Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Bind of the Working Parent

Linda Hirshman's at it again, describing the vitriol she received when she published her article in American Prospect that argued that women should work and not stay home. She suggested that the real glass ceiling was at home. In her new article, she explains that much of the vitriol came from the religiously-oriented stay-at-home movement that sought to also strip women of rights more generally. But she also says she got blasted from plain old stay at home moms and some working moms. Seems like she got blasted from all sides.

Although, she's toned down her rhetoric a little, she still claims that it's best for women to go to work. The problem is, she's still putting all the focus on the individuals and not on greater societal trends that are not helping women go back to work easily. Work sometimes sucks. Sometimes it's not fun and fulfilling. Most of us, I hate to say, are not making great world contributions though we might be making smaller, more local ones. Work is often not flexible. One cannot adjust hours or take a lot of time off for school events, illness, and all the other little things that have to be tended to when one is raising children and managing a household. Even if partners split this evenly, one bad round of flu and both of you can run through all your sick time. And some places don't offer personal time. And what do people not on an academic calendar do in the summers? Where is Hirshman's call for businesses to be more flexible or for schools to get with the 21st century?

If one is careerist at all, balancing caring for a family and your work is downright impossible. Many careerist women often couple with careerist partners, and if they recognize that balancing is hard, they might not have children at all or one partner will step off the career track, either by slowing down or opting out completely. And let's face some hard facts. Society still supports careerist men, but women are still made to feel guilty (even more so if they have a family) if they're careerist. That stay-at-home movement, especially with the current administration in office, has some powerful pull and knows how to pull at the heart strings too. Women are, more often than men, made to feel as if it's their duty to care for the children. I hope this is changing, but if Hirshman is right, then maybe it's not.

Do I think there's a glass ceiling at home? That's hard to say. Mr. Geeky really is an involved father. He does more than just the fun stuff. He has always changed diapers, gotten up in the middle of the night, tended to sick children, and handed down punishments. We are, I would say, equal parents. Do I wish he would do more household management? You bet. He is absolutely more likely to overlook a pile of laundry or a stack of papers to be sorted than I am. I definitely have times when I wish he'd just say, "This place is a mess. What can I do to help?" But he does stuff. He cleans the kitchen, takes out the garbage, and does minor household repairs. He's been known to vacuum and mop (to be fair, neither of us do that very often). Maybe if he did 10% more, I'd have, what, another 15 minutes a day. Woah.

And one thing Hirshman overlooks is the fact that there are ways to contribute without bringing home a paycheck. I often think about what I'd do if I weren't working. I'd volunteer more, probably for political campaigns. I'd write, maybe even for a tiny paycheck. I wouldn't just tend to the tedium of the house. And there's a lot to be said for raising children well. It takes a lot of work, a lot of emotional and physical energy that's hard to come by when you're holding down a 9-5 job. I'd love to see more women in the work force, but I don't want it to be at the expense of the well-being of their children or themselves. I obviously believe that working mothers do not do serious damage to their children, but something has to give and it's sometimes the women or their relationships. And if Hirshman's serious that this is the feminist agenda (at least hers), then she needs to get behind some legislation that helps us all balance our work life and our family life. What do you say Linda, put your money where your mouth is?