My daddy always said . . .

that with some things, you could either laugh or cry, so you might as well laugh.

I’m trying, Daddy.

I don’t know which one of them I’m more annoyed at. Mr. Girls-Who-Work-Will-Leave-You-And-Not-Clean-Your-House, or Ms. Nuh-nuh-I-lurv-my-husband-and-that’s-an-adequate-refutation.

Let’s start with both of them, for treating all women who fit their definition of “career” – have had at least university-level education, work more than 35 hours a week, and earn more than $30,000 a year – like they have the same level of income and the same responses to it. Like there’s not a huge difference between the way $300,000 a year influences your decisions and the way $30,000 a year influences them.

And special hate is reserved for this statement, from Ms. Elizabeth Corcoran: “There is, of course, the continual dilemma of who does the work around the house. But if both spouses are working, guess what? They’ve got enough income to hire someone else to fold laundry, mop floors, etc.”

You’ve got to be shitting me, right? If they both just fit the definition, then they both earn about $60,000 a year. That’s enough to hire cleaning staff? In too many parts of this country, that’s not enough to have a house to clean!

I’m not sure if I’m madder about that, or about the way her response is basically, “Well, my marriage is fine, and I’m a career woman, so clearly you’re wrong.” Is it wrong of me to expect better journalism? More thoughtfulness? Less navel-gazing?

No, wait, I’m madder about the ignorant elitism. Especially because the only way to afford house-cleaning services on salaries of $60,000 a year – if you can even afford it on this – is to pay illegal immigrants less than minimum wage to do it.

Then let’s look at this set of gems, from the original article by Mr. Michael Noer.

“If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research). “

Look, those statistics (if true) are important. It’s important to know that, basically, life is this difficult to live, even when you’re making money. But Mr. Noer is not treating this as a question of why these statistics are true, why it’s so damaging to a marriage for a woman to work, when it’s so frequently necessary or at least seriously beneficial. I have to assume that a portion of Forbes’s readership is female, and that those particular females are “career women.” Considering that, shouldn’t this article be aimed, at least in part, at them? Shouldn’t it be, “How can we make career and family more harmonious for everyone?” or “How can we adjust our expectations of marriage to include both partners working, which is likely a trend that will last?” rather than, “Hey, fellas, never make a working woman your wife.”

The “whys” of these statistics are important. Why will career women be unhappy if they quit their jobs to stay home with their kids? Could it be that the household now has less money? Could it be because they went through the trouble of educating themselves and getting themselves good jobs and priding themselves on the work they were doing, and now they don’t do it anymore? Could it be because we live in a society which will not provide easy or affordable ways to raise children without someone – usually the mother – quitting work, but will look down on women who do anyway? (Oh, excuse me, I forgot. Anyone making $30,000 a year has no money worries and could easily afford the services of day care or a nanny to take care of the children.) Could it be because their own husbands don’t appreciate the work they do at home and look down on them for just sitting around the house all day? Could it be because they feel trapped, choiceless about their current situations?

Why will they be unhappy if they make more money than you do? Why will you? Because we still expect men to be breadwinners? Isn’t that unfair? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Feminism is a two-way street. The sexism we fight is a sexism that hurts everyone. If you stop expecting women to not have “careers” and to take care of your home and your children exclusively, we’ll stop expecting you to earn all the money.

Your house will be dirtier? So clean it, you schmuck! I think he’s right that marriages frequently work best when labor is specialized. But the lines of division don’t work really well anymore. Even if a couple was able to support only one partner working, a) it doesn’t have to be the husband, and b) housework is a really heavy load. The working partner should still take care of some of it. And most couples in this country simply can’t operate like that. A single income cannot support a family. So, assuming that the “market” labor will have to be done by two people, the “non-market” labor will have to be done by two people (or more – either help, if you can afford it, or children, if they’re old enough). So husbands may have to clean something occasionally for the house not to be “dirtier.”

I know what my husband would say to that. He’d get very mad. He’d point out that he does do most of the cleaning in our house, so how can I talk as if men as a general category, as if they all violently oppose cleaning?

I guess I’d have to respond, because this guy does. And because, if the statistic about dirt is true, clearly most guys in this country do violently oppose cleaning, since the mere fact of a woman working is enough to make houses statistically dirtier. (I would really prefer to not know how that study was conducted, by the way.)

I have no explanation for the falling ill thing. I guess it’s possible that if both partners work, then that’s germs from two different workplaces entering the house, so you will fall ill more easily. But if you have young children, workplaces are the least of your worries.

What about this? “Women’s work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in men’s work hours often have no statistical effect. “I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed,” Johnson says.” Well, duh. When one spouse isn’t employed, there’s a very good reason for staying married, right? That’s the problem with dividing household labor by “market” and “non-market” activity. The “non-market” partner has to stay with the “market” partner or risk debilitating poverty. It’s always important to keep in mind that “not divorced” and “happily married” are not the same thing.

This kind of thing shows up all the time in arguments about women working, and I wonder if the men writing it even notice the insecurity they’re displaying. The thinking seems to be, “There is nothing attractive about me except my wallet. If women can fill their own wallets, they’ll leave me.” This shows up in a lot of conservative, wealthy, white guy arguments, otherwise notable in the anti-same-sex-marriage movement, whose argument seems to be, “If we give women a choice between us and other women, they’ll leave us.” It’s really frightening. And, knowingly or not, Mr. Noer drives that point home by arguing that women at work can meet co-workers, for whom they’ll probably leave their husbands. It’s so sad. It almost makes me want to give Mr. Noer and his ilk a hug. Then I remember the probably-deeply-steeped-in-reality trope of men leaving their same-age wives for much younger secretaries and I stop feeling bad.

Actually, this reminds me of something in the anti-gay movement, too. Have you ever talked to a guy who absolutely shudders at the mere thought of exposure to a gay man, because he’s so desparately afraid that this man might, well, hit on him? I’ve always laughed at the arrogance of it, and also at Jerry Seinfeld’s bit about how easily men are sold things, but it occured to me not too long ago that these men are the kinds of men girls meet at bars and parties all the time, who grab at them, leer at them, come on to them very aggressively and won’t let up, get sexually inappropriate at the merest provocation, and then, when rejected, get hostile, even violent. And it occurs to me that what they’re really concerned about is gay guys treating them exactly the way they themselves treat women. And that’s what’s occuring to me here. Afraid that if your wife works, she’ll leave you for a handsome co-worker? Then you’re probably the kind of guy who’d leave your wife for a cute secretary. Karma, she’s a bitch.

I’m going to end this post before it gets too alarmingly random.


One thought on “My daddy always said . . .

  1. Barbara says:

    Interesting article and interesting blog, as usual. About the falling ill thing, if both parents are working the child is most likely in a child care arrangement that covers multiple children (think “The Pampered Tot”) where lots of germs meet and do lunch. These germs move around and end up at new homes. It’s not just or perhaps even primarily the workplace germs, but rather the childplace germs which run amok. When adults get kid illnesses, they REALLY get them!I just lost a close friend to a rare disease called MSA – Multiple System Atrophy. She was an eminent Russian historian, and one of my fondest memories of her ties into this blog. We had been invited to a pot-luck dinner by the student Women’s Caucus. It occurred on a day when we both had classes to teach — this was during the early part of her career, and later in the early part of mine — say the mid-seventies. Well, who had time to cook?! So we did what faculty women everyone would have done – or so we thought —- we went to the Faculty Club and picked up two covered dishes! The students thought we were superwomen. We found that between the Faculty Club and local take-out, we could pot-luck very well, thank you….. Of course, if we had had wives, that would not have been necessary…..

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