Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Retro Backlash

Unless you were under a rock, I'm sure you saw this article making the rounds. I mentioned it briefly when it first hit the blogsphere, but it's been gnawing at me and I want to elaborate on it. Rather this whole culture.

I find many of the profiled mother's comments offensive on a basic level:

She believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—­Connor, 5, and Lillie, 4—were not being looked after the right way. The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums; “women,” she says, “keep it together better than guys do.”

Really? What about single parents? What about fathers that stay home with their children?

Feminism has never fully relieved women from feeling that the domestic domain is theirs to manage, no matter what else they’re juggling

I didn't realize we'd set out to do that. We can thank cultural norms for that one. Encouraging women to stay home = partners not to do full share of chores means you are starting a self-fulfilling prophecy. How about demanding more from partners? Radical idea, I realize.

Now I know/have said before choices aren't made in a vacuum, to each their own, etc but I tend to get a bit hot around the collar when a white upper middle class woman is profiled and suddenly her choices are "the proper ones". Not everyone can afford to live off one income. On the flip side, our American culture, as a whole, doesn't respect a person, regardless of gender, attempting to carve out a life that includes child rearing and a separate career. Flex time, while becoming more popular, is still in the smaller end of the spectrum. Daycare is astronomically expensive. Telecommuting is coming along, except at Yahoo. Not to mention understanding bosses. And overall, there is more time spent at work:

That the workweek is ballooning for America’s educated, salaried classes, even as it’s shrinking for less educated, hourly workers, or turning into part-time work, has been called the “time divide”—the increasing inequality of time spent working, which tracks with the rise of economic inequality...“The American economy is producing more than it did before the recession,” he continued, “and it’s doing it with 8, 10, 12 million fewer workers. Employment isn’t where it was pre-recession, but the productivity, the total volume of stuff being produced, is higher. The only way that can happen is if people are working longer and harder.”

And even with women working more hours, we are still behind in terms of equal pay, with women earning around 77 cents to the man's dollar. And I'd wager that our economy still is nowhere near up to snuff in accommodating a two income household.

A lot of caregivers chose the lesser of two evils because the support systems for working a full time job and caring for a family are not there; although that's a whole separate issue that needs addressing, but judging how well President Obama's remarks during his recent State of the Union address about preschool were taken, I say we are still far from the goal on that front.

I've noticed and I'm not the only one, that the stereotypical '50's are back in vogue; from fashion to tv (Mad Men, anyone?).

“Wearing kitschy aprons or a form-fitting Betty Draper frock can be fun, sexy, or even practical. But this fashion revival is also powerfully symbolic and political. At this very same moment when opportunities are expanding, there is a revived appeal of the 1950s middle-class housewife look, with all its domestic associations still held firmly in place. This timing is curious. Just when social and economic expectations are shifting, we go retro."

A quick google search turns up Twitter profiles like HousewifeNation and hash tags like MRS degree and DiamondDiploma. I recommend alcohol before reading. Again, to each their own but when I see tweets like this:

Ladies, alot of entertainment promotes feminism and disrespect towards men. Guard your hearts and your ears.

Ladies, a man ALWAYS pays for dinner. Do not listen to these crazy independent women.

Ladies, feminism never has been or will be cute. If a guy wants to take care of you and treat you like a princess, LET HIM!  

The most beautiful thing a woman can do is dedicate her life to taking care of her home, her husband and her children.  

He'll be sorry. He's gonna marry a typical modern day woman that puts her career before her family

my brain tends to explode a bit.

I'd like to think there is more I can contribute to the world and my life than ironing. Also, ironing? I suck at it. Partner is way better at it. I understand the appeal, sleeping in upon occasion and having time to really get stuff done as opposed to having to cram it in after work/weekends. However, telling women that is the only way to a great life? What happens if your partner, goddess forbid, passes away? Divorces you? Marketable skills are a necessary part of life, even if you choose to stay at home. What about retirement savings? I would be incredibly nervous about not having a safety net if I were to stay at home and be the primary caregiver. And I say this as someone who did stay at home, right after I got laid off, less than six months after graduating college. I ended up staying home for almost two years.

I was bored out of my skull within a week. To be frank, housework, if it's the primary task or what is scrambled together after work, is fucking drudgery. Laundry, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming, it all represents tasks I'd really rather not do.

I find it especially frustrating when the conversation is limited to white women. Most of the Twitter userpics I saw were of white women. Danielle Belton, of the blog "The Black Snob", also spoke about this issue:

But I can't help but wonder how many black women wish they had the "choice" to stay at home and raise their children? Has a poll ever been done of working black mothers -- both married and unmarried -- on whether or not they'd like to stay at home?

Or for that matter, any woman who wasn't white/cisgender/able-bodied/rich?

Belton sums up her article:

A lot of women, black and white, want better choices, but we're still being crammed into the same old compromises, the same old roles. And this goes for men as well, some who check out of families when they feel they can't live up to a "traditional" role. The best father is one who is actively involved in his child's life, but certain segments of our society still pine for all the familial burden being on the woman even though more and more fathers want and do take a larger role in parenting. Both sides would benefit from a more understanding work place that provides the work/life balance necessary so parents can be parents and still advance in their careers. 

Yes. Yes. And more yes.

For the record, I abhor how they treated two of my favorite bloggers in the original piece, Rebecca Woolf from Girl's Gone Child and Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo.

every day she posts staged photos of her kids that make her family life look like one big, wholesome-but-funky romp. Here are the twins wearing adorable handmade animal hats with ears! ... But the image of home life she presents for popular consumption is as glossy and idealized as the mythical feminine perfection Friedan rebelled against.

Jezebel posted a blog last week about the misrepresentation of both Woolf and Kelly Makino, the woman prominently featured in the original article.

Woolf had this to say: "It was like she took everything that I said, ignored it all, and then wrote something so pointed and passive aggressive." And Makino also states: "The research studies we chatted about during our day-long session were portrayed as spouting gender stereotypes…I vehemently support men in the role of primary caregiver."

I think Danielle Belton sums it up perfectly when she stated that  "Both sides would benefit from a more understanding work place that provides the work/life balance necessary so parents can be parents and still advance in their careers."

I don't think we should stop hearing the stories, but as with the name changing debate, now is the time to move beyond the stories and start making active change. Limiting anyone's life choices, regardless of gender, is wrong and I believe American culture can do better.

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