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.