Lyda here. Here’s the Annoying Stuff, which grew from what was going to be a minor mention in the last post to this post of epic proportions. Really, it’s kind of the blog version of “War and Peace.” Ya’ll might want to grab a frosty beverage. Or some wine.
But enough digression, on to the main event. Anna-Liza here–I’ll be chiming in here and there–the green is me!
Here’s an article that says that feminists have more fun in their relationships, and probably better sex. What “probably”? Oh yeah! Join the revolution! The study is cool. But the article annoys me.
Toward the end, it says, ”Men with feminist partners may enjoy the extra breadwinner to share the economic burden of maintaining a household.”
The sentence just gets my goat, and a whole flock of sheep besides. There is just so much objectionable in this one statement that I have to take it to pieces to discuss it.
First, a woman doesn’t have to be a “feminist partner” to work. Are women choosing whether or not to work based on their feminism rather than any other factors in their lives?
If we conducted a random poll of commuters, or of people in any given workplace, and asked, “Why do you work outside the home?” – I’m guessing most of them would not list their political convictions as the first reason. Second, either, unless they’re employed by a political party or something.
Most women work for the same reason that most men work: they need the money.
Second, I object to ”the extra breadwinner.” I find that phrase distinctly offensive.
In what percentage of households is the woman’s income “extra”? Let’s do an informal poll, shall we? How many adults do you know whose income is “extra”?
There has never been a moment in my adult life when my income was “extra.” There was never a moment when my mother’s income was “extra,” either.
Please Note: I’m not against working for extra income – oh the yarn one could buy! And I’m not against not working outside the house. I’m only saying that most people work as an economic necessity. I’m not saying that economics don’t play a part in politics, and vice versa. But you’re smart, you already figured that part out.
Third, a man does not have to be a feminist to “enjoy” having a woman “share the economic burden of maintaining a household.” I can tell you that from personal experience. Come on over, we’ll knit, we’ll drink, we’ll talk.
And even more pernicious, sneaking behind that offensive sentence is a whiff of the suggestion that men are somehow giving women permission to work.
“My, aren’t you cute all dressed up for work and pretending you have a mind of your own? Come on over here, you independent girl you. [Crushes delicate woman to his manly chest. Interlude deleted to keep us all from being ill.] Well, okay, honey, if it makes you happy, you can work outside the house. [Pats the little woman on the head.] As long as you make less than me, of course. And realize that your job is just a hobby while my job is important. And as long as I decide how the money you make is spent. And as long as you are willing to give it up at a moment’s notice if I change my mind. And of course, as long as you keep doing all the household chores and all the childcare.”
Hello, who actually thinks we live like this?? And am I the only one imagining stabbing both people in my imagined scenario with my pointy sticks? Equality in pointy-stick stabbing. [Anna-Liza, is it me, or does that guy in that scenario remind me of someone?] [No, he reminds me of several someones. Let’s try not to think about it.]
I should probably mention, right about here, that the number of two-parent households in which the wife earns the higher salary is growing, and the number of two-parent households in which the father is a “stay-at-home dad” is growing, too.
Fourth, a woman who is not working outside the house is still sharing “the economic burden of maintaining a household.” That’s probably the bit that pisses me off the most.
The truth is that most women throughout most of history in most of the world have worked, and most women in most of the world work now. Often at brutally hard labor, often in shockingly dangerous conditions, often for little pay or for no pay at all – and often without adequate recourse to address the injustices. (Here’s an overview of recent women’s labor history.) Hey, I am not minimizing men’s work or labor hardships, but that’s another rant.
It’s the “working for little or no pay” that skews the statistics. We’ll come back to this.
The whole concept of women throughout history lounging around living off the sweat of a man’s brow is nonsense. In easy conditions, women and men are right there with the lounging around. In difficult conditions, everyone works.
Women lounging around eating grapes while the men slave away – while perhaps a lifestyle to dream about in one’s idle moments – actually happens very seldom. Even Cleopatra had a day job.
But somehow, the lie persists. The lie is that The Working Woman is a new and minor social phenomenon, sort of like the hoola-hoop fad. The lie is that in the United States, an average family looks like the family in “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It to Beaver.”
Today, the married-with-kids family in the U.S., according to this report, ”typically is a household with few children, with both parents working, and with mothers producing their children at ever older ages.“ The same report states: “By the end of the century, only one in five married couples had just a single male breadwinner working outside the home.”
There are many families that are not even the “man-and-woman-married-with-kids” kind. Shocking, isn’t it?
Hello, sloppy journalist, welcome to real life. Barbara Billingsley is not coming over to bake you cookies and clean your room..
In 1950 in the U.S., about one in three women worked outside the home.(that’s straight from the Labor Department – check out the chart.) “In 1975, one-half of all women in the U.S. with children under 18 worked outside the home.” “Women constituted more than 45 percent of employed persons in the United States in 1989.” “In 2000, some 77 percent of women between 25 and 54 were in the workforce.”
And this still isn’t the whole story.
The labor statistics only include work on the books (the employer reports the payroll to the government). People have always worked for cash paid under the table. And some people barter services and products. This work does not show up in labor statistics. A lot of this work is done by women. And then, of course, there is slavery–sexual and otherwise. Most of the enslaved of the world are women and children. Don’t think that’s not part of the economy, and don’t think it doesn’t happen in this country.
Lyda edited to add: Good point! Thank you for adding that.
The labor statistics also include as “not working outside the home” people who are students, unable to work, retired, independently wealthy, etc. The statistics count everyone “16 and up”. I don’t know if they even adjust for the numbers of people in prison and hospitals.
Fifth, there is yet another insidious assumption in the article: that women who do not “work outside the home” – and their partners – can not be feminists. That’s it, hand me my pointy sticks!
There are many reasons that women do not “work outside the home.” Including –yes, say it with me –economic reasons. Sometimes the woman would be so poorly paid that the family that would lose money if she went to work and they had to pay for the services she provides while at home.Sometimes a woman wants to work outside of the house but cannot find a job. Been there, done that, got the layoff slip.
Many of these women are working in the home. Caring for children, caring for other family members, running a home business, and working at a family business like a farm or a store or a restaurant is working. The person doing this work is contributing a great deal economically to the family unit. Yes, I’m a heretic.
But it doesn’t show in the “working women” statistics.
I like this report’s suggestion: “The most important public response to maternal employment is that which would insure freedom of choice among many roles.” Wouldn’t it be nice to “insure freedom of choice among many roles” for everyone? I know, I’m a dreamer too.
There is a sleazy nastiness to the “woman who works outside the house” versus “woman who stays at home” concept. It creeps into unconscious judgments about us and them. It oozes slime. Thank you, my dear, for bringing this up. Especially since most of the women I know who are mothers have done both, including the two of us. “Divide and conquer” works even better when the division makes it impossible to ever be “good enough”.
It hints that a woman who works outside the home is not feminine, not attractive. There is an undercurrent of “You are a bad mother because you aren’t with your children” or “You are a horrible person because you don’t want children.” It whispers, “You are selfish to want a work you care about” and ”Your man is going to leave you for a real woman.”
It hints that a woman who does not work outside the home is too soft, too dependent. There is an undercurrent for mothers of “You are teaching your children to be dependent on you” and sometimes “Aren’t your children a little old to need their mommy?” It whispers, ”You are selfish to stay home” and “You are a leech; he’s going to leave you for a real woman.”
It also has very nasty messages for men. “Wow, your woman works; guess you aren’t man enough to support her.” or “Geez, your wife stays home, you aren’t man enough to get an independent woman.” And for all the men, “You are whipped.” Yes, that kind of whipped.
It oozes around and creates tension and hostility. Slimy messages for all! Nasty name-calling!
We all need this shit like we need infestations of moths in our yarn stashes.
In conclusion (Finally! How I do go on!)…
Going to work does not make you or your partner a feminist. Or keep you from being one.
Staying home does not keep you or your partner from being a feminist. Or make you one.
“I have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”
– Rebecca West, 1913 (only seven years before U.S. women got the vote) (Get the t-shirt.)