Friday, February 17, 2006

Change a diaper today? You're untouchable.

Hey all you stay-at-home and working-part-time moms out there! According to a careful study of "Sex and the City" and the society page of the New York Times, you are wasting your educations and voluntarily conscripting yourself to a job no more rewarding than cleaning up animal manure.

This tract, written by women's studies professor Linda Hirschman, contains some choice lines, like this one:

"The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government."

Because you know there is nothing rewarding in this world except paid work. Oh, the hours I used to spend at my desk, gazing out the window and feeling myself flourish as I made phone calls and had arguments with editors and watched the clock. No, I didn't feel my soul draining out through my ears at all. But now, now that I spend more of my time raising and educating a child, well, I'm just a pooper-scooper.

"these daughters of the upper classes will be bearing most of the burden of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste. ... They have voluntarily become untouchables."

Thanks, professor.

The funny thing is, I'm a feminist. I really am. I think it sucks that -- as Hirschman points out in this piece -- corporate boards and our government are still made up of mostly men. I do think that fathers should make an equal share of career sacrifices to make sure that children are well cared for. I do resent the lack of balance in household life, where I am responsible for most of the cleaning chores. But what I prickle at is her notion that grown, sober women are somehow incapable of consent. My husband would probably jump at the chance to put aside his career and be a full time parent. But I want it more. I justify that choice with my lesser income, but to tell the truth, I might have dialed back my career even if I made more than him. Having a child changed both of our lives, but it is all-consuming to me. I read the parenting books. I investigate the classes and story hours and the latest nutritional research. Look at my friggin' blog, for frig's sake! Epu has a blog about the latest software he's installed on his computer.

It's a conflict for modern feminist mothers. I want to be accomplished in my work -- although not necessarily my day job -- and I want Epu to share the burdens of the home. But I care so much more about being the one to spend the day with Nutmeg, and about how the household is running, too. And most of the other mothers I know feel the same way. This woman is telling us that either we're wrong to care, or that we need to turn our backs on what we care about for the good of the country and for feminism.

I have to renounce what I care about and do what you tell me to instead? That's how I get liberated, huh? Yeah?

No.

11 comments:

Kori said...

Girl, you always find the best articles to read---thanks, again.

I barely know how to respond to this woman, so I'm glad that you did so well. Of course, there is an annoying gender gap when it comes to household chores and overall responsibility---I talk with friends about it all the time. That is a legitimate issue, and I know that was the focus of her article. However, there was one thing that really bothered me about her focus: she seems to be most concerned with wealthy women---women of a certain class---becoming "low-class" women by raising their children. If "low-class" women raise kids, it won't threaten the boardroom, right? This is such a poorly-thought out argument, as it focuses only on the short-term.

At what point was feminism about saving the wealthy's station in life? I'm completely confused by this. Sure, there were many wealthy women who were pioneers of the suffragist movement, but if I remember what I read in all those pesky history books, they worked hard to champion the civil rights of all the women and girls working in factories and homes for almost nothing.

Feminism is for everyone, not just the "touchables," so give me a break. Even if wealthy women are becoming slaves to diapers (which I don't believe they are, by the way), why is it WORSE for them than the other women lower on the stratosphere.

The poet, Audra Lorde, wrote an amazing piece about how there is no "hierarchy of oppresions"---marginalizing any part of society is damaging to every part of society. The idea that childrearing is base, "low-tier" work is completely ridiculous, but even if it were true, this author seems to be fighting the wrong fight.

The long-term benefits of good mothering are seen in boardrooms---men and women in those boardrooms who were nurtured and educated and given a chance at a great self-concept are the people running the show. Are only wealthy, educated, high-class women able to inspire their children to reach for greatness? I don't think so. Without going all Republican jibber-jabber, I must ask, isn't that what America is supposed to be about?

tessence said...

THANK you. You know, I just get so sick of academics, writers and everyone else telling women, "You are doing it wrong. You are making the wrong choices." Because I think I'm doing just fine. Our corporations and government could use some adjustments, but I'm doing fine.

Kori said...

So true. If we want more women in the boardroom, more women in Congress, more women running major corporations, then we need to make the American workday and the American work/life cycle ammenable to childrearing, plain and simple. In true feminist form, this kind of change would help women AND men, because I believe one of the greatest crimes the work world commits is the robbing of men from their families, all for overtime and the pursuit of advancement and mercy to the all-mighty dollar.

An interesting study came out a few years ago---I don't have details, because I saw it profiled on Oprah---but essentially, the primary researcher went out to write a book about female CEO's and heads of business, and came to the startling discovery that some huge majority (I want to say 90%+) did not have children, and many didn't have a spouse. When asked why they hadn't had families, many women said they simply couldn't do both, and they deeply regretted not raising children. This intrigued the author, so she expanded her interviews to the most successful men in America, and quickly realized that almost all of them had children and spouses, and credited their immediate families for giving them drive, purpose, a balanced life, peace, etc.

The author's overall finding was that the American workplace, with it's specific hours and need for you to build your career up exclusively during the very time women are able to bear children, shuts out women from their opportunity to rise through the ranks. Interestingly enough, the many skills and abilities that women develop as they raise children are often critically missing from the American workplace. If we were "let back in" to the work world in a meaningful way after childrearing, or if we were allowed to work more flexible hours (alongside our spouses, for that matter) while raising our kids, everyone would benefit.

I have to go clean up spit now---the kid is under her gym, drooling like crazy. :) My employer is very demanding.

Notta Wallflower said...

Pretty interesting article. On one hand, I understand what the author is saying and why she's focusing on upper class women. After listening to "Nickel and Dimed",being a former entry level employee, and realizing that, even though the lower paid workforce comprises a large percent of the working population, it shows that this group of people don't have the means to force a change in the system. The sad matter of fact is that women who are wealthy will have the means to get advanced degrees as opposed to women from middle or lower class, especially with the proposed cuts in funding for college education. This, and the fact that they have the financial means, makes them more able to effect a change for women.

Like you, I consider myself a feminist, but definitely not to one extreme or the other. I think that women should get paid more than they do - I work just as hard as H and get paid a third of what he does. However, he has a higher degree and is in a tech job. I think part of why women don't get paid what they're worth is that they do want to be able to have a family. In order to do this, it's more viable to search for a job in "social sciences" versus the corporate world. I think it's one of the reasons teachers are paid what they are - women have flocked to this field because it is probably one of the most family-friendly professions you can have.

Also like you, I have been criticized for my choice in parenting, but it's been from the opposite end. I was told by my sister that I was a horrible mother because I chose to go back to college part time. I think everyone needs to find what works for them. I want to feel like I have a life outside of my home, but I spent a lot of time when K was young working part time so that I wouldn't miss out on his childhood. I have chosen to work in education (even though I could make more money in a clinic or private practice), so that I could have his schedule. Now that he's older and getting busier being a teenager, I don't regret my decisions. You know, when someone is standing up reading my eulogy, I'd rather have them say "she was a good mother and was dedicated to her family" versus "damn, that woman was really good at facilitating meetings and getting her paperwork in on time". Does that make me less of a feminist? I don't think so.

If you're interested, I read a website of a woman who is in feminist studies - she has some pretty good explanations of different types of feminism. However, I hate to be pigeon-holed and often find that I don't belong to one group or the other, but it makes for interesting reading.

http://whyyouarewrong.blogspot.com/ is the website I'm referring to - it's called The Sarchasm.

Bert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bert said...

Not being a mother, but having had plenty of contact with children who don't have good caregivers in their lives, I'm inclined to say that this woman is totally nuts. Being the primary caregiver to a child is the most important job in the world. Without loving caregivers, who would teach good values? Having been a teacher, I know there's not time for that nonsense in the public schools. So, then? Churches? Yes, I'm sure a once-a-week dose of morals will, more than enough, suffice.

Sure, parenthood is full of things that non-parents might think are gross. For instance, I saw Cpu eat a mangled piece of well-used pizza off of Nutmeg's highchair tray just yesterday. Eew. But, geez, she sure does love her daughter! Nutmeg is lucky to have a mommy who puts her before the daily grind of a day job (a job she actually loves, btw).

Mommies and daddies rock. That article woman needs some Prozac.

tessence said...

Notta -- This reminds me if a little debate we had in the newsroom a couple years ago. A woman was murdered while walking a hiking trail on her lunch break. We wrote an article about her with something about "mother" in the headline. All her friends' comments were about what a great mother she was. Some of the male editors -- sensitive souls that they are, in these parts -- questioned whether we would have called the victim a "father" in the headline, had it been a man. Why not "social worker," or whatever her job was? But a couple female reporters who were moms piped up and said, "If it were me, I'd want to be remembered first as a mother. Not for my job."

And not that I think we should paint all women with that brush, and say, ok, women want to be known as parents, so we can disregard their job accomplishments. But some of us -- many of us, in my experience -- do choose to be mothers first, at least during the period of our lives when our children are small. And I am so sick of people telling women that our choices are wrong, whether it's your sister telling you you shouldn't go back to school or Linda Hirschman telling me I have to work full time.

Notta Wallflower said...

I don't see how you can work full time after having a child and not miss out on Nutmeg's milestones. You're just setting your own priorities, but it doesn't make what you do less important. Society views it that way because we don't get paid for being a mother, and society is all about determining worth through dollar signs. Funny how differently men and women view the parenthood role.

Kayadela said...

You ladies are inspiring. I feel that the bottom line of feminism, what women have been fighting for, is not JUST the "equality" in the sense of same pay, same jobs, same clubs, etc., but it's to HAVE the same options and choices. What we do with our options and choices is up to us. We make our choices-that's feminism.

I have several thoughts on this. If a woman chooses to stay at home she should be aware that these options are available to her because of the feminist movement. The movement gave up the choice to work or not. I made the decision that if I were to bring a life into world that I would live my life around that person. I choose them, they didn't ask to be here-feels fair. This is for me, and I try to maintain an interesting intellectual and creative life for me as well as the benefits it offers Eliot. Mostly, this isn't a choice that men get to make. We should all be more open to that because it's equal. And because it's equal I should be able to COO, CFO, Human Resources, Creative and Activities Director, Chef for picky eater, and Travel coordinator as previous experience. My strengths are quick thinking, multi-tasking, and I am able to deal with multiple types of people due to toddler multiple personality syndrom. We aren't that equal yet, but let's keep working on it.

The article is an interesting turn on the usual mother bashing. While this woman is targeting the "well"-educated, it's usually poor mothers that are expected to work. If read articles, as far back as 30 or 40 years ago, you can see the government creating a lanquage that marginalizes and demonizes these poor or welfare women. They are labled lazy, sluty, moochers... and are expected to work even if the pay doesn't match the care. In many cases these women end up being nanny's, not spending time raising their children, but other peoples. Which brings me to other people: the rich. These women, rich and not necessarily educated, are given permission, almost expected to stay home. You can see the proof of this in the more expensive neighborhoods in the city and outlining suberbs. Businessess and advertizers love this market.

I bring this up to show that it's complicated and I am angry that it's complicated. It shouldn't be, the same should not only be between men and women, but also between the economic classes. This "educated" woman, professor Linda Hirschman, is shallow and selfish. Her opinion asks that women focus on one aspect of life, the part that society can put a monetary value on (keep working on the resume moms). It's so one dimensional.

Bottom line is-as tired as the saying is, really-that at the end of day scooping poop, sloppy kisses and energy to talk to my partner is the what I now live for and I have never been more sure that I made the best choice for us.

Whew, I was long winded!

tessence said...

Thanks Kay. You know, that is probably why I have always seen the chance to stay home as a privelege, and not the chance to work. My mom worked as a nurse. My grandma worked, off and on. My other grandma worked full time in the AMC factory. Out of my four great grandmothers, one worked full time in a factory, one at least full time as a caterer, one I'm not sure about, and one was a homemaker. So I guess we never glorified the right to work outside the home in our family, because we already knew that while it has its rewards, it also kind of sucks.

And Kay, I agree with you -- I feel lucky to be a woman, because I so want to opt out of the day-to-day workforce, and that's a lot harder to get away with as a man. Getting more men -- who WANT to -- to "drop out" and take care of the kids would help both sexes out, I think.

I mean, who does Hirshmann think WILL take care of our children now that's she's classified it as the most debasing job you can possibly take. Just the poor, I guess, and you can see how interested she is in them.

Jenny said...

I know I'm late here, but I haven't had time to read the article until now. Kind of funny for me that this is coming up right now (the author was on Good Morning America today, apparently) since I just dusted off my old paper on gender and language in the workforce (believe it or not, this relates to legal privacy, but I won't bore you with the details).

This is a huge issue for women lawyers. Excuse my French, but we just can't fucking do it! Two high powered people can marry, but if you want to have kids...someone has to step back. And the 'have one baby but don't have two' comment? It's pretty true, unfortunately. You can have one kid and still be perceived as serious about your career, but not two.

Do you think it's easier because your passion is writing? Or maybe I'm just an attention whore (is your mom still reading this blog? Sorry!). I crave recognition, and not just from a toddler. And at the same time, D and I are right now freaking out about the idea of putting our kid in full time daycare (if I were offered a full time lawyer gig, that is). So I'm torn. And it sucks. And it's true that when women who have a choice don't choose work, it sets a precedent.

Of course that's unfair. Am I supposed to say to myself, well, I want to stay at home to raise my child, but in the name of feminism, I'm headed to work! No. We need better options than this. Women need support - we need subsidized childcare and more leave. If we really care about families, we'll put our money where our mouths are.

Because child rearing is hard and important work. I had to call up a former professor of mine recently to ask for a recommendation letter. I told him that taking care of a toddler was harder than working, so I'm ready to go back to work. He said to me, "Well, I don't know about 'harder,' just different." Yeah. Spoken like a man (or, ahem, should I say, "not the caregiver in the family")!