Cheap Masks and the Devaluation of Women’s Work

I want to put a thought out there that I know is kinda controversial. I have been hesitant to talk about it, but the thought isn’t going away, so here goes… Masks are too cheap. I’m all for making masks for free for friends and family. I’m all for donating masks to those who need them and can’t afford them, but masks using 2 or 3 layers of fabric and elastic and time should not cost $10 or even $15 for that matter. It is another example of the devaluation of women’s work. There may be some men sewing face masks out there, but I am pretty sure it’s mostly women.

I understand the rational. There’s a pandemic going on and there’s a need, so it’s not O.K. to make a profit selling masks. But here’s the thing….crafts people, who make their living sewing, have pretty much lost their ability to make a living. And here’s an opportunity to fill the void…but because there seems to be a collective agreement that masks should be cheap there’s no way for a woman who actually needs to earn a living to make a living wage selling masks. If she does charge properly for her work many people will question her ethics. I know that many retired women out there who are financially secure don’t feel the need to make a profit, but it might be worth considering that charging a pittance for a mask might be making it impossible for a single mother, who really does need the money, to make a living. What other profession out there (connected to the pandemic) is expected to give their work away? I can’t think of any. Now here’s a bit of history that you might find interesting. Going back to the mid 1800’s it was not OK for a genteel lady to make money, but it was O.K. to donate her work to raise funds for her church. So, women have been giving away their handiwork for time immemorial because it was not acceptable for women to make money. We are still in the same place. We are still operating with the same mindset.

What should a mask cost? Let’s consider that it takes a minimum of half an hour to make a well made mask. There’s the price of fabric, the time it takes to sell it and promote it and the cost of keeping the lights on and paying taxes, so I would say $20 minimum. Why not charge an amount that will enable those who actually need to put food on the table by sewing, do so? You can always have a policy of charging less or giving away for free to anyone in need. And if you are financially secure and don’t want to profit from making masks, well, how about donating the proceeds to your local women’s shelter or food bank? Just a thought…

1 Comment

  1. Laura on July 31, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Very well said.