Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Debate over "We"

There's an interesting debate going on in the parenting blogs, started by Suzanne at Mother-in-Chief's August 9th entry about how we mothers are underemployed. Elizabeth at half-changed worldpicked up the debate, by worrying that this kind of language makes working mothers nervous, and lots of other bloggers have weighed in.

Part of my frustration about Truth Behind the Mommy Wars not getting enough attention is that its numbers and stories and insights haven't become part of our general knowledge about motherhood and work. So let me add some info to these debates.

First, in support of Suzannne's use of the word "we": 37 percent of mothers work part time. 25 percent are at home, and many, many of these mothers say they would like decent, fairly paid part time work in the professions in which they were trained. Many part time working moms are doing much less interesting work than they want. That's bad for them, and it's bad for our economy and for the productivity that the US needs. So say that out loud--37 percent of mothers in the US work part time--that's 2 percentage points less than fulltime working mothers. 37 percent.

Second, I"m tired of hearing people say, well, it's your choice to do less paid work, many of us can't even afford this. Okay. People: the numbers are clear. Most at home mothers are not affluent, despite the ongoing media attention to mothers in wealthy neighborhoods. Most at home and part time working mothers in our country are part of families that have LESS money. They are making choices about how to live their lives. And often these choices are economically counter-intuitive. They are living with less, and often at great sacrifice. Because our media fills us with stories about hyper moms in NY and DC and suburban Atlanta, and forgets the rest of the country's mothers, we forget this too.

And third, if the workplace doesn't offer part time work at fair wages and conditions, then none of us has a choice. If Suzanne is frustrated with free-lance work, it's in part because that field has come to rely on a huge stable--and I use that word accordingly--of mothers who write, and will write for very little money. She's resisting that, by writing quite honestly about how her time and money (as in money spent on baby sitting) were abused. Others can tell her to keep trying, and perhaps she will, but that doesn't change the structure of a journalism industry that pays writers very little, gives them no benefits, and often puts them through the wringer and doesn't respect their time and talent. Yes, there are exceptions, but that doesn't change the structure.

So read the book and get the numbers down, because we need to be able ro reframe these debates--all mothers are 'We" and all mothers have different needs, and these issues affect us all, and dads too.


Elizabeth said...

I really don't think this is a debate -- I agree with most of what Suzanne and you have said.

What I wrestle with is how do we talk about the ways in which the workplace culture is hostile to parenting, without causing employers to discriminate even more against mothers, by assuming that they'll just quit or that they won't be interested in assignments that require long hours or travel.

Best wishes.

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