Women At Work, At Home, & At Rest — JK, At Work Again

flexibility is keyThere’s a kind of heartbreaking story in Slate about a hetero couple driven apart by differing assumptions of the importance of the wife’s career. Here’s wife Caitlin’s perspective:

I said, “I want to apply to law school,” and he said, “Absolutely not. You have no job. We have no money. You need to move home. I know you said you have career ambitions, but it’s best to focus on my career for now. I can support us. I can give us the life we want, and that’s not your responsibility.” But it wasn’t about my responsibility; my work was fulfilling to me. I got a full scholarship to law school here in Washington, so I decided to stay. He decided to stay in Richmond, and that was that. …

Nobody anticipates a second advanced degree. But I also anticipated having the freedom to make that decision if I wanted to. 

My father always encouraged me in whatever educational goals I wanted to pursue. He was one of the first in his family to go to college and the first to go to grad school. He’s a health care executive. He joked that he wanted a doctor for a kid, and I said, “I’m not getting a Ph.D., but how about a Juris Doctor?” He wanted me to rise to whatever pinnacle I could. My mother didn’t finish grad school and was a nurse for many years. She comes from a very conservative religious family, and for her it’s always been: You need to make concessions for your husband because his career is going to earn more. You need to make sacrifices if you’re going to get married. You need to focus on your children, because that’s how you’re going to be the best mom.

I know it’s Women’s History Month; is that why the Internet has recently exploded with essays and thought-pieces on Gender Trouble? Because, to point out merely two examples, there’s a fracas at the NYT about whether being a stay-at-home-mom is a “luxury” and an investigation at Fast Company into why more women go freelance. 

So why do more women freelance? It’s the sexism, stupid. (Man, that sounds mean. Did it sound that mean when Carville first said it?)

By our 30s, many women are starting families and struggling with taking time away from the office. By our forties, we’re often hitting the glass ceiling in terms of pay and promotions. By our fifties and sixties, unfortunately, we’re often being ignored altogether.

Freelancing can offer an escape from that thankless grind.

The study found women are far more likely than men (71% vs. 51%) to freelance in order to pick up extra money, underscoring the persistence of the wage gap. They were also more likely to freelance to have schedule flexibility (58% of women vs. 43% of men) and to “have independence from such things as office dynamics” (40% vs. 26%).

Moreover, unlike the traditional salaryman who derives much of his life’s meaning from the size and origin of his paycheck, women tend to be more comfortable maintaining diverse work and personal identities. And they recognize that the old way of doing this is over and gone—and that old way was never designed to work for most women to begin with.

This is according to Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancer’s Union, which maybe explains why it reads a bit like agitprop. Having been freelancing for over a year, I can say that it is no escape at all from a “thankless grind,” but I do appreciate getting to wear my bathrobe until mid-morning. (10:41 and counting!)

Meanwhile, at the Timesone SAHM bristles anytime someone describes what she’s doing as a “luxury,” and that’s a lot of bristling, because she can get that eight times in one week.

“Luxury” is a loaded word. Yes, it is absolutely true that my husband and I are lucky that he has been able to secure and keep a job that can pay for us all to live. I am aware that there are many families who require a dual income to successfully sustain their children’s basic needs. Raising children is expensive and on the rise and, for many families, the financial equation is hard.

So in some ways, yes, we are lucky that I can stay home. But a luxury is a nonessential item. An indulgence. What I do is essential, and certainly not self-indulgent.

I mean, I get it, but I’d argue that what she does is not essential by virtue of the fact that so many people get along without it. Water is essential, but while peanut butter is a delicious source of fat and protein and makes many things better, it can’t be essential if so many sadly allergic people must trudge along eating nothing but jam. That doesn’t mean it’s an indulgence either, though. We don’t live in a Manichean universe where everything is either light or dark, good or evil. Some things — like getting to stay home with your kids, if you want to — are peanut butter.

Like seventeen people in the comments section go on to school the author that the ACTION of being an at-home mom isn’t a luxury, but the CHOICE to be one it is, and that rather sums it up.

Back to the initial Slate piece for the last word, and I’ll put it in scare-italics, for extra emphasis: “we just assumed the other was on the same page. I assumed he would support me in fulfilling my career to the fullest, and he assumed I would have a career, but it would always take a back seat to my family.”  Well, you know what happens when you assume: you make a divorce out of You and Me.

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