Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Women's Choices?

For several years, I've read articles and book reviews about women choosing to leave paid work and stay home with the kids. What always entered my mind while reading was the question of whether or not this was actually a choice. Some feminists rejoiced at the new freedom women had to choose between equally valuable work outside the home and work in the home. Some feminists scowled at the idea that unpaid work at home was anything like equal to paid work. Some even castigated women who stayed home as anti-feminist.

Some of the truth comes out now:

Judith Warner writesthis article for the NYT, in which she elaborates on a new Congressional report that shows that the choice was actually NOT a choice for many, if not most women.

I had more than one reason for deciding to stay home after my kids were born.

One of the reasons was the fact that I would have to have made more money than I realistically could in order for my wages to even cover gas, car maintenance, and daycare for three kids. The chances of my earning that much were slim to none. In addition, I had to add the cost of bringing home little to no money (see above), meaning that I would be working just for the satisfaction of working, to the fact that my kids would be spending more time with day care workers and/or school teachers than they would spend with me or Nigel. Plus, while they were home with me, after work, presumably, I would be spending the majority of my time keeping up with laundry, cleaning, cooking, and all the other things that have to be done. Nigel is good with these things, too, so I wouldn't be doing it alone, but the fact remains that neither of us would be spending much time at all with our offspring. And we do like spending time with our offspring. Most of the time.

A second reason I decided to stay home is that I have only one time in my entire life had a job I enjoyed. I really don't care if I never work outside the home again. Too misanthropic, I think.

Still, my first reason is the key. I sometimes think of staying home as my choice, but is it really? No. Really, even from my privileged point of view, it is doing the only thing that makes sense, considering that either way, I bring home $0.00. If I'm going to bring home ZERO, I'd rather be caring for my own kids, thank you very much.

I count myself one of the extremely lucky ones and I try to recognize my privileged status. My privilege is that Nigel's salary enables me to stay home instead of forcing us to move closer to our families so that we could prevail on the Grandma's for cheap child care so that I could work for pay in order for us to afford to live.

I think of the majority of women, those less privileged than I am, and my brain hurts thinking about how in the world they do what they do, when their "choices" are even more false and constrained than mine. Often the "choice" provides sub-standard day care, no health insurance at all, public transportation, multiple jobs, sub-standard housing, poor nutrition, and kids who never get to see mom or dad at all.

These are some of the issues politicians need to look at when they talk to women and try to get our votes. Men AND women need good and affordable day care. Men AND women need good and affordable health care. Men AND women need paid time off for family. Men AND women need safe and affordable housing. Men AND women need nutritious foods. Men AND women need safe, affordable, and dependable public transportation. Why is the focus never on these basics?

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