I feel like we’re about to collectively miss the bus for all our bickering. While a few of us managed to squeeze on just before the door closed and have been shouldering our way from the back to the front and even some times to the driver’s seat, learning and succeeding at the male-established patterns and practices, the rest of us are flailing along behind trying to catch up as it pulls away, snapping off stilleto heels, tearing our tights, finding it impossible to run in knee-length skirts, all the time butting into invisible barriers.
But, wait, wait. Let’s not be hasty. The bus may be headed where we want to go, but I am wondering if it is not the only way of arriving at our desired destination.
What I mean is this: we all know we want to reach the same level of respect and equality within society that men have enjoyed for….well, all human history. But, why do so many assume we absolutely and unequivocally must adopt and adhere to traditional patriarchal patterns and systems in order to do so?
It seems that in our haste not to miss the bus (now that we’re at last allowed to get on!), we have not considered long enough or well enough if there might be alternative means to arrive at the ultimate destination.
I understand that patriarchal patterns are predominant and the system is well-established. I also understand the urge to prove to the established order that we can play by its rules and win. But, could there be other ways of arriving at respect and equality without mindlessly joining the system that has ignored or undermined women for so long?
Take, for example, this polarizing article by Elizabeth Wurtzel, “1% of Wives are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible.” Wurtzel’s thesis follows these lines: in order to be feminists, women must be financially independent. There is only one type of equality and that is economic equality. A stay-at-home mom who is not financially independent cannot be a feminist. In fact, a stay-at-home mom who is not financially dependent is ruining the feminist cause for the rest of us.
Juicy tidbits from her polemic include, “I have to admit that when I meet a woman who I know is a graduate of, say, Princeton — one who has read The Second Sex and therefore ought to know better — but is still a full-time wife, I feel betrayed” and “let’s please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don’t depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.”
I think we should please be serious grown ups and look a little bit more into the deep roots of the plight of women. From what I have read, feminists are constantly harping on the patriarchy but then turn around and assume that because a woman does not play by its rules and compete with men according to rules that men themselves established, then they are dead weight for the rest of womankind.
Let’s take a look at Wurtzer’s argument. She suggests that unpaid work is not work, “which is to say, something becomes a job when you are paid for it — and until then, it’s just a part of life.” Therefore, the work of stay-at-home moms is not actually real work.
Let’s pan out and look at the big picture. The reason domestic work is not compensated (and therefore valued) is because it is deemed a moral obligation. Who deemed it a moral obligation? Men, of course. And, the reason many woman feel they must stay at home? Because our current policies still do not allow (a la Slaughter’s article from yesterday’s post) women to successfully accomplish both the expected domestic responsibilities while pursuing a career full-steam. Or, conversely, the policies do not support the idea that both men and women should be involved, jointly, in the care for their families.
It is the patriarchal system that has decided that domestica is the domain of women, exclusively, and domestic work should not be compensated. It is the patriarchal system whose structures and policies (developed in response to the needs of what was its primary working demographic: men) do not allow women to straddle career and family life successfully while maintaining a modicum of sanity. Therefore, women still often feel they must choose because of what is a systematic fracturing of life into home and work. And we have taken that for granted. It shouldn’t be that way, for women or for men.
Jennifer Szalai’s writes in her article, “Mother Natues, On Elisabeth Badinter,” published in The Nation, “In her excellent 2001 book The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden notes that motherhood is an American woman’s biggest risk factor for poverty in old age. Not single-motherhood, but motherhood. Just as the psychological welfare of the child is assumed to be the responsibility of the mother, the economic welfare of mothers and children are assumed to be the responsibility of the father—an assumption that is codified in the vast apparatus of American laws, which exacts “a heavy financial penalty on anyone who chooses to spend any serious amount of time with children.” Roughly half of American mothers with children under the age of 18 stay at home or work part time. They don’t earn Social Security credits for their thousands of hours of unpaid work. They don’t have access to high-quality, affordable daycare, because—outside of the military—high-quality, affordable daycare doesn’t exist in this country.”
What if women were better protected by the law if they choose to stay-at-home? What if they were compensated for domestic work? (Is that laughable? It shouldn’t be, given Crittenden’s assertion.) What if policies within the workplace were more fair for parents of both genders (since a woman shouldn’t be expected to bear the brunt in a household where both parents work), allowing both parents important time to care for their families?
I’m not really interested in squeezing myself into a system that was designed by and based on the needs of men. I want to see something fresh and new. I want to see drastic changes in the system, rather than a condemnation of women who don’t mindlessly join the fray without questioning every aspect of the system’s validity and fairness.
To return to Wurtzel, what can we do to create a system that is no longer based on the working male but takes into account the real fact that women and men are working together, that both parents have a responsibility for the welfare of their families? Furthermore, how can we develop a system that supports the idea that care for children is a reality for most individuals, that children have needs that must be met sometimes within work hours, and that the good of our society depends on those needs being met? Those are the types of questions I am interested in exploring.
I’m wondering if it is not time to stop playing by the established rules, and begin creating rules of our own, a system that is fair and humane. I know it is easier said than done, but I would love to see female entrepreneurs setting the example in their businesses. I would love to see female artists and writers and poets inventing new modes of expression rather than proving that they can simply master modes invented by men. Some folks are on the right track already, but before we demand participation in the workplace, let’s demand it is structured for our success.
What do you think? Should women seek success in the patriarchal system by playing by its “rules” and proving our competence/superiority? Or, should the “rules” be challenged and new structures created? What might some of those structures look like? Is this even possible?