Work-It

Moms of all stripes are up in arms, as usual, this week thanks to a feature article in the Atlantic (and responses to it) trying to tackle the latest chapter in the war-on-moms-slash-work-life-balance-myth.

The latest can of gas being thrown on the fire being the assertion that it’s anti-feminist to be a Stay-at-Home-Mom. The rant in that article has been about as successful in gaining support for working moms as Critical Mass is at gaining the support for cycling (catching more flies with honey, etc.), but at it’s core, I don’t disagree with the statement.

There is a renewed glorification of domestic-excellence-as-job among the upper-class. And it’s providing ammunition for the war on women.

The increased focus on homemaking by wealthy or well-off women is, on the surface, a natural swing of the pendulum. The feminism of the 80’s and 90’s was all about women achieving economic equality at the expense of a balanced family life. A woman could now opt to have a powerful career, but it was at the expense of having a family. Or if she did have a family, she best keep it so far in the background to her work life, you would struggle to know it existed if you only knew her professionally.

On the surface it seems that the trend to embrace homemaking is a boon for feminism. Educated, powerful, successful women are choosing to attend university in record numbers, charging into male-dominated fields, proving they are good enough and smart enough. And now, these women we once expected to lead the charge into corporate life are making the choice to stay home. To embrace domesticity and revel in giving motherhood and their children undivided attention. To purposefully, consciously, independently assert their femininity by diving headfirst into the job of motherhood.

Great.

Now for how many women is that actually a choice? How many women would rather be working, but can’t afford childcare? Would like to give an employer their all for three, rather than five, days a week, except part-time work isn’t an option. How many women would rather be at home with their children, but must go earn a living outside the house for the financial sake of her family?

We do each and every one of these women who DON’T get to make the choice about whether to be a working mother or not an immense disservice every time we talk about motherhood as a job.

In her cover piece for the Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter makes an interesting comparison between mothering and training for a marathon. An employee who spends a hefty amount of his or her time outside work training for a marathon may be seen as a great planner, dedicated, focused. Another employee who also gets up routinely at 4:00am and develops plans, routines and strategies to take care of family maintenance isn’t likely to be met with the same enthusiasm.

Along similar lines, a woman who prepares for a sabbatical year traveling, exploring, learning is seen as a forward-thinker, someone who will return bringing new ideas, perspectives, renewed energy back to her job. One who may go through the same preparation in order to take a year off from the workforce to focus on her family is often seen by the world of work as a slacker, opting out, wasting her time.

Could part of the problem be the insistence to call motherhood a job, when we know it isn’t?

An employee who has another job is often seen as one who isn’t really committed to their employer, who may have one foot out the door. A potential liability.

Conversely, an employee who has projects, passions, commitments outside work is seen as someone who is tenacious and well-rounded. A real asset.

When we insist on calling stay-at-home parenthood a “job” what we’re really doing is encouraging a system where, when a mother demands a job that fits in with her family life, society can respond with “why? you already have one.” When we fall prey to those stupid “what’s a housewife worth” surveys, trying to put economic value on homemaking when we know nobody earns money to do these things for their own family, we reinforce the notion that work done for one’s own family is worthless.

At its core, creating and nurturing future humans is nothing more than life. Literally, it’s the continuation of the species. And it takes work. Important, challenging, exhausting and rewarding work. But I wish we could all stop doing women everyone such a huge disservice by lying to ourselves and each other by calling it a Job.

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