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The Opt-Out Revolution, Revisited
August 7, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

In 2003, the New York Times published a lengthy article by Lisa Belkin about women who were choosing to leave the workforce to be stay-at-home moms: The Opt-Out Generation. In the the last ten years, the article's conclusions regarding upper-middle-class women's choices about work and motherhood have been debated, studied, rediscovered, denied, lamented, and defended. It's been noted by many that "most mothers have to work to make ends meet but the press writes mostly about the elite few who don’t." Ms. Belkin's piece also never mentioned what what a disaster divorce or the death of a spouse can create for dependent women in such situations. After a decade, the Times is revisiting the topic: The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.
posted by zarq (64 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hate how these articles focus on the wealthy. In the last link the first woman is portrayed sympathetically as "earning only one fifth of what she had earned at her peak", struggling to get by in a crappy rented townhome. But her peak was over $500,000 a year, so right now she is making over $100,000 in a "low-level" position. Such a huge disconnect from most people's lives...
posted by saucysault at 7:57 AM on August 7, 2013 [38 favorites]


BUT SHE LIVES NEAR A GAS STATION AND A SAFEWAY! IN A TOOOOOWNHOUSE!

I'm sorry, I'd love to take it seriously, but I just can't. I mean, I can't.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:00 AM on August 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


The key I find from this is: if you have a husband whose marriage is threatened by your working, you have a shitty marriage. Rather than leaving your job, it's probably better in this case to leave your husband.
posted by corb at 8:05 AM on August 7, 2013 [33 favorites]


The mindset of "of COURSE everyone wants to be a cog in someone else's money-making machine" is so baffling to me.

They don't "want in". They are being forced at virtual gunpoint because otherwise they'll have no food or healthcare.
posted by DU at 8:12 AM on August 7, 2013 [40 favorites]


If I never read another NYT lifestyle piece again, it will still be way too soon.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:14 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Linda_Holmes: " I'm sorry, I'd love to take it seriously, but I just can't. I mean, I can't."

There's more complexity here than is initially obvious, I think. People of different economic backgrounds have varied expectations of what success is, and "opting out" has always been about upper-middle class women and their perceptions of balancing work / career and motherhood. Some of those expectations have clearly been instilled by popular culture.

Most women don't have the luxury of being able to think about these issues that way. Their circumstances are determined for them. And if a woman has been wholly dependent on her spouse and gets divorced, or if that spouse dies, that can bring a different reality into sharp focus.
posted by zarq at 8:17 AM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


The incentives to opt-out are stronger than ever. Marginal income tax rates are significantly higher than they were in 2003, as are a variety of political pressure points that drive up the out of pocket cost of nannies -- both of which dramatically impact the work-vs-stay-home calculation of wives of well-paid husbands. College admission continues to get more competitive which in turn increases the return on investment of having one parent focus primarily on the kids' education and extracurriculars. Benefit costs continue to increase as well which discourages employers from offering part-time and flex-time arrangements which result increase headcount as a percentage of FTE.

The tales of woe in this piece seem to be things that anyone would have built into her decision to stay home. Of course it's hard to restart your career -- when has that not been the case? Of course it's going to be rough if you get divorced -- which is why you probably don't want to be a stay-at-home mom if your marriage is weak to begin with. (And it's a rare marriage that fails that wasn't weak for a long time beforehand.)
posted by MattD at 8:18 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I do understand that the issue is serious. It's not that "opting out presents problems" isn't a valid argument or a good thing to cover, especially in light of the opting-out coverage that happened earlier. But the framing of the piece, which begins with a woman being presented as bitter and miserable because she no longer lives in a custom-built six-bedroom home and lives instead in a townhouse, makes it seem like the economic problems with opting out are that one might be merely wealthy rather than obscenely wealthy.

And more generally, I freely admit that I have had it up to here -- up to HERE -- with what feels to me like a never-ending stream of comeuppance journalism about women, in which we see the tragic tale of women who did it wrong and now are forced to admit that they should have done things differently (or their friends should do things differently). "She stayed home, and she regrets it." "She worked too many hours, and she regrets it." "She stopped working, and she regrets it." "She hired a nanny, and she regrets it."

I just can't with this. I can't.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 8:23 AM on August 7, 2013 [56 favorites]


"You just always have to be able to at least earn enough so you can support yourself.”

Have fun with that in the current job market. I can't favorite DU's comment enough.
posted by Anima Mundi at 8:24 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most women don't have the luxury of being able to think about these issues that way. Their circumstances are determined for them. And if a woman has been wholly dependent on her spouse and gets divorced, or if that spouse dies, that can bring a different reality into sharp focus.

That's an insightful comment. I think part of what is going on here is that all women's circumstances are determined (most men's, too, but let's focus on the subject). When you have moderate privilege, you are insulated from that determination, or, at least, going with the flow looks like choice. So, for these women, giving up considerable economic position was (and is) cast as "success." It has to be bitter to realize (or, maybe, partially realize) that you were sold a bill of goods.

This is a place where less privilege might actually be better; you have fewer illusions to shatter. Of course, that hardly compensates for the lack of health care, food, or safety, but, hey.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:24 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


So what I get from this is that 20 years ago, it was fashionable to bash women who worked outside the home (even part time) while parents and the NYT found a group of photogenic, wealthy women to use as examples of the FT SAHM ideal. Now, it's fashionable to bash women who work less than 40 hours a week while parents, and the NYT has gone back to the this group of photogenic women to use them as cautionary tales.

Also, the "mommy wars" are the ultimate linkbait and someone at the NYT has finally subscribed to the Atlantic.
posted by Wylla at 8:25 AM on August 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


My mother opted out in the 60s and had to go back to work in the late 80s after my dad died. She was really lucky in that she had a network that helped her find a good job when she needed one. When I stopped working for health reasons, she was horrified because of her experience.

The thing is, there's no good choice, particularly if you're a woman. Drop out and you're screwing yourself economically. Stay in and you're messing up your marriage and your kids. Have kids and you're screwing up your career. Don't and you're incomplete as a woman. Etc. etc. You can't win, so you just have to say "screw it" and live your own life.

No matter what you choose as a privileged woman (one with enough privilege to choose), you're almost always going to be somebody's cautionary tale.
posted by immlass at 8:26 AM on August 7, 2013 [29 favorites]


How about we not bash any women for choices they make? They are the ones who have to deal with the consequences, not us.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:27 AM on August 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, the "mommy wars" are the ultimate linkbait

Now, now, that is unfair. You must understand that any choice or decision made by women is always wrong and subject to arbitrary judgement by anyone who feels like weighing in. There's probably an evolutionary cause for it, I expect.

Honestly, I wonder if our whole media just exists to stoke anxieties to make more nervous consumers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Linda_Holmes: " And more generally, I freely admit that I have had it up to here -- up to HERE -- with what feels to me like a never-ending stream of comeuppance journalism about women, in which we see the tragic tale of women who did it wrong and now are forced to admit that they should have done things differently (or their friends should do things differently). "She stayed home, and she regrets it." "She worked too many hours, and she regrets it." "She stopped working, and she regrets it." "She hired a nanny, and she regrets it." "

I'm going to say this and bow out, because I really don't want to sit over a thread that I posted.

This is the New York Times. Their audience is New Yorkers and these very issues are ones that many New York women and families are struggling with right now. It's not as if the paper is somehow manufacturing the age-old struggle women have in balancing their obligations between work and family. The choices the women make in one direction or another really do result in their having to make sacrifices from their perspective, and yes, regrets do seem to abound.

This isn't "gotcha journalism" against women. It's not casting judgment against their choices. It's reporting something that is actually happening to those women and I believe it's depicting it rather realistically.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on August 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Status-conscious people have a new status marker to get worked up about!

I am an educated married working mom in the type of area the opt-back-in article is talking about. And ALL this angst is about status markers -- "opting out" so that you could devote your energy to crafting preschool birthday parties that look like a Pottery Barn catalog shoot. Opting back in to to the right kind of career in finance -- the kind you get after networking while you fundraise for the private school.

You can only "opt-in" or "opt-out" if you have the luxury to OPT AT ALL.

(Of course, I am lousy at the status game and kind of revel in dragging my upper-middle-class neighbors down into the middle class with me. My house is a den of iniquity where kool-aid and television flow like water.)
posted by selfmedicating at 8:33 AM on August 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


I think it is more "of course everyone wants validation". Being the most valuable cog in the machine is incredibly validating.

It seems from the article O’Donnel world work for much less money if she could. She did after all take a job with a non-profit after she quit Oracle. So it wasn't just money.

I could see her quitting a high paying job to focus on the kids, then getting a low paying job, causing conflict.

As always, I don't think anyone is at fault.

Interestingly this happened in reverse in my family, Instead of getting a job my father joined a cult. That is one way to go about it.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:34 AM on August 7, 2013


How about we not bash any women for choices they make?

You know, I think this is more a problem caused by the American Work Ethic than it is by any overt attempt to hold women down.

Because when I was a single father, raising my son, working "full time" - which is understood to mean 45-50 hours per week - meant paying a shit ton for daycare and missing out on a lot of events in my son's life.

Then I found a "part time" job. 30 hours per week, and full bennies, and the experience of being a parent turned around completely. Being a parent was much less stressful.

There is this thing in America that you are a lazy slacker and probably a communist if you are unwilling to work 83 hours per week. I think if we - as a society - were to drop that nonsense adopt a more sane working schedule, it would result in far less stress on parents all the way around.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:36 AM on August 7, 2013 [44 favorites]


Well something is dramatically wrong with the world when I agree with both corb and DU in the same thread.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:39 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


You know, I think this is more a problem caused by the American Work Ethic than it is by any overt attempt to hold women down.

I think it's more a "problem" of people not caring about the "problems" of the upper class.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:39 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


selfmedicating, I don't think that that's what the article is saying at all - these were families in which, before one parent stayed home, both parents were (according to the NYT) working 50 hours a week or more. Most of these women stayed home at least in part because they wanted their kids to have facetime with at least one parent - part-time and freelance were even less possible then than they are now. Most of them (again, according to the article) took more flexible jobs when they went back to work, suggesting that this was still a value.

My house is a den of iniquity where kool-aid and television flow like water.

...and that is a perfect encapsulation of the current fashionable parenting stance. Pottery Barn parties are so passe. We're supposed to be all about "free range" and not being "hoverparents" now, so that our kids have "grit". That's why SAHMs and part-time working mothers are such targets nowadays: they are off-trend compared to you.
posted by Wylla at 8:40 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marginal income tax rates are significantly higher than they were in 2003

Depending on your definition of "significantly," this is either wrong or bullshit. The top marginal rate in 2003 (after Bush's tax cut took affect) was 35%. It is currently 39.6%. I would not call a 4.6% increase in the tax rate you pay on dollars earned over $450,000 a significant burden.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'm at a point in my life where all of my friends are getting divorced; it's like a reverse pattern from my 20s. Out of ten women who I hang out with regularly, 8 of them have gotten divorced during the last three years. Many of these women were stay-at-home moms married to wealthy men, and they devoted the last decade or so to raising their children. Now, they have no idea what to do. They're in their late 30s/early 40s with college degrees but no real work history. They've lost their kids for half the time (even if the ex has no interest in being with his children, it's cheaper for him to have partial custody). And they never imagined this would happen. One husband turned abusive over time, a few had affairs, some just grew apart. And for all the focus on what the women decided - and it will always be the wrong choice - several of them did not work because their husbands, who held the purse strings, wanted their woman at home tending house.

It scares the hell if out me. I stayed at home for 2 years after my first child was born, and I was panicking the whole time, thinking that my employability was shrinking for every day I was out of the workforce. I used to envy these women, who would drop the kids off at school and go to pilates, then a long lunch, then volunteer with one of their children's activities, while I was rushing from home to school to work to school to work to home every day. But seeing them now (and none are destitute, just at a loss for how to proceed), I realize my anxiety was valid.
posted by bibliowench at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2013 [22 favorites]


The key I find from this is: if you have a husband whose marriage is threatened by your working, you have a shitty marriage. Rather than leaving your job, it's probably better in this case to leave your husband.

That's actually a place where it stops being just about rich women, and starts being an applicable challenge for women in other backgrounds. For example, let us say that you and your husband have a gross family income of $70K, he makes $40K, you make $30K. When you marry, of course you have a job!

But then you have a baby. And suddenly there's effectively a second job in looking after the kid. And for some reason, that's your job. If you're like many women, you may have done more than your share of housework already, so it becomes easy to slide you into that role. He "babysits" one night a week, he tries to be supportive, but somehow when you get back from your time away from the kid it's always handed to you with a full diaper.

But you want to work, and he wants to work. So there's daycare. But that eats up a considerable amount of your collective budget- off hand if you live in Toronto that could be 20K in licensed childcare. And you still both have to take time off work if the kid is sick, or during the lice scare, and rush to pick the kid up. Funny how insistent he is that you are the best one to do it...

And now you're a mother, and being penalized, while he's being rewarded for fatherhood. His salary continues to creep up, yours not so much, especially since you just took half a year off work and worked part time after that for half a year to nurse better. He notes that if you just dropped out and looked after the kid they'd save a lot of money- not just childcare, but that expensive work wardrobe, and gas to get to work, and if you make everyone home cooked dinners and lunches expenses will go down further. So, why not drop out and be a full time mom? He loves you and wants to support the family. He just got a raise at work. Of course him dropping out makes not sense, he makes more! Trying to run this on $30K would be silly, right? And he really felt loved and valued when you took parental leave and would write him those silly love notes while the kid napped and he saw how happy you were when he got home every day.

And when you say no, you love your job, suddenly you are choosing between job and family. Suddenly your income is the "extra" income. So you fight a lot, about money (because money is hard), about childcare (because that's hard) and about how you are not the respective people you married anymore (because you got a kid) and you divorce. And now you are a "single mother", and although he pays the child support, you have double rent and you still have to pay childcare and now there's no adult who at least "babysits" or if he does, he takes the kid on holidays or weekends, when you would have rather had holidays with your kid.

Your problems with motherhood don't go away with the divorce, but you can delude yourself that you're both "choosing family" if you quit your job and he takes the provider role. Until women are paid more and treated better, we're going to have that problem. No matter how much you draw the battle lines in your personal life.

They don't "want in". They are being forced at virtual gunpoint because otherwise they'll have no food or healthcare.

Some of the women quoted talked about their job giving them a valuable sense of identity. I do pretty much my day job on my own time, except with cartoons and writing erotica.
posted by Phalene at 8:52 AM on August 7, 2013 [38 favorites]


This isn't "gotcha journalism" against women. It's not casting judgment against their choices. It's reporting something that is actually happening to those women and I believe it's depicting it rather realistically.

But it's not answering our questions about why it is only reporting on what happens to that particular class of women, rather than also looking at women of other economic classes. Or why it isn't also including stay-at-home dads trying to return to the workforce. Or including widowed or divorced mothers.

Our point is, if it did, then we would be able to see that the problem isn't just one of "women trying to return to the workforce and facing difficulty", which would lead some to conclude "well then it must be their fault," but that rather the problem is "our economy is really not equipped to let people make a living unless they work 40+ hours a week for their entire life and never do anything else", which would lead people to conclude that "hey, wait, our economy is really fucked up". Which is the REAL problem.

And that is the source of our complaint - that by narrowing the focus so that it only affects those women, this article is focusing on symptoms rather than cure. It'd be like if a health magazine did an article entirely about people who were having nausea and studied how they alleviated their nausea symptoms and speculated how long it'd last, but the article completely failed to mention that they had the flu.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:53 AM on August 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


To expand on my previous comment, the increase in tax rates mean that a family making $550,000 per year (married filing jointly) would pay $4,600 more in taxes under the 2013 code compared to the 2003 code. This assume that all of their income is taxed as such and does not come from capital gains.

A couple making $450,000 would pay no additional taxes.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


"This is the New York Times. Their audience is New Yorkers and these very issues are ones that many New York women and families are struggling with right now"

Sure, but MetaFilter isn't just about New York, so yes, all sorts of non-New Yorking people will be chiming in. That's a good thing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:05 AM on August 7, 2013


Brandon Blatcher: " Sure, but MetaFilter isn't just about New York, so yes, all sorts of non-New Yorking people will be chiming in. That's a good thing."

The point that has been repeatedly raised in this thread is whether the article is inappropriately focusing on one segment of women, rather than all women. The point of my comment was to note that not focusing on all women was a deliberate choice by Ms. Belkin in 2003, and also of this article. The conclusions being drawn are not intended to describe all women. Which should be obvious to anyone who reads it.
posted by zarq at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb : The key I find from this is: if you have a husband whose marriage is threatened by your working, you have a shitty marriage.

I would take that a step further.

If any social/legal/religious arrangement (post-childhood and pre-senescense) leaves you entirely dependent on someone other than yourself - Run, don't walk, away from it. The day you can't support yourself, you've already become a statistic, they just haven't published it yet.

Of course, I do feel a certain sense of schadenfreude here - Most people don't have the luxury of simply deciding one day to depend on their spouse and stop making their own living.
posted by pla at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


One of my parents opted out of the DC lawyer scene to raise us, and you know what? That experience, and articles like this, scare the hell out of me. I don't work in a field known for its funding, so I'm not that worried about the loss of a 500k career-- I'm worried about the rest of it: losing my self-respect, my confidence, and my personal and professional networks. I'm worried about not even succeeding in the "Mommy Wars" of networking and fundraising, and worse, being angry at my (potential) kids for taking me away from the fields I have loved, because it sucked being the bearer of that kind of bitterness when I was growing up.

I find it telling that the most crushing part for one woman was when her husband started viewing her only within the context of how well she was housekeeping, not as the intellectual partner she was before. Not because I think housekeeping is bad, or that it's less of a worthy pursuit, or that staying at home is a bad thing! But because she had worked really hard for a career she presumably really liked, and everything kept reinforcing that now, her worth to the family was how well-scrubbed the kitchen floor was. And society keeps pushing that mirage-- that you can easily trade ambition from your job to your home, and nothing will change, that having a show house is just like getting that contract, that staying at home means you just have lots of free time to learn things and explore them. That if you work, you should be willing to work 50, 60, 80 hours, and everything should go towards making those hours possible.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point of my comment was to note that not focusing on all women was a deliberate choice by Ms. Belkin in 2003, and also of this article.

Yes, people understand the focus of the article. That's the problem some have with it. Saying 'but it's about people living in New York' ignores their point and presumes everyone on NY is on the same social/economic level.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:21 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The point of my comment was to note that not focusing on all women was a deliberate choice by Ms. Belkin in 2003, and also of this article.

zarq, I get your point, but that was a crappy decision in 2003, too. The problems are systemic, and the focus on class, and frankly the focus on women when there's a whole argument about parents to be made, is problematic. Focusing on women's choices suggests there's a choice we can make where we win, which is the big lie. With love, a woman who was living in Jersey City and whose husband was commuting occasionally to Times Square and who opted out in 2003.
posted by immlass at 9:24 AM on August 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well that is what makes it a story. The original article is about 8 women who went to Princeton and worked their entire lives seemingly towards one goal only to give it up.

It isn't about my friend, who is from East Flatbush and never went to college or had a bank account, still has to clean floors. That isn't a surprise to anyone. Should it get more attention? Maybe.

But even when NYT articles are not about people from New York, in this case it is about a woman in Maryland, they are for NYT readers. They are more likely to identify with O’Donnel, making the story more compelling.

It isn't like this is a sociological study, it was lifestyle piece about relatively affluent people
posted by Ad hominem at 9:35 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course, I do feel a certain sense of schadenfreude here - Most people don't have the luxury of simply deciding one day to depend on their spouse and stop making their own living.

Yeah. This really is the crux for me. I have a really hard time giving a tenth of a shit for these people who are now only 100k/year. I would do nearly anything to make that kind of money. They don't have to worry about money; if they're worrying about money, they're doing it wrong and need to learn how to reign it the hell in a little bit and live within their means, even in NYC. I have some relatives that are very well off ($100k/year or more?) and routinely complain about how expensive things are. It takes everything within me not to completely verbally destroy them everytime this happens. They have a house. Two cars. They have the financial stability to consider having more than one kid. Wife gets to work part time. I'm happy for their success, but I wish they'd realize that they have that success.

We don't get any of that (and we're okay with this about 75% of the time...we're satisfied our bills are paid and we can buy a nice dinner every other month or so), and it's just shitty for people at that level to be complaining about financial 'sacrifices.' Fuck. That. Noise.

My wife has a solid job, which pays around $40k a year (with really good benefits and a long-term decent pay schedule). I have a job that pays about $28k a year. We can't afford for her not to work. We can't afford me not to work. We're lucky (sort of? we don't get to see each other much) to have overlapping schedules to our daycare bills aren't insane. But one of us staying home isn't an option. We try really hard not to complain about how 'little' money we have, because we've been at the very bottom (foodstamps, zero bank account balances, late bill payments, etc) several times in the past couple years, and we're doing better now. We know people are worse off than us. Would we like to be a bit better off? Hell yes.

Also, I know this is overwhelmingly a woman's issue, but I think we might need to reframe this as just a straight up family issue. Most of the dudes with kids I know stay home with them more than their wives do, and there's no way to split this evenly really.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:39 AM on August 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


So at this point I either bow out of this thread the way I said I was going to earlier, or I respond to each of you and become the only person taking a particular side who also happens to be the OP of this post. Which of course adds an additional terrible dynamic because I'll then also be threadsitting.

Participating in this thread is now a lose-lose situation for me.

I do hope some folks who read this post got something positive out of it.
posted by zarq at 9:41 AM on August 7, 2013


My takeaway on the situation is this-I can and do hold those husbands/fathers responsible for encouraging their wives to stay home and then divorcing them.

I freely admit the only time that woman at home/ man at paying job works well is if the man takes HIS role seriously and as something not to ever be abdicated-with the couple being A Team.


Meanwhile all of us are just trying to feed and clothe ourselves and our family, and have a roof over our heads, however we can manage it. Sadly this economy makes it so hard to also nurture our families while we are at it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:48 AM on August 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's also deceptive to focus on people who made (and were able to make) completely 100% choices. Making the debate entirely about women who work more than full time in professional roles vs women who are full-time SAHMs who do no work outside the home of any kind at all while their husbands are corporate leaders makes it into an entirely fictional debate between absolutes that apply to very, very few people. It's not New York, it's Mars.

In the real world, I know:

- 1 woman who fits the total SHAM-married-to-affluent-professional template.
- Several women who are SAHMS / Freelancers / PT-ers and also primary homeschool parents.
- 1 woman who runs a childcare in her home, so it's her childcare solution AND her job.
- 1 woman who has painstakingly split everything with her spouse, aided by the fact that they work at the same place and sort of share a job.
- A few more women who work part time at jobs that only take place while their kids are in school - at other schools or as half-day office workers (most, but not all, stayed home until the last of the kids was @5).
- Several women who work part time outside the home in office jobs, but stay home 1-3 days of the normal working week. (This type of solution was mentioned in the article, to be fair, but was dismissed out of hand as unworkable).
- Two women who are small business owners, where the business itself is run part time.
- A large number of women who work full-time outside the home, with a variety of childcare solutions, ranging from being the FT working spouse to a SAHD to full-time daycare. At least one of these is in the article's "opt-in" category (both spouses are professionals who work more than full time and travel extremely regularly.)

...and that's just people I know.

The universe where this is all about women, they have to make 100% decisions, they always regret whatever they choose, and there is no way to succeed, since the only model of success is doing the professional job and the SAHM job doesn't exist outside the "mommy wars" Atlantic and the NYT.
posted by Wylla at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It isn't like this is a sociological study, it was lifestyle piece about relatively affluent people

Yeah, and if women who have every advantage in the NYT demographic, who are 5%ers or 10%ers, cannot possibly win, what is the lesson for the rest of us? That's what I (re) learned from this story. You can have every advantage in the world and you will lose and not only that, be someone else's cautionary tale.

There's probably a metaphor here for the uncertain future of the NYT as the ornamental bauble of that particular class if you really want to get into it. It can't question the system either, because if they actually said radical stuff like "the real issue is that 60+ hour weeks aren't compatible with good parenting as it is currently understood", they'd lose their advertisers in a heartbeat.
posted by immlass at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


You can have every advantage in the world and you will lose

For certain, quite narrow, values of "lose". I would "lose" at 100k in a heartbeat.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 10:11 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I wonder if our whole media just exists to stoke anxieties to make more nervous consumers....

Yes? I didn't even think that was up for debate. There was just an article on the whole reason wearing deodorant became a thing by stoking the anxiety of people about smelling. Lysol used to market itself to women because your husband would be unhappy if your vagina was funky. Cosmo is all about ways to make yourself have crazy sex because otherwise your man is going to get bored and leave you and anyway you're fat so you better lose weight. Fox News is the network for scared white people to have all of their fears confirmed and IT'S SO MUCH WORSE. MSNBC is where you go if you're a liberal to find out the conservative hordes have streamed over the barricades and we'll be in Nazi Germany any day now. There was a Dodge commercial not too far back about how you had to buy a Dodge to make up for the fact that your bitch of a wife/girlfriend was totally emasculating you but BEING A MAN IS BACK, BABY. Having low testosterone as you age just used to happen but now it's a condition called "Low T" but fortunately there's a drug to make you a man again (image of a football going through a tire again and again).

Hell, it's not even/just the media, the entire reason for the security state is well-off white people convinced poor minorities are going to come suicide bomb them for Allah or make them pay taxes.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:18 AM on August 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


You can have every advantage in the world and you will lose and not only that, be someone else's cautionary tale.

I wouldn't say she's lost. Sure she lives by a gas station (is that code for something? As someone from New York I don't have experience with gas stations), but she is getting by, and has her kids, and her freedom to a certain extent.

My mom called me not too long ago and told me she didn't have any fun until she was 60. She spent 60 years having no fun at all. Having kids is hard, getting divorced his hard, life is hard.

Maybe this is my cynicism but I don't think there was a magical past where shit was easy. For most people the economy was never good. Like my grandparents they toiled in fields or the factory and they supported their family by eating chicken feet and salt cod for dinner and mending their socks.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:22 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm at a point in my life where all of my friends are getting divorced; it's like a reverse pattern from my 20s. Out of ten women who I hang out with regularly, 8 of them have gotten divorced during the last three years.

I'm in that middle portion.where my friends are getting married, but friends of friends are getting divorced or trying to decide on whether or not to leave marriages to men they love who have started bring abusive. And these are women who kept their careers, and are still expected to housekeep or spend their salary getting maids.

I hope they get to leave before they have children, and finally can live and love life again.
posted by discopolo at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


The New York Times: I realize my anxiety was valid.
posted by meadowlark lime at 11:08 AM on August 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sure she lives by a gas station (is that code for something? As someone from New York I don't have experience with gas stations)

I suppose it means the area isn't the height of luxury? There's not a gas station at 5th Ave and Central Park South. That said, when I lived in Queens I lived right next door to a gas station, and it was awesome. It was a great thing to mention to people trying to find the place, it was a great place for cabs to drop me off, and I could go buy chips whenever I wanted.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I guess the car noises 24/7 would suck if it was in an otherwise quite area.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:57 AM on August 7, 2013


There's not a gas station at 5th Ave and Central Park South.

No, but Google Maps tells me that Marathon Petroleum has it's headquarters there.
posted by dis_integration at 11:58 AM on August 7, 2013


Google Maps tells me that Marathon Petroleum has it's headquarters there.

Not really germane to the opt out discussion, but Marathon's HQ is in Findlay, OH.
posted by dfriedman at 12:05 PM on August 7, 2013


IN A TOOOOOWNHOUSE!

It now seems abjectly ridiculous. But when and where I was growing up, that was how you picked out the poor kids. Any kind of attached dwelling = poor. Townhouses, where I lived, were better than apartments, but only by a little.

I remember arguing with my best friend that come on, sure her folks had a HOUSE, but they didn't have a free pool, free tennis courts, or someone who came and mowed their lawn for them, did they? That had to count for something. And she was like, "No. Living in a townhouse can't ever be okay, even with all that stuff."

It struck me as weird and arbitrary back then, but I see it's still pretty well ingrained in our culture...
posted by like_a_friend at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


of course now i would probably stab something for the chance to own a whole townhouse.
posted by like_a_friend at 12:35 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


zarq : I do hope some folks who read this post got something positive out of it.

Ignoring the socioeconomic dynamics at play in the linked article, I would call it a positive that this trend has started to reverse itself - Good for anyone trying to get back on their own feet!

I think the overall idea has a lot of merits worth discussing, but would have suggested a more sympathetic illustration of it - Stay at home middle-class parents returning to work, rather than yuppy Manhattanites "settling", after a decade of skill atrophy, for twice what I make. I also probably would have aimed for a more gender-neutral portrayal - I find it odd that we always hear about the poor mother of three left struggling after the working man leaves, and yet in the real world, the women initiate the divorce somewhere between 75 and 90% of the time.

And then on yet another side of the coin (looking more like dice than a coin at this point), I would honestly like to see more people able to move into a post industrial-all-hands-on-deck style of spending half of their waking adult lives toiling away for someone else's profit. We simply have no need for everyone to work, and both unemployment figures and low-end wages bear that out.
posted by pla at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always seem to read mommy wars articles, and often end up irritated because the tone is so prescriptive. One type of article glorifies housewifery so much that it all but declares it the proper God-given role of woman. (And usually ignores the economic reality most people are living in.) The other type of article talks about the importance of making workplaces more hospitable to working parents, which of course is good. But it strongly implies that we need to do this so that we can prevent people from making the reprehensible decision to quit their jobs.

Either way it just feels like people writing an ode to the society that they want. And mothers should get on board, already, and build it for them.
posted by gerstle at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


zarq, I was struck by this turn at the article's end:
At a time when fewer families than ever can afford to live on less than two full-time salaries, achieving work-life balance may well be less a gender issue than an economic one
It seemed an interesting reflection on life in the great recession, even for the affluent.
posted by doctornemo at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2013


I found the housework discussion really stood out for me. So often here on AskMe we find people talking about roommate situations and housework distribution, and the most advocated common-sense arrangement people bring up basically comes down to, if your standard of a clean room is more stringent than your roommates, and they are actively cleaning, it's on you to pick up the slack. And yet here it really looks like the assumed norm is that if the husband is working and the mom is a SAHM, his standard of cleanliness (and childcare) is incumbent on her. It feels like the old stereotype of housewives sitting on the couch and eating bonbons. Raising kids (especially pre-school-age kids, especially more than one kid, especially special-needs kids, especially all kids, really) is a full-time job all by itself. Even if you never throw a Pottery Barn level party.

According to the article, "not a single woman I spoke with said she wished that she could return to her old, pre-opting-out job — no matter what price she paid for her decision to stop working." -- This isn't really a story about regret at all. This is a story about being marginalized inside your own house, and also inside a country that still hasn't found a way to value the contributions of smart, able people who simply don't want to work 60-hour weeks when they still have to come home to their second shift (parenting and having the picture-perfect home) that we still consider "more important".

And yet, the article doesn't even try to make the case for evenly shared housework when only one spouse works outside the home. They point out the unfairness, sure. But their only solution seems to be "sorry ladies, sucks to be you."
posted by Mchelly at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


This article comes at an interesting time for me. The original "Opt-Out Revolution" piece was in the NYT in my first few months of college. As a woman double majoring in two very male-dominated departments and planning on getting a PhD and having an academic career, I ended up spending a lot of time talking with my classmates and female professors about the article. My professors in particular had a lot to say about it as most of them felt they were among a very few "survivors" they knew in their fields - they all had tons of friends who had fallen out of the academic pipeline before making it to professor, many of whom had "opted out" along the same lines as the women in the article. Thinking this way about my future made the beginning of my academic career pretty unusual, I think; I went in pessimistic and cynical in a way I had not expected at all. I mean, there were other factors at play too, but I was very idealistic and ambitious when I started school and my first quarter broke me confidence-wise in myriad ways. I'm not sure my ambition ever recovered, frankly.

Now, ten years later, I'm reading the follow-up article while home on my very first maternity leave. I've spent a lot of time in the months since my daughter was born thinking about the women in the article and wondering how it all worked out for them, since its timing and content was so formative for me. I did indeed fall out of the academic pipeline; I didn't even consider applying to PhD programs at the end of my bachelor's and I would require a total personality transplant for that to sound like an even vaguely good idea. That said, I work a high-prestige job at a high-prestige company and most days I love the work. I have great perks, fantastic benefits, tons of room for growth, and wonderful coworkers. It would be massively foolhardy to quit. So I'm not going to.

I feel a little guilty that I don't want to stay home with my daughter. I love her more than I could have understood before she came along, and I guess I'm expressing that by getting her into the shmanciest daycare money can buy, which feels just so disgustingly capitalist that I don't even want to think about it. On good days staying home is so tempting. But I'm really glad this article came out now, to reinforce to me that "opting out" was never a choice that made sense for me or for most of the women discussed, who so smugly claimed it did ten years ago. I'd rather be a role model for my daughter than a cautionary tale, and it sounds like the way to do that is going to be to juggle, and balance, and do my best while acknowledging that it will probably always feel like 85% of enough.
posted by town of cats at 1:39 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, not the worst thing the NYT got wrong in 2003, but if they're reconsidering that, maybe they'll reconsider their Iraq War Cheerleading? Nah.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:51 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The woman in the "divorce or death of a spouse" link mentions receiving child support. But this -- one spouse giving up paid labor to do unpaid labor for the benefit of the family, losing employability along the way -- is exactly what alimony is for, no? What happened to that?
posted by ostro at 2:12 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I feel a little guilty that I don't want to stay home with my daughter. I love her more than I could have understood before she came along, and I guess I'm expressing that by getting her into the shmanciest daycare money can buy, which feels just so disgustingly capitalist that I don't even want to think about it. On good days staying home is so tempting. But I'm really glad this article came out now, to reinforce to me that "opting out" was never a choice that made sense for me or for most of the women discussed, who so smugly claimed it did ten years ago. I'd rather be a role model for my daughter than a cautionary tale..."
Totally agree that you should ditch the guilt for making the right choice for yourself and your family (and the guilt about being happy with your daycare - that's great, not disgusting!)...but I wish that it was possible for people writing about this issue to both feel good about their own choices and refrain from bashing others' choices in the same paragraph. Not everyone who makes choices different than yours is going to end up as a "cautionary tale", and plenty of people who make the same choices as you are making now will regret them a decade down the road.
posted by Wylla at 2:20 PM on August 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find myself feeling like listening to That's The Way I've Always Heard It Should Be.

My friends from college they're all married now.

They have their houses and their lawns.

They have their silent noons, tearful nights, angry dawns.

Their children hate them for the things they're not.

They hate themselves for what they are.

And yet they drink, they laugh, close the wound, hide the scar.
posted by ambient2 at 3:05 PM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who hates the term "mommy wars"? These are issues that have an enormous effect on how we live our lives. Is it the "num-num wars" when we discuss Michael Pollan's latest food screed? Is it the "bye-bye wars" when we talk about car culture and public transit?

I know Warner's piece is going to get a lot of OMGprivilegedwomen! reactions, but about one fourth of households with children under 15 have a stay-at-home mother, and that figure has to be higher for families with very young children. And of the ones who work, how many work in a job that's not their top choice so that they can move for their husband's career, have more time to do housework, etc.?

This isn't an issue for the 1 percent; it's an issue for the 51 percent.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:16 PM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also probably would have aimed for a more gender-neutral portrayal - I find it odd that we always hear about the poor mother of three left struggling after the working man leaves, and yet in the real world, the women initiate the divorce somewhere between 75 and 90% of the time.

It's a really weird thing, Pla. These women initiate divorce and usually take a serious financial hit in the process, more so than their male former partners, who typically have a better post divorce recovery.

But something about the deal of being a "wife" is driving women to end their relationships.
posted by Phalene at 5:44 AM on August 8, 2013


Am I the only one who hates the term "mommy wars"? These are issues that have an enormous effect on how we live our lives. Is it the "num-num wars" when we discuss Michael Pollan's latest food screed? Is it the "bye-bye wars" when we talk about car culture and public transit?

You seem to be saying that the word "mommy" is so hopelessly infantile that it can't possibly be used in serious conversation. Is that what you meant to say? Would phrasing this "mom wars" make it all better for you?

Because no, these are not issues that have an enormous effect on how we live our lives. These are issues that have an enormous effect on how women live their lives. And shaming them no matter what choice they make serves to keep them insecure and somewhat dependent, always on edge.
posted by corb at 6:14 AM on August 8, 2013


There is this thing in America that you are a lazy slacker and probably a communist if you are unwilling to work 83 hours per week. I think if we - as a society - were to drop that nonsense adopt a more sane working schedule, it would result in far less stress on parents all the way around.

This this this. The real issue here is not women, it's families. The real problem is that we live in a society where, if you want someone to be there for your kid, you know, as a parent, you basically have to be rich and have one parent (usually the mom, yes) not work. That's the way the system is set up. It's patently unfair, and it's wrong. It's wrong because a lot of people don't want to stop working. It's even more wrong because most people are not rich.
posted by breakin' the law at 7:59 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is also wrong, might I add, because the parent who has to work, in order to make enough to support the the whole family, basically has to put in a 60-hour week and come home exhausted all the time and only really see their kids on the weekend and all-too-infrequent vacations. And they're the lucky ones!
posted by breakin' the law at 8:02 AM on August 8, 2013


You seem to be saying that the word "mommy" is so hopelessly infantile that it can't possibly be used in serious conversation.

I mean that the phrase is intended to trivialize and ultimately shut down a discussion about serious issues. Warner's article, which I'm wondering if anyone here actually read, highlights the inequalities at home and at the office that pressured women to "opt" out, and the subsequent detrimental effect that it had on some of their lives. Talking about this is not "shaming" or "telling women they're doing it wrong." Linda Hirshman, with whom I certainly don't agree on everything, writes about "the unspoken liberal/conservative agreement that women should probably do the child rearing and housekeeping." Getting these issues out into the open challenges this agreement by requiring it to be spoken. Dismissing them as "mommy wars" preserves it.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 9:42 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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