Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Housewives and Recession

In a recent article in Salon, a woman who spent 14 years as a housewife writes about how the current economic crisis is punishing women who decided a long time ago not to pursue professional realization:
The economic crisis will erode women's interest in "opting out" to care for children, heightening awareness that giving up financial independence -- quitting work altogether or even, as I did, going part-time -- leaves one frighteningly vulnerable.
 I don't think that this economic downturn can be overcome At least, it's obvious to me that nobody is trying to give up on the practices that led us into the recession in the first place. So we are stuck in the current state of affairs for a while. Unless, of course, another crash happens, which is more than likely. As with everything else in life, however, the crisis has brought about some positive things as well. Less and less women will be "choosing" to abandon economic independence and professional realization now that they see how costly such a decision is turning out to be to many former housewives. The fear of finding themselves indigent and with no way of proving their worth socially, professionally or financially will finally convince many women that the self-infantilization of housewifery is not worth the risk.

Katy Read, the author of the article, tries to suggest that she had given up on working for fourteen years for the sake of her sons. Nobody, however, needs a parent to be constantly at home until one is 14. In fact, there is nothing worse for a teenager to have their mother permanently hovering around at that age. At 14, even the most immature kid is perfectly capable of feeding himself and doing his own laundry. And his younger brother's, too. Their mother herself admits that the children are almost adults. So let's abandon the "it's-best-for-the-children" rhetoric here. Like many other women, Read simply didn't want to make the effort of going to work every single day, competing with colleagues, giving up her free time, obeying orders, learning new things all the time, worrying about paying the bills.  It's much easier to pretend that you are a little girl who needs to be provided with everything by a big, strong man. (At least, until the man decides to move on and goes away, as happened in Read's case.)

In her article, Read explains how she was duped into an unthinking acceptance of the mythology that surrounds housewifery:

I wasn't worried, frankly, about the long-term economic consequences, partly because nobody else seemed to be. Most articles and books about what came to be called "opting out" focused on the budgeting challenges of dropping to one paycheck -- belt-tightening measures shared by both parents -- while barely touching on the longer-term sacrifices borne primarily by the parent who quits: the lost promotions, raises and retirement benefits; the atrophied skills and frayed professional networks. The difficulty of reentering the workforce after years away was underreported, the ramifications of divorce, widowhood or a partner's layoff hardly considered. It was as though at-home mothers could count on being financially supported happily ever after, as though a permanent and fully employed spouse were the new Prince Charming.
If an intelligent, highly articulate, well-educated woman can be brainwashed to the extent where she fails to consider the very obvious ramifications of her "choice", what can we expect from women who are raised amidst constant conditioning as to women's "God-given role" within their families and churches? Even if the husband doesn't leave, the children eventually will and the housewife will be confronted with a necessity either to climb the walls out of boredom or start looking for employment. And as we all know, it's extremely difficult even for very highly qualified job seekers to find any employment after years of staying at home.
My sister is a very successful job recruiter with years of experience and extremely high rates of job placements. As a feminist, she used to think that it was very unfair that employers refused even to consider housewives as job candidates. She decided that it was her duty to work to overcome what she saw as a gender-biased injustice. So she started making efforts to place such women. Soon, however, it became very clear to her that employers weren't interested in interviewing housewives not because such employers were inherently evil or misogynistic. During preliminary interviews with housewives she saw that they had one thing in common: an extremely infantilized mode of behavior. Whenever the conversation didn't go exactly as they wanted, they would become highly emotional, raise their voices, become irritable, cry, make unreasonable demands. They had no understanding of how to negotiate or listen to others. Their expectations of what they are owed by recruiters and employers were extremely inflated. It was obvious that inscribing themselves into the hierarchies of a workplace, curbing their highly emotional response to every slight contretemps and learning to listen to other people was going to be next to impossible for them. The more years such a woman had spent outside of the workplace, the more acute these problems were.

It's fashionable to complain about the mean, horrible employers who refuse to hire such candidates. An employer, however, cannot be denied the right of hiring people who will be able to do the work. We can't all be expected to sacrifice everything for the sake of humoring those who chose not to think about their own lives realistically.

Read's advice to women is not to fall into the same trap of the patriarchal discourse that keeps suggesting to us that women are somehow not fully human and should be fulfilled with less than what men need to be happy. I hope many people read this article and abstain from castrating their lives in the same way as Read did.

P.S. I want to warn everybody from the beginning that while you should feel free to leave comments of the "everybody should be able to choose not to work" variety, I will not be answering them. Yeah, it would be great if we all could choose not to work and have our bills paid by some mysterious, benign authority. But that's not how the world works. Oopsy daisy.


Anonymous said...

Just watched a Supernanny episode that made me cringe. A stay at home mother of 3 (12, 11 and 7 year old respectively) needed help with her children. What made this episode especially horrifying was that this woman completely stumbled her children's growth, probably to justify her staying at home and to convince herself and those around her that they were still babies. None of the three knew how to use the knife at the dinner table! The seven year old did not know how to tie his shoelaces! Neither one of the three knew how to fold their pants or shirts! The seven year old slept in his parents' bed! Ironically, the first day the nanny asked him to sleep in his own room, he was happy to do so and fell asleep instantly!

The mother also policed her kids to no end, going through their backpacks, their phones and their computers. Fortunately the nanny was enlightened enough to be disgusted by all of the above.

If a grown woman decides to screw with her own future or her potential marketability, I couldn't care less. It is excruciating, however, to see children fall victims to these lazy beings with no purpose in life.


Clarissa said...

Exactly. You are so right. These people claim to sacrifice themselves at the altar of their children' well-being and refuse to see how much damage they are doing. They deprive themselves of a complete human existence and devour their children to fill the void. Horrifying!

Redbookish said...

>>Yeah, it would be great if we all could choose not to work and have our bills paid by some mysterious, benign auhtority.<<

oooo as an academic woman working a 60 hour week, and some, can I have some of that? I could get quite used to that.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I strongly disagree. My mother (an intelligent and educated woman who has an MBA)made the decision with my father that she would stay home with me and my siblings. There is nothing infantile about her. She served as the president of the Parent Teacher Organization, PTO, four times, cared for the home, sewed clothes and was the heart of our home. Rather than impairing her children, she was there every day after school to engage us, drive to our extracurricular activities and help with homework. She also was there to make sure we were making the RIGHT kind of friends.

I'm sorry you have such a negative idea of what being a stay at home mother is. I only hope someday I can make the same choice and follow in her footsteps.

Clarissa said...

Anonymous: don't you see how your last statement completely undermines everything you tried to argue before? Your mother crippled you socially and professionally to the extent where you don't even have any career goals or professional dreams.

It's sad that your mother was so deprived of any existence of her own that she even had to police your friends. I'm so sorry that you've been dealt such a poor hand in life.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa, my mother absolutely did not cripple anything about me. She instead showed me that there are things, including a well functioning family, that are more important than any career goals. I am sorry that you have been led to believe that any career success can top success in your family. I also question how you can fault my mother for making sure my siblings and I did not spend time with other teens who smoked, drank and engaged in promiscuous behavior. That is just good parenting.

Clarissa said...

There is no success in a family where one of the adults is apermanently depressed appendage to another . Housewives ar a gorup of population that suffers the most from depression. Studies on the subject abound. Marriages of housewives are the ones that are plagued by infidelity. Again, tons of studies about that.

This stands to reason because how can a guy NOT cheat on a boring whiny woman whose only sphere of interests lies in dirty dishes and soap operas?

From your comments I can also deduce that you are very priggish and sexually repressed. Kudos to your mother for robbing you of a normal adolescence. Now she will also rob you of a fully functional adulthood. That is, unless you wake up and realize thta you don't have to be an appendage to some guy. You can have a life, too. Do a favor to your possible future kids, don't castrate yourself as a human being.

Anonymous said...

I am just sorry for you that your children will have to suffer from your misguided, absent parent = good parent philosophy. And if your significant other is only with you because he thinks your job is interesting, then I feel sorry for your relationships as well.

You may notice that I am choosing not to stoop to your level with silly and childish insults. My stay at home mother taught me better than that.

Clarissa said...

She had to teach you something in all that time. A high sense of self-worth isn't it. Logic neither.

Academically, children of housewives are the weakest students. It's not surprising because they have to spend all their time with a person who isn't developing intellectually when they are kids. Again, tons of study on that.

Anonymous said...

The fault in your logic is assuming that work outside the home is the only source of intellectual development. My mother reads, volunteers, joined organizations and made better her own and our lives every day. How sad that you feel your entire self worth is tied up in your profession. There is so much more than that Clarissa. I hope you can realize that before you wake up in 30 years and realize that your job is all you have and it hasn't fulfilled you the way family and personal life could.


Clarissa said...

It's only in the imagination of unfulfilled housewives that people with careers ONLY have careers. For your information, professionally and financially successful people report much higher degrees of contentment with their personal lives. My family life is extremely happy, so I can confirm this statistic on a personal level.

Anonymous said...

I am also happy to share that in my entire extended family who have children, only one aunt works outside of the home. All of the women in my life are extremely happy and fulfilled. I am so blessed to have such wonderful role models in the women in my life.

I am happy for you that you feel fulfilled in having a career. Please understand though that it is not the only path to fulfillment.


Clarissa said...

That is really sad. Not surprising your expectations from life are so horrible.

Miss S said...

In order to have the kind of career you seem to be referring to, people usually need an education. This isn’t an option for everyone.

I also know plenty of women who stay home because they don’t earn enough to cover child care. Some women work at home. Others have a disability that prevents them from working/working outside the home. All of the factors have been completely ignored in this post. In other words, it applies to middle-upper class, able bodied women.

It also ignores the women who don’t want to sit in a cubicle all day at a job they hate. Not all of us are going to be able to have these luxurious, fabulous careers.

Clarissa said...

Well, you have got to live on something, right? So the only alternative to having a job and a career is finding a guy who has a job and. Acareer and is willing to shoulder the burden of keeping an adult woman for as long as she lives. Not all men can afford the luxury of keeping a non-earning adult who is too high and mighty to sit in a cubicle but who doesn't mind it at all if her miserable husband sits in that same cubicle to pay her bills.

Cheryl M said...

It's unfortunate, Clarissa, that your fabulous life as an academic hasn't resulted in your being capable of producing a piece of writing (including your responses in the comments) that isn't riddled with grammatical and typographical errors. After working past that annoyance to read this and others of your posts, it's laughable that you would castigate anyone for being highly emotional, irritable, or unreasonable.

Doesn't it occur to you, and others who agree with your stance, how ridiculous it is for a woman to put her children in care so that she can go clean other people's houses and teach other people's children? That's what most careers are: doing something for other people they don't feel like doing for themselves. If you really think your only worth is in how much money you can make, then I feel sorry for you. And newsflash-- those people that (collective) you work with that you have all these mind expanding conversations with? The majority of the time they couldn't care less what you're yammering about; they're usually waiting for you to shut up so they can either have their turn to talk or leave.

Clarissa said...

And here comes another unhinged housewife ready to defend her right to be a kept woman with everything she has.

Anonymous said...

I left my modest job to care for my 2 children. I could definitely cover the cost of daycare, but why would I want to miss out on their childhood? This was a decision that my husband and I made together. Sure, we may not be able to afford everything we would like, but at least my children are not being raised by someone else or being mistreated/abused. I assume that you do not know too much about what it takes to raise children.... it's not just sitting around doing nothing while expecting someone else take care of you. Most of the time, it is a mutual decision. I have also started my own company in something that I am passionate about to help pay bills. Oh my, did I just post that? Women who stay at home changing diapers and washing dishes can actually be passionate about something?!?! Anyway, what makes me happier than receiving a paycheck from a job away from my family is spending quality time with them. You sound like it's a burden to care for your kids and if that's the case, I really feel sorry for you and your family. You seem very angry and I presume you don't have much of a sex life, based on your profile picture and attitude.

Clarissa said...

I'm sure it's no burden on you. It is, however, a huge burden on the poor schmuck you bullied into keeping you and on the miserable kids who have to deal with your lack of personal, professional and social fulfillment all day and every day.

"I presume you don't have much of a sex life, based on your profile picture"

-Envy is a very bad quality. :-)

Anonymous said...

Right...evvy... sure.

Actually, my husband was the one who offered the idea of me staying home. No, that doesn't mean I jumped at his request just because he is the man and I'll do as he says. We were in between sitters for a very serious and unfortunate reason, and I found that I really do enjoy being with my kids.

What's your opinion of stay at home dads?

Clarissa said...

Is it really not obvious from the post how I feel about people who castrate their existence by opting out of a professional and social realization? What is the point of wasting everybody's time by asking such needless questions?

Will you now ask me how I feel about blond people doing the same? Tall people? Short people?

The answer will be the same every single time.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of having kids then if you want no part in their upbringing? Do you have your kids birth certificates hanging on the fridge so you can remember their names and birth dates?

Who says anything about opting out of a professional and social life? I have started my own company out of nothing last year, employ 2 other people, and enjoy social outings with and without my kids. When I had a "career", I worked with plenty of socially challenged idiots who did nothing outside of work. I'm guessing this is the category you fall into?

Clarissa said...

So your children's father has "no part in their upbringing" because he works? Because that's what you just suggested.

Sad, that.

Patrick said...

You have a very idealized vision of the workplace. I've got news for you. If you were to poll the 3,000 people walking out of an auto factory their opinion on "professional and social realization", you would be astounded at the laughter you would hear!!

Most jobs in the world are mind-numbing, soul crushing drudgery. There are a minority of us that engage in what inspires us. Why be so hell-bent on forcing EVERYONE into that hellhole of work.

When I die, they won't be inscribing - "He was a good employee" on the gravestone. Get your priorities straight, before you live to regret it.

Miss S said...

This is late, but I just came back to read your reply.

You still chose to ignore the fact that education isn't an option for everyone- not everyone had the opportunity to go to college. The choice could be between staying home or working as a house cleaner. Who are you to judge?

It also ignores women with disabilities who can't work, or work outside the home. My best friend has serious health problems that prevent work. No one is less of a person because they aren't working.

So, basically, this blog is for middle to upper class, probably white, and able bodied women.

Clarissa said...

Why do you have so much contempt for people who go out cleaning? It's a respectable career that provides and important service. I personally know people who started out cleaning offices and have now turned that into a thriving business. The people I'm talking about are immigrants who are neither white nor middle class.