The raging mommy wars infuriate me. The energy and passion expended on attacking other women’s choices need to be directed at American corporate capitalism. Is feminism the unwitting tool of capitalism? Since mothers won the right and social approval to work full-time, wages have stagnated, and the most mothers are forced to work whether or not they want to leave their infants and toddlers.
As an idealistic young feminist of the early 1970’s, I was dedicated to essential social change that both parents could care for their children. As the work week got shorter, that seemed a possible goal. We did not envision a world where mothers and fathers worked far longer hours than their own fathers had.
In my 1950s and 1960s working- class neighborhood , one salary suported much larger families. Now working-class familes often are forced to work a double shift or several jobs. Husbands and wives barely have time together as one leaves for work as the other returns. According to US Census Bureau, “Research shows that blue collar fathers have actually changed more in terms of their involvement in homemaking and child care than have middle class fathers (including professionals), when their wives are employed away from home. “
During the Clinton years, the US abolished Aid to Dependent Children, which enabled single mothers to take care of their young children. These mothers were viciously stereotyped as welfare cheats. Would you choose a minimum-wage job at Walmart or as a home health aide without benefits to taking care of your children? No wonder poorer women are deeply suspecious of feminists. How does it help them when women increasingly become doctors and lawyers and corporate executives?
From 1968 , I was concerned that feminists emphasized abortion over child care as the essential women’s choice issue. No members of my Redstocking radical feminist group were married or had children. A happily married woman was suspected of “false consciousness.” Not having children was perceived as more important than providing existing children with the excellent care they needed. Because the US is one of the least child-family nations in the industrialized world, having a baby often seems like a personal disaster, and women have no choice but abortion.
The US is one of the only countries in the world that provides no paid maternity leave. Pediatricians advocate breastfeeding for a year, but even professional women find themselves pumping in the toilet. My daughter, the MBA, was cautioned against storing breastmilk in the company refrigerate because it was “toxic waste.” If you stand at a counter and don’t have an office, breastfeeding is impossible.
Would it require a massive reshaping of the American economy to make it feasible for parents to stay home with their babies? If we can outsource radiology jobs to China or India, we can figure out a way for parents to work partly in the office, partly at homeThe argument that taking any time off work would ruin career advancement is absurd, particularly in the Internet Age. Soldiers fighting World War II were absorbed back into the economy, given help with education and retraining, without being penalized for leaving their jobs for four or five years.
Why not a GI Bill for caregivers, whether of children, the disabled, or the aged? If raising young children was properly valued as an essential contribution to the nation’s future, parents need not suffer dire career consequences for working part-time or taking a childrearing break.
My mother, my friends’ mothers, my aunts returned to school and work when their 3, 4, 5, 6 children entered school. They were outstanding students who then had rewarding careers. Their gifts, experience, and skills were honored. Things had changed by 1988 when I returned to social work and library school after staying home for 15 years, Women who had worked full-time since their children were born often did not validate what I had learned outside their professional worlds. What I had learned before social work seemed to be considered cheating.
Among my daughters and their Ivy League professional friends, only one parent stayed at home full-time with their child for two years. At baby showers, the possibility of taking longer than a maternity leave from work is not discussed. A breast pump is the most appreciated gift. The possibility of the baby’s father being the primary parent is never mentioned. These are affluent parents who could afford to take a few years off if they lived more frugally. But they are terrified of destroying their future careers. The more parents believe this, the more likely their belief will come true.
Early child care is almost entirely a women’s job. The nannies in my grandson’s playground are all women of color. Everyone knows that a white woman taking care of a baby during the day must be his grandma. How many day care centers, nursery schools, kindergartens have male teachers? My daughters’ playgroups had helping daddies as well as helping mommies. There were often several stay-at-home fathers among the parents..We organized a babysitting cooperative; daddies were usually the evening babysitters. My daughters loved it when their friends’ daddies babysit. “They are much more fun.”
I recently encountered a meetup group of stay-at-home fathers at the Children’s Center Library at 42 Street. Watching the men take creative, loving care of their babies and toddlers was one of the most fascinating, inspiring, lovely experiences I have had. I suspect if more fathers advocated for a better balance of work and child care, my daughters and their husbands would not face the same hard choices her father and I struggled with in 1973.