Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I'm as guilty of this as anyone (hello Cosmocking), but I think there's a tendency in Feminism to go after pop culture too much and the harsh practicalities of life not enough. There's no question, culture matters, the weight of a million beer ads and Disney princesses does change us--but so do the job market and the people on our street and the way our own friends treat us.

The biggest challenge facing women today, I think, is not PUAs and it's not Cosmo and it's not evolutionary psychology. It's babies. I feel like in our current society, a woman can live almost as well as a man--as long as she never, ever has any children. The instant sperm meets egg, bang, it's like everything since 1959 never even happened. A woman can sometimes get taken seriously at work and in media and politics, but a mother? She'd better be able to afford some serious nannies and even then it's an uphill battle to make people believe you have any non-child priorities for the next eighteen years.

I don't know exactly what it's like, being barren ground myself. (Which will come to carry its own stigma if I'm still babyless in ten years, but in some ways it's a "well, here's someone who'll take a lot fewer sick days" stigma.) But it seems like all notions of equality hit a brick wall at "well, my husband makes more anyway, so it just makes sense for me to stay home" and "well, it's nothing against her, but I can't promote her when the kids are such a big priority in her life right now."

Well, kids do take a lot of work, and someone has to do it. You can't ask a family to go broke just for the sake of feminist principles, so in a world where a large majority of husbands earn more than their wives and childcare costs more than most women even earn, it really does make sense for the woman to be the one to give up some of her outside life. It just sucks. And it feeds into an ugly cycle where women earn less because we're liable to quit when we get pregnant, and we quit when we get pregnant because we earn less.

I don't have an awesome solution here. But I do have an inkling of why birth control and abortion are such key feminist issues. ...Maybe daycare co-ops? Right now organizing babysitting rings seems to me the most bra-burningly feminist step we could take.


  1. "That's wonderful," I said to no-one in particular when I read this. And now, I say it to you.

  2. It's actually a focus in some feminist circles. There's plenty of outcry over the lack of legitimate maternity leave and the complete lack of paternity leave, no state-funded day care (not like that would turn out particularly well), etc. You're totally right, of course, and there's other countries with working models we can take inspiration from...but somehow I doubt it's going to happen anytime soon.

  3. One of the countries which, if I remember right, does it rather better is Sweden. Maternity/Paternity leave-wise, that is. I'll have to take a look and remind myself as to how they do it, but I distinctly remember it being far more sane than the US's system.

  4. Of course, being able to afford to pay other people (most likely women-people) a decent wage to look after your children is a distinctly upper class privilege. And paying them a less-than-decent wage (e.g., by hiring new immigrants as all my friends' parents did when I was a kid) is also a distinctly upper class privilege. So...rock, meet hard place.

    I don't know what the best answer is. But then, I'm in favour of humans voluntarily choosing to make the species go extinct via a lack of reproduction, so that's my favorite (though cop-out-y) answer.


  5. 100% agree with this post. I wish there were paternity leave and that Parenting were a required class in school.

  6. How big a dent in population growth do you suppose male birth control would have? I'm guessing it would be huge.

    Some employers do offer paternity leave, by the way (mine is one).

  7. Mandatory paternity leave would have the benefit of

    (1) decreasing the economic incentive for employers to overlook a female worker (since their male employees will become more likely to disappear due to childbirth as well), and

    (2) generally encouraging society to view child-rearing as a duty for parents of both genders.

    It's not a cure-all, but it would make a big difference.

  8. My favorite trick to the pay-differential thing is to start trying to reverse the typical age gap heteros tend to lean towards. If she gets out of high-school or college even a year or two before he does then it's a less obvious choice who should stay home with the first child, income wise. Thereafter, assuming they choose to have more children, they can probably trade off.

    The alternative is for the man to take time off first, but that's usually going to feel like a bigger bite.

    I'm not sayin that's how people should do it. I just think that couples who do are going to have an easier time trading off on child-rearing duties.


  9. I was a stay at home dad. 20% of stay at homes are dads. The public and in-laws saw me as a leach. They could not accept that my "job" was raising my son.

  10. Bruno said, How big a dent in population growth do you suppose male birth control would have? I'm guessing it would be huge.

    I don't understand this comment. I used condoms before I got a vasectomy; surely this is male birth control? What am I not understanding?

  11. Also to consider: My father was a stay-at-home-dad in the 80s. Super progressive, right? Wrong! it that was only because he was a lazy jerk, who quit his job without discussing it with his wife, forcing mom back into the workplace after maternity leave.

    What needs to change is not just how women are treated at work, but how society perceives housework. Men need to understand that women are not naturally predetermined to enjoy cleaning dishes (had a b/f who actually believed this!) & that the focus should be on an equal workload at home as well as at work.

  12. @Mousie762: Male birth control pills. Would make it even easier to have a lot of sex when you're young and want to have kids later (condoms aren't 100% reliable, and not all women use birth control pills because there are potential long-term side effects) without having to deal with the complications of reversing a vasectomy.

  13. @Mousie: There are side effects for any birth control pill -- many of them regulate hormone levels, and THAT can have interesting side effects in either gender.

    To address the OP: At the risk of derailing the thread, we need fewer people in this world anyway. A LOT fewer. Like, 5/6ths fewer. something like 80% of the world's population lives at a purely subsistence level -- so even with petrochemical-supported agriculture, we're not doing so well with 6 billion people to support. With a planetary population of a billion or so, we'd be fine, even when the petrol runs out.

    How do we do it without either (randomly) selecting who's gonna die?

    We have fewer kids.

    We'll worry about who gets to take care of 'em when we come up with a nice formula for the best parent.

    You'd think the parent who WANTS kids is a good parents, right? On the other hand, a lot of them don't have the kids' best interest at heart -- they're having kids to soothe their own ego: making a bid for genetic longevity, fulfilling an externally dictated desire ("female success is family!"), etc.

    So arguably, the best parents are those who want to have kids for the sake of kids.

    Do you?

  14. There's a mother with five kids, one of whom has DS, who's making one incredible impact on the American psyche these days. Whether you lean Left or Right, you can't deny that Sarah Palin is being "Taken Seriously."

    And all this without a net...or a nanny. ;)

  15. I would just like to chime in as someone living in a country that had paternity leave available (actually, parental leave, and let the parents decide which one) ever since... gods, maybe post WW2, not so sure about that. Pretty damned quickly afterwards.

    It also had a lot of "unity for everyone!" screamed at every semi-assembly you can think of.

    Did it work? Hell no! Women were still the ones taking leave because it's expected. Even today, after probably half a century of dads being able to take the paternity leave instead of moms, no one does it. No one.

    I don't know about other European countries and whether it works better. All I know is that if you allow the parents to choose which one to leave... it's only logical that it'll be the mother. Since women love doing the dishes an' all...

    The same reason why women have such a hard time getting jobs here. Getting pregnant is your instant to the unemployment office card, no questions asked.

    (Same way, the only thing that I've come up with regarding this problem, is actually obligatory leave for both parents. Then, the employers *will* have to think twice before hiring anyone.)

  16. I read a scientific study stating that marriages last longer when the husband does his fair share of the housework. They actually felt the need to do a study on this and then publish the shocking, shocking results. [eyeroll]

    And yeah, it's ridiculous that anyone thinks women like doing dishes. But I think women might perpetuate this myth by continuing to do them. My mom was the kind of martyr who kept the house in museum-quality shape but whined about it all the while. "I hate doing housework. I'm just doing this because I have to," she'd say. But why did she have to? Now that I'm a grownup with my own place, I've gone months without cleaning the bathroom. I've reused dirty dishes. I've had the same sheets on the bed since, like, November of 2009. My negligence didn't cause the apocalypse and it's worth it to me to have more time to do the things I actually enjoy.

    Anyway. I guess I got off on a bit of a rant there. The main thing I came to say is that I totally agree with the original post and I'm really, really glad I never wanted kids...because yeah, in a lot of ways they seem to ruin a woman's life.

  17. @Ice: I'm not sure what country you're from, but I've heard that Sweden's actually done well at encouraging men to take paternity leave (I forget how). Granted, I don't live in Sweden, so I'm relying on news and other ways of finding out about this stuff. But if it's true, it's an encouraging sign that things can be different.

  18. Wraith - Sarah Palin doesn't have a nanny? She has *some* kind of childcare, obviously, whether it's family or hired. And she also doesn't work 9-5 Mon-Fri. She's hardly proof that your average woman with an average job could do it all if she just tried more harderer.

  19. I haven't had a reduced workload, pay cut, or threat to my job since my son was born--I just transferred from teaching composition on campus to teaching totally online.

    Seriously, thank God for the leaps forward in technology: there's no way I'd be able to be happy without the intellectual stimulation of working. Yes, I miss my classroom. But, as a part-time instructor, I've never been paid enough to even think about even part-time daycare. Beyond that, playing with my son (who will be two in two more weeks) more than outweighs the wish for more interaction with my students.

    If I continue on to get my education Piled Higher and Deeper (PhD), I'll be able to afford it, will have a huge discount with the campus's daycare/preschool, and be on campus about 22 hours/week--which will still let me spend a lot of time with my kids (the second of whom is due around New Year's Eve/New Year's Day), and possibly--depending on the quality of the schools by then--home school them.

    It kind of is a lie that women can have it all, and keep up with the housework, too. There are very few women who have that kind of organizational skills and/or energy. It takes both halves of a couple to make that work, and women need to learn to ask their partners for exactly what we need help with. I've learned in six years of marriage that my husband cannot read my mind, and I have to ask him to do specific things--explicitly and exactly--when I need help doing them. I think it's less a gender thing than a seeing details thing. He's better than I am about seeing the big picture; I'm better than he is at seeing the details in it.

  20. women need to learn to ask their partners for exactly what we need help with.

    That wording itself reflects the problem with society: we think of housework as something "women need help with" instead of a routine maintenance thing that is part of every adult human's life.

    Put another way: nobody would expect me to brush my (perfectly healthy and able-bodied) boyfriend's teeth or wipe his butt: those are things humans automatically do for themselves. So why should anyone expect me to wash the clothes or dishes that he dirtied?

    I'm glad you've learned how to directly ask your husband to do things, Herotidus Huxley. I kind of think he shouldn't have to be asked (or at least that it should be more about negotiating than delegating: "Yo, you wanna do the dishes and I'll clean the bathtub? Cool." And maybe that's actually what you meant by "asking"...), but whatever, at least you're not doing it all yourself while seething at what a bastard he is. That way lies madness.


  21. Kitchen is always my domain; bathroom is always his (as is taking out the trash). Household budget is mine, and laundry is his. It's what each of us hates least. And he's really stepped up to the plate with taking care of our son's nasty diapers while I've been pregnant, without having to be asked.

    It's everything else--the really little stuff that I do daily, but get behind on while I'm grading papers--that he doesn't see. And it's not fair to make him guess what I want, and get resentful when he doesn't guess (or even notice something needs done).

    I guess we have much more of a partnership in our division of labor than most other couples.

  22. I just maintain a strict policy of not cleaning up after my husband unless he's also involved in the cleaning process--he can do his own laundry and dishes, or he can deal with the mess (and usually does.)

    I probably do more of the cleaning because I just care about it more, but he pitches in, because he's a fucking adult who's capable of picking up after himself without being told.

  23. It seems that the two best ways to reduce the role of sexism when it comes to child-rearing are equality of pay, and equality of education.

    I think that the cycle of women being more likely to stay at home because they earn less money because they are more likely to stay at home is starting to break. I think that if we can culturally keep up this pattern to where men and women are equally represented in all facets of education and work, then a lot of the 1950s type attitudes towards child care will go away.

    Having children will always affect a couple's working life. I don't know if there's a way around that, but I think that if society can manage itself in such a way that the burden is equally felt on both genders, then we are more likely to find the best solutions

    I'm in my late 20s. My parents married young, and had my sister and I while they were still in school. Their plan was for each to find a job, and the one with the best offer would work, while the other would stay at home until we became school-aged. Mom had a better education (bachelor's in geology vs. bachelor's in general studies), so they expected that she would work while dad would stay at home. Sure enough, she got a very good offer, but they told all of this to one of my dad's half-brothers, who was influential in the industry that she had applied to, and who also turned out to be strongly opposed to their ideas. He made some phone calls, and her offer was recinded. They even had the nerve to tell her to send her husband in for an interview. So yeah, I certainly think that feminism can help make child rearing better for everyone.

  24. Another thing worth mentioning regarding the 'housework is inherently woman's work' problem. Sure, the society thinks so. Unfortunately, when household divides work in a way that fits the partners, the rest of the society (their parents, friends, relatives, etc...) will almost always focus on the wife.

    Oh, you both clean? What an awesome woman you are for training him to do that! Etc...

    I mean, Jesus, he's not a fucking dog for me to train. And even if he were, well... I'm not talking with my parents about THAT aspect of our relationship.

    So it really is a double edged sword. No winning, that one. Which made me simply not talk about these things with anyone who isn't worth the nuisance in my book.

  25. In Sweden they get 6-6-6, which is months. One for each and then the last they share. I wish we would have the same system.

    A really good post, Holly! On the nose, again. Everything else is just cosmetics.

    As a just married and trying to conceive thirtyish woman of no means (a starving artist more like) I'm beginning to worry. Will I repeat the missteps of my great grandmother and women before that? Do I even have a choice? I do want to work, but babies don't grow themselves. Or so I hear. And my husband can't have paternity leave of any kind because of his screwed up work situation. It's pretty easy to guess what will happen.

    The kid will grow up in childcare. :D

  26. Not too sure I agree with you that women who have kids are instantly "giving up their lives". I'm really looking forward to being a mom AND keeping my feminist values. I don't think having children means you're losing out on some wonderful career experience in all situations. There actually are some women out there who see having children as a reasonable goal and a life accomplishment, versus having a powerful career role. (No, I'm not a Duggar wack job either.)

    However I'm fucking sick and tired of television shows about women who have kids. Why the fuck are these people on tv? Any woman (I'm generalizing here) can pop out multiple kids and have a decent life. Why are these people famous for reproducing? I feel bad for women who get this "ideal mommy-figure" image thrown in their faces everyday and are expected to revere at the thought of pumping out dozens of little rug-rats.

  27. I am SO glad my country has at least some things right! I'm from Estonia and not only do mothers get "mother's pay", you get support for your kids. Of course, these sums ARE ridiculously small when you look at the actual costs of raising kids, but at least it's actually existing. (one problem brought by rising mother's pay in the last years is socio-economic lower classes having more babies for the money which eventually ends up producing homeless/unraised children)

    A parent - can also be the father - can take child leave for... I believe it's 2 or even 3 years? While remaining an employee. I don't exactly remember for how long they get a percentage of their pay from their job... I'm a bit muddled on the laws and sums. Anyway, law also states that if you know you are pregnant and inform your place of work of this fact, you are legally protected and cannot be fired for this. I hope the US has similar laws? Pregnant mothers get free healthcare and dental care (almost everyone gets nigh-free healthcare over here - one of the few who don't are the unregistered unemployed, but if you register, you get healthcare).

    In any case, I'm looking forward to having children hopefully in a few years. I'm 20 now, but since our situation is so much better, I'm not dreading having to put my life on hold for something I want to do. Raising children is one of my life goals. Of course, we have our share of problems and discrimination. You DO have some problems getting employed as a young newly married woman. Everyone will automatically assume you will be reproducing very soon and be more hesitant to take you on.

  28. In DK the parents have a right to 52 weeks of mat/pat-ernity-leave. The 14 first weeks are earmarked for the mother, as are the last 4 weeks of her pregnancy. In this period the father has a right to two weeks. The last 32 weeks can be split either way the parents want.
    Mind you, this usually means that the father will have two weeks total. The mat/paternity leave are not fully covered economically; you only get 80% of your original salary. With men making the most money, they will have the shorter leave. (I know, compared to other countries these are ridiculous good terms!).
    However, things are slowly starting to change with groups of men beginning to demand a higher portion earmarked to actually being with the child. See, it is not just the money today. (Some) employers have been known to ridicule men who want longer paternity-leave and (some) women have been known 1) to be expected to stay with your child and leave the man to what he does or 2) not being able to give up the child and leave it the father (quite a few of my friends have been dealing with girlfriends who are trying to tell the father how the child is and what the child does and how he should be with the child, instead of letting the dad get to know his child on his own terms... it's a little weird). After having the little wonder growing in you for 9 months and then spending the next 4 months seeing it as a little human, the last notion may be understandable, but not really commendable.

    So things are slowly looking brighter.
    Also, the fact that daycare is universal, cheap and income-based does tend to make it easier for the mothers to get back to their jobs and actively be a part of the workforce, the identity that follows with having a job and the interest that (hopefully) was the reason why they decided on their careers in the first place.