Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful

by Stacey

oops, I mean because I stay at home with my kids. Turns out, you probably don’t. My good friend in DC, known here as AADC, sent along this op-ed from the Washington Post which argues that the Mommy Wars are a media creation and do not reflect how women feel or what they do. Let’s take a look.

According to the author, E.J. Graff, a senior researcher at Brandeis University’s Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism:

Since 2000, the percentage of working mothers with infants has held steady at 53.5 percent, according to a February report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So about half of us are home with the little ones and half of us are are at work. Sounds like a fair fight.

But then, there’s this:

When they can afford it, married women with infants take maternity leaves of a year or so, but then head steadily back to work: 75 percent of mothers with school-age children are on the job. Most work because they have to. And most of their stay-at-home peers don’t hold it against them.

Hmm, maybe we’re not so angry after all. So why all the hullabaloo?

The Mommy Wars sell newspapers, magazines, TV shows and radio broadcasts, as mothers everywhere seize on the subject and agonize, in spite of themselves. “Every other week there’s an article saying that if you don’t work, you’re in trouble financially, and if you do work, your child is at risk,” a single mother of three who works part time told me.

Now we’re getting somewhere. Anxiety. We women seem to have oodles of it. And this issue lets all that angst fly.

Tell women that working will damage their marriages, harm their health and ruin their children, and they will buy your magazine, click on your Web site, blog about your episode and write endless letters to the editor. They may do so out of fury, anxiety, scorn or an earnest desire to correct your statistical errors — but if your goal is to increase your hit rate or impress your editor, producer or publisher with something that’s widely discussed, where’s the downside?

Well for one, it’s divisive. And not especially useful to anyone. Instead of making women feel bad about whatever decisions we’ve made, we’d all be better served if the media would apply pressure to making work and family life more compatible.

“We don’t live in a society that has a mindset that workers get pregnant and have babies,” says Judith Stadtman Tucker, editor of the Web magazine Mothers Movement Online. She points out that mothers’ march into the workforce started to plateau in the 1980s — just as childcare costs started rising sharply. At the same time, the workplace has become steadily more demanding, with mandatory overtime for many who have jobs. Meanwhile, the United States notoriously lags behind all other developed nations on such policies as paid maternity leave, family sick leave or health care that’s not tied to that one all-consuming job. Nor has the culture relinquished the idea that caring for children — or for anyone in need — is women’s responsibility, with men “helping” occasionally, if asked.

A battle to end the tyranny of long work hours, expensive child care, and hellacious health care costs? Now that would be a war worth fighting.

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9 Comments

Filed under media, mommy wars, politics, work

9 responses to “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful

  1. Kinda figures. I’m getting to know a lot of moms in different situations (i.e. both camps) and they don’t seem to be at war with each other. Nor is there any Earthly reason for them to be. But the media never miss an opportunity to play on people’s anxiety, do they?

    [Well, some media. Not this medium.]

  2. Put another way: how many moms can afford to factor in what “53 percent of American women” are doing when making major life decisions? Who-T-F cares? Statistics about things that are intensely personal and unique aren’t especially instructive.

  3. But there are common factors that we all have to deal with, such as the long work hours, etc. We should focus on those rather than whatever the person next door is doing.

  4. Along those lines, I am excited about MomsRising
    (http://www.momsrising.org), a MoveOn-esque grassroots effort to create family-friendly legislation for maternity/paternity leave, open and flexible work, structures, universal healthcare for all children, stuff like that. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this project made a difference?

  5. I just read an article about the people who started MomsRising and it turns out they are the same people who started MoveOn.org. Funny you should mention it. It is very cool what they are doing. Actually in Washington the legislature is working on a law that would provide paid-family leave. We’ll write more about that if it makes it to the governor and she signs it.

  6. jensey

    i disagree. i feel judged all the time by moms who choose to stay home with their kids. i don’t think they really judge me. i think they feign judgement to feel better about their own choice which they’re not that sure about because of their pre-child, collegiate feminism. i feel it when they say, ‘i breastfed little x until he was 3. he just wouldn’t take a bottle!’ or when they say, ‘my x has NEVER had sugar. i make everything he eats.’ or ‘i’ve never spent a night away from them. i just couldn’t!’ (all of these things have, in fact, been said to me.) I try not to respond en kind but i’m sure i’ve said some nasty things in response. or, in a passive aggressive manner, floated some comment out there about how independent my kids are because i’m not always hovering over them. i don’t really believe that. i think they’ll come out fine either way – with a mom who works, or a mom who stays home. well…they’ll come out with neuroses, like all of us, regardless. but i’m all for women doing what they need to do, what feels right for them. i just wish we could all feel comfortable and confident in that choice not to have to ‘one up’ those we call friends. (i’m including myself in that)

  7. Yeah, that kind of banter really sucks. As much as I don’t want to be judged for staying home with my kids (see “I get no respect”) I equally can’t stand people who try to make others feel bad for not doing the “perfect mommy” thing. I agree, it is probably coming from some place of insecurity. But it seems like you’re feeling insecure too. You’re reading judgements into statements that on the surface aren’t about you at all. Seems like no matter what we choose, we don’t feel 100 percent okay with it. Is this because we’ve all read too many magazine articles telling us that whatever we’re doing it isn’t right? Or because there is something inherently wrong in whatever we do?

  8. i think this is a great conversation to be having. i’d like to hear more from both camps – moms who work hard all day at their first job and come home to their families for a second shift, and moms who spend those lllooonnnggg days at home with their kids, wiping butts and longing for adult conversation. from where i sit, it’s damn hard, either way.

    i’m always interested in the underside of things, so when i think about the “mommy wars” from that perspective, i see the debate stemming from our deep down fears. maybe at-work moms are afraid they’re not giving something vital to their kids and at-home moms are afraid they’re giving it all away and it’s still not enough.

    and then these fears get manipulated by the media and turned into guilt, defensiveness, competition, judgement, etc. but deep down, maybe we’re all just freaked out we’re not doing it right somehow. no matter how hard we try, whatever we do or don’t do, it might just not be enough. the stakes are so high and it’s such a hard, relentless job that it’s impossible to do it just right.

  9. good point. it’s hard to win this one. part-time work seems ideal to me, but it’s tough to find.

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