Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Mommy meme: Leslie Bennetts

1. Why did you decide to stay at home with the kids or go to work. Was it a choice?

Yep, they are choices, but I think it's important to not that for the majority of women, it's not ONE choice and it's not exclusively between staying home and not engaging in waged work or working full-time out of the home. The vast majority of women work, and most mothers work, even if they are "stay at home moms." Many SAHMs work at home - the SAHMs I knew in SD had part-time careers (doula, photographer, website hosting, etc.).

But anyway, I stayed home full-time for about eight months because I wanted to do the whole attachment parenting thing, I wanted to quit my boring marketing job, and I wanted to have time to finish my dissertation. (I did the first two things on my list - the third took an additional year.)

Then I went back to work, on a part-time basis. I don't remember why exactly I made that decision at that point, but I do remember that I was ecstatic to be working - teaching! - again. Probably it was a professional decision - I knew I'd be applying for teaching positions, so it made sense to be teaching. But also, I really disliked being a SAHM, and I treasured the intellectual stimulation of working.

Now I've made the decision to work full-time, and that has taken some getting used to. I'm glad I had the privilege of being able to wait until Bean was older to do this, though I also feel as if I'd spent the last several year locked in a cage, and am only now beginning to feel free again. That was not a function of mothering but of 1) working in a job that had no future and in which I felt I could not do all that I was capable of doing, and 2) not knowing if I'd ever be able to find a job that would fulfill my creative and intellectual desires.

2. Leslie Bennetts claims that there's a stay at home movement that is encouraging more women to return to the home, even women who are poor. The work vs. home argument used to be just about white upperclass women. Is it spreading?

I think she's right that the movement is encouraging women to return to the home, and I would add this movement likes to argue that women's pay is so little anyway that it would just about pay for daycare, a work wardrobe, and travel to and from work - so why bother? This is such a problematic argument. First of all, it assumes that money is the only benefit from work, and while I haven't read Bennetts' book, Bennetts notes here some of the other benefits that working gives women. Second, it not only accepts but seemingly condones the fact that women are paid - what is it, now? $.74? - to men's dollars. How interesting that the movement is not to push for pay equity so that women can be independent and plan for a secure future that includes health care and perhaps even a pension. Instead, it pushes for increased dependence on men (you know, assuming one even has a male partner to make all those big bucks in the first place).

And then, too, the work v. home argument was NEVER just about white upperclass women, not really. True, white upperclass women were the only ones who had the luxury to choose to work or to stay home. But all other women felt the lack of that choice and very often tried to pattern themselves after the wealthy women who stayed home, because that was what "true womanhood" looked like.

I think what we should be asking, rather than is the SAH movement spreading, is whose interests are best represented by this movement? (Hint: NOT the children's!) I'm not saying that SAHMs are pawns supporting the patriarchy. But I *am* saying that, as Bennetts points out, these decisions are not merely individual choices - there are larger social issues to consider.

3. Which of Bennets's arguments are most convincing? Which least convincing? Which did she miss?

That I cannot say, as I have not yet read the book.

4. Did your mother and grandmothers work outside the home? How did that turn out for them and for you?

That second question sounds a lot like Dr. Phil, and not in a good way. I want to respond with, "It worked out JUST FINE for me. Watch what you say about my mama!"

My mother and grandmothers did not work outside the home after their marriages, as far as I know, except for my mom, who did try to re-enter the work force on several occasions and was not able to due to ageism and other problems that come up when you try to re-enter the work force after years of being out of it. This is usually the place where people - well, my students, anyway - often insert a comment about how glad they are that their moms stayed home with them and how their moms are wonderful, self-sacrificing people, etc., etc. I will instead say that my mom did sacrifice a lot, but I don't think that's a good thing. I know that she would have been a lot happier had she not been a housewife, and my brother and I would have been stronger for having to cook dinner once and a while.

5. Bennets said in an interview that she wants this book to be a one-stop resource for women to gain all the information they need to decide whether or not to return to work after having children. Did she succeed?

See number 3.

6. One of the women Bennets quotes says that she felt ostracized from the stay at home moms at school when she was working. Is there a divide between working women and those who stay at home? How can we bridge it?

I think the divide has been mischaracterized in the media - I don't think it's so huge, and in fact, there's been a lot of research that comes to exactly that conclusion. This doesn't mean that individuals won't feel out of the loop, but it does mean that there's a lot more support among mothers for other mothers than we tend to consider.

7. Did you prepare in your education for paid work? Why or why not? Do you wish you had done differently?

Yes, because I always assumed that I would need to - and should - take care of myself and contribute financially to my household. Is this a serious question? Are there really people out there (who aren't obscenely wealthy) who think they won't ever have to work, that they are immune from divorce, death, health emergencies, etc.? No, I certainly do not wish I had done differently.

(OK, wait - I just dredged up a childhood fantasy of being the woman in the Calgon commercial who gets to take a bubble bath in a gorgeous, palatial Romanesque bath. I did think, when I was twelve or ten or something, that being a housewife meant getting to lie about in baths all day, and so I did for a time plan to do that. I think it would've gotten boring, though. That, and my fingers would get pruny.)

8. How do you divide the domestic labor in your relationship? Did you always do it that way? Is it working?

Not very well. I do most of it (well, right now, I do all of it, but that's because Mr. Plain(s)feminist is not yet living with us - I assume he's doing his own housework where he is living). Over the last several years, I was working part-time, and I think that became reason for me to take on a larger share of the housework. However, now that we are both working full-time, that will be changing.

I tag Amy, if she wants to do it (if you do, let me know, and I'll link - if not, s'ok).


Anonymous said...

I am surprised you haven't gotten comments yet.

You said, "Are there really people out there (who aren't obscenely wealthy) who think they won't ever have to work, that they are immune from divorce, death, health emergencies, etc.?"

Yes!!! I have noticed that a lot of girls in their early 20's now think that. At least, that's my experience.

I never used to think that the "wars" existed, and that they were perpetuated by the media. Now, I see a whole different story. They exist!!!

Plain(s)feminist said...

Actually, the wars ARE perpetuated by the media. New research has found that the "mommy wars" are a media creation - this doesn't mean there aren't tensions between moms, but nothing like what the media would have us believe.

Anonymous said...

My experience has been different. In real life, and online in forums, there has been a lot of hostility between two camps.

Green said...

This all seems so black and white. If I believed everything I read about this stuff, I'd hate every coworker who has children because they're always rushing off to child-related emergencies, leaving their work to me. In reality, that's never happened, and almost all my coworkers children are well behaved, to the point that I'm happy when they come to visit because it's a welcome break from working.

I was happier when my mother worked - she appreciated me much MUCH more, when she compared me to other kids who she claimed had no manners.

And honestly my mother was a terrible example for me - she essentially dropped out of school for her master's degree with one semester left. When she was working she was too exhausted to do anything at home but sit on the couch while we fetched her a snack. When she wasn't working she was on the phone, sleeping, or watching soaps on tv from the couch.

If I ever have kids, I hope to flip back and forth between not working and working and working part time as I want and they need.

But since it doesn't look like I'll ever have kids, I'll just continue to play with other people's and then hand them back when I'm finished.