Slate has a piece up headlined “Moms Leave the Workforce Because They’re Rational Actors, Not Maternal Softies.” Because, you know, you can’t be both rational and maternal, amiright feminists? I am woman hear me
roar denigrate mothers who take care of their own children!
The argument from XXFactor writer Jessica Grose (yes, she’s the author of the piece arguing that hating on cupcakes makes you sexist, so…) is that women aren’t staying home because they want to be directly responsible for raising their own children but because the government isn’t engaged in enough regulatory overreach or welfare statism or something:
That means that more American women are knocked out of the workforce when they have biological children: not because of some magical mind-meld between mother and child, but because having a baby is exhausting and requires a measure of physical recovery. A woman has to take a break when she has a baby, whether it’s paid or not, while a male partner can get by without time off unless he’s paid to take it. And when mothers are the primary caretakers from day one, that sets a precedent: If a family can’t afford child care, it’s generally the mother who will leave her job to pick up the slack.
Charlotte Allen wrote an interesting piece for the Los Angeles Times a few days ago headlined “I don’t understand today’s feminists — because they can’t write.” I mention that because Grose eventually sneaks in one of those barely comprehensible lines about “gendered biological stereotypes.” But we should commend Grose for acknowledging here that women and men are biologically different and that these differences are meaningful. These are weird times we live in but acknowledging basic truths about sex distinctions is brave. Admitting that women and men have different roles in pregnancy and childbirth, however basic and obvious, is kind of scandalous right now. So big ups and a cupcake to you.
But let’s get back to the idea that women aren’t voluntarily choosing to leave the workforce when they have children. What’s up with that? I mean, I voluntarily left my newsroom when I had my first child. I did happen to have, I guess, that magical mind-meld with her. She was awesome. I could just sit and look at her for hours with unfettered joy. She was seriously the coolest baby ever and I loved being home with her more than any mom ever loved being home with a baby. (I may be biased in this assessment.) But the thing is that I would have stayed home with her even if I hadn’t had that mind-meld experience. That’s because I have certain ideas about my various vocations — wife, mother, citizen, writer, neighbor, what-have-you — that affect how I arrange my life. One of those is that I want to be the person who takes care of and raises my own children as opposed to paying other people to do that work. Not that I haven’t employed people to take care of my children. I have, and have had good experiences with just that, but it’s part-time or intermittent and it’s not something I’m interested in outsourcing on a full-time basis.
The economic effect of my decision to leave my newsroom and stay at home with my daughter might be best explained by telling you that our first 18 months of doing this were blissful but it took place in a one-bedroom apartment. We had a two-door car that we crammed ourselves into and we ate a lot of casseroles. We were able to do this thanks in part to a strong church community and having friends and family who gave us hand-me-downs. Yes, the biological reality of women gestating and nursing babies played a part in the decision that I’d be the primary caregiver. But also the fact that I’m a — how did you disdainfully put it, Slate? — “maternal softy” played a role.
Feminists, seriously, if you want to lose the reputation that you hate women who exit the work force to raise our own children, you need to put a bit more effort into concealing that part.
And stop valuing economic viability over the effective propagation and cultivation of the next generation of humans. I’m a fan of capitalism. I’ve devoted a lot of work to advancing it as the system that provides the most goods to the most people with the most freedom. But this idea that we can only value people insofar as they are cogs in some capitalist machine is disconcerting. It lends itself, as the author suggests, to a massive bureaucratic state. But it also fails to see that being a rational actor is not just about maximizing paychecks. I voluntarily sacrificed my paycheck (not that it was huge — I was in a newsroom, after all) and all I got in return were the best years of my life thus far, filled with happiness and validation and hard work and beautiful children.
I’m not saying that other women who choose differently are making bad decisions. At all. As far as I’m concerned, your job as a mother is to feed and nurture your children, but how you do it is pretty much up to you. (See: “White Flag In The Mommy Wars“)
I just want feminists to realize that some of us choose to forgo paychecks for other goods we value more highly — flexibility, time tickling fingers and toes, the joy of changing 28 diapers a day (OK, not that). And, further, there is no conflict between being maternal or anything else feminine and being rational. And those of us who choose to stay home or opt out of a few years on the career track are actually kind of getting sick of feminists saying there is a conflict.
Do your economically subliterate pay-gap partisan politicking if you must. But stop saying that stay-at-home mothers would be better off working outside the home. Many of us know that’s an option but choose otherwise.