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March 11, 2005

Comments

SorchaRei

I understand that the 50s were a complex, interesting decade, at least in books, and in theory. However, if you happened to be a white, middle class little girl growing up in the US, they also sucked.

People used to ask my brother what he wanted to be when he grew up. They asked me how many children I wanted to have. The prevailing ideal of little girlhood was "be nice, be obedient, be quiet, be nice, be helpful, be clean and tidy, and did we mention be nice?" I was told, more than once, by more than one adult, that I better be less smart or no one would ever marry me.

As far as I am concerned, for people in my demographic, the 50s sucked. And I am pretty sure that they sucked for people in other demographics, probably even worse than for mine. It's irritating when people who didn't live through it (or who lived through it as an educated, well-off white male) tell me that it's wrong to demonize the fifties. It's hard to appreciate the complexities of the times when there's a heel in the back of your neck and the driveway gravel is pressing into your face.

As for what college is for, I resist all the time the notion that college is solely vocational training. I hope that college is (still) a place to explore the world and one's relationship to that world, and to acquire both the skills and the habits of mind to make one a life-long learner, critical thinker, and interesting person to talk to.

Charla

If you want to have kids you need to have the time to devote to them._ Kids deserve more time and love than our society is willing to admit to.__ When I decided to have my kids I stopped working a month before delivery. I went back to work (a more flexible job)when the kids went to nursery school, around age (2.5) I never regretted my decision, even though it meant a loss of income and a lifestyle change.
At the time we barely made it every month, but honestly, those were the happiest days for our family.

If I had to do it all over again I would choose the same option.__When you are responsible for a life you give from your heart. You don't really worry about whether your career is going to suffer, you just do the best you can.

Caroline

Kid's, women, life-work balance?

I wonder if blokes learned to cherish home making; a pleasure in having a home to relax in, to welcome friends to etc. etc.

I wonder if blokes learned to handle the frustrations of home and family building: would those frustrations be shared and worked through better?

I wonder if we changed the way we viewed work as either full-time career or part-time pin-money/personal interst jobs. If we found a way to open spaces for society determining and public work to be done as a part of our lives rather than requiring our total body and soul?

I just wonder if we started down these roads, mightn't we find a way of not dumping on women a choice between career and family? Maybe we would find a way for women and men to be creative and contributory in the public realm that did not pull us all away from family?

Keri

I do agree that we shouldn't rank other people's life choices (though unless I'm completely reading that final quote wrong, you seem to be guilty of ranking those who choose to focus on family above those who choose to focus on career a bit yourself); however, I do find the study somewhat disturbing. As someone who does not believe that gender roles are inherent, as someone who believes that women and men would be far more similar than different if left to their own devices, I find the "most women want to stay home and most men want to work" setup problematic.

I'm not interested in criticizing any individual's choice to do what she feels drawn to and what will make her happy; I have no compunctions, however, about criticizing the social system that influences the "average woman" to believe that men should make the money and women should raise the kids. Who knows what the "average" choice would have been if societal roles didn't stress motherhood as the most important aspect of any woman's identity once she reaches a certain age? Who knows what it would have been if we weren't all trained to see it as deviant and strange when a woman makes more money than a man, or when a man stays home and raises kids instead of working?

I just think there are ways to criticize the system without disrespecting the individual choices. There's a middle ground between attacking women who want to be housewives for their choices and just accepting the statistics without question.

mythago

But I don't presume to tell them that a high-paying career in the workforce is superior to building a loving home and raising children.

You tell them this when you focus only on women's choices to leave the workforce, and never on men's and when you present the issue of "work/family balance" as solely what mothers do. Women aren't stupid. They tend to notice that it's considered wonderful and fulfilling to be an at-home, but only for women, because God knows men have better things to do than change diapers.

When men are out there in droves demanding their right to choose to be at-home or part-time-at-home parents and rely on state-subsidized daycare, I'll be in there cheering with you, Hugo. In the meantime, it's just more crap about how we girls should be home with the babies while you boys go out and fight saber-toothed tigers.

Stentor

I hope you're giving the same message to the young men in your classes, especially given your statements in the past that as a man you feel a special calling to work with other men. I worry that some young women are choosing to stay at home because that's the only way they can have kids -- daddy taking on the childrearing burden doesn't seem to be on the table for many couples.

Sally

It seems to me that, as someone who has been divorced several times, you of all people should be kind of sensitive to the down-side of women's choice to leave the workplace and concentrate on family. I think it's a fine choice, but it does make women very, very vulnerable should their marriages end (or should they want to end their marriages.) My mom, who grew up working-class in the '50s, concurs with Sorcha's suggestion that it stank (I've run the revisionist take on the '50s by her, and she's having none of it), and part of the reason that it stank for her was that her mother could not leave her abusive father, because it was impossible for a woman to make enough money to support a family. Nobody thinks that's going to happen to them, but it happens to someone. And with the way the labor market is set up at the moment, leaving paid employment for a significant amount of time does make it very difficult to find a decent job if at some later point you need to do so. In a society with a 50% divorce rate, that doesn't seem like a trivial issue. And I don't think it's particularly healthy for women to be stuck in marriages because of the very real fear that leaving will render them impoverished.

It's possible that the solution is to change the way the labor market values domestic skills. But I think it's an issue worth considering.

mythago

daddy taking on the childrearing burden doesn't seem to be on the table for many couples

Granted that we can't always read people's minds, but why marry and rear a child with somebody whose attitude is "You handle the kids--I have more important things to do"? (Otherwise, I heartily concur with you.)

And Sally is quite right. Nobody thinks they will be the displaced homemaker struggling to re-enter the job market and support children after a long absence.

Tara

Charla: "If you want to have kids you need to have the time to devote to them."

So I guess all the men who have kids and don't adjust their job didn't really want the kids? They were tricked? Pressured? Apathetic?

Where's the shame for all the men who *do* want kids and *don't* make the time to devote to them?

Why is the "you" always the woman?

Pseudo-Adrienne

Just echoing what Tara said, where's the social stigma for men as being failures for not being "superdads"? Where's the constant lecturing from society for them on how bad of fathers they are if they don't practically put their lives and careers on hold for their children? Where's the "you can't have it all" speech for them?

And why oh why, in this century--and I do believe it's the 21rst century--do women still in most cases have the sole responsibility and so called "duty" of "maintaining the family"? Why is nearly all of the burden of family and children still being thrust upon women, and why do we have to keep choosing?! My father had no problem in "having it all", but my mother--completely out of the question.

And people wonder why a lot of women aren't choosing to have children anymore. Well personally for me, I have no interest in doing so. It's not something I want to experience.

Thomas

All this will just end up with more lifestyle choices for women and more responsibilities for men.

Absolutely nothing new there.

midwestmind

Nodding my head vigorously to Caroline, mythago, and Tara.

What if those college women surveyed in Kentucky and Ohio, who said they don't want to work after marriage are on to something? What if they are smart enough to see (and what if American culture has made it permissible for them to see) that a life of wage work, segregated into 10-hour cubicle days, isn't that fulfilling, and that plugging into a lifetime of commitment to caring for other people *IS* an amazing way to live? Aren't we missing a huge opportunity to critique as sterile the entire system of "work" and "careers" if we just react to that statistic as *only* saying something about *women*?

Where's the space that makes it acceptable for men to say, "Wow, if all I do is vigorously pursue competence in middle-management, my life won't have much meaning at all"? Shouldn't we be a little suspicious that there's no comparable cultural desire for engaged fatherhood -- that there's almost no writing, no cultural narratives, no attention given to any sense that a man would naturally yearn for more time and involvement with his children, in a way that interferes with his career goals?

Charla

Thomas,
If men could only have babies...then it would be reversed.__This would be about more responsibilities for women and more lifestyle choices for men.
When I took time off to have my kids I went back to work after 2.5 years. Granted, not in the same capacity, nor in the same industry. I went and got my broker's license in real eatate, I then combined my previous experience in design and architecture with real estate. It took a long time to become successful in a new field, but eventually I made progress.__ My design background helped me to see potential 'fixer' properties, as a broker I was in a position to buy some properties and re-sell for a profit. My hours were flexible, I made money(no benefits, or insurance, though) I did this for 12 years, until my kids were old enough that it allowed me to pursue new goals....I guess what I'm trying to say is that you have to adjust if you want to have kids. I could have stayed in my regular 9-5 job and hired a live in nanny, this is also a great option. I just decided that if I was going to have kids, I would like to spend more time with them....this got me off into a new career.

J.J.B

Hugo,
How was your bike race??__ I used to ride 50 miles every other weekend when I lived in the Westside. I got together with two other 'nuts' who enjoyed this kind of grueling 'fun.' We rode down San Vincente Blvd., to Pacific Coast Hwy., to the beach bike trail,and rode all the way up the Palos Verdes Penninsula and back again.(we would stop for breakfast) The hardest thing about the whole thing was getting back on after breakfast. I still remember the agonizing pain on my rear....


Hope you had fun.__I don't have the time to do this kind of thing anymore, but I remember how much fun it was.... I don't even have the time to work out anymore...

Keri

midwestmind: That's another false dichotomy. There are a multitude of options other than "toiling at a mindless wage-slave job" and "staying home with kids," particularly for "college women" like the ones in the survey. Many people do find fulfillment in their careers-- it can be very fulfilling to know that you are supporting yourself and earning your own money, that your skills are needed and useful, etc. And on the other hand, "a lifetime of committment to caring for other people" (at least as "other people" is defined by "a handful of children and maybe a spouse") may be an amazing way to live for some people, but for others it'd be boring, stifling and frustrating.

As I said above, I do find the strict gendering of these preferences disturbing. However, by criticizing the choice to dedicate oneself to one's career as unfulfilling, "sterile" and meaningless, you're not really being any more constructive than those who dismiss housewives as poor misguided fools with low expectations and wasted potential. Different lifestyles work for different people, and anyone who wants to call upon us to respect one lifestyle choice would do well to show equal respect to all the others.

activistgradgal

I think as feminists of course we ought to empower women to live out their hopes and dreams. But as feminists we first have to make sure that women have all the relevant information to make those choices. And that is what I think is likely missing in this case. It's not distrubing in itself that large amounts of women would rather raise children full-time then work after college (though I think it is disturbing that so many more women than men want to do this). But it is disturbing when women are indicating that they are likely making choices that will significantly disadvantage them. I doubt the average woman answering these surveys knows much at all about those disadvantages.

Actually the article suggests to me that the person writing it, and perhaps the people answering it don't know anything about the lives of full-time moms/homemakers. Some of the quotations in the article on the survey suggest that these women are making this choice because they've seen their own mothers struggle to balance work and family life, or that they don't want to work as hard as their mothers' generation did. Well I don't want to work as hard as my female relatives did--but all of my female relatives were full-time moms/homemakers. Why is it assumed that raising children and maintaining a home full-time is somehow any easier than being a parent who works outside the home full-time? (I'm not sure that the women who were surveyed actually think this, but the author of the article seems to imply that this is the explanation.)

Maybe it's not. Maybe women fully realize just how disadvantaged they may be as full-time mothers/homemakers and yet they'll still choose it. I doubt it though. The fact that the surveyed women largely said they didn't want to work as hard as their mother's generation and that they didn't want to work outside of the home indicates to me that they think working inside the home is easier. If so, then we feminists should be scolding ourselves. How did we let a generation of women grow up thinking this?

As a woman in a family of mostly female full time mothers/homemakers I've seen first hand some of the disadvantages (and the advantages), and others were so deeply embedded into our economic system that it took reading and classes and theory for me to see them. So here are some disadvantages:

1) you'll be giving up a full-time income (of course, the lower one's socio-economic status the more significant this disadvantage is)
2) people/society may think you're lazy or stupid or that what you do is "easier" than working outside the home (as seen in the survey in question)
3) the fact that you do not produce income of your own may lead your partner to begin treating you disrespectfully, thinking that what he does in the workplace is more important than what you do in the home (raise his children, cook his meals, wash his underwear, etc.)...and of course you likely lose any leverage to demand that your partner pitch in with raising the children and helping around the house, because, after all, he "works" and you're "home all day"
4) other people around you will likely think that since you "don't work" you have all the extra time in the world, and thus they can expect you to do all kinds of favors for them
5) you can never complain about being tired or busy or stressed to anyone who is not a full time mother/homemaker because they will of course be thinking to themselves "if you only knew what it was like to 'work'"
6) you will ensure that should you ever want to re-enter the job market you will be severely disadvantaged and probably end up being underpaid, because, after all, employers won't count fifteen years of raising children and managing a household as cultivating any "job skills"
7) when/if you get divorced (you've got a 50/50 chance after all) these re-entry problems in the job market will be crucially
8) when you get divorced it's likely that the work you've done raising the children and maintaining the home will be appraised as worthless so you won't be seen as having contributed anything financially to the marriage; depending upon the state in which you live this may mean that you are not entitled to half of the assets you and your spouse accrued during the marriage
9) the years you spend not working outside of the home will translate into years of unearned social security benefits (because for the purpose of social security raising children and managing a home is not "work")
10) homemakers/full-time parents can qualify for the dependent spouse benefit of social security, but you must be married for (I believe) 10 years, and even then you are only entitled to half of amount the employed spouse had accrued

Of course there are disadvantages to balancing paid employment with child raising as well; however, I think those disadvantages are well known, in a way that the disadvantages of full-time child rearing/homemaking are not.

I think, then, that feminists ought to be quite disturbed by the survey results--not because there's something defective about women yearning for marriage and motherhood as opposed to paid employment--but because choosing to be a full-time parent/homemaker (which is itself a choice that is largely informed by socio-economic, race, and perhaps even heterosexual privilege) is quite risky. And inasmuch as women are making risky choices without being aware of the risk, feminists must be committed to the belief that this is a bad situation and something must be done about it.

Thomas

Theres a dynamic here that feminists havent done a thing to change:

Women desiring a man who earns.

Most women that I know are not excited by the idea of supporting a stay-at-home man. Maybe this is different in California. And maybe its different amongst the circles of left-leaning feminist women that you socialise with. But I'm just not seeing it in my life.

J.J.B

Thomas,
You want to stay home and take care of babies and do all the other things that go along with it ?? __ If you seriously want to do this, there are lots of women that would trade places with you. As long as I knew I had a competent father that could take care of my kids, I would actually enjoy the role of provider. __I guess it would make me feel great to be able to take care of my family, I don't have a problem with it. Actually, it would be really nice to delegate everything to a man who could handle the responsibility. Problem is, most men would end up skipping most of the chores and I would end up having to do their job and mine.....You see why it doesn't work? Our culture has programed men to be a certain way and they aren't willing to change. .....Women aren't really all that excited about spending all day breastfeeding,changing diapers,doing laundry,marketing,cooking etc.. We would rather be out in the world exchanging ideas with other adults. Honestly, do men really think we like staying home??__I never liked it, I couldn't wait to get back in the adult world again.

Thomas

JJB,

Your still missing my point: most women are attracted to higher earning men. Or at least men who earn.

Its all very well some women saying in theory that they would like a house-husband, but when that happens a lot of women suddenly find they don't find hubby sexually attractive anymore, and they start to get jealous of him being the primary caregiver to baby.

If you feminists truly want equality to work you should be making more efforts to get women to be attracted to men for who they are, not how much power they have or money they earn.

Only when you confront this issue will you truly make fair progress in my opinion.

J.J.B

Thomas,
You are wrong about women only being attracted to men with money. When I married my husband he didn't have any money. None of my friends married wealthy men either. __ I think that women are attracted to men who have the 'power' to be themselves. __I think we are all attracted to people that are powerful enough to overcome obstacles and have the perseverance to achieve their goals. This is my idea of power, personal power....

Thomas, you think that a woman is going to stop being sexually attracted to a man if he stops making money?? Wow, you must think women are very shallow creatures.

Thomas

Fine, tell me I'm wrong. But your just conveniantly brushing an issue under the carpet that needs to be dealt with if true fairness is ever to be achieved.

Also, in a massive study of people who'd signed up with a dating agency in Australia, less than a quarter of one percent of the women were willing to date an unemployed guy.

cmc

I am not sure that women wanting to marry high earners is the cause of the problem so much as a symptom of the pervasive mindset that women are always the ones to stay home with the kids and men are always the ones to be the providers. If I had grown up assuming that at some point I would stay home with children and become financially dependent on my husband, I would have cared a lot more about my potential mates' earning potential.

I never made any such assumption, so I was happy to date a number of starving artists during my single days(a very attractive group albeit a bit neurotic). I am also not troubled that I earn $25,000 more than my husband. But if I were planning to quit my job at some point to stay home with kids, his career choices might bother me.

And the notion that his lesser earnings might make him less attractive to me is bizarre. Sorry to sound naive, but who thinks like that?

J.J.B

Thomas,
I want to see your statistics. Does the survey include the reason for unemployment?? If it doesn't, it should. It should have included questions as to the nature of the unemployment. I don't know too many women that would kick a guy in the gut when he was already down about a job loss.__ But a man who is constantly out of work, or gets fired habitually from jobs is another matter. This situation could be related to many things, the least of which could be alcohol, drugs, etc.. This situation is entirely different, and I can tell you without any hesitation that few women will put up with men that have these type of vices. Personally,I don't have any vices, so I don't find anything attractive about men who do.

I should have my sister send you her experiences on this situation. She just divorced her husband over this very issue. She works a full time job and has been supporting the family for years while he was in and out of jobs....It's a long story,

Thomas

Actually, don't listen to me, I'm a man, therefore everything that comes out of my mouth is wrong, and is evidence of how I am an agent of the patriarchy that wants to lock you all up in cages and oppress you 24/7.

Is that better?

J.J.B

Oops...I didn't finish the sentence. Turns out the reason he was always out of work was because he was stopping off at a bar during the day, smoking pot, you name it. __She makes a good income, but it wasn't enough to sustain the family__He wasn't helping in any way, on the contrary, he was just a burden to her. She was supported her family without kicking this guy in the street for 15 years!

I think we need to look at specific situations when it comes to these issues.

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