Friday, February 17, 2006

Liberation?

Several women in a Latin American e-mail list that I run (see Cara y Ceca) have raised the complaint that the liberation of women hasn't turned out to be such a great freedom after all and this has left me wondering. One of them went so far as to declare:

We'd be better off back in the age of the caves, when women only had to feed and look after the family. Now we have to be the one who supports it as well and that has consequences.

This is a professional who travels and lives what seems to be a comfortable middle class life. Another adds:

Due to the supposed "liberation," we are more enslaved than before.

A third offers a class analysis:

My experience shows me that the complaints come without doubt first from women of the upper classes, who generally have two maids, about whom they protest that "they are lazybones" as they themselves indulge in navel gazing. Middle class women are more evenhanded. They complain less and have more responsibilities. Lower class women, who don't complain at all, have the worst lot because they work at home and work outside the home while their men spend the day getting drunk. The strangest thing is that if the men leave them, they quickly search (and find) a substitute. What for? To support lazy slugs?

Asked whether the answer is for women to go back to kinder, küche, kirche, they demur. No, that's not it.

So I wonder whether the problem is merely that we've been a little too optimistic. We thought, circa 1972, when it was said that "sisterhood is powerful," that a few good slogans and a few laws and regulations and even a few good magazine articles and movies would change things radically.

But, let's face it, the setup between men and women that existed then had been in place since men left the caves to go hunt and women stayed behind cooking, mending and caring for the young. What are three decades of the second wave of feminism against 100 millenia or so?

In the prevailing pattern, moreover, women have a biological role that is irreplaceable and an emotional and developmental role that I deem essential and also next to impossible to replace.

So long as human reproduction involves gestation within a woman's womb for nine months, I don't see too many ways out of the conundrums that a woman working outside the home inevitably faces: mothering is just a huge responsibility that only a mother can fully discharge. Can a mother do anything else?

The Republicans seem to think so. They're willing to force poor women with infants to drop off the children with day care providers the GOP is unwilling to subsidize and attend "work activities" in order to receive federal aid that fails to lift them out of poverty.

Another exponent of right-wing ideology, none other than Generalissimo Francisco Franco, paid mothers and housewives who stayed home a small State stipend (I think it was a few hundred pesetas monthly) back in the 1950s.

More liberal views in our Western society, and I include Latin America as Western, seem to prescribe women engaging in a balancing act and men occasionally trading places. In the USA, we have the Family and Medical Leave Act, which at least holds a job slot, albeit without pay, for an employee attending to pregnancy or family illness. The house-husband and "Mr. Mom" arose in the 1970s, largely exceptional instances of this option. And, of course, day care.

Let me say something unpopular right up front. I think day care stinks. Care providers are mostly foreign or poor and uneducated women with the same fairly rough and tumble manner in which they were brought up.

I see them in downtown Washington, taking them to Laffayette Park in little carts that remind me of those ridden by prisoners on their ride to the guillotine; there's a cookie-cutter response to every child's question or problem and on the whole an evident desire on the part of the women, to let the little creatures play so they can talk about their dates. The university educated woman who leaves a child in such care is gambling with her child's sanity.

My younger son would have wilted in such care. He was an unusual boy of very inventive ideas that would strained the uncaring adult. For example, at one point he had a very complex set of substitute names for colors: blue was red, red was green, green was turquoise, etc. This changed every week, then every two days, then every day, until it stopped and he adopted the conventional vocabulary.

But I can imagine what would have happened at a day care center. Some young woman with an IQ to match her low pay would have exclaimed, "Speak right! This is blue!" Slap! And he would have gone off to be in a corner. Terrified.

He attends Harvard today. Would he have without university educated parents willing to do without a second income to make sure he was cared for by the person who loved and understood him most? And I have no idea what a single mother in that spot would have done!

But day care isn't the only problem. We simply need to come to grips, as a society, with the reality that motherhood and fatherhood are important roles that can't be delegated and should be supported.

Think about it. We all know that U.S. wages have pretty much stagnated in real terms since 1973. In fact, the average wage in 2004 was 22 percent below what it was in 1973. Is it merely a coincidence that in the intervening three decades the half of the population that used to stay home entered the labor market?

Why is it that our parents were able to support a family on one income and our children barely can on two? We, as a society, simply don't value the unique, unpaid labor of women and don't make it possible for men to share in it more.

I'm far from having "the" answer to such a problem.

Once again, I harken back to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the 1932 vision of a future in which human reproduction took place in industrial laboratories in which society was genetically engineered for harmony and sex was merely a pleasure without consequences. Men and women were precise equals, yet Huxley could not overcome his 1932 prejudices in sketching his characters.

It's a possible future. Otherwise, we're a long way, baby, however long we've already gone.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should do a little reading. You would be surprised to find that cavewomen did not just stay home and watch the kids and cook. The lives of most of the women throughout the ages and the world, including the United States, before the rise of our great middle class, consisted of hard work and, usually, unrelenting drudgery. Women worked in the fields, tended the animals, sold in the market from dawn 'till dusk, etc. Of course as thing developed, men got to be trained in all the easier jobs such as crafts and reading. In Africa, studies show that women do 75% of all the work in the family. Women and children do most of the farming, build houses, do all the food processing (cooking ain't so easy if you have to grind the grain by hand or kill the pig yourself), carry the water (yes every drop they use in the house), sell the produce, etc., etc.
You know who does most of the child care? The elderly and other children.
We can extrapolate that this role of the woman wasn't much different for most women throughout the world and throughout history. Your generalizations and references are only relevent to the bourgeoise middle class that has only been significant in numbers for the last 75 years.
Even now very few of the middle class have the luxury of 24 hour child care performed by a college-educated woman who has child care as their only vocation and is tempermentally suited for it. Personally, I would have been a lot better off in the care of a loving housekeeper than having to deal with the histrionics and anger of a women of high intellect and outstanding musical talent that was thwarted by being limited by society to being a homemeaker of the 1950s. And, importantly, just because we don't change every diaper doesn't mean we can't parent a child. And do it even better because we don't have to change every singel diaper.
By the way, both of son's have, and will continue to spend much of there lives carry for chidren
Why must it be the women who are limited to the one job of housework and child care? Yes the babies need their mothers, but once weaned, why didn't you men elect to stay home and care for your children? Few mothers are pregnant more than twice these days. A few months of shoouldn't interupt their careers. What is wrong with flexibility in roles? I guess it's only those with penises that have the right to choose their vocations.
Last but not least, why is it only men that should have some means of economic independence, and not feel they are beholding and controlled, consciously or not, by the fact that they have limited earning power due to the fact that have stayed home much of their prime earning years? Why is it so great when stay-at-home moms have to endure a bad marriage so as not to end up in penury?

By the way, both of my son's have been, and will continue, to spend their lives caring for children. Neither are "foriegn (god forbid!), or poor(worse!) or poorly educated and were raised by me, their father and many other loving, wonderful poor and uneducated foriegners.

Anonymous said...

So, what is the point Cecilio?

Is it that woman should be equal to men including the “equal job equal pay” utopia? Is it that nowadays it is almost unavoidable for women to go outside the home to bring a paycheck? Is it that we men must have higher salaries in order to keep women locked within the kinder, küche, kirche boundaries for a fee? Or is it that we men must be socially rewarded for putting our part in the “unpaid” home chores?

Gender equality. There is no answer for a problem that is not there... Equality among the sexes is more of a utopia than equality among men. I can accept the ethical argument, but for all the years I have been listening to the equality song I still have to see a rational argument for it. Nothing in our natural world has an equal to itself, but the theme has been adopted because sounds well, it doesn’t matter if it is achieved rising some up; or bringing others down... As there are women there are also men doing equal jobs with unequal pays, because they are shorter, or darker, or heavier, or uglier, or shy, or speak with an accent... We are by nature unequal. This is another case I could have included in my previous “Beware what you wish for”.

Women are not equal to men, and I am very glad that it is so... and I celebrate the difference. Now having said this, I must limit its implications. As long as women are equal before the law, to pursue happiness as they see it, and to have access to compete for the same opportunities than men—like any other man—Who cares if they cannot be Popes? For all ladies that may resent my comment, think about this: a surrogate mother can get between $35,000 to $50,000 for renting her womb; but a man gets around $100 for donating his sperm... I have not heard any complains about this inequality.

Working out of the house. Why do we need two salaries to keep what we deem a comfortable home? I will put my bet that, if we could completely ban at least half of the item listed below, there will be no need for women to go to work for a salary:
1. All TV sets except the family set
2. All cars except the one used by the husband to go to work, and another left at home for emergencies
3. Breast implants
4. Fake nails
5. Dishwashers
6. Exercise machines
7. All manufactured toys for children two years old or younger
8. the Internet
9. All IPods
10. All cell phones
11. All cruise companies
12. Disney World
13. Scanned foods
14. Cigarettes

Kinder, küche, kirche. Unless I am mistaken, all married women are entitled to half the possessions earned during married life. That is fair. Now, by staying at home, women can turn the labor market favorable to their husbands, right? And to themselves, right? The only one thing to resolve in my view, is whether the women’s share should be collected monthly, or at any other mutually agreed milestone... and that can be done between the partners without government intervention, right?

The “unpaid” home chores. We are now left with the most unpleasant tasks for the majority of men: the home chores, and I think that this is the only “real” problem. Well, this may be only an apparent problem, since we have already determined that one half of the husband’s paycheck belongs to the wife for precisely that task.

In conclusion, if I were a woman and my better half were Teo as I know him, I would decide without hesitation to leave things as they are.

Teo

Godisgood said...

I love the liberty of choosing where I want to be, working at home, or working away from home. My husband and I shared a job and so we both raised our children. I think it is great that your sons are active in parenting, in every way.
Sometimes it is the woman who won't let the spouse parent or do housework. We want it done our way or no way.
Housework to me is not drudgery. I am convinced that a welcoming, orderly house and good food can change the atmosphere of my family and friends. I love to exercise my own creativity, and manage my own time. I have more freedom than many people do in their jobs.
I think in the "old days", children were part of daily life, doing chores along with and carried on backs. They weren't seen as a separate task, with the need for quality time. Children began to take my time when they left the home, and I had to find time to go to their activities. And you are right, extended families did help a lot.
Frankly, I can think of no higher calling or anything that I could or can accomplish than raising wonderful human beings. To not rise high in my career immediately was not sacrifice...to gain that which mattered more, healthy, contributing to society, sons.
What i think is unnatural is separation of work and the home, or any thought that child rearing is the responsiblity of one sex only. In the "old days", the children were also out with Dad, learning skills.
By the way, I grew up in Africa. And a lot of my nurturing was done by males. I followed every one, male and female, around learning their values and their skills. I have few memories of my parents making time to play with me. They did take time to listen to me. We were a household, a concept that is perhaps lost.
Note that i even use mom in my name! I guess that shows how important that identity is to me! Sary's mom