Lots and lots of ink spilled on women, jobs, mothering, how, when and who… This snappy piece highlights those issues again. But most interesting to me was the notion that there is an academic elite advocating for mothers in the workforce because their jobs are so darn interesting, never considering that only a thin slice of women (and probably men) have the luxury of working in fields of interest that are intrinsically rewarding, and that lead us to feel “important” by virtue of what we do:
Not that being an academic isn’t a hell of a lot of fun; in fact, its very pleasantness contributes to a bias peculiar to members of the thinktankerati. So argues Neil Gilbert, a renowned Berkeley sociologist, in A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life. According to Gilbert, the debate over the value of women’s work has been framed by those with a too-rosy view of employment,
‘mainly because the vast majority of those who publicly talk, think, and write about questions of gender equality, motherhood, and work in modern society are people who talk, think, and write for a living. And they tend to associate with other people who, like themselves, do not have “real” jobs—professors, journalists, authors, artists, politicos, pundits, foundation program officers, think-tank scholars, and media personalities.
Many of them can set their own hours, choose their own workspace, get paid for thinking about issues that interest them, and, as a bonus, get to feel, by virtue of their career, important in the world. The professor admits that his own job in “university teaching is by and large divorced from the normal discipline of everyday life in the marketplace. It bears only the faintest resemblance to most work in the real world.” In other words, for the “occupational elite” (as Gilbert calls this group), unlike for most people, going to work is not a drag.’
Next best part highlights the wonders of gender equity in Sweden:
Oh, if America could only be like Sweden—such a humane society, with its free day care for working mothers and its government subsidies of up to $11,900 per child per year. The problem? One hates to be Mrs. Red-State Republican Bringdown, but yes … the taxes. Currently, the top marginal income-tax rate in Sweden is nearly 60 percent (down from its peak in 1979 of 87 percent). Government spending amounts to more than half of Sweden’s GDP. (And it doesn’t all go to children, given Sweden’s low fertility rate.) On the upside, government spending creates jobs: from 1970 to 1990, a whopping 75 percent of Swedish jobs created were in the public sector … providing social welfare services … almost all of which were filled by women. Uh-oh. In short, as Gilbert points out, because of the 40 percent tax rate on her husband’s job, a new mother may be forced to take that second, highly taxed job to supplement the family’s finances; in other words, she leaves her toddlers behind from eight to five (in that convenient universal day care) so she can go take care of other people’s toddlers or empty the bedpans of elderly strangers.
This discussion about mothering ain’t going to end anytime soon, and I believe women ought to do what they think is best. But are they? For my part, I’m just glad to be part of something called “the thinktankerati.” It’s high time someone noticed just how glam my job is.
Tanya adds: Most women I know who return to work after maternity and parental leave benefits have run out do so for one reason: money. Though there are some who love their careers, and others who just want to get out of the house, most would ultimately want to stay home and raise their children.
There’s the single mother who has little choice in the matter. My mother, for example, raised three kids on her own. Staying home with us was not a viable option.
Then there’s the mortgage and the two cars, the annual vacation and the on-trend wardrobe. Most women want some of these things, and some want them all. But why? Is it because of society’s expectations, or from a sincere life’s desire? Is it the woman that wants these things, or her spouse’s expectations of her? And what level of priority do these things hold? What order should women’s priorities be in?
Amazing that we are still asking these same questions 40 or so years after the women’s lib movement, don’t you think?