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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My radical married feminist manifesto

posted by bitchphd
Great piece: America's Stay-at-Home Feminists.

Feminists could not say, "Housekeeping and child-rearing in the nuclear family is not interesting and not socially validated. Justice requires that it not be assigned to women on the basis of their gender and at the sacrifice of their access to money, power, and honor."
The family -- with its repetitious, socially invisible, physical tasks -- is a necessary part of life, but it allows fewer opportunities for full human flourishing than public spheres like the market or the government. This less-flourishing sphere is not the natural or moral responsibility only of women. Therefore, assigning it to women is unjust. Women assigning it to themselves is equally unjust. To paraphrase, as Mark Twain said, "A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read."
Women who want to have sex and children with men as well as good work in interesting jobs where they may occasionally wield real social power need guidance, and they need it early. Step one is simply to begin talking about flourishing. In so doing, feminism will be returning to its early, judgmental roots.
There are three rules: Prepare yourself to qualify for good work, treat work seriously, and don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources when you marry.

I disagree with this, though:
It is possible that marrying a liberal might be the better course. After all, conservatives justified the unequal family in two modes: "God ordained it" and "biology is destiny." Most men (and most women), including the liberals, think women are responsible for the home. But at least the liberal men should feel squeamish about it.
In my observation and experience, yeah, sure: liberal men will "feel squeamish" about sexism. But--and I say this as the currently money-earning half of a marriage with a stay-at-home partner--a person with a demanding job and the social/economic power that goes along with being the breadwinner, even if that person is a woman and a feminist, is not going to spend a lot of time "feeling squeamish" about unequal work on the home front. Partly this is because professional jobs take up a lot of mental energy; you're thinking too much about the job to be thinking about who's doing the laundry, especially if the laundry is getting done without your thinking about it. Partly this is because domestic work is a pain in the butt: no one who doesn't have to do it is going to spend a lot of time thinking about it. And partly it's because the nature of domestic labor (like most labor) is that if it's done well, it looks effortless and therefore becomes invisible. Only if it's done badly does it get noticed, and then the response is likely to be irritation rather than squeamishness.

In fact, I believe that this is the single most irretrievably gendered division-of-labor issue for couples who want to be, or think they are, equals: the person whose job it is to monitor that equality is the person who has the least power. And in most cases, that's the woman. That's why "don't put yourself in a position of unequal resources" is absolutely crucial advice: if you're going to have to monitor your marriage to make sure that it's an equal partnership, then that is in and of itself part of the labor of the relationship. That "counts," and having to do that "extra" work will be a lot more palatable, and possible, if you ensure from the outset that all other aspects of your marriage distribute resources equally. Otherwise you're stacking the deck against yourself, and at some point, yes: it is going to be "easier" to "choose" not to pursue a demanding career and have children and keep a clean house and play the referee in your own marriage. To begin with, don't, for god's sake, change your name when you marry. What are the arguments for changing your name? "It's easier?" "It will make us more a family?" "It will be better for the children?" Do you not realize that already, even before your marriage begins, you are conceding that making things "easy," making the two of you "a family," worrying about "the children" is your job, not his? If having the same last name makes such a big difference to the two of you, let him change his damn name.

Set up your finances from the outset so that you have separate bank accounts; set up your investments so that you make equal contributions to separate retirement accounts--and if you don't have enough money to maximize your investments in both accounts, then prioritze the woman's account over the guy's, because statistically speaking he is likely to make more money, to earn more over his lifetime, and to die sooner. If, god forbid, you divorce, he is likely to do better out of it than you are, so insure yourself against that possibility. This isn't cynical, and it isn't "anticipating divorce"; it's simply saying, make sure things are fair in your relationship. Given that society at large will pay him more, balance that by making sure that in your own house, you are paid more.

In other words, as Hirshman's piece argues,
Bad deals come in two forms: economics and home economics. The economic temptation is to assign the cost of child care to the woman's income. If a woman making $50,000 per year whose husband makes $100,000 decides to have a baby, and the cost of a full-time nanny is $30,000, the couple reason that, after paying 40 percent in taxes, she makes $30,000, just enough to pay the nanny. So she might as well stay home. This totally ignores that both adults are in the enterprise together and the demonstrable future loss of income, power, and security for the woman who quits. Instead, calculate that all parents make a total of $150,000 and take home $90,000. After paying a full-time nanny, they have $60,000 left to live on.
DO NOT make the mistake of agreeing that "his" money is what comes from his paychecks, and "her" money is what comes on hers; and definitely do not make that mistake and then compound it by expecting both partners to contribute the same amount to expenses like rent, mortgage, or groceries. Pool your combined income, deduct all expenses, and then split what's leftover equally.

And on this matter of housework, the "domestic glass ceiling": the best marital advice I have to give is be willing to be a bitch about housework. And do it as early as possible. Is your man going to divorce you if you insist he does his fair share? Then find out quick, before you have kids and it just gets worse. But probably he won't divorce you for insisting he do housework. So, insist. Don't fuck around with "housework strikes"--it'll drive you crazy before it does him, probably, and you'll cave. Don't get stuck in arguments about "who cares more" or "who just happens to be tidier" or "I just don't notice the mess, honey" or "I'll do whatever you ask me to"--all of which are excuses that mean "I don't think it's my responsibility to do housework, so of course I care less/don't bother/don't notice/will "help" if you think for me and tell me what to do." My advice is, go ahead and do what needs to be done. But let him know what you are doing every goddamn step of the way, and let him know that it pisses you off. "I've just gotten home from work, it's nice to see you're home earlier than I am. Before I take off my coat, I'll put your shoes away for you, shall I? Oh, and I'll pick up your coat from the floor and hang it up. Okay, now I can take off my own coat and hang it up right away, instead of dropping it on the floor for someone else to pick up later. I see there's no dinner started, I'll just get on that shall I? First, though, I'll clear the mail off the dining room table where you seem to have dropped it when you walked in the door. I'll file it over here where it belongs. Ok, now I'm going to go into the kitchen to get a sponge to wipe off the table, which I see hasn't been wiped since breakfast--I guess you didn't have a chance to do that yet, since you had to sit down and read the paper first, right? Wow, now that I'm in the kitchen, I see that before I can start dinner I have to load the dishwasher, but before I can do that I have to unload it...."

If you do that for a week or so, both of you will start to notice how much work is being done, and how unfair the distribution is. And both of you will have to make a decision. You will have to decide if doing this much extra work, every day for the rest of your life, is something you're willing to do to keep the marriage going. And he will have to decide if he is willing to listen to you bitch at him about it for the rest of his life, or if it would be easier to get up off his ass and do his fair share, or if he is so unwilling to get up off his ass that he would rather divorce you than be forced to notice how unfair he's being. That's the bottom line, and I recommend figuring out where it is sooner rather than later, and deciding whether or not you can live with it.

And finally, Hirshman asks:
We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated, even by people who never get their weddings in the Times. This last is called the "regime effect," and it means that even if women don't quit their jobs for their families, they think they should and feel guilty about not doing it. That regime effect created the mystique around The Feminine Mystique, too.

As for society, elites supply the labor for the decision-making classes -- the senators, the newspaper editors, the research scientists, the entrepreneurs, the policy-makers, and the policy wonks. If the ruling class is overwhelmingly male, the rulers will make mistakes that benefit males, whether from ignorance or from indifference.

Amen, and hallelujah. With privilege comes responsibility.

Now, having said all that--and the preceeding was all written rather quickly several days ago--I have also been thinking since of my own career angst and the ways that all of this is, in the end, easier said than done. It's really very difficult not to internalize the fear of pursuing power and status and convince oneself that one wants neither, and it's also very difficult not to internalize the fucked-up priorities of a fucked-up society and convince oneself that power and status are more important than a balanced life. This latter is probably part of the problem with analyses like Hirshman's that focus primarily on the feminist problems of a privileged class, even though it's also probably true that the privileged class probably feels the crunch between "power and status" and "contentment" most acutely. And I think these issues are particularly pressing for women at this particular time because, as a group, we're in transition still, and as a society I think we're butting our heads up against the reality that "the workplace" as we've long conceived it is, frankly, incompatible with family life in many ways--a truth we didn't have to face as long as women were taking care of the family stuff outside of the workplace. And to be honest, I cannot bring myself to condemn individuals for making whatever compromises they need to make with current reality, even though I also fear that I can't bring myself *not* to condemn myself for making compromises, or for refusing to.

But yes, I think this idea that the glass ceiling is now at home is a really vital one, and worth thinking through. I'm interested in hearing what y'all have to say on it.
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