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The Opt-Out Myth
March 16, 2007 4:18 PM   Subscribe

The "Revolution" that isn't. The idea that well-educated women are leaving their careers behind and choosing to stay at home is a recurring story- notably in "The Opt Out Revolution", Lisa Belkin's 2003 essay in the New York Times. A closer examination [.pdf, long] challenges the idea that women are returning home as a matter of biological "pull" rather than a workplace "push", and argues that how the media portrays the personal decisions of a few obfuscates the real social needs of most American working families. In 2007, the United States is one of the few countries in the world without paid maternity leave.
posted by ambrosia (55 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this, the links are fascinating. I wrote my dissertation on a related topic (although in the 1920-30s), and my conclusion highlighted the way that this type of maternalist discourse was continuing right into the present... And, at the time, I was concerned that there seemed to be no opposition to those voices.

I was particularly interested in the rather throwaway comment in the first link, "Recent research show bias against African American mothers of any class who don't work, a subject that deserves an article of its own." I wonder if such an article has been written.
posted by obliquicity at 5:07 PM on March 16, 2007


Great post, my ambrosial sista. Frankly, I wish there'd be more political debate over the pressures exerted on Americans to have children at all. I agree with the take in the primary article, but that there will be inequitable fallout from your choice to procreate in terms of your total contentment should be foreseeable at this point. Childbearing is a luxury to us now that we have the technology to avoid it.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:21 PM on March 16, 2007


AnecdoteData point: My wife has a degree and has stayed home more or less the entire time we've been together. But she doesn't like people. And, and this is from her as a business major who checks the numbers, we save money by having her taking care of the kids and having time to shop for deals and stuff.
posted by DU at 5:24 PM on March 16, 2007


Won't somebody please think about the children?
Because I'm late for a meeting. Gotta run.Ta!
posted by hal9k at 5:44 PM on March 16, 2007


hal9k beat me to it.

I understand that we women have gifts and talents that can be used out there in the wider world but I wish both men and women would stop to think that their children are just as important if not more so than any outside job. Not only do their children need and deserve the best of care, but our society NEEDs well-loved, well-trained and well-socialized children.

If you want to see just how much we as a society value the care and raising of children, look how little we pay child care workers. To go along with that, those who do stay home with their own-whether mothers or fathers-are indeed looked down upon by "working" moms and dads. As if taking care of your own flesh and blood wasn't a job, but if some poor underpaid unrelated individual takes care of them, it is.

I understand some moms need to work. I myself worked on and off when my children were small. That does not negate the fact those children needed and deserved to be cared for no matter what the needs of the adults were at that time.
posted by konolia at 5:56 PM on March 16, 2007


Well, I had a biological pull back home. I worked full-time out of necessity when my first-born was between 2 and 4 years. I loved my job and it was very fulfilling, but after I married and we had health insurance through my husband's job I left to have baby # 2. I wanted to be there for every second and besides, my salary would have covered day-care, gas and all the little conveniences you tend to make use of when you are rushing around. I haven't been back full-time in 7 years.

When I went back to work 5 years ago, I was lucky enough to find the perfect job: 10-12 hours a week, with more if can swing them, summers off, use of my MLS, and the same hourly wage I would make if I were full-time. As my kids get older I am able to add more hours. I call it my "micro-career" and I wish more employers offered this sort of position. Many of my once SAHM friends have gone back to work when their kids started school and they're finding it difficult to balance everything.

I know that I'm in the minority, and I'm blessed to be in this position. We've made a lot of sacrifices to make this work, but the main factor is that my husband makes enough (but only just!) money for us to live this way, and unfortunately, most Americans don't.
posted by Biblio at 6:09 PM on March 16, 2007


  .  < -- hal9k's joke o -+- -- a href="http://www.metafilter.com/59514/The-OptOut-Myth#1624056">you
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posted by rkent at 6:25 PM on March 16, 2007


OK, that totally worked in Live Preview. Sorry. (It was this).
posted by rkent at 6:26 PM on March 16, 2007


Much of this seems to me to be a trying to draw simplistic trends out of what has to be an incredible diversity of causal interrelationships... asking why people choose to stay at home to rear children makes about as much sense to me as asking why people work the jobs they work... I mean, obviously there are reasons, but pronouncements on trends do seem to follow the biases of the people who "find" them. As a stay at home dad, I always wonder where my experiences and opinions belong in this discussion, if indeed they do at all.
posted by nanojath at 6:37 PM on March 16, 2007


Childbearing is a luxury to us now that we have the technology to avoid it.

Um....what?

Someone must have children, to replace the people who die. Someone must raise them. Now, you can argue as to *who* should have them (which leads you into the tangled thickets or race, class, nationalism, and eugenics), or how many of them should be born, but there will have to be some. Children are a necessary resource for the continuation of society; therefore, it behooves society to give some thought to how those children will be produced and cared for till adulthood.

In the past, women were forced to take care of this by being an unpaid slave class without access to birth control or self-support via wages. Now that this has changed for women in the west, we are merely stating the fact that if you want kids, it's not fair to ask us to do it for free, by ourselves, and with no way to continue our own career aspirations. Society, not being too enthused about this idea, keeps trying to tell us we don't really want to stop being slaves; or, people like you tell us we should just stop having children. Many of us do. But some of us will have to have children, and that should not mean being forced out of the workforce and into dependency.

And oh yeah, go ahead and open up the discussion of how we'll decide who gets to/is forced to have kids. That's going to be fun one.
posted by emjaybee at 6:47 PM on March 16, 2007 [4 favorites]


It's not just paid maternity leave, it's that the nation has no real coherent plan/program for what to do with children between 6 weeks and kindergarten. It's great that there's afterschool stuff now in a lot of school districts, but I talk to a lot of parents who are really distraught over what to do with their kids - do they send them to daycare that costs $8,000 a year that's little more than a babysitter and TV, or send them to a private school that has an enriched environment and pay Ivy-league level tuitions?

I would think for most families that don't have an extended family structure (which is the majority of families, I believe) to care for pre-school kids, that having more than one child pretty much makes it not worth one spouse working, since most of one paycheck would go towards childcare.

I've also noticed that most all of the opt-out revolution pieces I can remember focus on white women who have professional husbands and who attended top Universities themselves, which in itself has made me skeptical of the universality of the "movement."
posted by illovich at 6:48 PM on March 16, 2007


I'm seconding what illovich just said, especially that last paragraph.
posted by davy at 7:04 PM on March 16, 2007


" ...my salary would have covered day-care, gas and all the little conveniences you tend to make use of when you are rushing around."

That was my ah-hah moment as I tried to come to terms with the possibility of becoming a single income family :) Of course I really liked the idea of my wife being able to stay home with our son, but the thought of cutting our income in half was a little unnerving (and still is when it's time to pay the bills). Which gets to the point that Biblio makes. We make just enough to get by on one salary, but if we were both working, then a huge chunk of that second salary goes to paying for childcare anway. Thinking of it in those terms certainly made it easier for us to make the decision to have someone home full-time.

My son certainly seems happy about the arrangement.
posted by itchylick at 7:16 PM on March 16, 2007


I feel compelled to give another perspective on this issue.

My wife and I just sold our partnerships in a business.

It was an over 80% female staffed business. It was a 2/3rds Women Owned Business. And you know what? We, good, progressive, business owners were nearly driven out of business by our own progressive notions of how well we were going to treat our female staff that "opted" to be mommies and still work.

Out of 14-18 coworkers - 6 got knocked up in 2 years. 6.

Think about that. Do you know what that does to a small business?

Now this was due to the demographic of our average empolyee. Mid thirties college educated female. And the timing of how well our business started doing - we had a good profit share program so people felt like there was a future.

So. Nearly simultaneously these women who had nary breathed a word of wanting to be mommies all became mommies virtually at the same time. (As a result of this I definitely think there is a "drive" or "clock" for most women.)

Now maternity leave, insurance, paying for a replacement workers (usually top dollar since they know it's a temporary situation)... and then the inevitable adjustments of schedules we had to make so when mommy comes back she can take baby to daycare, the doctor - what have you. Or, most often, she wants to stay home a couple of days per week and "telecommute."

Let me tell you this. Without exception productivity went to shit. It was chaos. For at least the nine months these women were back on the job.

Eventually no matter what our schedule allowances four women quit all together. Which left us in a very bad position and feeling rather betrayed for our effort. Though. Relieved. Because it was costing us a fortune.

We then, as a 2/3 female owned business, made the concerted effort to be absolutely discriminatory and NOT hire reproductive age straight women. As a matter of survival.
posted by tkchrist at 7:21 PM on March 16, 2007


I'm in a situation like Biblio. I'm very well educated, had close to a 6-figure job and had climbed the career ladder probably as far as I could go without an MBA and a serious willingness to lose my identity to merge with the corporate groupthink.

After 10 years of trying to get pregnant, my husband I assumed that it just wasn't going to happen. When we were surprised by our little miracle, my husband and I decided that a serious reduction in lifestyle was more important than my career. (We had a discussion about which of us should give up our job, it wasn't an assumption that it would be me...he happens to like his job more than I liked mine. Heh.)

That said, it would have made me crazy if I weren't do something that wasn't related to child rearing and housekeeping...especially since I despise being a housekeeper. (I love being a chef, and don't mind laundry, but good god, the dust bunnies would have to stage a revolution before I cared enough about them to flush them out from under the bed.)

So, I started a microbusiness out of a studio in my house. For all intents and purposes, it let me have a hobby that paid for itself. Now that Boy is reaching school age, I'm slowly expanding the company, and once he's actually in school 5 days a week, I expect to open my first retail outlet and expand my wholesale client base.

But, there's a couple of reason for that. It's almost impossible for women over a certain age to return to the workforce at the executive level if they've taken 5-7 years off. Technology is a "young person's" industry, and trying to return to IT as a woman of a certain age would be even more difficult than many other industries. And last but not least, I don't want to work 80 hour weeks for someone else any more. At least now if I have long hours or client consultations, my studio is here, and I'm still accessible to my family.

All that said, if we didn't have the luxury of being in the middle range of income earners, none of that would have been a possibility. Some people don't have the choice of staying home with their kids, no matter how much they want to do so.
posted by dejah420 at 7:49 PM on March 16, 2007


tkchrist, I would posit that the lack of a societal structure to deal with women who both work and want to be mothers is what created your problems, not your women workers selfishly getting knocked up just to leech off of you. Maybe they didn't "breathe a word" because they knew you might fire them...many other employers would quickly find a way to do so, no matter how "family friendly" they say they are.

Did you consider coming up with a daycare or flextime solution? Did you contemplate what it is like to be both working full time and caring for a newborn without support? Have you ever tried typing a memo and nursing a baby at the same time? I have. I don't recommend it.

I can understand your feeling used, but women who procreate and need to work have almost no options; and it's quite true that business owners also get screwed in the process. I would bet you that at least some of them were fully aware of your feelings and felt guilty, but also felt trapped by a lack of good options.

Instead of seeing them as a liability or a threat, maybe you should consider them fellow victims, who would much have preferred to have kept their good job with profit sharing, etc, if they could have found a way to do so.
posted by emjaybee at 8:00 PM on March 16, 2007


In order for me to stay out of work for a year and a half after my daughter was born while my husband tried to start a business, we moved into one of the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia to cut costs. It was pretty desperate--anyone who's read Nickel and Dimed knows how hard it is to make it on minimum wage in this country. When the credit counselor explained to my husband and me that our problem wasn't that we spent too much money, it was that we didn't make enough money, period, I went back to work and my husband returned to the industry he had escaped. I've been working ever since.

The kid is now sane as hell; she's finishing up her master's degree and deciding which of two Ph.D. programs to accept. And she just called to chat because she likes her mom and dad.

You know what? Having a mom at home is not what makes happy children. There's no magic Mommy factor. Families are families no matter how they work, and kids are surprisingly resilient if they know their parents care for them and have standards and values. My mom was home for the first twelve years of my life and she was a neurotic mess; best thing that ever happened to her and me was her going back to get a Ph.D. and go to work.
posted by Peach at 8:01 PM on March 16, 2007


"Childbearing is a luxury to us now that we have the technology to avoid it."

The urge to reproduce is genetically encoded. It's not a "law" that forces everyone to obey, it's just a fact of nature.

This is just another example of the neo-fascist brainwashing of modern American feminism, which no longer concerns itself with justice for the gender, but with personal gains and acquisition of a higher place on the "social totem pole". Notice how the rise of modern American feminism parallels the rise of modern American neoconservatism in the last 30 years?

Real feminists (Wollstonecraft, etc.) died out a long time ago. I work in a higly international field and cannot help but notice that the most rabidly irrational feminists tend to be fairly well-off, American, and white. In my experiences women from Europe, Asia, even black American women tend to be more grounded because they truly have experienced discrimination.

Above all else, we're all human...
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:13 PM on March 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Just to clarify, I was using "us" to mean those of us who have the choice. There are so many children born around the world, which itself is arguably overpopulated, I really don't see the benefit of leaving them untended so I can perpetuate my dimples and brains. emjaybee, there's no foreseeable shortage of children. Of course people will keep on having them, but the myth that doing so because you are grown up, well-adjusted and western-wealthy is natural anymore doesn't work for me.

Redgrendel: We have free will. I'm not sure if you're calling what I said neo-fascist, but I'm anything but conservative, just into being a DINK couple and fostering someday, fighting off some very real brooding impulses all the while, but all I was saying is that bearing children is optional for the most part.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2007


Yeah. My bad. Neo-fascist is way too strong. Long day.

My boss came into my office and said that they are going to hire women for all the open faculty positions this year. This is before any of the interviews have gone down...Evidently the Biology department gets access to additional funding if they hire women...

Hence, I'm not exactly a big fan of American feminism at the current time :)
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 8:34 PM on March 16, 2007


Redgrendel2001, interesting, that you're more upset with feminism than with patriarchy, which created the imbalanced situation.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:47 PM on March 16, 2007


No maternity leave? Yet another socially backward approach to things. The ways the USA does things never fails to flabbergast me.

All y'all should really give some thought to making a radically different vote this next time around. There's a reason why every civilized nation has banned the death penalty, has mat leave, has universal healthcare, etc.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:49 PM on March 16, 2007


On second thought: mods, please delete.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:51 PM on March 16, 2007


Too late. My reply is coming across your northern border any minute now.
posted by Justinian at 9:01 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


It is interesting to compare the US against France on this question. France has much more accessible child-care and women do not normally leave their careers now after having children. Also, there seems to be less and less rationalization that a woman should stay home after having children. In fact, women seem to be poorly considered if they

a few factors for this difference:

having a child is less expensive in France
- in fact, there are many subventions and tax benefits
- doctors and medicine are completely reimbursed
- public schools are superior to private schools, so paying for education is not an issue

France is generous with leave time and father's even get a few days of paternity leave.

women have fought very hard for their current status and most are not willing to become housewives

5 weeks vacation is mandated by the European Social Charter



And France now has the highest birthrate in Europe.
posted by pwedza at 9:06 PM on March 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Very anecdotal evidence, but every family friend in my generation that could work in Europe (had the languages and found jobs) has chosen to do so, and to raise families there. Switzerland, Sweden, France, Italy.

I second that we do not live in a civilized nation (the USA). I do not want to have children in the USA. The economic arguments are all against it, as the FPP and many comments in this thread show. Economics aside, I do not want to have children because I do not want to explain to my daughter that Americans torture people, or confront my son when he decides that that's cool and he wants to join the U.S. Marines.

(o.k. pile on me now as an America-hater, or that my refusal to marry and devote myself to having children means the terrorists will win).

I live in a Catholic neighborhood; it's getting to me (a non-believer).
posted by bad grammar at 9:26 PM on March 16, 2007


Well considering that feminism is the genesis of gender laws passed against me, I do have a problem with it.

65-70% of the Undergraduate Science Association at my institution is female.

18 of the 25 undergrads I teach in my advanced science class are female.

All the members of my class (50 people) living in subsidized housing (monetary benefits = ~$5000-6000 per year for 5-7 years.)

8 of the last 12 faculty members at my institution have been women (note: While it would bolster my case to claim that their skills don't merit their positions, this isn't true. They are all quite skilled and some of them are complete badasses.)

The reason why there is a gender disparity in science is that...

1. Job positions are incredibly rare and Professors get tenure (i.e. well-nigh impossible to fire), meaning that job positions are entrenched for decades. That's an aspect of academics and science, not gender.

2. ~25% of this country is Evangelical and don't believe that women should be in the workplace, especially a workplace that might involve GASP!!!! Stem Cells GASP!!! I think that this is an oft-ignored source of some of the gender disparities in the workplace.

3. Science is absurdly hard, taxing, and unreqarding and many people leave the field for greener pastures. This is a very accesible option for many women whose husbands have jobs, but not that accessible for single men or men whose partners are not in high-paying jobs. And yes, this ignores the sexuality aspect of gay/straight, but that's a whole other can of worms.

If you have a problem with patriarchs, take it up with them. Not me. Pass laws to punish them for their illegal and immoral behavior. Don't pass laws that discriminate against me. Punish those who have committed the acts. Not those who happen to be of the same gender. I'm freakin' Irish-American. The whole white-male privilege concept isn't the most applicable thing for me. That's called bigotry children...

Gender/Race-based laws that regulate broad social areas never work and just generate more hatred. All they do is give the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores etc... the opportunity to profit off of other people's fear.
posted by Redgrendel2001 at 9:27 PM on March 16, 2007


All that said, if we didn't have the luxury of being in the middle range of income earners, none of that would have been a possibility.

I don't have anything to say about women in, or out of, the workplace. But I'd like to say that I hope you realize that having "close to a 6-figure job" means that you are nowhere near the "middle range of income earners." [cite]
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:50 PM on March 16, 2007


a "close to 6-figure job." Damn it.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:51 PM on March 16, 2007


In the US, having children is considered a personal choice. Childbearing seems to be approached differently in different countries, from what I gather.

My personal choice was to have children, I partnered with a person whose personal choice was to have children, and we worked out the logistics from there. I sometimes wonder how our lives would be if we'd been Swedish or French or Norwegian, but we're not, and it's not worth overthinking. So one of us works, and one of us stays home and brings in a little freelance income. Some American families make different choices and work out a different arrangement. That's okay.

Sometimes you just have to accept what is, and then fight the fights that are worth fighting to make "what is" a better deal.
posted by padraigin at 10:22 PM on March 16, 2007


I'm torn between the idea that society has some obligation to support families and being pissed off that the couple with five kids gets breaks for breeding.

There are way too many of us; encouraging more doesn't seem prudent or moral (to me, feel free to crap on me for that).

As for a parent staying at home, in my own circle, the only couples who have done it have independent wealth. That's just my own group, of course, not the world at large.
posted by maxwelton at 10:59 PM on March 16, 2007


Apparently many people are being told this story : that they should become self-sufficient ,that they shouldn't expect nor demand cooperation. Practically they should be able to earn all they need and if they don't earn enough, then they shouldn't spend , that life isn't fair so they shouldn't complain if they don't get all they want.

Similarly, couples are suggested that they must choose between a career life or a family life and that the two don't mix well or at all : evidence is introduced to support the thesis that reproduction isn't , but your personal business. Absolutely none of your troubles should trouble the workplace.

But this is clearly an ideal, abstract objective : a worker that has no costs, is easily replaceble, all the risk of the pension plan rests on his/her shoulder and the market can be blamed if they lose pension, that pays for an health insurance and gets absolutely nothing back unless he needs medications, and if so he will have the face the insurance minions trying to pay less or buy time in hope he/she will die and not ask for money ; a worker that is asked to move from one location to another breaking most of the relationship he built, but he doesn't feel that because he never learned how to build long lasting ones, bulding a society in which fear of other is the norm, as opposed to reasoned and reasonable trust.

We have tkchrist complaining that most women seem to want to have offspring and have some kind of biological clock ticking.....I don't have the data handy, but I remember reading after a certain age the chances of malformation/problems with foetus increase significantly..there could be some biological reason for this increased propension to maternity.

Yet they are painted as slackers, exploiting the poor workplace by *gasp* reproducing, such an inhuman thing to do ! Apparently all reasonable organizational practices are used , but the productivity can't but suffer and possibily this isn't the single business fault, but it caused by the fact everybody else is not cutting woman any slack, so by cutting slack the biz become less competitive. Is there anything that can't be blamed on others doing something else ? Ah the art of bucket passing !

Clearly the best employee is either single and homosexual or a combination of both, but if this single polysexual wants to go home to take care of a love one for a while, wants to have more then the carefully constructed illusion of a social life outside the workplace, oh god he is GHEY ! Be very afraid ! Nobody wants you outside, go work a little more nobody will bother you at workplace.

Similarly, if woman start asking they must be feminists..and certainly there are feminist among them, just let them yak and bring out ideological nonsense of woman superiority and entitlements on the grounds that they are..women ! Sounds much like the polar opposit of male superiority idiocy with a convenient shield of doing it for the babies.

Cui prodest ? Who takes advantage from nonsense stealing the scene from reasonable ideas ?
posted by elpapacito at 4:06 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


cntl +f "Moms Rising" not found--

It's a labor/class issue, it's a feminist issue. It's a self-determination issue, and an issue of justice.

It's a issue of strengthing American families. Please show your solidarity with working and rebel mothers by joining today.

If we don't stand up and fight for dignity in our work choices, "Opt-out" can be the next generation's "Stay-out." the fact that privileged mothers choose not to work, when staying in the workplace means constantly fighting a biased system, is wholly unsurprising.

But this is also an immediate issue--if we lose the input of women in our workplaces, our workplaces suffer. Why are "sanity" and "balance" things that don't belong in our workplaces?


The MomsRising Organization

"Despite all the rhetoric about being family-friendly, we have structured a society that is decidedly unfriendly... What's missing now is a movement. What's missing now is an organization. That's why MomsRising is so important." -- Senator Barack Obama, 9/28/06

Shocking but true: There is deep bias against mothers in America today. One study found mothers are 44% less likely to be hired than equally qualified non-mothers, and are offered an average of $11,000 lower starting salaries. Another study found women without children make 90 cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make 73 cents, and single mothers make about 60 cents to a man’s dollar.

This begins to explain why there are so many women and children living in poverty, and why there are so few women in leadership. Countries with family-friendly policies in place don’t experience the same motherhood wage penalties we do here. And, America is woefully behind the rest of the world when it comes to implementing policies and programs that support mothers and families. MomsRising is working toward cultural and political change to build a more family-friendly America."


The M.O.T.H.E.R. manifesto

ps f the nytimes. why is that article a
(self-)critique of women and not of our workplaces?
posted by eustatic at 7:54 AM on March 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


This thread has interesting echoes with some thoughts contained in Cornell West's Race Matters. Specifically the irony that while feminism and immoral media entertainment are most frequently derided as the factors in society that dissolve the family and social structure, on careful examination it seems that materialism, the drive to constantly acquire, and the drive to work hard to satisfy those desires are the real threats to the family.

But it's also wrong to blame the workplace totally - I work for a public university that offers what I consider pretty poor maternity/paternity benefits (although to be fair, it has plenty of other nice benefits whether you have kids or not), and I know that offering a lot of the benefits that would make parenting easier would be a huge expense to the University, and would either not be feasible, or would hurt funding somewhere else (probably salaries, hello).

So while it's easy to get angry at the Boss, I think it's worth looking at ourselves -- which is to say, our government, and asking if we get our money's worth out of the 40% tax we almost all pay. If it's not, then it's time to demand change.

Now excuse me while I go weep for that prospect.
posted by illovich at 10:47 AM on March 17, 2007


If you have a problem with patriarchs, take it up with them. Not me. Pass laws to punish them for their illegal and immoral behavior. Don't pass laws that discriminate against me. Punish those who have committed the acts. Not those who happen to be of the same gender. I'm freakin' Irish-American. The whole white-male privilege concept isn't the most applicable thing for me. That's called bigotry children...

RedGrendel, I think you're off base about what patriarchy is used to mean in a contemporary feminist context. It's not so much a collection of patriarchal leaders against whom direct action can be taken as it is a systemic form of discrimination self-propagated by the vast majority of the culture who buys into the same values via acculturation to them. This system's symptoms include but are not limited to a greater by far instance of mothers in custody than fathers and objectification and juvenilization of women in media resulting in disproportionate body hatred for women.

Of course, the extreme example you're witnessing of affirmative action is troubling. I am personally very much unsettled by leveling the playing field with money.

But lastly, unless you've got some major exception up your sleeve, there is no way I'd believe you don't possess white/male privilege. I sure as hell do. I've met a lot of people (white men, in all anecdotal honesty) who decry the concept. It's not an attack on you, or something that is designed to make you feel guilty. Someone using it that way is a a twit, and possibly a bigot, case closed. Rather, white privilege is a cultural habit, clearly derived from the colonial culture of the recent past, which we can fight together, but not if we deny its existence. The invisible knapsack is the metaphor, however belabored, I most associate with the lesson of white privilege.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:31 AM on March 17, 2007


Maybe I'm naive or an asshole, but here are my thoughts. Isn't the idea supposed to be that you get paid for doing work? You provide a good or service and are in turn benefit from money that you can then exchange with others for their goods and services? If so then why should an employer pay an employee that is not providing them with a valuable good or service?

Doesn't an employer have just as much right to not hire or to fire an employee for being a parent as they do if the person smokes or is incapable of doing the job they are assigned?

For employers that can afford to give paid maternity leave, that's great. Maybe they will have more loyal workers with higher moral, who in turn are more productive workers. In that case it sounds like a great business decision for that company. But does that mean that such choices should be legislated to other businesses? Or should the people vote with their pocket books as it were?

Just thoughts.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:53 AM on March 17, 2007


Hey, RedGrendel, happy St. Pat's by the way!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:15 PM on March 17, 2007


MrBobaFett,

We don't have a pure market economy. Thank goodness. Property is a right regulated by the state, it provides a structure that ensures that you can retain your property and that it has value (fighting inflation, fighting crime, keeping land records).

The state also regulates how you can use it, in the public interest. For example, no matter how much market value you would assign to having a slave, or to having a 8 year old laborer, you aren't permitted to contract with someone under those circumstances, even as an individual.

Companies aren't humans. They don't have human rights or any inherent rights. The state gives them rights and privileges in exchange because it recognizes that they're good for the economy and for people. To get those rights, they have to incorporate according to state law and obey all applicable laws.

The state has to be fair and not arbitrary in setting rules for companies, but there is no reason why it cannot set laws for them that are in the public interest. That's why we get to vote with both our pocketbooks and our votes.

I wouldn't want to live in a world where your vote is only your pocketbook. "Nasty, brutish, and short" seems like a pretty plausible description of that kind of life.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:50 PM on March 17, 2007


In the US, having children is considered a personal choice. Childbearing seems to be approached differently in different countries, from what I gather.

In most any country having children is a personal choice.

The question being posed is what kind of choices the country/society in which you live provides you with after making that choice. For me, that is very much part of my decision making process in considering whether or not to have children.
posted by pwedza at 4:49 PM on March 17, 2007


Can a nation be considered civilized if it is not structured so as to maximize the security of its infants?

By any sane measure, children raised by their mother for the first few years of life perform better. They are healthier, happier, and smarter.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2007


By any sane measure, children raised by their mother for the first few years of life perform better. They are healthier, happier, and smarter.

But fathers are incompetent?

All men should rise up against the insulting and yet common assumption that they are less capable parents than women. I know my husband will be as good - no, wait, a better parent than I will be. He's already better with my neice than I am.

-------------

These are excellent links, thank you. I especially liked that at least one of the articles noted how the whole idea of women acting as full-time caregivers is a modern invention, born of the economic prosperity of the 1950s. And even then, so many less priviledged women still needed to work. Throughout all of history, women have worked - farms, dairies, piece-work, and fit the kids in their somewhere - eventually just helping.
posted by jb at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2007


In most any country having children is a personal choice.

The question being posed is what kind of choices the country/society in which you live provides you with after making that choice. For me, that is very much part of my decision making process in considering whether or not to have children.


Right, what I was getting at is that in the US, we don't consider it a patriotic duty or a social obligation to have kids, as in other countries and cultures. Or maybe we do, the latter, a bit, but we don't want to be socially obligated ourselves to other people's kids. There's no village here, just a bunch of rhetoric about family values that doesn't actually mean anything.

My partner and I were fortunate enough to be in a financial position not to have to worry as much about society's role in the lives of our offspring as many people do (or should) need to worry.
posted by padraigin at 9:11 PM on March 17, 2007


All men should rise up against the insulting and yet common assumption that they are less capable parents than women.

When you can express baby milk, I'll rise up with you.

There is biological fact at play here. Mothers that raise their young raise them because it grants their offspring an evolutionary advantage. "Mens rights" do not trump a billion years of evolutionary design.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 PM on March 17, 2007


IMO "we don't want to be socially obligated" sums up the culture of the USA quite succinctly.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:00 AM on March 18, 2007


five fresh fish: We're not breast-feeding until the kids turn 18, surely.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:07 AM on March 18, 2007


Are teenaged moms allowed to breastfeed? Seems to me there could be some sort of sick interpretation of that act that would have them prosecuted under pedophilia laws.

I believe we were talking about maternity leaves, which happen during the first year or two of the child's birth. Dad's raising teenagers doesn't really fit the category.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:57 AM on March 18, 2007


That was my ah-hah moment as I tried to come to terms with the possibility of becoming a single income family :) Of course I really liked the idea of my wife being able to stay home with our son, but the thought of cutting our income in half was a little unnerving (and still is when it's time to pay the bills). Which gets to the point that Biblio makes. We make just enough to get by on one salary, but if we were both working, then a huge chunk of that second salary goes to paying for childcare anway. Thinking of it in those terms certainly made it easier for us to make the decision to have someone home full-time.


It's too bad that the logic behind this is totally flawed.

First of all, why is it the wife's salary that child care expenses are considered to come out of, instead of the salary of the whole family? But ignoring that point, that math cannot be simply looked at in terms of "we make X currently. It would cost Y to not have someone stay home, and X-Y is almost the same as Z, the salary of the person staying home." For one, you get a lot of benefits from working that are not directly salary, the big one being retirement savings (both in the form of company 401ks/pensions and contributions to social security). Secondly, you are only considering the current cost of sending the child to daycare vs the current earnings of one partner. But you are totally neglecting the future costs of having that partner leave work. Unless you're in a dead-end job, you can assume that there will be a growth in salary year over year that should average out to exceed the cost of inflation. Even if the partner returns to work after a few years of staying home, the potential earnings lost in those few years are quite likely far greater than the cost for childcare, etc.

If you want to stay home, stay home. But don't try to justify it using bullshit logic that is from the get-go biased against the mother by charging all child costs to her. The financial equation is just not that simple.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:30 PM on March 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


More flexible scheduling for both parents would go a long way to helping.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:48 PM on March 18, 2007


If you want to stay home, stay home. But don't try to justify it using bullshit logic that is from the get-go biased against the mother by charging all child costs to her. The financial equation is just not that simple.

Actually it IS that simple. How much more true increase to the family income does it make for the mom to work? (or for the dad, if he'd be more likely to stay home. I'll ignore the lactating aspect for the sake of the argument.)

If it turns out that her 40 hours a week income of x only provides y benefit to the family-subtracting whatever extra expenses that entails, whether more convenience foods or a work wardrobe, or childcare or more gas, etc for the car, and so forth-is it worth it for BOTH people to be tired at the end of the day and still have all the house stuff facing them-Something and someone is going to be getting the short end of the stick at the end of the day, and I submit it's the kids. Kids that have two tired, exhausted, overworked parents. And trust me when I say negotiating household tasks with one's overworked spouse is NO fun.

Been there, done that when I was working fulltime and my spouse was working way more, so that the "fair" thing was I got stuck with the lion's share of the home duties too.

Some people are irked by the "tradition" that the woman stays home. Well, be irked, but don't stand in the way of women who find that their own lives work much better, (and that their children do better),if they are the house despots.
posted by konolia at 4:32 PM on March 18, 2007


Huzzah. Public taxes are meant to go to things that better the social good. Raising all our children well is to our greater social good. It is money very well spent.

There is enough wealth in the USA to easily provide adequate maternity leave for all women who choose to have kids.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:51 PM on March 18, 2007



There is enough wealth represented in the Mefi membership list for someone to provide me with a brand new Dyson vacuum cleaner too, but whose money do we confiscate for the purpose?

When one talks about the wealth in the US, what are we talking about? Are we talking about the money in Oprah's bank accounts? Are we talking about oil profits? Who are we going to take money away from involuntarily for this to happen?

FFF, we'd need to be a socialist country for your point to mean anything, really, but I doubt the US is turning away from the free enterprise system anytime soon (a system that China is indeed beginning to adopt, fwiw.)

(PS-the Dyson basic model will suit me just fine, thank you.)
posted by konolia at 6:08 PM on March 18, 2007


is it worth it for BOTH people to be tired at the end of the day and still have all the house stuff facing them-Something and someone is going to be getting the short end of the stick at the end of the day, and I submit it's the kids. Kids that have two tired, exhausted, overworked parents. And trust me when I say negotiating household tasks with one's overworked spouse is NO fun.

That is not a financial equation. That is a perfectly fine reason to stay home if you want to, but it is not one based solely on the finances of the couple. I am merely tired of the bad financial reasoning that some people use to try to justify their choice for a spouse to stay home.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:21 PM on March 18, 2007


Watching my taxes go to publicly funded maternity leave is about the last social use of it I could stomach. There are people already born who need looking after. Oh well, people think with their gonads.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 6:50 PM on March 18, 2007


"More flexible scheduling for both parents would go a long way to helping."

Actually, I think that would help more than parents. It'd help pretty much everyone in America.
posted by drstein at 8:10 PM on March 18, 2007


When you can express baby milk, I'll rise up with you.

There is biological fact at play here. Mothers that raise their young raise them because it grants their offspring an evolutionary advantage. "Mens rights" do not trump a billion years of evolutionary design.


No, but technology can. Unless you would like to go back to living in caves in South Africa, since "evolutionary design" left us hairless and certainly unable to live anywhere it might snow.

Most families breastfeed for only a few months, a year maybe. What about year #2? Or 3 through 18?

And the assumption that the mother makes the best parent - even with breast feeding - is sexist. It's based on no research but only on prejudiced traditional attitudes, the same kind that say that women can't be engineers because their hormones make them too emotional. My mother-in-law was back at work within weeks of having her first child. But my father-in-law was, by virtue of his work, able to work partly at home through much of their kid's lives (still does, actually), and he was the one who would be there when they got home from school, make dinner for the family, etc. My husband is better with children than I am - if it came to one of us working part-time or staying home with our kids, he would be a better choice. And when I have kids, I will pump breast milk so that he can feed them too.

By insisting on women as the default caregivers, we are denying men their potential as parents and caregivers just as much as preventing women from exploring other options. Who becomes a primary caregiver should be based on their aptitude and desires, not their reproductive organs. And frankly, I think it is best for the emotional health of the family that even if they cannot be divided evenly, the caregiving responsibility is still shared by both parents.

ch1x0r also makes an excellent and very serious point: if women do not work outside the home they can be seriously penalised by the way our societies handle old age security and pensions, which had already led to serious poverty among elderly women. And if they ever do return to work, they take a big hit in terms of salary and seniority. It's not just about the finances now, but in the future -- each parent taking time off or working out some kind of part-time arrangement could be much better for the family in the long run.
posted by jb at 9:10 PM on March 20, 2007


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