September
20th 2009
Schadenfreudelicious! Bennetts sticks it to the NYT

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, women's history

bennettsfemmistake1Oh, you know how I love to say I told you so–I love it so much that I love it when someone else whose work I admire can say it too!  And Leslie Bennetts told us all so, in her book The Feminine Mistake, in which she argued against the whole concept of “opting out” for reasons of economic security, as well as for the fact that one’s years of having young children in the house are fleeting, and the years of the empty-nesters are a lot longer (one hopes, in any case.)  Bennetts’s book was mentioned here briefly in passing last year and I highly recommended it to one and all.

Well, this weekend Bennetts is absolutely delighted that the New York Times has finally acknowledged the downside to quitting a good job and putting all of one’s eggs in one partner’s basket.  She writes:

In this case, however, the paper of record bears an unusual responsibility for setting the record straight—something it has taken an extraordinarily long time to do. Six years ago The Times published a Sunday magazine cover story that discovered what it deemed a happy new trend among affluent women and coined a catchy phrase—the Opt-Out Revolution—to describe the cushy lives of women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. In what seemed an astonishing oversight, nowhere in that 2003 cover story did The Times investigate the economic challenges that the privileged Princeton graduates it portrayed might face should they ever lose their husbands—or their husbands lose their incomes.

Since then, of course, boom has turned to bust and a global financial cataclysm has claimed the jobs of millions of men. . . . but even now The Times seems loath to acknowledge the levels of suffering and hardship that prevail throughout the country. Not until two-thirds of the way through Saturday’s story does the reporter quote a lawyer whose ten-month search failed to produce a single job offer. “This has been the most humbling experience,” said the woman, who finally became an unpaid intern at a law firm. Even later in the story, The Times relegates the stunning financial penalties suffered by women who opted out to a parenthetical aside: “(Studies have found that for every two years a woman is out of the labor force, her earnings fall by 10 percent, a penalty that lasts throughout her career.)”

Yikes!  How’s that for an early pre-Halloween fright?  Bennetts takes no joy in the miseries of these poor women who gave it all up for the patriarchy and who got the gate in return–rather, she trains her guns on The Times itself, which could have sounded the alarm about the risks of “opting-out.”  (Then again, one of The Times’s own bigshot business reporters had a house foreclosed on–so I suppose looking to them to be responsible adults is probably a big mistake!)  Anyhoo–Bennetts continues: 

Having spent a significant chunk of my own life interviewing such women, I found The Times’ belated acknowledgment of their problems to be bittersweet. Two years ago, I published The Feminine Mistake, which documented the financial risks of dropping out of the work force and also criticized the mainstream media for neglecting the well-documented but catastrophically under-reported economic aspects of the opting-out trend.

The Times—whose Sunday book review section is notorious for its hostility toward serious books by and about women—assigned its review of The Feminine Mistake not to a recognized expert in any of the fields it dealt with, but rather to a stay-at-home mother who trashed it. Her verdict was not shared by The Washington Post, which featured The Feminine Mistake on the cover of its book review section and named as one of the best books of 2007. But The Times was not content with a critical pan; it also ran a major story a few days after The Feminine Mistake was published, saying that it wouldn’t sell and dismissing the book, rather prematurely, as a flop. The story neglected to mention that The Feminine Mistake, which became a national best-seller, was on The Times’ own extended best-seller list at that very moment; the paper refused to run a subsequent correction.

Just go read the whole thing.  The New York Times is oddly and deeply invested in foisting conservative sex/gender roles on the rest of us.  I’ve mentioned here before E. J. Graff’s brilliant article in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The Opt-Out Myth,” in which she reports on research by Joan C. Williams about how The New York Times has been running “opt-out” stories for the last half-century.  (One of the greatest antifeminist “Groundhog Day” stories of all time!)  Bennetts concludes her article with even more hair-raising tales of once high-earning women desperately trying just to survive with some kind of dignity:

Since The Feminine Mistake came out, I have followed the lives of many of the women I wrote about, and their stories haunt me. . . . Most of the women who looked for work couldn’t find it, and those who did were shocked at how little they could earn. One high-powered woman had opted out of her career for a short time but started trying to get back in when her husband left her for a younger woman. Despite years of effort, she has never succeeded. She finally found a teaching job that pays one-eighth of what she was earning twenty years ago. Her ex-husband has long failed to pay the child support he owes her, a six-figure sum she is now trying to chase down with expensive legal help. She has a lot of company; nearly 70 percent of child support cases in this country have arrears owed to the custodial parents, who are overwhelmingly female—one of several reasons why men’s standard of living rises after divorce while that of women and children typically plummets.

Memento poverty, my friends.  Now, why doesn’t The New York Times report more on those fun facts and figures?  Something to do with the old prejudice for the man-bites-dog over the dog-bites-man story, perhaps?  That’s what all of that “opt-out” crap seemed like to me–about as realistic for most women as all of those Fendi bags and Tiffanys jewelry that are advertised each Sunday in the NYT.  (A girl can dream, can’t she?)  “Wife and Mother Schleps to Work, Returns Home Each Day” just doesn’t hold the same fascination as “Successful Woman Throws in the Towel at Work to Wipe Noses At Home,” does it?

35 Comments »

35 Responses to “Schadenfreudelicious! Bennetts sticks it to the NYT”

  1. Laura on 20 Sep 2009 at 7:55 am #

    I’m about halfway through Bennetts book and I also recently read Opting Out by Pamela Stone, a more thorough study of women who choose to leave the workforce. A few things struck me about the women investigated in both of these books. First, these women aren’t ordinary women. They are highly educated and end up in the executive suite. They do not have run of the mill jobs and neither do their husbands. In like attracts like fashion, they all married husbands who have 70 hr./week jobs just like they do. When the kids come along, the reality is both need to cut back even with hired help, but the husband just doesn’t. Is it buying into the patriarchy if you’re forced into it? The other thing that Stone mentions that Bennetts doesn’t is how the workplace is completely inflexible to these women (and men). Both stand to lose income or lose their jobs if they ask for accommodations. The women in Stone’s book tried to keep working in all but one case. Their requests for flexible schedules, reduced work loads or even different jobs that they knew would be fewer hours were met with resistance or, most often, flat out denied.

    I agree that the Times often paints a rosy picture of these women, as if they love what they’ve done. Stone shows us that most of them are quite anxious about it, miss their work, and wish they could have stayed in their high-powered jobs. Stone tries her best not to blame the husbands, but that’s where I place the blame. In most cases, they do nothing to help alleviate the household workload. And this is fairly typical, I find, the further up the income ladder one goes.

    Most women don’t have these kinds of jobs and those that quit often do so because the cost of child care exceeds their pay. I quit my job, which was a decent paying job, after spending a year and a half looking for a better one. Though I could have stayed with my job for the money, I was coming home and crying every day and meanwhile my kids, especially my oldest son, were having a hard time with school. I was lucky enough that my husband’s income could cover my being unemployed for a while. Right now, I consider myself working without pay as I write a book and build a business. Necessarily, more of my energy is going into taking care of the house and kids. My hope is this is temporary as I’ve worked my whole life, but as the work I’ve done has become more consuming, I’ve found that my mental and physical health suffered and I had to quit. I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling.

    The thing that really bugs me about these stories is that they often seem to blame the women themselves, who find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they have to get their husbands to change (and some are successful there) or the workplace to change (and most are not successful there). One woman cannot change the whole system.

  2. Historiann on 20 Sep 2009 at 8:44 am #

    Laura–you’re right that individual women can’t fight the system. I don’t think Bennetts blames women–at least, I don’t recall reading it that way. (I think she thinks that too many women are shortsighted about their own lives and careers, though.)

    Media organizations like the New York Times ignore the larger sociocultural frames to try to make it look like individual women are making these individual “choices” to leave the paid workforce–as though the structure of the workplace, the practice of heterosexuality, and our expectations of workers don’t have anything to do with coercing or forcing their hands! It’s postfeminism on a stick: look how liberated these rich, powerful women are–they’re so liberated they’re “choosing” not to have their own money!

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 20 Sep 2009 at 9:31 am #

    Another thing, germane to the current economic climate: if you have only one income earner in the family, and he loses his job, the family is screwed right now. Having a woman who doesn’t opt out… sorry, I don’t have any coffee in me, so I can’t form a coherent thesis statement right now. But you know what I mean, I think.

    A lot of women do choose to take a year or five off of work to stay home with kids. It’s not for me, but good for them. But I think this decision needs to be value-neutralized.

  4. Janice on 20 Sep 2009 at 10:00 am #

    You’re evil, Historiann, adding to my “To Read” list with such persuasiveness. I abhor the NYT’s smug attitude towards motherhood and family life because it’s so class-specific and it is so prescriptive (“smart women are opting-out and YOU should, too!”).

    I saw the article about the difficulty for women trying to return to the workforce and wondered how this could be news to anyone except the NYT? Of course it’s hard to get back into the workforce if you’re aiming anywhere above the entry-level service jobs. Even then, in this economy, that’s not as easy as it sounds. And if you’re aiming for something based upon a specific skill-set and qualifications, it can be nigh unto impossible, especially considering that these women likely remain geographically limited in jobs they can apply for.

    See, those women going back to work? They’re having to do that around maintaining their husband’s now-possibly precarious employment or his search for a new job. Which seems all that much more important considering the huge hit her earning potential has taken in her “time off” from paid labour. So if the perfect job for her comes up in Tulsa but the family’s in Charlotte, too bad. Dad could go away for a really good job opportunity, but Mom? No way.

    And children don’t raise themselves. And someone has to be home when the furnace needs servicing or there’s another appliance catastrophe. She’s fortunate if she can find a “mommy-track” job that will let her do these things. And if he’s divorced her in the meantime? Well, she’s in even worse shape, isn’t she? Because there’s the expense of separate households, the chance that support just won’t be paid, and the long-term reality of earning potentials that have been cut way, way back.

    Our society and economy are set up to recognize and reward continuous waged labour. Enterpreneurs, too, but a bit more ambiguously (as in “Yay, entrepreneurs” but “well, if you don’t make lots of money in your business, you suck”). Those who buck the norms and break up their trajectory in the labour market whether it’s for elder care, child care or other family obligations? They’d better hope they win the lottery because there’s certainly nothing out there for them beyond the rewards of their own situation.

    Thoroughly depressed, now!

  5. Comrade PhysioProf on 20 Sep 2009 at 10:00 am #

    That’s what all of that “opt-out” crap seemed like to me–about as realistic for most women as all of those Fendi bags and Tiffanys jewelry that are advertised each Sunday in the NYT.

    Yeah, the Times has made it clear for decades that it hates women. This is why they hire misogynist right-wing scumbag columnists like Ross Douchehat, and why they relegate almost all articles having anything whatsoever to do with women to the “Fashion and Style” section of the paper, even if they have nothing whatsoever to do with fashion or style.

    I blogged about the latter last summer at Feministe:

    http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/07/26/teh-laydeez-are-so-cute-when-they-try-to-blog/

  6. ej on 20 Sep 2009 at 11:03 am #

    My big objection to those articles about women leaving the workforce was that they did frame it as a choice, often made in the best interests of their children. And either implicitly, or explicitly in some cases, furthered the idea that children were best served by having their mother’s home. Which clearly implies that those of us who continue to work, either by choice or by necessity, are making bad choices. What I appreciated about Bennett’s book was her discussion about the long term implications of these women dropping out, and whether or not it was, in fact, in the best interest of their children. I do think there is one solution to everyone’s problem, and different families have to make different decisions. I respect these women’s decisions to stay home, though I agree with Bennett that they may have been short sighted, I just think they should respect mine to stay in the work force.

  7. Z on 20 Sep 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    We were raised by stay at home moms, almost all my neighborhood was, and it was destructive.

    Moms were depressed and on pills, in the worst cases; everyone learned that this was the future of girls, which was depressing and limiting; Moms believed they were in the best of all possible worlds, which was scary; et cetera.

    My mother allowed herself two sitter hours a week. My father would have paid for many more but my mother thought two hours was all that was appropriate. She loved her two hours, to go out and sit alone in a coffee shop with no kids, time for just her.

    If we had been raised with the idea that she could take more than two hours a week off from us, and if she had not been so unhappily incarcerated with us, we would all have had more fun and had better relationships, and I would not feel so guilty about not suffering now as much as she still does, and I might have dared have a family of my own (I do not because getting one seemed tantamount to suicide when I was a child).

    Stay at home motherhood is really bad for the kids in lots of cases. So are mommy tracked careers. I don’t know anyone on the mommy track and so on who is not secretly frustrated and acting out.

    I am not saying child care etc. is not a problem, and I certainly think 70 hour a week jobs are bad for families, and I don’t have a solution.

    But the idea that staying at home is good for the kids is bunk. And if I say more it will turn into a rant.

  8. Laura on 20 Sep 2009 at 1:07 pm #

    Good comments, all. I wasn’t shortsighted at all. I read The Price of Motherhood while pregnant with my first (after which I returned to work when he was 6 weeks old). I say I’m extraordinarily lucky since my husband is a tenured faculty member and there’s very little chance he’d lose his job, not zero, but so slim that I’m not at all worried for his job. Now, he could leave me. :) But right now, anyway, I have faith that he’s in this for the long haul (it’s already been 15 years).

    I agree, too with ej’s point that there’s a message–still–that kids are better off with their moms than with other care, even their dads! I got a lot of that when I returned to work 6 weeks post pregnancy. When questioned about my “choice,” I always answered that working for me was better than going on welfare.

  9. Indyanna on 20 Sep 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    I note that the New York Times Store, I mean The Times, promises to answer these complaints this fall with a pair of “NY Times Knowledge Network” webinars that can be had for something like $185 per. Viz., Nicholas Kristof leading off this coming week on _Women Hold Up Half the Sky_, followed by Gail Collins on _When Everything Changed_, which they’re promoted as being about American women’s lives in the past half century. (They’re also offering a nice wooden reproduction scaled model replica of one of Louis XIV’s vintage warships).

    The NYT Book review today kicked off the drive with a generally favorable review of Kristof’s book of the same title, co-authored with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, who “formerly worked at the New York Times.” Hmmm.

    Since when did “everything” change anywhere, anytime? I guess this is the start of the pushback on the patriarchal equilibrium front? Or a bid for a Whiggy?

  10. Bavardess on 20 Sep 2009 at 3:19 pm #

    Laura, you make some good points about the issues of childcare costs, work culture etc. I’m sure the kind of women the NYT profiles would be a tiny percentage of all the women who are coerced by a dysfunctional and deeply gendered ‘free market’ labour system (which is bad for both men and women, though it seems disproportionately bad for women) to make ‘choices’ that are the best option they have in a profoundly sick system. While exposing the long-term consequences of women’s ‘opting-out’ (I hate that term – as if looking after children 24/7 doesn’t involve any work!) is very valuable, it’s important to also acknowledge the systemic elements – including the enormous human cost of rampant, uncontrolled capitalism – that play into the ‘choices’ women make.

  11. Knitting Clio on 20 Sep 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    Just a counterexample to shake things up — I have a friend who has been a stay-at-home Dad for the past eight years, teaching guitar lessons in the evenings to make some extra money for the family. Now his wife is leaving him. I’m not sure what my point is here, just thought I’d mention that stay at home Dads get dumped too.

  12. Winifred on 20 Sep 2009 at 5:38 pm #

    Another book to add to my book list.

    My family’s decision to be a two-career family was an easy one to make. It was a joint decision, but I was frank with my partner that I though both of us needed to be furthering our careers “just in case.” However, I also consider it a moral decision. I am modeling a lifestyle for my son, it is important to me that he sees me go to my faculty job as he grows up and thinks “women and men can pursue careers and have families.” My partner does 50-60 percent of the “child rearing,” cooking, cleaning, etc., which I think is also a good model.

    When well-educated, former career women tell us “working moms” (women that choose to have children and continue with their career) about the importance of keeping children out of day care, it is apparently considered rude when I ask: what do you tell your daughter? That she can be anything she wants to be as long as she’s ready to quit right when her career is becoming established only to reenter the workforce a decade later at a depressed salary in a “second” career? What do you tell your son? That he better find a woman with brains but not too much ambition? What kind of world are you modeling for your children? Why even bother paying for a college education for your daughter?

    And, yes, the term “opt-out” is unfortunate. For a lot of families this isn’t an option, they see how good childcare costs and do the math and decide one parent needs to stay home. And for even more families, they make do with whatever childcare they can barely afford and just get by wishing that they had options.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the Bennetts, and have a request. I’ve been reading this blog for 6 months, and I’m still not sure what you mean by phrases like “the practice of heterosexuality.” Is there a tag I’m missing? Or a bunch of “greatest hits”?

  13. Winifred on 20 Sep 2009 at 5:40 pm #

    Just to be clear, I know in a scholarly way what “the practice of heterosexuality” means. It is just that you use it in ways that I find surprising at times. (For example, I’m not sure how it connects in your post above, so I’m assuming that this has been discussed here before and I’m just missing it.)

  14. Historiann on 20 Sep 2009 at 7:11 pm #

    Winifred: “the practice of heterosexuality” is a tip of the hat to other discussions we’ve had in which many of us (men and women) have observed that women still shoulder the majority of domestic labor and responsibility for children. I also use the term to signal that I get it that not all households with children are dealing with these problem–i.e. lesbian & gay families, with or without children.

    I guess I’m just a reconstructed (Judith) Butlerian, in that I think that the practice of heterosexuality has inequality embedded in it–mostly for reasons that have nothing to do with “personal choices” and everything to do with the social and cultural construction of heterosexuality and the assumptions people make about how heterosexuality works.

    (I also get a kick out of pathologizing “heterosexuality” in the way that people have historically pathologized or clinicalized “the practice of homosexuality.”) And I’m a person who practices straight marriage.

    Thanks, all, for carrying on the discussion while I was out today. On pack ride–for real! We had an early preview of that cold front that’s blowing into the Front Range up in RMNP this afternoon. Brrr.

  15. Indyanna on 20 Sep 2009 at 7:34 pm #

    Giddy’ap. Hope you brought down some winter provisions!

    I’ve been scrolling the ‘nets to see if I could find an old Martindale-Hubbell directory to try to figure out how a lawyer with experience at Milbank & Tweed could be insulted with an offer to be an “unpaid *intern*.” I mean, couldn’t they make her an “unpaid summer associate,” or something a tiny bit less degrading, and acknowledging of her actual professional experience? Some of this re-entry stuff, it should be said, can’t be all that easily (or at least entirely) disentangled from age discrimination issues, although undoubtedly gender is at a minimum a highly aggravating factor, and usually in all probability the main issue in these cases.

  16. Historiann on 20 Sep 2009 at 8:39 pm #

    Indyanna–I think you’re entirely right to bring up age discrimination. Especially in the cases Bennetts highlights in her article–it’s the over-50s who have been replaced by wife upgrade 2.0 and whose children have flown the nest who (according to Bennetts) are having the hardest time. Part of this is sex discrimination, part if it is age discrimination, but I’m sure some part of it too is the erosion of skills and contacts that must happen whenever anyone “opts-out.”

    All very discouraging.

  17. Indyanna on 20 Sep 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    Who says we live in a better time? My mother left the workforce under much more conventional or automatic circumstances when I came along a (long) generation ago.
    Then, when my erratic educational performance required expensive intervention fifteen years later, she barged back in at a much higher level. Her skill-set, it should be said, included getting what she wanted, which isn’t a category that “erodes” quite as readily as familiarity with the latest release of Word or Office!

    The Times has been quite empathetically during the Great Recession (has anybody branded or trademarked that yet?) covering the situation of displaced middle aged, white, mostly skilled men meeting in “job clubs” &c. to network and commiserate. Including another piece today.

  18. Mamie on 20 Sep 2009 at 9:10 pm #

    @Winifred: “Why even bother paying for a college education for your daughter?”

    The Times makes that clear in its reporting over the years. College–a really elite college, like the ones upper-east-side kids attend–is where women find husbands who will pay for them to opt out. At least for a while, until they want the younger models (oh, whoops, that part is never in the Times).

  19. perpetua on 21 Sep 2009 at 6:36 am #

    Thanks for the book-to-read and the great discussion. Part of the opt-out problem is also a result of the absolutely appalling “family leave” that we offer in this country. My Canadian sister in law gets a year of almost fully paid leave. While I’m not suggesting that all women should want such leave, it should exist as an option. The emotional and physical overload of going back to work with a six week old baby is too much for many women, and they decide they’d just rather stay home (that is if they can afford it). While I’m fully in favor of day care, it would not have been a good choice for my son (an easily overstimulated baby). I was lucky to have a longer leave than normal (unpaid of course!!!) that didn’t affect my job or tenure clock. It’s always been my conspiracy theory that the patriarchal equilibrium is maintained by making it as difficult as humanly possible for working mothers to stay in the workforce. Lack of family leave and lack of flexibility in work are two big reasons. That of course is tied to the perception that all women are less professional and work less “hard” than men because they (women) are “focused on their families,” which justifies failing to promote them and paying them less. (Hope that was coherent, have to rush off to class, but wanted to throw in!)

  20. Historiann on 21 Sep 2009 at 6:42 am #

    perpetua–I think your conspiracy theory is exactly on point. We have the system we have in the U.S. because there are good reasons why “we” want it this way. (At least some of us “wes”–the ones who make decisions about which kind of work the government will subsidize or underwrite, and which it won’t, for example.) I seriously think you would rip through Bennetts’ book, perpetua, and find it very heartening to think that all of your sacrifices will be for the longer-term benefit of your family, although in the moment I’m sure your life feels very overwhelming.

    Indyanna’s follow-up about his mother’s opportunities back in the (I’m guessing here) 1960s is a good reminder for us not to fall for the Whig of Illusory Progress!

    Mamie is right, too: funny how the risk of replacement by the younger model isn’t reported on as aggressively by the NYT, or anyone. I guess that’s just another “dog bites man” story!

  21. thefrogprincess on 21 Sep 2009 at 8:01 am #

    Again, I find myself echoing Z’s comments. While the way we’ve structured employment and family life in this country puts enormous pressure on women to leave their jobs or downgrade once they have children, the undercurrent is that stay-at-home mothers are automatically and without question good for children and I strongly disagree, mainly because my mother’s staying at home with me was a horrible decision for all involved. Stay-at-home mothers can be good for children, I’m sure, but they are modeling certain things that aren’t so good but that aren’t being discussed. Winifred says it well:

    When well-educated, former career women tell us “working moms” (women that choose to have children and continue with their career) about the importance of keeping children out of day care, it is apparently considered rude when I ask: what do you tell your daughter? That she can be anything she wants to be as long as she’s ready to quit right when her career is becoming established only to reenter the workforce a decade later at a depressed salary in a “second” career? What do you tell your son? That he better find a woman with brains but not too much ambition? What kind of world are you modeling for your children? Why even bother paying for a college education for your daughter?

    That’s exactly the message being passed on or even vocalized by mothers and fathers. (My own father has told me that it’d be great if at some point I didn’t have to work, despite the fact that I’m getting a PhD.) I also don’t think it’s completely great to send the message that mothers have nothing else going on in their life but their child. (Not that that’s even the case but I think that children can pick up that message when mom’s always around.)

    I leave stay-at-home dads out of this just because, while I’m skeptical about anyone leaving work to raise children exclusively, there are some positives to men taking on a bigger role in the family.

  22. perpetua on 21 Sep 2009 at 8:45 am #

    re: stay at home dads – I wonder if having more stay at home dads in the equation would change the nature of our discussion. What I mean is, if there WERE more SAHDs, and more men taking responsibility for their families/ household generally, it might result in an actual paradigm shift where women are not considered de facto primary care givers. Therefore choices would actually become choices, rather than “choices”. While I understand, and generally agree with, the arguments in favor of both partners working, some people really do love homemaking (men and women), and they consider themselves as having rich, full, dynamic lives. I remember a back-and-forth Historiann and I had about homemaking, which centered on the idea that homemakers of the 50s and 60s did a lot more than spend every second hovering over their children. My students and I discussed Xenophon’s Oeconomicus the other week and the idea that running a household was serious business in the ancient/ medieval worlds. (I’m also just a bit worried about potentially de-valuing women’s unpaid labor as not-work or not-legitimate-work.)

  23. thefrogprincess on 21 Sep 2009 at 11:21 am #

    Perpetua, I do think having more stay at home dads would change the discussion a bit for the reasons you cite. Then the conversation about staying at home becomes more about what’s best for the family in question, the personalities of the people involved, and a more equitable share of labor in and outside the home as opposed to the home being the woman’s place, outside of the specifics of the question at hand.

    And you’re right about “de-valuing women’s unpaid labor.” That’s one of my many issues with mothers staying at home; their work is completely undervalued because it’s their “natural” duty, despite the fact that you could probably spend close to $100,000 having the same jobs done by other people. Historiann, was it you who wrote a post about a school board that wouldn’t allow a stay-at-home mother to keep her daughter at home on Take Your Daughter to Work Day, for fear the child would just sit around all day? Once again, women are encouraged to stay at home with their children b/c it’s best for the children (even if it’s not necessarily best for the women or their families) but then their work is ignored.

  24. Indyanna on 21 Sep 2009 at 11:27 am #

    Oh, yeah, and when my mother re-entered the paid workforce, she flat-out announced that things were going to be a bit less orderly and neat around the old domicile, because she had no intention of double-shifting (probably not the word she used), and from the looks of the rest of the staff, the “picked-up” standard was probably going to slack off a bit, as indeed it did. It was not a bad lesson to have learned.

    Yeah, it was the ’60s!

  25. Kathleen Lowrey on 21 Sep 2009 at 11:43 am #

    My mom is a case where it all worked the way it is supposed to — got married, stayed married, raised kids at home (which was, honestly, great for us kids) — but there is still a price. She is so, so smart and when she went back to work once we were in our early teens she never got jobs that were equal to her mind: being out of the workforce plus age discrimination meant she mostly did secretarial work and wasn’t promoted out of it. Also in the best-case scenario, life is *long*: there are 30 good years to go, easily, when your kids turn 21! It would be nice to spend them in intellectually rewarding work. Obviously, these are the “hard choices” only faced by highly-educated prosperous people, but since those are the people outlets like the NYTimes cover minutely it would indeed be nice to see them at least address how things look when you are 60 something rather than 30 something even in the cases where “opting out” goes 100% according to plan.

  26. Historiann on 21 Sep 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    thefrogprincess–that wasn’t my post, but it sounds like an interesting problem!

    Kathleen, what was the name of the woman who wrote a smug book in the 1970s about how she supported and enjoyed traditional gender roles and family values, and then publicly renounced it after she was dumped by her husband in middle-age and was living in poverty? I can’t think of her name now, and it’s killing me. I’m pretty sure it’s in Bennetts book–but I read a friend’s copy so I can’t check it now! IIRC, she was in the news lately because it was the 30th anniversary of her book (perhaps?), and because she recently had hit the circut to talk about how wrong she was.

    Gaaaaah! So frustrating.

  27. Poe on 21 Sep 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    Terry Hecker – I think the column in which she admitted she was wrong ran in the “Modern Love” section of the NYT magazine. I still remember a line about how her ex-husband got to take her replacement (a newer, sleeker model) to Cancun while she sold her engagement ring to pay her mortgage.

    Don’t know what to make of this – but didn’t she also compare her (mistaken former) view of marriage to tenure?

  28. Another Damned Medievalist on 21 Sep 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Heh. In a not-funny way. I’m reminded of a friend in Germany, where there is (on paper) fairly generous maternity leave with a guarantee of a job back, but a friend who took off time from a high-powered banking career to be a SAHM found out that there were all kinds of ways that she could not re-enter the workforce. Her employer had restructured her old job, so she was forced to take a lower-paying one with fewer responsibilities, she was passed over for promotions that, before the kids, she regularly gained. She finally left and went back to being a SAHM, because trying to get back to her pre-children level was too damned hard, and it was clear that she wasn’t welcome anymore.

  29. Kathleen Lowrey on 21 Sep 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    This makes me first in line for a horrible person prize, but I always kind of imagine Caitlin Flanagan someday going through a Terry Hecker volte-face (thanks, Poe, like Historiann I remembered her story but would never have remembered her name!).

  30. Historiann on 21 Sep 2009 at 5:20 pm #

    Caitlin Flanagan is a piece of work. She has full-time nannies, and 1) yet went on at length about how satisfying and worthwhile it was to devote herself to her children, and (even more outrageously) 2) premier outlets for her “non-fiction” like the Atlantic and the New Yorker clamored after her and published that drek.

    The Atlantic and the New Yorker are two magazines with terrible track records of publishing any writing (fiction or non-) by women writers. Yet they found plenty of room to publish Flanagan. And, IIRC, she is wife upgrade 2.0, so her husband would have to be a very elderly rake if he were to dump her for model 3.0.
    (I guess choosing an older husband helps make the full-time nannies more affordable!)

    Poe and Kathleen (and anyone else): I’m having trouble finding Terry Hecker’s article, or anything other than facebook pages for her. Can you help? Just leave a link in the comments. Thx! (Maybe teh Google is part of the Stepford Wives-like conspiracy to disappear her essay and her renunciation of antifeminism!)

  31. Mamie on 21 Sep 2009 at 9:02 pm #

    I just emailed the link to the NYT article to you, Historiann. Her last name is spelled Hekker. Google that. Is she mayor of Nyack? Or is that another Terry Hekker?

  32. LadyProf on 22 Sep 2009 at 12:23 am #

    Elaine Stritch, the Broadway singer/actress, suggested to Terry Hekker the title of her 2006 opus, “Disregard First Book.”

  33. Historiann on 22 Sep 2009 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks Mamie and LadyProf–here are the links:

    Terry Martin Hekker, Paradise Lost (Domestic Division), January 1, 2006. Yeah, baby: in the “fashion” section! The title of her book is Ever Since Adam and Eve.

    For those of you interested in reading about Caitlin Flanagan, this interview in Elle from 2006 will pretty much cover it. She’s a shockingly unserious person who was offered a platform for her views because they were contrarian: “modern woman says feminism ruined everything!” Just another opportunist like Katie Roiphe and Rebecca Walker.

  34. Z on 22 Sep 2009 at 10:53 pm #

    Actually one of my grandmothers (born 1892, married 1918) had a best case scenario. She had a good B.F.A. and a career when she got married. Mommy tracked for a while and then went back. But had husband’s income to also rely on all this time and even after he died. She could have gone further in career if she hadn’t mommy tracked for a while, but the key had to do with the business she was in in the place she was in it, plus the fact of a generally upper middle class situation. And yes, she was a bluestocking suffragette and all.

  35. perpetua on 25 Sep 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    I know the thread it over, but I wanted to thank you, Historiann, for providing those links. It must have taken Hekker a lot of courage to out herself as completely wrong-headed in her youth. And Flanagan! Zoinks!

    There is definitely something to the tone of NYT/Atlantic women writing about “women’s” issues (primarily about the work-family struggle). The only thing worse than the Times’s “high ed” coverage is its coverage of issues pertaining to women. All those affluent privileged Manhattanite women gushing about staying at home or opting out (with their nannies and housecleaners), as though somehow their experiences were in any way connected to the realities of working women in this country. And I have to say, even though I know the connection may not be immediately obvious, I felt many similarities in tone and style between the opt-out authors/ Warner/ Flanagan et al. and Rosin’s piece on breastfeeding, which is one of the reasons why I disliked it, sort of viscerally (an affluent mother of the same milieux and background as the others who may or may not actually believe what she writes, has no connection to the majority of working women, and who has a track record for writing controversial pieces possibly for opportunistic purposes. And the sheer joy of the Atlantic in publishing YET ANOTHER piece on how women can’t “have it all”).

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