Saturday, May 8, 2010

I *can't* get back in the kitchen.

Sometimes I see people talking like the basic lifestyle dichotomy facing women is whether they want to work or be a housewife. If you work and you're a mother you're "having it all," which really means "having it both." Feminists want women to be able to work the same as men, and anti-feminists want women to "get back in the kitchen."

The problem here is that I didn't make some big feminist choice to go to work; no one gave me the chance to be a housewife. I've never dated a guy who could afford to support me at home. (Actually Benny was pretty loaded, but he didn't even want to be seen with me, there's no way he'd've gone for marriage.) If I have kids I'm 90% certain I'll "have it all," not because I'm some superfeminist but because it's that or raising them in a studio apartment eating ramen. I don't think most people these days are rich enough to support an entire family on one income.

This isn't new either. In the 1950s--which were kind of an anomalous time incidentally, not the way of the world up to then--40% of married women with school-age children worked outside the home. I'm guessing that some of them were feminists but most of them just needed the money.

I don't think being a stay-at-home mom is a bad or anti-feminist choice, but I think some people sweep under the rug how often it isn't an available choice. There's still a lot of people out there arguing that men should make more because they have to support families, or people talking about "having it all" like it was brave or selfish. Discussions of a "woman's proper place" are meaningless without considering that a lot of women--poor women, but also single women, divorced women, lesbians, most childless women, most older women--couldn't get supported by a man if they wanted it.

This is why women's rights are necessary--not because we want them but because we need them. Equal pay and fair treatment in the workplace aren't about some lofty ideal, they're about getting by. Women need to be seen and treated as people because most of us don't have any options besides trying to succeed as people. When you don't have a rich husband to fall back on, being a working woman isn't a lifestyle, it's just living.

Maybe I'd love to get back in the kitchen (I wouldn't, but anyway), but if I did, there wouldn't be any food there.


  1. Well, I make a metric assload (more than three times the national median household income); and supporting a wife and two kids on that is STILL not trivial.

    It's not like we're poor; but people who don't know any better, expect someone who makes more than $150k a year, to be "rich", or at least way into the "upper middle class".

    Well, we rent, but we live in north Idaho so our rent is relatively cheap. We drive a 4 and a 5 year old, American car and pickup truck respectively. Our kids go to public schools. We eat out about twice a week, at family style restaurants and pizza places not at Mortons. We don't really travel or take long foreign vacations, or gamble or buy lots of jewelry...

    We have a boat, but I paid $1400 for it. We have a big screen TV and a decent home theater system. Other than that... Nothing particularly extravagant or expensive.

    Yes, we live solidly in the middle class, but even making as much as I do, or standard of living isn't exactly "sitcom family" level, never mind rich.

    The first thing, is the taxes. Last year, including all federal and state taxes, medicare, medicaid, and social security; I paid $60,000 in taxes. Then theres the cost of healthcare and other benefits. We paid about $6,000 last year out of pocket, plus another $4000 in various premiums (the rest being made up by my employer).

    At least I get a 401k with matching. 6%, which saves me a lot in taxes as well as getting the employer match.

    Overall, including the 6% 401k deduction, my take home pay, is considerably less than half my gross pay.

    If my wife worked, and made the national median individual salary of just under $40,000, and presuming she took home 2/3 of that...

    Well, we WOULD have sitcom family standard of living then. We could easily afford a big new boat, a bunch of toys, vacations etc...

  2. Yeah, the class fail of a lot of that "get back in the kitchen" bullshit is one of the things that makes me come over eyerolly.

    Back to The Way We Never Were.

  3. Yeah, let's all go back to being upper-class Victorians. Never mind that even most Victorians weren't upper-class. :-p

  4. I'd love to "get back in the kitchen"... but that really has more to do with a secret desire to be a pastry chef than any crap about wanting to be taken care of by a man.

    Great post. Love that you pointed out the inaccuracy of the "every woman as a homemaker in the 50's" narrative, as well as the classism built into that image.

  5. Yeah, my mom never worked outside the home, but she's in the minority as far as my experience goes, and I grew up basically living off a farm. Unless my life changes drastically in the near future, I expect that both me and my husband will be working parents.


    From my standpoint, someone who makes more than 150K is rich, or at least upper-middle-class. My husband and I make about 30K between us, before taxes, and I'd consider us comfortably middle-class. It's all a matter of perspective.

  6. Aebhel, I was thinking the same thing. My husband works and I'm a stay at home mom and we make less than you and your husband. Less than 1/3 what Chris brings home. I know location has a lot to do with it but we live in Maryland which is a relatively expensive state to live in. We are far from rich but have everything we need and some of what we want. Until recently, when we splurged and bought a new garage door (since the old one was installed sometime in the 50s) we were debt free with the exception of a car payment.

    When people hear that I'm a stay at home mom, I think they think my husband makes WAY more than he does. I know there are a lot of families who have no choice about having both parents work and I'm grateful that I've been able to stay home this long with my kids. However, I also think there are families where a parent could stay home, if they wanted to, but they think they couldn't.

    In my case, the choice has nothing to do with being a feminist or not or making any choice based on any of those ideals. It has evertything to do with not wanting anyone else raising my kids and, as long as it was possible for me to be home with them, I would be. Unfortunately I'm faced with likely needing to return to work very soon. We've made the decision that I will go back to working nights so, again, at least 1 parent will be able to be home with our kids and not left in day care or with a sitter. Simply a choice we make that we feel is best for our kids. If someone else chooses to do soemthing different, that's their choice to make. I may not like it, or agree with it, but it's not my family to decide what works and what doesn't

  7. According to the 1930 US census (history began before 1950) out of all families (including for census purposes 'families' of one, about 8%), 82% included a homemaker who was not gainfully employed. Assuming a negligible number of families of one consisted of a non-gainfully-employed homemaker, it goes up to 89%.

    The big problem is that to go back to that, for lower-income families, we'd have to head back in the direction of 1930's standards of material living (a vacuum cleaner is a luxury for the well-off, kind of thing). With modern manufacturing technology people would be better off than they were in the 30s. I do believe it would be better for the kids. It is an available choice. But I'm not the first to volunteer.

    I think there's another attitude we'd need to get back to make the single-earner model tolerable; kids being expected to make major contributions of labor. Now, parents are ideally supposed to sacrifice everything on the altar of raising kids well, and a whole lot of what we think we need to earn is due to the goods and services (mostly services) we are driven to buy for the kids, who are doing a lot if they take out the trash. No wonder the West has a shrinking population; for us kids are basically a burden. In countries with growing populations when they say children are the future, they mean they're your retirement plan.

  8. Um. Wow. (I know this wasn't the point of the post, but...)

    Chris Byrne makes 150,000 a year?

    Seems like just yesterday that I, on my puny little salary which is a sad fraction of 150,000/year, sent him a sum to help in some sort of custody battle because he and the Missus just couldn't swing it.

    And now he posts that he makes that much money?
    And wasn't he having other bloggers shill for him for some cookbook recently, too?

    In a world where everything is relative, I feel relatively foolish for falling for his pleas for help.

    If my wife could bring in $40,000 a year, we couldn't afford her NOT to work, as she'd be making more than I do.

    Fool me once, shame on you. So glad I didn't buy the cookbook.

    Wont Get Fooled Again

  9. Anonymous,

    Not that Chris needs anyone to speak for him, but have you ever checked what your average lawyer charges per hour? Much less one specializing in a somewhat obscure field like international family law and is top notch at it?

  10. Before my wife and I married, she declared that she wanted to be a full time mom when the time came. We both work in a high end technical field where we can earn equal pay, and do, depending on how you measure it. She is just past a week into her sabbatical, where she can decide if not working is what she really wants to do. Cutting our household income literally in half is not pleasant, but the investment in our child(ren) is much more important to both of us than the material things that money could have purchased.

    It will be interesting to see if she stays with it. My guess is that the challenges of work will draw here back, and the challenges to her employer from here absence will make them more accommodating to her part time working desires.

    I'm not pretending for a moment that our challenges are even on the same scale as most families. We are both blessed to be very good at very technical jobs. Our choice to live in a very unaffordable area (Northern Virginia), is a challenge of our choosing.

    It is more frustrating to me to watch situations like my own mother, who dropped out of the technical field to be a full time parent, to be struggling to re-enter a workforce, now sans husband, where industry has long passed her by and her skills are no longer relevant.

  11. "I don't think most people these days are rich enough to support an entire family on one income."

    Mostly, yes, they are.

    There are always some exceptions, but with some foresight and working to the budget, it's eminently possible. (Presuming there are kids.)

    Many people don't do the math on what it costs to put kids in childcare. My wife, as a nurse, would barely cover the costs of the full-time daycare.

    That's not to say some creative things can't help a lot, part time work, and those sorts of things.

    But by and large, when I hear that you _can't_ live on one income, I'm talking to someone who between they and their spouse, have 2 (or more) car payments a month, a expensive house, and other luxuries.

    It's not as hard as you might think, if you change how you do things.

  12. It all lies in where your priorities are. I work, my wife does not. We do not have new, or ever newer, cars. We do not take expensive vacations, we do not eat out. We buy inexpensive clothes that last a long time, and we cut coupons for everything - everything. We do not go see the latest movies, we do not watch pay-per-view. We have emergency cell phones that we never use. We do have my wife home with our children, we are instilling in them our values, especially family values, and we never have to wonder what they are being exposed to, or what they are doing with a stranger.

  13. I don't know anything about someone's issues with Chris and I'm not going to discuss that; I considered deleting some of the posts above but what's said is said I guess.

    To the last few--Maybe I was just thinking of myself. I'm pretty low-income right now. I make enough to take care of myself and party a little, but if I had a baby the party money wouldn't be nearly enough to cover what a baby needs.

    Without everyone bringing their own financial information in on this, let me just say that maybe not most mothers, but a lot of mothers and the majority of women have no good option but to work outside the house.

  14. "Without everyone bringing their own financial information in on this, let me just say that maybe not most mothers, but a lot of mothers and the majority of women have no good option but to work outside the house. "

    And why wouldn't we?

    Given modern labour-saving appliances, there's no reason that two people can't keep ahead of housework in their spare time as long as they aren't slobs.

    My ex-, when we cohabitated, made a big deal out of the fact that, with my photo lab job at $8.50/hr (or whatever it was, this was early '93,) it didn't make sense for me to work out of the house.

    What the hell else was I supposed to do? He was a neat freak, so the house never really got messy. Laundry and dishes for two only takes so long. Begging somebody else for walking-around money would make me feel like a dependent child.

  15. Maybe it has more to do with falling employment rates for men. Men are also outnumbered in college and now are getting outnumbered (and out-earned) in more and more cities around the country. So the whole "equal pay, etc" for women thing is a bit outdated.

  16. Tam - Yeah, that too. The whole "I could afford to be a stay-at-home mother" thing doesn't mean much except when you have young children anyway.

    Anon - Falling RELATIVE employment rates. And women in fact don't have "equal pay, etc" now, so, um, your whole "who's the real victim here" act can pretty much piss right off.

    (Comment: I've seen a lot of people respond to equal pay arguments by saying that women only have different pay because they work different jobs and hours. Yeah, well, that's a lot of the problem. It's not like we're just lazy here.)

  17. Yeah, what unix-jedi said. Not everyone can afford to keep a parent at home with the children but a lot of people who think they can't do it, can. A lot of the issue boils down to choices.

    My husband makes a good living and I stay home with our two kids. We've also chosen to homeschool them. We don't spend like crazy but we're able to pay our bills, buy groceries, and have some extras (cable TV, cell phones, etc).

    I'm friends with a family that doesn't make anywhere near what we do. The dad stays at home with their daughter. They sacrifice, budget, and forgo many extras that a lot of people take for granted. But they make it work because it's important for their family to have a parent home with their daughter. They make it work.

    Staying home to raise kids isn't glamorous. Often sacrifices are made to have a parent at home full time. It's certainly not for everyone. But I do believe it's quite a bit more do-able for two-parent families to have someone stay home than most people believe. For me, I know I will NEVER look back on this time and wished that I had worked more instead of staying home with my kids.

  18. Holly,

    "And women in fact don't have "equal pay, etc" now..."

    I think that is largely a statistical fallacy these days.

    If you take women as a class, then sure, but that's because we're more likely to be the one that takes time out of a career for sprog raisin'. But if you take a (singular) man and a (singular) woman with identical career arcs, odds are good that you won't find much if any difference.

    I know for a fact that I've never experienced pay discrimination against a male coworker of equal tenure and skill due solely to my gender, and I can think of more than one time where I have been promoted over a male coworker who was a parent simply because, being single and childless, I could put more time and energy into the job than he could.

  19. (Actual Tamara Management Rant, from the time I put up a sign next to the posted schedule that read "There's no 'My Kid Has Cancer' in TEAM":

    "I don't want to hire anybody under age 30. I don't want to hire anybody with a wife, or a husband, or kids, or a boyfriend, or a girlfriend, or a fiance. I want monks and nuns who are married to this job!

    My boss replied "Uh, I think we already hired her." :D )