A Woman’s Place…

The New York Times and Fox News. Strange bedfellows when it comes to women’s issues.

Allow me to clarify, as I excuse myself for being late to this party. I’ve been busy trying to earn my keep, as I’m one of “them,” or more specifically, I have been over the past dozen years.

You know. “Them.”

Those 40% female breadwinners that Pew mentions. Or rather, the 14% of single-mother-divorced households that is revealed in a deeper dive into the data.

Now let’s get back to the Times and Fox.

Stephanie Coontz, one of my favorite journalists, serves up an excellent opinion piece on the subject of working mothers. A stickler for data – don’t forget it was she who reminded us of the tyranny of the average – Ms. Coontz consistently pumps insight into statistics on the American family.

In “The Triumph of the Working Mother,” Ms. Coontz reminds us that 50 years ago, at the time Betty Friedan wrote “The Feminine Mystique,”

A wife who pursued a career was considered a maladjusted woman who would damage her marriage and her kids.

Women as Breadwinners (Hardly News)

Further noting that women are the “sole or main breadwinner in 40 percent of households” according to a much discussed Pew study, Ms. Coontz explores the emotional, financial, and marital benefits to women working outside the home. And that includes a growing trend reflecting greater involvement from fathers.

(You will note in a moment, no doubt unsurprised, that this is the opposite view taken by Fox News.)

Ms. Coontz points out when referring to mothers:

At all income levels, stay-at-home mothers report more sadness, anger, and episodes of diagnosed depression than their employed counterparts.

Might I add that they are surely more at risk should a marriage end, a husband be laid off, or an unforeseen illness knock the household on its assets?

Sly Fox or This Dog Don’t Hunt?

Enter Fox News with Lou Dobbs, just as I was perusing the paper, courtesy of my college kid who sent me this link.

How fortunate we are that the all male panel is bemoaning precisely the same Pew research, and is so actively engaged in reminding women of our proper place, not to mention explaining our current social woes as the result of women in the workforce.

Hey Ladies! Let’s stop working for money, okay? Let’s pay more attention to Fox News political analyst Juan Williams, whose take on four out of ten households with women as primary breadwinner suggests this is the cause of

… the disintegration of marriage… men who were hard-hit by the economic recession in ways that women weren’t… something going terribly wrong in American society… hurting our children…

And let’s toss some abortion stats into that mix, shall we? Because we all know that if there were no abortions we’d be better off as a society, right? More mouths to feed so the women must stay home to cook and clean, or dare I suggest more children worse off for lack of money (or infrastructure) to assist them?

Besides, didn’t we know (as Erick Erickson says) that it’s “anti-science” if we don’t believe that men in general should “dominate?” And back on point, “having moms as the primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriages.”

Effects of Unemployment and Underemployment

Over the years I’ve written of my own plummeting self-worth during periods of unemployment or underemployment. It’s a topic that “successful” adults don’t dare to discuss; we impute lack of character, poor attitude, incompetence or simply “your own fault” to those who admit to any such thing.

Better to assume that “they” will never be “us;” that we won’t be touched by layoff, we won’t be derailed by family or medical issues, we would never be so foolish as to suffer running out of contingency plans.

Shall we all join hands and give thanks for magical thinking?

With some 11.7 million reported as unemployed in May 2013, not to mention the 7.9 million “involuntary part-time workers”* – could all these individuals be at risk because they aren’t “successful?” Or as I interpret Erick Erickson at Fox News, because women don’t know their place?

Opportunity Cost, By Any Other Name?

The effects of unemployment are unsettling when short-lived and devastating when prolonged, not only for the obvious (financial) reasons, but the damage done to self-esteem, lost opportunity to contribute to the economy, not to mention other critical aspects of individual and societal ripple effects – as in our children, and of course, our health.

To blame women in the workforce or any single social dimension is not only to misrepresent the originating data, but to ignore the complexity of cultural, political, and economic issues that include massive mismanagement by our financial institutions, structural problems in our employment environments, lack of social safety net, recidivist (Neanderthal?) attitudes toward reproductive rights and family planning, moving labor offshore to the cheapest possible source, lack of visionary job-generating policy (new energy development? transportation? infrastructure?) – and more.

Yo, Fox News! That dog don’t hunt!

More Views? Good News

In his thoughts on the subject of Breadwinning Moms and misleading headlines, management professor and writer Scott Behson hits on several points made more broadly by Ms.

Coontz, namely the lack of social infrastructure to support working families – whatever their configuration.

Mr. Behson’s take includes reference to

Rigid workplaces and careers; “Work-first” and “All-in” workplace cultures; Women in dual-career couples who are reluctant to share childcare tasks and responsibilities (“maternal gatekeeping”)…

and more, which I agree with.

In addition, Mr. Behson explores the specifics of the data, including the 40% figure which has caused so much stir, noting that it is the result of

cobbling together the 11% never-married single mother households, the 14% single-mother-divorced households and the 15% of dual-parent households with female breadwinners.

Mr. Behson addresses both structural and societal issues – the need for more flexible environments and equally, attitudes. Dare I say that Erick Erickson et al might do with spending a week in the Behson dual-career household? Shall I add that I also concur that women must be willing to yield some control of domestic tasks? 

“Traditional” Rules, Single and Independent Drools?

In his blog post, Mr. Behson addresses the official employment arena, and the issues in a dual-career couple. One might read into that the presence of some safeguards inherent in the employer-employee relationship.

While I grant that’s an excellent place to begin, millions of us are single parents struggling to support ourselves and fall beyond any hope or scope of sharing childcare tasks, much less the expenditures of raising a family. Moreover, while not explicitly exempting those who are independents – contractors, freelancers (some 16 million of us, according to some sources) – we are likely beyond consideration if proposed change is restricted to those who enjoy an “employment relationship.”

Mr. Behson is not knocking the “non-traditional” family by any means; he’s addressing the realities of two people partnered as a parenting team – emotionally, financially, and logistically.

Our Claim to Shame?

I return to Ms. Coontz who resolutely compares US social policy to that of other countries, and in so doing, she doesn’t exclude those of us who carry the load on solo shoulders. Nor does she indirectly exclude those without protections that may be (temporarily) provided via employers, as she cites maternity leave, day care, and after school programs, concluding:

… while Friedan was right in her counterintuitive claim that maternal employment could be good for women and families, she failed to foresee that the United States… would by the early 21st century have fallen to last place among developed nations in supports for working families.


*Bureau of Labor Statistics / Employment Situation Summary: … persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers)… working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.