing systems and processes. As an avid reader her work is informed by in-depth, cross-disciplinary research; as a passionate maker, she enjoys experimenting with materials and production techniques. Her main interest lies in low tech sustainability, spanning from ethics to alternative economies to biomimicry. Her latest project started as a study into the gendered politics of design which then evolved into dealing with the unpaid care economy as the fundamental enabler for human welfare.
“... you make a glass once but you wash it like a thousand times. Most labour isn’t about making things, it’s about maintaining things.” David Graeber
Did you know that we give and receive free gifts every day? Have you noticed that the logic of exchange (giving in order to receive) often doesn’t explain our interactions at all?
Bank of Care (BoC) is an alternative banking system for the gift economy in which needs are satisfied unilaterally without expecting a return. The women-run non-market production in households is the basic human economy from which other economies derive yet it is ignored by world governments and the way economics is taught in universities.
Economists justify that women are globally invisible because it’s difficult to obtain data on their productivity. But if the current statistical tools used are inadequate for measuring vital care labour in the home, then these need to be redesigned.
I reached out to women living in various countries and asked them a very simple question: to list their routine chores in the home, from housekeeping to childcare. Their stories were echoing each other despite their culturally different surroundings and social class. Their rich, honest, and sometimes humorous audio recordings are the lifeblood of BoC and what originally inspired me to design this system.
In a three-step loop, BoC records caregiving, translates it into readable data, and rewards caregivers. Keeper Assistant, a smart speaker, makes daily recording of care work as seamless and hassle-free as possible. Members get a detailed overview of their free labour in the form of daily receipts and cumulative statistics. They are creating mounting evidence that this productivity exists.
As a community, BoC seeks to empower women as the producers of welfare through the implementation of our own basic income. The view on Universal Basic Income as “money for nothing” is quickly invalidated once we take into account the tremendous commitment, resources, and time spent on care responsibilities.
BoC is an ongoing research that explores how recognising the non-monetary female economy could be the most promising pathway into next stage state/world economics. Events this year reminded us again how vulnerable the market economy is. Once market solutions fail, our households are wholly dependent on the unpaid skilled work of women and girls.
To cite a 2017 OECD report, the unequal division of unpaid care work between men and women in the home is one of the most important gender-equality issues of our time. This invisible labour, as it is often called, is crucial for the smooth functioning of society, for economy, and for life as we know it. But when women do it, the capitalist value system considers them economically unproductive and unoccupied.
Childcare, shopping, cooking, and cleaning is only the tip of an iceberg however. Below the surface there is the remembering, the list-making, and the planning. Women’s minds are constantly occupied with this thinking that feminist theorists call the ‘mental load’.
Historically, wives’ indispensability gave women very few options to lead a different life. Through gradual emancipation in the public sphere, women have displayed equal capabilities to mens’ in seeking and creating knowledge. But the playing field is still uneven.
I propose unlearning gender stereotypes. Unlearning means releasing a false or unhelpful belief that you held true. Unlearning requires revising your perspective holistically, dissolving thought patterns, habits, and default mental frameworks. It aims to get people comfortable with the idea that all knowledge one currently holds is subject to change.
My Designer’s guide to unlearning asks these five questions:
1. Why is it this way? Why do women spend a disproportionate amount of time on housework and childcare compared to men, even when they’re employed full-time?
2. What have I assumed? It is in their nature: women/mothers are hard-wired to care for other family members.
3. What could this be? Social pressures of becoming a certain type of woman and learned behaviour witnessing their own mothers.
4. What have I stopped noticing? Male resistance to doing more at home as caregiving is not considered manly. Men view themselves more stereotypically than women do: masculine identity is more vulnerable to social backlash.
5. What else? The stigma associated with “feminine” traits, as it starts to take root early in children’s interactions, is hard to overcome. So men steer clear from these.