June is a lot of things… Gay Pride month; a time for Juneteenth celebrations; and it is the peak of the wedding season. But what I didn’t know was that, apparently, June is also throw-feminism-under-the-bus month. At least, that’s my take after a slew of stories have captured national headlines proclaiming that feminism (in all or part) has failed.
You’re not paranoid if…
First, there’s the findings from a new paper by researchers at Harvard, NYU, and the University of Utah titled, Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace. According to the paper’s authors, men in “traditional” marriages (which I can only assume means: Stay-at-Home Wife ala 1950s) are incapable of treating women in the workplace as equals to men (or themselves.
Jezebel broke it down thusly:
No matter how well-meaning they are, no matter how much they love their moms, no matter how much they thinkthey believe in gender equality, men who opt to live in antiquated gender paradigms are part of what the researchers call “a pocket of resistance to the revolution”:
We found that employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.
I admit, this one stung a bit.
On the one hand, I know I’ve experienced this in my own life. In my career as a staff writer at different newspapers, and subsequently as a freelancer, I have encountered this on many occasions. Well-intentioned, educated, progressive men who think they “get” feminism but are actually doing it wrong. As well as a handful of just shitheads who were outright sexists. But, for all the irritation a sexist prick causes, it’s the closet sexists masquerading as feminists who really piss me off.
Then, on the other hand, I am now in a kind of limbo in terms of my career identity and my domestic identity. I’m a stay-at-home mom some of the time and a work-at-home writer all the time. This decision is partly a practical one — I make less money than my husband and we can save money on childcare if I work from home … more on that in a minute. But it’s also an emotional one. I have never really gotten on well with authority. Now that I am a mother, I am not wont to give away my time to sexist pricks who aren’t going to value my ideas anyway. But that emotion cuts both ways because it’s not like my husband “wins” by having to work full-time without an option to live a different life. … But we’ll get to that in a sec.
This paper also raises some questions for me. For instance, what exactly is a “traditional” family. Considering the Second Shift many working women have, can we honestly say that just because a woman works outside the home that she is not still primarily in charge of the domestic sphere — thereby liberating men to pursue their careers and ambitions more easily? And, if a marriage like mine is considered traditional because I am at home, does that automatically mean my husband is a sexist prick (or a faux feminist) when he is at work? There is some rigidity to this study that makes a lot of assumptions about how marriages and work/domestic equality play out. I’m not shrugging these finding off. But some proverbial grains of salt apply.
Media message: Congratulations, feminists! You failed to create gender equity in the domestic sphere or the work sphere!
Reality: Stop making feminism the scapegoat every time we find out that there is inequality in the work place! Real change takes time! And if you want it, then maybe you should start listening to your friendly, neighborhood feminists!
Tell me about your mother…
Then came the New York Times with this headline: Motherhood Still a Cause of Pay Inequality. The NYT basically distills the problem of wage inequality to this thesis:
Most economists believe the gap between women’s and men’s wages does not stem primarily from employers paying women less than men for the same job. It occurs mostly because men and women take different jobs and follow different career paths. Part of this difference may be a result of discrimination in hiring and promoting. Much, though, is a result of the constraints of motherhood.
It could be discrimination in hiring and promoting practices. But it’s probably because you had a baby. So, all those years before I was a mother when I got paid less than other full-time staff writers at the same newspaper (who were all men)… that was just a weird string of flukes. Across different states. And through different decades… My mistake.
There is a bit of a point in that women are shunted to the Pink Collar professions and steered away from pursuing math and science in school, which later limits their ability to pursue jobs in science, engineering, technical fields, and medicine. But it’s probably just a coincidence that fields dominated by men are also monetarily compensated better than, say, teachers, nurses, and retail employees. But are women really choosing to make less money because they may one day have a baby? I can tell you right now that when I decided to become a writer many years ago, the issue of having a baby or not was not a part of my decision-making process. Maybe I’m unusual. But I kind of think not.
Furthermore, rather than highlight what a shitty job we’re doing creating pay equity — and therefore more gender equity — the article reduces the whole issue to one that is more like a footnote in the War on Women anthology. The fact of the matter is, in this down economy (when the wage gap is hurting families more than ever and causing more safety net programs to get tapped out) more men are taking traditional Pink Collar jobs. And if we had pay equity, men like my husband, would be more likely to stay at home with the baby. It’s not that I don’t like hanging out with my kid. But between the two of us, I think he would actually enjoy it more. And I would enjoy working in an office more. But since corporate managers are paid more than writers (whether I’m a staff writer or freelancer is moot on this one), and because I lack significant math and science skills to explore a career in any STEM field, my husband and I are forced into a “traditional” marriage paradigm (see above).
Media message: Silly feminists, it’s not men’s fault. It’s women’s fault they are paid less!
Reality: The wage gap is real! And scapegoating mothers — or worse, yet — implying that the wage gap is somehow a biological destiny is not just misleading, it’s offensive. Additionally, reducing the pay equity problem to just being about mothers making less, ignores the fact that wage inequality hurts all genders, families, disproportionately affects the poor and children (therefore causing demand for social services), and hurts our national GDP. You want to turn the economy around? IT’S ABOUT THE WOMEN, STUPID!
Finally… You can’t have it all!
As the cover story in The Atlantic — complete with a pic destined for the photo of Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies archive — tells us plainly: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. Well, we can’t “have it all,” girls. Let’s pack it up and head home. Nothing more to see here…
The Atlantic piece, written by Ann-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, speaks to the crushing realities for women who aspire to “have it all,” only to find that it is as elusive and unrealistic a station in life as perfection itself:
All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).
Slaughter does a good job of exploring the nuances women face. Because, the reality is that we don’t ask men how they “have it all.” And, the social convention is that if you are a women who seems to be having it all, then there is some smug derision of the seemingly lesser women who don’t have it all (or want it all, or have it all figured out…). Because, as most women already know, to be a career woman and a mother (and presumably a wife), you must never drop any of the balls you are juggling. And, this is key, no matter how perfectly you juggle somewhere, someone in our society will be blaming you for fucking everything up (see: arguments about career women and breastfeeding; whether we are “hurting” our kids by using childcare; being annoyed by sexist pricks in the workplace; etc.).
But the associated photos and packaging by The Atlantic are what make just about any feminist’s head spin. Actually, I like Rebecca Traister’s take-down of the Atlantic piece quite a lot. You know what? You’re right: We can’t “have it all” because that’s some bullshit. Well, I’ll let her explain:
[M]y proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again.
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that feminist success should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
What does “having it all” even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?
It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.
I really don’t think there is anything to add here. This really speaks for itself.
Media message: Stupid feminists, you can’t “have it all!”
Reality: No shit, Sherlock! And, you’re missing the point.