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How Serfdom Saved The Women's Movement
Atlantic Monthly ^ | March 2004 | Caitlin Flanagan

Posted on 02/19/2004 9:14:21 AM PST by shrinkermd

When my twin sons were babies, we lived a block away from a day-care center, and just as I was setting out with the stroller for the first walk of the day—usually at 7:30, right after the first segment of the Today show ended—I would see mothers dropping off their children, many of whom were infants no older than mine. I'd slow down as I passed, taking an interested look at these mothers, who were always in such a rush, bogged down with diaper bags and teddy bears, and then I would walk on, headed for the park. The long, long day would begin to unfold: the walk, the end of the Today show, the morning nap, lunch, another walk, the afternoon nap, two solid hours of MSNBC (sometimes more), and then, at five or so, the last walk of the day. Often I would see the same mothers picking up the babies I'd seen dropped off ten hours before, and I would marvel at the sight. In fact, I sort of planned my day around it: it was my little treat. Think of all they've missed, I would say smugly to myself. I felt in every way superior to them: every day while they had been miles away from their babies, I'd been right there with mine, catching every little smile, writing down every advance—rolling over! eating a bit of mashed banana!—on the lined ivory pages of their baby books, importantly calling the pediatrician if anything seemed slightly awry. That so much of the day had been tedious and (truth be told) mildly depressing was itself a badge of honor. Unlike those women parking their kids in day care while they went to work, I was a mother virtuously willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her children, and being rewarded with the ultimate prize: I wasn't missing a moment of their fleeting, precious, and unrecoverable childhoods.

It was entirely snotty and rude and most of all silly for me to have this attitude toward those mothers. In the first place, the day-care center was in no way tony, nor were the cars that pulled up to it in any way luxurious; I'll bet that all those mothers worked more because of economic necessity than because of a desire for professional advancement or emotional fulfillment. More to the point, a majority of my sainted hours noting every little moue of delight or displeasure that crossed my children's faces were spent in the company of a highly capable and very industrious nanny who did all of the hard stuff. There was no need for me to be moping around the apartment all day; I really could have lightened up and had a little more fun, clicked off the TV and gone to the movies or lunch or shopping. But I felt anxious about the whole thing—very, very anxious. If I was going to stake out my turf as an "at-home mother," putting all my worldly promise in cold storage to do it, didn't I have to actually stay home? Fifty years ago a young matron lucky enough to have household help would have been up and dressed and off to the department store or the library guild or the dry cleaner's by midmorning, and no one would have questioned her inclinations as far as motherhood was concerned. But now, of course, the situation is so fraught with four decades' worth of female advance and retreat that almost any decision a woman makes about child care is liable to get her blasted by one faction or the other. Standing bravely in the crossfire are nannies, who tend to be the first choice of professional-class mothers who work (so much better than day care—the baby is still being raised in his own home, according to his mother's deeply considered specifications) and the guilty luxury of a good number of at-home mothers. And, as many of us have learned, the mother-nanny relationship has the potential for being the most morally, legally, and emotionally charged one that a middle-class woman will ever have.

I didn't know a single child who had a nanny when I was growing up. Nannies existed in English nursery rhymes and children's stories, in Mary Poppins and Peter Pan. The Brady Bunch, of course, had Alice, but she seemed to be part and parcel of the double family tragedy, never even alluded to, that had brought them all together. The Courtship of Eddie's Father had Mrs. Livingston, but again: tragedy. My father was always very proud of a scar on his right elbow, which he had received at the hands of an incompetent nurse who scalded him in the bath when he was an infant, and whom my grandfather had sent packing that very day. The scar proved to my father that his family had once been a tiny bit grand; it proved to me that he had been born a long, long time ago: a nurse? When I was growing up, in Berkeley in the 1960s, faculty wives—which is what my mother was—stayed home, kept house, and raised children. When my mother died, I gave a maudlin eulogy about all the days we spent together when I was small, shopping at Hink's department store and eating peeled apricots and lying down for naps in the big bed under the gable window of her bedroom. I probably should have found something more estimable to say about her, but in the days after her death all I could think about was what a wonderful thing it had been to be raised at home, by a mother who loved me. But by the 1970s, of course, the idyll was coming to an end; many of the younger wives had begun to want out. I remember being sent in 1977, at age fifteen, to my very first psychotherapist, a young wife and mother with a capacious office on Bancroft Avenue. I can't remember a thing I talked about on all those darkening afternoons, but I do remember very clearly a day on which she suddenly sat up straight in her chair and began discussing, for reasons I could not fathom and in the most heated terms imaginable, not the vagaries of my sullen adolescence but, rather, marriage—specifically, her own. "I mean, who's going to do the shit work?" she asked angrily. "Who's going to make the pancakes?"

I stared at her uncomprehendingly. The only wife I knew intimately was my mother, who certainly had her discontents, but whom I couldn't even imagine using the term "shit work," let alone using it to characterize the making of pancakes—something she did regularly, competently, and, as far as I could tell, happily (she liked pancakes; so did the rest of us). But in 1978 shit work was becoming a real problem. Shit work, in fact, was threatening to put the brakes on the women's movement. Joan Didion's unparalleled 1972 essay on the movement ("To make an omelette," the essay begins, "you need not only those broken eggs but someone 'oppressed' to break them") described the attempts women of the era made to arrive at an equitable division of household labor:

They totted up the pans scoured, the towels picked off the bathroom floor, the loads of laundry done in a lifetime. Cooking a meal could only be "dogwork," and to claim any pleasure from it was evidence of craven acquiescence in one's own forced labor. Small children could only be odious mechanisms for the spilling and digesting of food, for robbing women of their "freedom." It was a long way from Simone de Beauvoir's grave and awesome recognition of woman's role as "the Other" to the notion that the first step in changing that role was Alix Kates Shulman's marriage contract ("wife strips beds, husband remakes them"). Alix Kates Shulman's marriage contract, which I have read, is so perfectly a document of its time that it might stand alone, a kind of synecdoche for twenty years' worth of arguing and slamming doors and fuming over the notorious inability of husbands to fold a fitted sheet or get the children's breakfast on the table without leaving behind a scrim of crumbs and jelly on every flat surface in the room. Originally published in 1970, in a feminist magazine called Up From Under, the contract—like the women's-liberation movement itself—quickly moved from the radical margins of society to its very center: it was reprinted in the debut issue of Ms., no surprise, but also in Redbook and New York and Life, in which it was part of a cover story on the subject of experimental marriages. (That a marriage in which the husband helped out with housework qualified as "experimental" tells you how much things have changed in the past three decades.) It was also taken seriously in some very high quarters, including the standard Harvard textbook on contract law, in which it was reprinted.

The document, which I first encountered when I read the Didion essay as a girl, struck me as odd; I could see how a bride on the eve of her wedding could think ahead to the making and unmaking of beds (although it was only once I was deep into marriage that it occurred to me this task might be a chore, as opposed to yet another delightful aspect of married sexuality, which I could imagine only in the most thrilling terms), but there was other language in it that seemed born of actual and bitter experience. Shulman and her husband, for example, were going to divide "the week into hours during which the children were to address their 'personal questions' to either one parent or another." It was difficult for me to conceive of a bride's coming up with such a disillusioned view of the thing, even a bride fully alerted to the oppression of motherhood, but it turns out that Shulman was no bride when she wrote it. I have since learned that her marriage agreement—talk about a doomed cause—was of the postnuptial variety.

Alix Kates Shulman's marriage—under way a full decade before she sat down at her typewriter, aglow with "feminist irony, idealism, audacity, and glee," and punched out the notorious contract—had been buffeted by many of the forces at play in American cultural life of the late sixties and early seventies, but she and her husband evinced an impressive ability to up the ante. He worked; she stayed home with the kids and wrote "subversive" essays, short stories, and position papers, all of which centered on her growing desire to come Up From Under. He retaliated by starting a new business venture in another state and taking up with a UC Berkeley student. She double-retaliated by taking a young lover of her own and publishing an essay about her husband's inability to bring her to orgasm, an essay that ended with the half jaunty, half exasperated imperative "Think clitoris!" At this point Alix and her husband were apparently seized by the one patently sensible idea of their entire marriage: they needed to get divorced.

Now the story begins to get complicated. In the early seventies there was no such thing as joint custody in the state of New York, and Alix realized that a divorce was not going to be much of a boon to her, since it would leave her with the kids full time, which would mean a heck of a lot of breakfasts to prepare and lunch boxes to pack—activities that would sorely cut into the time available for her to make pronouncements on behalf of the voiceless clitoris. When friends heard about her rotten marriage and asked her when she was going to divorce the bum, she would snappily reply, "Not until you're ready to help me take care of my kids." Thus the marriage agreement—which Shulman originally, and more accurately, wanted to title "A Divorce Dilemma and a Marriage Agreement"—was born, a way to husk the marriage of any pretense of emotional fulfillment and reduce it to a purely labor-sharing arrangement. (Her husband signed it, ran off with his coed, and then—proving himself to be one of the great masochists of the twentieth century—returned to Shulman for another full decade of punishment before they finally switched off the lights.)

The marriage agreement virtually demanded to be ridiculed, and ridiculed it was: not only by Joan Didion but also by Russell Baker and Norman Mailer. (In his 1971 anti-feminist manifesto The Prisoner of Sex, Mailer considered the agreement at some length, concluding that he "would not be married to such a woman." The potential of the agreement to serve as a lifetime protection policy against marriage to Norman Mailer makes me half want to hold onto my own copy, just to be on the safe side.) Certainly Shulman has earned herself a spot on almost any short list of very silly people. Yet I am reluctant to make too much sport of her document, or of the countless similar ones that it inspired. I am a wife and mother of young children in a very different time from Shulman's, a time that is in many respects more brutal and more brutalizing, a time that has been morally coarsening for many of us, a time that has made hypocrites of many contemporary feminists in ways that Shulman and her sisters in arms were not hypocrites. I have never once argued with my husband about which of us was going to change the sheets of the marriage bed, but then—to my certain knowledge —neither one of us ever has changed the sheets. Or scrubbed the bathtubs, or dusted the cobwebs off the top of the living-room bookcase, or used the special mop and the special noncorrosive cleanser on the hardwood floors. Two years ago our little boys got stomach flu, one right after the other, and there were ever so many loads of wash to do, but we did not do them. The nanny did.

To get at the larger point here, let us look, for a moment, at a product not of Shulman's time but of our own. Let us look at a most unremarkable comment in a most unremarkable essay, a comment that, at first blush, does not demand to be made fun of, or even really to be noticed at all, a comment that would not cause the least consternation in the most progressive households, among the most liberated and most liberating women.

Anita Diamant is the author of several novels and works of nonfiction, most notably a runaway best seller called The Red Tent, which The Boston Globe described as being "what the Bible would be like if it had been written by women." This past fall she published a collection of personal essays, Pitching My Tent: On Marriage, Motherhood, Friendship, and Other Leaps of Faith. In one of them, "Airing It Out," she describes a marital rough patch that she and her husband struck not long after their only child was born: "Things between us were bad. We weren't talking. We weren't kissing. We weren't, well, you know." They went to a marriage counselor, who gave them advice so standard it might have been torn from the pages of one of the family magazines Diamant once wrote for.

By way of "homework" the therapist suggested several commonsense gimmicks. We were to spend ten minutes each evening debriefing about our respective days. We were to take turns and not interrupt each other. He also suggested regular sex dates. Sounds mechanical, but it sure takes the pressure off the rest of the week. And for heaven's sake, said the therapist, if you're fighting about who cleans the bathroom, why not just pay someone else to do it for you?

For heaven's sake. It's a no-brainer. Hiring someone to clean the toilets will certainly put an immediate end to fights about that unpleasant topic. Hiring someone to strip the beds and remake them might have rendered Alix Kates Shulman's marriage agreement entirely unnecessary; it might even have saved her marriage. But it wasn't perversity or thick-headedness or even economic hardship that precluded her from turning to this easy and efficient solution, which Diamant's marriage counselor found so obvious—for heaven's sake!—that he seems to have issued it in a fit of pique at his clients' obtuseness. Shulman's marital crisis occurred in the 1970s, a very bad time to be in need of domestic help. Black women, who had held a centuries-old unhappy lock on the work, were abandoning it in huge numbers, taking advantage of the civil-rights movement to get the kind of jobs that had historically been out of their reach. Tainted by the stigma of slave days, poorly paid and culturally resented, "living in" (the most hated of domestic-work arrangements) was becoming increasingly rare, even in much of the Deep South. Day work, its slightly less loathed companion, was becoming the sole employment option of fewer and fewer black women. The availability of domestic workers was reaching a dramatic low point at the very moment when the need for them (with millions of middle-class women voluntarily entering the work force) was approaching an all-time high. The two phenomena were on a crash course, set to destroy much of what Betty Friedan and her compatriots had begun.

It's all too easy to deride Martha Stewart, but the attacks on her often point up how much there is to admire. By Caitlin Flanagan A second factor intensified the dilemma. Give those old libbers their due: they spent a lot of time thinking about the unpleasantness of housework and the unfairness of its age-old tendency to fall upon women. (They could hardly have imagined that in twenty years' time Martha Stewart would build an empire on the notion that ironing and polishing silver and sweeping a kitchen floor might offer an almost sacred communion with what is most essentially and attractively feminine.) They were loath, they claimed, to foist such demeaning work on other human beings (well, not all of them were loath: Betty Friedan had a crack cleaning woman on staff when she was busy writing about the oppression of domestic work). Indeed, Shulman's contract specifies that the "burden" of the cleaning work should not be placed on "someone hired from outside." Members of the women's movement believed that it was of great importance, politically and psychologically, for men to share equally in the care of households and children. Further, feminists of the period had also thought deeply about race, and about the tendency of white women to shape comfortable lives around the toil and suffering of black women. The members of a thousand consciousness-raising groups drove themselves into a thousand tizzies trying to think up a solution to this homely yet vexing problem. The notorious Wages for Housework campaign ("WE WANT IT IN CASH, RETROACTIVE AND IMMEDIATELY. AND WE WANT ALL OF IT") came to naught. Pat Mainardi's much read The Politics of Housework included many strategies for cajoling a reluctant male into taking on some washing and cooking, from the deeply Marxist ("Arm yourself with some knowledge of the psychology of oppressed peoples") to the stubbornly practical ("Use timesheets"), but you can know chapter and verse about the psychology of oppressed peoples and still not get a man to turn out a nice meal—the rice ready at the same time as the meat—come the end of a long day.

Communes, which had offered the promise of a collective approach to domestic work, turned out to be yet another bust. As Vivian Estellachild wrote in 1971, the typical hippie commune's recruitment ad could have read, "Wanted: groovy, well-built chick to share apartment and do the cooking and cleaning."

Certainly there was a bit of hope in the abandonment of bourgeois housekeeping standards, something that the most radical factions were demanding and that even the less political groups saw as promising. The Feminine Mystique has its roots in a questionnaire that Betty Friedan sent to her Smith College classmates on the occasion of their fifteenth reunion. Included on it were questions one might expect: "Did you have career ambitions?" "Who manages the family finances, you or your husband?" But there were also these two telling questions: "Do you put the milk bottle on the table? Use paper napkins?" Milk decanted into a pitcher, and a linen napkin beside the breakfast plate—the physical embodiment of an approach to daily life that included moments of grace and loveliness, that showed (to use the old phrase) a woman's touch—suddenly seemed the very stuff of oppression. But even with the fillips abandoned, with the milk plunked down on the table and the kids wiping at grotty faces with paper napkins, there was still a heck of a lot of housework and child care that simply couldn't be streamlined.

And so, because of these petty, almost laughably low concerns—the unmade beds, the children with their endless questions, the crumbs and jelly on the counter, the tendency of a good fight over housework to stop the talking and the kissing and the, well, you know—one of the most profound cultural revolutions in American history came perilously close to running aground. And then, like magic, as though the fairy godmother of women's liberation had waved a starry wand, the whole problem got solved. You must take a deus ex machina where you find one, and in the case of the crumbs and jelly on the counter tops, the deus ex machina turned out to be the forces of global capitalism. With the arrival of a cheap, easily exploited army of poor and luckless women—fleeing famine, war, the worst kind of poverty, leaving behind their children to do it, facing the possibility of rape or death on the expensive and secret journey—one of the noblest tenets of second-wave feminism collapsed like a house of cards. The new immigrants were met at the docks not by a highly organized and politically powerful group of American women intent on bettering the lot of their sex but, rather, by an equally large army of educated professional-class women with booming careers who needed their children looked after and their houses cleaned. Any supposed equivocations about the moral justness of white women's employing dark-skinned women to do their shit work simply evaporated.

The process by which the First World has been flooded with immigrant female domestic workers during the past two decades (in such overwhelming numbers that researchers are now remarking on the "feminization of migration") is fairly well documented, considering that so much of it is done in secret. There are several established trade routes along which future nannies are transported, the most desperate of which takes women from Southeast Asia to Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, destinations so notorious for the mistreatment of domestic workers that I am put in mind of Winston Churchill's old saying: "When you're going through hell, keep going." For Americans the two mother lodes of nannies are Central America and the Caribbean. There is an excellent précis of the entire phenomenon in the introduction, by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, to the recent and very fine essay collection they edited, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy.

How these workers became available to middle-class women is well known and amply reported, both in the press and in dozens of fine books, including Rhacel Salazar Parreñas's Servants of Globalization and Grace Chang's Disposable Domestics. But how so many middle-class American women went from not wanting to oppress other women to viewing that oppression as a central part of their own liberation—that is a complicated and sorry story. In it you will find the seeds of things we don't like to discuss much, including the elitism and hypocrisy of the contemporary feminist movement, the tendency of working and nonworking mothers to pit themselves against one another, and the way that adult middle-class life has become so intensely, laughably child-centered that in the past month I have chaperoned my children to eight birthday parties, yet not attended a single cocktail party (do they even exist anymore?).

To begin, let us turn to the best book ever written on American working mothers, a book that ought to be required reading in any women's-studies course: The Equality Trap, by Mary Ann Mason, who is a law and social-welfare professor at Berkeley. In it she reveals that there were in fact two distinct groups of mothers who entered the work force in the 1970s, for two distinct sets of reasons. There were middle-class women, fed up with housework and eager for the challenge, the respite, the intellectual engagement, of work. (Imagine my mother: it is 1976, and a casserole is defrosting on her kitchen counter, but she is far away from that counter; she is on a BART train, rocketing along to her new office at Equitable Life Insurance, pleased as punch.) It is these women, and now their daughters (imagine me, with an advanced degree and a book contract, sitting down at the computer, pleased as punch), who have driven a tremendous amount of the public debate and policy on the subject of working mothers.

But there was a second group of women, a quieter and more invisible group, who were not at all pleased as punch. Mason writes, The dramatic shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, which occurred in the seventies, rendered the concept of a "family wage," earned by a relatively well-paid union member father, an anachronism. Their husbands' lower wages were driving mothers into the labor market in unprecedented numbers.

The number of women in each group continued to grow, but as Mason chillingly and accurately notes, The great majority of American women workers were ... striving to make ends meet in women's occupations and were not entering high-paying male-dominated occupations such as law, medicine, and corporate management. But it was the relatively small class of women who were trying to push into the high-stakes male professions ... [that] drove the feminist movement ... [These women] were not greatly concerned with secretaries or poor single parents.

Moreover, "Clusters of women rally around hot button issues like abortion rights, domestic violence, and gay parenting while academic women fret on queer theory, but there is no longer a compelling activist vision." And the pure, ugly truth of the thing: "Ironically, perhaps the only impact the feminist drive for equal rights in the workplace has had on this poorest, fastest growing segment of women is as a cheerleader for women's participation in the workplace, no matter how mean her job or how difficult her family burden."

The feminist movement, from its earliest days, has always proceeded from the assumption that all women—rich and poor—constitute a single class, and that all members of the class are, by virtue simply of being female, oppressed. In many regards this was once entirely true: all women were denied the vote; employment law discriminated against all women; and all women lacked the right to legal abortion. But this paradigm has led to a new assumption: that all working mothers—rich and poor—constitute a single class, that they are all similarly oppressed, and that they are united in a struggle against common difficulties. At its best this is vaguely well-intentioned but sloppy thinking. At its worst it is brutal and self-serving and shameful thinking.

The professional-class working mother—grateful inheritor of Betty Friedan's realizations about domestic imprisonment and the happiness and autonomy offered by work—is oppressed by guilt about her decision to keep working, by a society that often questions her commitment to and even her love for her children, by the labor-intensive type of parenting currently in vogue, by children's stalwart habit of falling deeply and unwaveringly in love with the person who provides their physical care, and by her uneasy knowledge that at-home mothers are giving their children much more time and personal attention than she is giving hers. She feels more than oppressed—she feels outraged! she wants something done about this!—by a corporate culture that refuses to let a working mother postpone an important meeting if it happens to coincide with the fourth-grade Spring Sing.

On the other hand, the nonprofessional-class working mother—unhappy inheritor of changes in the American economy that have thrust her unenthusiastically into the labor market—is oppressed by very different forces. She is oppressed by the fact that her work is oftentimes physically exhausting, ill-paid, and devoid of benefits such as health insurance and paid sick leave. She is oppressed by the fact that it is impossible to put a small child in licensed day care if you make minimum wage, and she is oppressed by the harrowing child-care options that are available on an unlicensed, inexpensive basis. She is oppressed by the fact that she has no safety net: if she falls out of work and her child needs a visit to the doctor and antibiotics, she may not be able to afford those things and will have to treat her sick child with over-the-counter medications, which themselves are far from cheap. She is oppressed by the fact that—another feminist gain—single motherhood has been so championed in our culture, along with the sexual liberation of women and the notion that a woman doesn't really need a man. In this climate she is often left shouldering the immense burden of parenthood alone.

With these very different kinds of oppression in mind, let us turn to a New York Times Notable Book, written by a New York Times reporter: A Mother's Place: Choosing Work and Family Without Guilt or Blame, by Susan Chira. Chira was raised in an "affluent" suburb of New York, roared through Andover and Harvard, got a job at the Gray Lady, felt a "stab of anxiety" when, in her pre-children days, she happened to glance at a New York magazine headline that read something like "You Can't Have It All," yet nonetheless screwed her courage to the sticking place and had a baby. Almost immediately she became—oppressed. She was oppressed by the boredom and guilt that "cast a pall" over her maternity leave. She was oppressed by the working mothers she saw portrayed in the news media, who were "always teetering on the verge of collapse, haunted by the damage they were causing their children, dragging themselves heavyhearted to work." She was oppressed by "a growing conventional wisdom that labeled mothers like me neglectful, children like mine damaged, and a life like mine impossible and bad for society." She was oppressed by Mrs. Doubtfire, Striptease, and the television sitcom Home Improvement (I would posit that she was also oppressed by her own taste in entertainment, but that's another matter altogether, I suppose). She was oppressed by "the cultural jeremiads against working motherhood," by the fact that she kept hearing that "children are this young only once" and "these years come and are gone forever."

But Susan Chira shook off the shackles of her oppression! It turns out that the way to solve this thorny problem requires little more than a bit of attitude adjustment. It lies in "reframing the debate." Adopt Chira's credo: "Working motherhood is not second-class motherhood." Remember that "generations of black women had to work, and their children saw their work as evidence of devotion, not neglect." (Well, you know those black women: they have all the luck.) Champion whichever survey or opinion poll supports your choices; debunk the rest. Beware advocates of traditional motherhood, who seek to turn you into a "June Cleaver vampire." Be reasonable: "Is it really the end of the world if a mother is not at home when a child returns from school?" If all else fails, think big picture. Really big picture. "In hunter-gatherer societies," she reminds us, "mothers could combine family life with work."

Attitude properly adjusted, you are ready to adopt some of Chira's helpful, commonsense tips on guiltlessly combining work and motherhood, many of which involve shrewd deployment of the office telephone. "I began taking time at work to call the baby-sitter when I needed to touch base," she reports. She also personally "put through calls to the pediatrician." One of Chira's interviewees "had a rule at work that her children would always be put through to her, and she recounted how she would settle fights over the telephone about who got to practice the piano first." Chira asks this enticing question: "How about doing what one of my friends does: programming the phone so that her young son can push a button; get her office; tell her he's home; chat a little about his day; and then, reassured, play with his friends?" Indeed, some of Chira's happiest moments have arrived when she has dwelled closest to the golden nexus of phone and child: "Cradling my nursing baby in one arm and the phone in my ear, conducting an interview with some serious personage, I could hardly contain my happiness."

None of the above much bothers me. Mothers, myself included, have the right to work for pay; anyone old enough to hold a job has the right to work for pay. Whatever arrangements such mothers willingly make for their children, whatever strategies they employ to relieve their guilt, whatever books they read to assuage their anxiety—all of that is their business, not mine. What sends me around the bend is what the author has to say about poor mothers. Make no mistake about it: books in support of working mothers are written by women with progressive politics, and you'd better believe that these women are friends to the downtrodden. Chira fully understands that she writes "as an upper-middle-class professional woman," which is why the interviews for her book were so wide-ranging, involving mothers "employed...

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News
KEYWORDS: aliens; feminism; illegal; nanny
This is a long article, but very comprehensive. It surely discusses class differences in women working as well as a host of other issues. I only excerpted it because of its length.
1 posted on 02/19/2004 9:14:22 AM PST by shrinkermd
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To: shrinkermd
Polygamy by paycheck. Essentially the career woman picks the second wife as a housekeeper and someone else to raise her children.
2 posted on 02/19/2004 9:21:38 AM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: shrinkermd
Partially sums up as to why today's "women" are deserving of contempt and not of a wedding ring. Not only do they care little about maintaining a stable family environment, in their quest of selfishness they're aiding and abetting our illegal immigrant problem!
3 posted on 02/19/2004 9:23:27 AM PST by KantianBurke (Principles, not blind loyalty)
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To: shrinkermd
That was worth the read. Hehe, poor oppressed Betty Friedan had a cleaning lady? They're all hypocrites!
4 posted on 02/19/2004 9:35:59 AM PST by TheSpottedOwl (Until Kofi Annan rides the Jerusalem RTD....nothing will change.)
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To: shrinkermd
I have read enough long, tedious article in the Atlantic for one lifetime. If this article makes any good points, can someone summarize them?
5 posted on 02/19/2004 9:52:47 AM PST by 68skylark
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To: shrinkermd
Fascinating. I used to have some coworkers with live-in nannies ... the whole concept boggled my mind, especially when they complained that only economic necessity forced them to work. Once I asked someone, "What do you mean you 'have' to work? Your housekeeper earns as much as I do!" (I was entry-level then ...)

Obviously there's a real class divide of some sort here, because I don't know any stay-at-home mothers who don't do their own housework and child-rearing, no matter how much money they have.

6 posted on 02/19/2004 9:55:51 AM PST by Tax-chick (Still more than 8 months remaining until the election - is this boring or what?)
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To: 68skylark
Pictures with a caption summarize better.

"Mommy, why did you leave daddy for your career and leave me at home with an illegal? Is a "Sex in the City" lifestyle that much more fulfilling than watching me grow up?"

7 posted on 02/19/2004 9:57:13 AM PST by KantianBurke (Principles, not blind loyalty)
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To: 68skylark
summarize them

Women (mothers) with social pretensions don't have to keep house or raise kids, because of the exploitation of the cheap labor of illegal immigrant women. It's dreadful, just dreadful, but, gosh, if we had restrictions on immigration or enforced labor laws, the author couldn't loaf around at home while the nanny took care of the kids, and then where would we be?

8 posted on 02/19/2004 9:58:55 AM PST by Tax-chick (Still more than 8 months remaining until the election - is this boring or what?)
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To: shrinkermd
"Mason writes, The dramatic shift from a manufacturing to a service economy, which occurred in the seventies, rendered the concept of a "family wage," earned by a relatively well-paid union member father, an anachronism. Their husbands' lower wages were driving mothers into the labor market in unprecedented numbers."

In addition, a lot of young couples insist on owning 3000 sf+ sf vinyl houses in nice, suburban neighborhoods, as well as huge, over-priced SUVs, when their own parents raised them in 2000 sf houses and drove Buick Centuries and similarly average cars. (The parents went on to own larger houses, perhaps, but after many more years of waiting).

Also, the availabilty of highly educated women in many fields nust have kept salaries down, too, by adding supply.

9 posted on 02/19/2004 10:04:31 AM PST by Montfort
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To: 68skylark
I have read enough long, tedious article in the Atlantic for one lifetime. If this article makes any good points, can someone summarize them?

This is not going to improve the intellectual reputation of feminists. (Of course it won't hurt their reputation much either since it can't go any lower.) It's meandering, illogical, inconsistent, it stops and re-starts several times, doesn't come to any conclusions, and doesn't have any fundamental principles or philosophy on which to base some kind of analysis. I'm afraid that this makes women look very bad, as though they are incapable of rational thought. They seem to be capable only of disjointed preoccupation with themselves and their selfish concerns.

It seems that the only women capable of thinking clearly are those like Phyllis Schlafly who utterly reject this entire "women's movement."

10 posted on 02/19/2004 10:04:59 AM PST by Maximilian
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To: shrinkermd
The more I read this feminist drivel the more I worry about the damge their kids will do to society.

God has blessed me with a wife who knows that her career is to be a wife and mother. She will probably return to work (part time) when the little ones start school (Christian) but she'll be home when they get home.

Childhood is too short to waste on nannies

11 posted on 02/19/2004 10:17:04 AM PST by John O (God Save America (Please))
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To: longtermmemmory
Polygamy by paycheck. Essentially the career woman picks the second wife as a housekeeper and someone else to raise her children


If she's a fox, she might have time for -you know- that the working wife doesn't.

12 posted on 02/19/2004 10:29:05 AM PST by Jim Noble (Now you go feed those hogs before they worry themselves into anemia!)
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To: shrinkermd
Well, as usual, for a well-off liberal, she leaves out the important things.

---- people are overtaxed, forcing women to work.

---- no amount of Social Security or other government transfer payments will solve people's problems.

----- urban life and schools have completely deteriorated leaving children and women at risk.

----- women's work has changed from production to consumption (women used to raise hens, can food, make clothing, etc.) which had to be more satisfying than rushing around shopping. In fact, homes a hundred or more years ago were like little woman-run factories. Women lost this when they beame 'liberated'.

---- Solution: 1.) abolish IRS and go to a flat tax. 2.) Women should once again aquire a dowry before marriage --- a large chunk of money they can invest or hold until children are older and then use to to re-enter work force. Dowry never to be a part of community property.

-----3.) abolish no-fault divorce.

Thank you, thank you (bows to thunderous applause)
13 posted on 02/19/2004 10:31:55 AM PST by squarebarb ('The stars put out their pale opinions, one by one...' Thomas Merton)
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To: Montfort
Two points this writer conveniently overlooks:

1. The entry of women into the workplace in massive numbers drove up labor supply and drove down demand, and therefore wages. It could be argued that feminism was the cause of women entering the workforce, rather than an effect. The economic necessity came when men's wages went down, and simultaneously, divorce was simplified. The 'economic value' of men/husbands was thus diminished.

2. Women would not have balked at hiring housekeepers on the basis of black 'solidarity' any more than they now hesitate to hire Latinas. Rather, the former maids were taken out of circulation by the Welfare State. Why work for minimum wage when it is so much easier to get welfare and do nothing?

Personally, I don't see anything morally wrong with either hiring a maid -- or being one. I've done both.
14 posted on 02/19/2004 10:36:26 AM PST by Shazolene
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To: Jim Noble
There is a case in FL which held that a wife's refusal for sex meant she could not use her husbands affair to get more money out of the divorce. (denial of sex was abuse.) I don't remember the cite.
15 posted on 02/19/2004 11:02:37 AM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: squarebarb
Dowry became the husbands property. My Great Grandfather was given a dowery because he married my Great Grandmother.

Modern versions have the dowery going into the couples name. (remember MyBigFatGreekWedding? Not a joke, it does happen.)

You will never get rid of no fault. However, ;-) , you can have consequence based distribution. If you cheat you will pay, if you abuse (mental games or physical) you will pay. I would abolish community property and install equitable distribution.

We need to get away from viewing divorce as the cashout value of a marriage.
16 posted on 02/19/2004 11:11:30 AM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: shrinkermd
I had 6 children and spent 20 years at home -- without household help, which we could never have afforded on my husband's salary. I sewed and baked and refinished salvaged furniture to make ends meet. But I was able to teach my own values to my children, instead of having them pick up their lessons about life from some minimum wage worker who didn't love them. I didn't have to worry that someone was being unkind to them when they were too tiny and vulnerable to protest.

I went to law school when my youngest started school. I have been very lucky in my work, which has been rewarding in every way that a job can be rewarding. But I can say without any hesitation that nothing I will ever do in my career will matter as much as those children. I'm dismayed that this author seems to minimize the value of a secure childhood spent with a loving mother, instead of day care.

My four daughters and two sons are all married I'm so delighted that all of the moms with small children are staying home with them, and am keeping my fingers crossed that it can continue. If any of them goes to work, it will only be because of economic necessity. But so far, they're all managing.
17 posted on 02/19/2004 11:13:41 AM PST by lady lawyer
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To: KantianBurke
swooosh, all net.

18 posted on 02/19/2004 11:16:59 AM PST by longtermmemmory (Vote!)
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To: shrinkermd
I see no problem with families hiring nannies.
19 posted on 02/19/2004 11:47:22 AM PST by JmyBryan
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To: Maximilian; Tax-chick; KantianBurke
Thanks. I didn't think I was missing much with this article.

Was there ever a time when the Atlantic wasn't so tedious? I hear it was good while Michael Kelly was the editor. I'm sorry I missed that era -- Kelly really became one of my heroes in journalism after 9/11. In fact, after 9/11 Kelly became one of my heroes, period.
20 posted on 02/19/2004 1:24:27 PM PST by 68skylark
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To: JmyBryan
I see no problem with families hiring nannies.

Agreed -- if a family wants to spend some money on a nanny, and if the nanny wants to take the job at that wage, then everyone should be free to do so. It's called capatalism. It's called liberty. It's a good thing for people to be free and to pursue their own interests this way. Liberals always have mixed feelings about freedom (or worse) -- but that's their problem.

21 posted on 02/19/2004 1:33:47 PM PST by 68skylark
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To: Shazolene
And, it should be pointed out, a lot of the high quality people who used to be maids had very limited career options, and would nowadays be college professors, heads of government divisions, and the like. We had a twice-weekly cleaning lady whose five daughters all got college educations (and this was a very long time ago).
22 posted on 02/19/2004 2:50:17 PM PST by Montfort
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To: shrinkermd
Of course. The primary reason I became an architect was widen the gap between rich and poor and of course to destroy my child's life. Now I see it.

Flanagan is such a dope.
23 posted on 02/21/2004 6:15:23 PM PST by Lorianne
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To: JohnGalt; ninenot; u-89; sittnick; steve50; Hegemony Cricket; Willie Green; Wolfie; ex-snook; ...
What few will admit—because it is painful, because it reveals the unpleasant truth that life presents a series of choices, each of which precludes a host of other attractive possibilities—is that when a mother works, something is lost. Children crave their mothers. They always have and they always will.

Good and depressing article(this quote is from the full version at Atlantic Monthly).

24 posted on 03/04/2004 4:37:34 PM PST by A. Pole (The genocide of Albanians was stopped in its tracks before it began.)
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