Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Homemakers or gold-diggers?

In response to the comments on the piece below, let me say that I don't think Professor Russett assumes that not maving a job makes a person "inferior" in some ontological sense. What's more likely is that she's assuming (and it's pretty hard to gainsay this view) that not bringing in an independent income puts women (or men, for that matter) in a potentially inferior power position. I say potentially, because I'm sure Russett would acknowledge that it depends on who you marry. If your spouse is a mensch, then he won't exploit that power advantage. But rare indeed is the power disparity that does not lead, at least at times, to exploitation.

Moreover, for the old second-wave feminists like Russett, the home front is only one dimension of the power question, and perhaps not the most important. Even under the best of domestic circumstances, choosing to become a homemaker diverts a woman (or man) from the path to political power. This is empirical: what percentage of the women, say, elected to Congress, were primarily homemakers before going into politics? Vanishingly few.

One might argue that it's silly to care so much about power, and that homemaking is appropriate for people who don't care that much about power. The significance that one attaches to attaining power is indeed the crux of the matter. The reason Russett is disappointed is that she appears to think, more or less, "We fought a revolution for this?!" It's a truism, of course, that the long-term results of revolutions always disappoint the original revolutionaries.

BTW, I have no problem with people trying to achieve "work-life balance." But just as most people recognize that there's something wrong with someone who works all the time and doesn't leave time for family and home, I hold to the view that there's something wrong with someone who spends all her time with family and home, and doesn't have any gainful employ. (The fact is that spending all your time alone with kids will [should!] drive any adult crazy. In fact, I suspect that the communal child-rearing practices of much pre-modern village life is probably the best thing for the sanity of the parents vis a vis child-rearing; on the other hand, such small communities instantiate all sorts of other oppressions, which is why people have been fleeing them for centuries.)

It's also worth emphasizing that working part time or not at all, esp. when the kids are small, is often the only economically rational choice for many families, given the cost of day care in the United States. Part of the reason why conservatives voice such strenuous opposition to subsidized daycare, of course, is that cheaper daycare would remove the economic pressure for women to quit or scale back their work when they have kids. In other words, it undermines "the traditional family," with proton mommy at home with the little electrons.

Ultimately, what grates about the co-eds in the original NYT article is their smug self-assurance that the decision to stay home with the kids will be a lifestyle choice rather than an economic necessity. It's the classist complacency that's irritating: these young women seem to assume they'll find some guy who will work his ass off so that they can "choose" to stay home with the kids. One strongly suspects that at least some of these chicks are basically gold-diggers, who dress up their venal ambitions in the immaculate drapes of alleged devotion to motherhood.

One sees these ladies all the time in San Francisco, by the way: self-described Ivy League SAHMs who, after a while toting the babies around Pacific Heights all day by themselves, decide that, well, they actually need a part-time nanny, too. At some point, when you see women like this, it's hard not to conclude that their choice to exit the labor force boils down to something other than a commitment to "providing the best for the kids."

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