23 June 2006

Eating your cake

The backlash against career women by holier-than-thou stay-at-home moms like Caitlin Flanagan, the career woman who writes essays and books about why “something is lost” to children whose mothers work, bugs me. Big time.

I’ve worked full-time for more than 30 years. With the Bush administration sucking our economy dry and with the consequences of that ahead for the foreseeable future, I expect to die in the traces.

Like me, Flanagan works, but she’s had the luxury of working from home while a nanny or other babysitters take care of her two boys. At the same time, she complains in her essays and books that she feared the nanny, et al, were stealing her boys’ love from her. Sheesh. She also has ongoing, paid housekeeping help and brags that she’s never had to iron a husband’s shirt or make a bleach solution to clean stained grout.

She says she enjoys reading cookbooks but doesn’t actually do much cooking. Well, lah-di-dah. I read ‘em, too. Then I cook. Usually after working a 10-hour day.

I’ve had to do without Flanagan’s privileged conveniences; indeed, I’ve always worked outside the home, then come home to my second, pay-free job of cooking, cleaning, child-rearing and husband-caretaking, including ironing the occasional shirt.

What have I left out? Well, no one. I’ve taken care of myself, too.

I grew up hearing about feminism. I bought into it wholeheartedly – equality for women, as far as I was concerned, meant that women needed to work just as hard outside the home as the men they loved. Nothing in life comes without a price. It never occurred to me to choose the traditional female role. I honestly couldn’t imagine staying home as my husband worked to bring in money, my sole responsibility bearing and caring for children, keeping the house and cooking meals, world without end, amen.

Talk about boring.

Now, my own sweet mother did that. By the time I was a teen-ager, it was clear to me that she was unhappy and stuck in her role – and that I, as the child who wouldn’t do things her way, was the albatross around her neck that caused her unhappiness. Her greatest pride was her pretty, spotless home – and my endlessly messy bedroom was the bane of her existence. Once I left home to strike out on my own, things smoothed out for her, I guess.

I never questioned that I would have to work to live. By the end of the 70s it was pretty clear to anyone with half a brain that a single family income wasn’t going to cut it anymore, particularly if that income wasn’t at the executive level.

And frankly, I had little interest being a housekeeper and broodmare. I was young, energetic, intelligent. I had my own dreams and enough youthful idealism and optimism to believe I’d achieve them

I started working when I was 15, and except for a couple of stretches of unemployment – one for four weeks, another for a year – I’ve worked either several part-time jobs at once or full-time ever since.

And yes, I also married, had a child, kept a house and cooked meals almost every day. Thank goodness for take-out.

I was a single mother, too, for a stretch of years. During that time, I had to hire full-time babysitters for my pre-preschool daughter. Once she was old enough, I enrolled her in preschool, which was a co-op and fortunately, could take her for nine hours each weekday. There was no choice involved; I was the only breadwinner. The fee for preschool took a huge chunk each month out of my paycheck.

She had an after-school babysitter until she was 12 years old; after that, I had that unemployed year, so I was there each day when she came home from school. Once I started working again, that ended and I gave her responsibility for herself for the two and half hours after school.

She did just fine.

I write all this not to complain, but to make the point that during all of this time, not working was never a choice. When I was married, my spouses also worked full time, but neither of them ever made the kind of money necessary to support the family without a second income. That’s life.

Today, my daughter is grown. Mr. Wren and I have a mortgage and other financial obligations, medical bills, etc. In an ironic twist, he’s the one who can’t work, now. I’m grateful I have skills that make me employable, because if I didn’t have those, we’d both be homeless today.

Flanagan’s assertions that women should stay at home are, at best, unrealistic for the vast majority of American women. At worst, they’re insulting. Only those women whose spouses make a great deal of money can afford to stay home. And while I won’t argue that it might have been nice for my daughter if I’d been at home for her each day as she grew up, playing with her, making her cookies and keeping a perfect house, I don’t believe that she was done any harm by not having a stay-at-home Mom.

Indeed, I’d have been harmed by having to play children’s games, watch cartoons and come up with smiley-face pancakes day after day instead of having intelligent conversations with adults and mind-stimulating work to do. I’d have ended up resenting my daughter and boring my men to tears.

Instead, my daughter understands the harsh reality of the world she’s facing. She knows that to get by, you have to work. She knows there is no pie-in-the-sky daddy/lover/white knight out there for most of us – nor would we want him. She’s watched me work throughout her life. There is no free ride.

All of the women I know are workers – and they work both in the marketplace and at home, regardless of their marital status. Most of them also didn’t have -- and never will have -- the luxury of “choosing” to be a homemaker.

To those women who do have that choice, well, how very nice for you. I hope for your sakes you never divorce or that your spouses never lose their jobs or become ill and can’t work – because when that happens, it all comes crashing down. And if you have no marketable skills (toilet cleaning doesn't count), you’re in deep trouble – and so are your children.

And, to Caitlin Flanagan and her ilk, those pampered women who presume to tell the rest of us what bad wives and mothers we are? Fuck you and the man you rode in on.

2 comments:

The Heretik said...

Caitlin Flanagan? Crack mother knows more than everyone, about everything. Linked you on this one.

Lance Mannion said...

Excellent.