Thursday, July 12, 2007

Women's work

Earlier I wrote about an article that talked about how moms are beginning to prefer part-time work to full-time. This article also interests me for one other reason: what it suggests about the gains the women's movement worked so hard for. Of course, it is worth noting that the women's movement wanted women to have the right to financial independence. However, I don't think they had in mind women that work 40-50 hours a week, then come home and still have to clean the house and take care of the kids. Faced with the "double shift," as it was called in my women's studies classes, women are starting to wish they could go back to staying home. They probably figure that they have to take care of the home and the kids anyway, so why complicate things with a job?

I think this article shows two unfortunate things: 1) that the women's movement may have succeeded in changing stereotypes that kept women out of work, but it failed to change the stereotypes that made women responsible for cleaning and the kids; and 2) that the few gains the women's movement did make have been deteriorating over the last two decades.

A book I recently read, Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd, talks about this backwards sliding. She talks about how, in many ways, the current condition of women has returned to what it was in the 1950s. She talks about how women are dropping out of politics; she even hypothesizes that the only reason Hillary Clinton has been so successful in politics is because she was first publicly humiliated by her husband's infidelity.

So where do I stand on the work vs. raise your kids debate? Personally, I won't ever put my kids in daycare. I have worked at too many, and I can tell you, I don't believe for a second those studies that say daycare doesn't hurt kids, or that it actually helps kids. The part-timers -- the ones who were there only for the preschool experience, or while Mom worked part-time -- were invariably better adjusted than the kids who were there 10 hours a day.

So, yes, I would say it is very important to me to raise my own children. At the same time, though, my decision is easier than most women's, as my work can be done from home, while I'm raising my kids. So I don't think my personal decisions can be used as a model of motherhood.

What I do think is that the debate is not an equal one for most moms. Regardless of whether she works, Mom is usually responsible for the kids and the home. Only the most modern of Dads clean house, do the grocery shopping, and take the day of when their kids are sick.

Ultimately, though, we have missed the biggest point of the women's movement -- that "women's work" is undervalued. How many times have you heard a stay-at-home mom say something like, "Oh, I don't work. I'm just a homemaker." Newsflash, guys: cleaning the house and taking care of the kids is work. In fact, in many ways it is harder work than a full-time job.

The problem that the women's movement had was that staying home was not being appreciated as work. Instead of recognizing that their wives contributed equally to the household and therefore deserved an equal partnership in the household's finances, men were using their wives' lack of income to control the finances. Meanwhile, society was supporting this by making it difficult for women to get work that paid a living wage.

Which is when the women's movement stepped in. However, I don't believe the women's movement ever intended women to be responsible for half the family's income and all the cleaning and the child-rearing. And I believe this dramatic inequality is overworking women, and probably at least one of the reasons society is reverting to the way it was prior to the women's movement.

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