Guess who has Jury Duty? That’s right, I’m juror #2 today, on what is supposed to be a very quick trial, so hopefully I’ll be back to “real life” tomorrow.
Yesterday morning was spent in the “Jury Room”, where you go to sign in and wait to see if you’ll be called to meet with the judge and lawyers. (I’ve never gotten farther than this room before, so I’m kind of excited to be on an actual jury today!). The Jury Room is a good place to catch up on your newspaper reading, try to think of interesting ‘interview questions’ for fellow bloggers (I’m working on it…), and catch up with Madame Bovary. So there I was, hanging with Emma, and I overheard a conversation between two women. Two middle class, stay at home moms, talking home improvements and real estate. From the difference between the price of 53 acres in upstate New York and here, the conversation drifted to stay-at-home-mommying. One of the women talked about how she always intended to go back to work when her kids got to a certain age, about how she loved her job, but the realities of having children made it impossible. “Homework, getting dinner on the table, after school activities” – she couldn’t see doing all of this while having a job that took her away from the home.
This reminded me of an article in The New Yorker, The Wives of Others, which is a book review of The Feminine Mistake, by Leslie Bennetts. Do you remember the New York Times article in the autumn of 2005, where the Ivy League women claimed that they didn’t want to try to ‘have it all’ like their boomer mothers had, and were looking for husbands to support them? Well, Ms. Bennetts is horrified, though not for the same reason that Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique. Friedan wrote that “If women do not put forth, finally, that effort to become all that they have it in them to become, they will forfeit their own humanity.” Ms. Bennetts isn’t so much worried about the humanity of women as the financial well being of women. Where will women be, she argues, should they remove themselves from the workforce for 5, 10, 15 years to raise children, and then suffer from a divorce or the death of their spouse. She argues (according to the New Yorker article, I haven’t read the book) that women need to be able to support themselves, should their support system fail.
This hit home to me, because when my Grandfather died, my then 27-year old Grandmother was left with two young children to support, and only a High School education and a glass ceiling so low you had to crawl on hands and knees. She had to put my mother in a convent, and my uncle in foster care, so that she could work (child care clearly wasn’t what it is today). She only got her children back when she remarried, and again had a man to support the family.
From this, you might assume that I agree with Ms. Bennetts that to remove one’s self from the work force is placing one’s family at risk. And truth be told, it is. And yet…and yet, as the New Yorker article stresses, these moms that Bennetts interviewed are not unhappy, depressed women who are being stifled and forced to stay home because of their gender. These are women who are choosing to stay home, in greater and greater numbers, because they find it more fulfilling than the jobs they held, and because they prefer to stay home with their children rather than to pay someone else to do it. And they are generally educated women, who have a much better chance of getting a decent job than my grandmother did in the late 40s. Perhaps not as good of a job as they would have had if they stayed in the workplace, but still, decent enough to pay the bills.
Which brings my wandering mind to another issue…the issue of money. If it’s stifling and unfulfilling to be at home with your child, and you will perhaps lose your humanity by doing so, why is it more fulfilling for your nanny? Or do we not care about her humanity? And also, what of the families who cannot afford to live off of one income? These articles talk as though feminism is carried on the backs of these women with a choice, when actually, it is a burden and a glory carried equally by us all. By the female CEOs, the lawyers and doctors, the computer techs and grocery clerks, the teachers and nannys, the stay at home moms…hell, even the rarest of all, the stay at home wife, who has no children at all. We are all the face of feminism, we are all of us women. We should all be in this together.
And yet, when I overheard those two women say that they had intended to go back to work, but it was impossible for them, I’ll admit, I bristled. Because it’s not impossible. It’s a choice. I do it. Women do it every day. Some because they love their jobs and would not feel fulfilled at home. Some because they need the money. Some for a combination of reasons. These women have chosen to help the kids with the homework, drive them to sports practice and club meetings, cook all of the meals, and clean the house. I do not mean to discount that choice, because it is a valuable one. But it’s not impossible. People do it every day, and it doesn’t have to even be hard. The rest of the family has to chip in more, the kids might not have to do as many activities, might have to take on a share of the housework, as would the husband, but honestly, I suspect that a household where everyone contributes is a happier one anyway. It’s possible.
OK, enough rambling. Time to get ready for jury duty…