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unemployment as lifestyle choice

27 July, 2008

unemployment as lifestyle choice

Via a friend, an interesting Judith Warner article that discusses how a very real employment downturn for women has been recast (for years) as a ‘lifestyle choice’.

I am one of those people who will argue strenuously that choosing housewifery as a career is, or at least can be, a feminist choice. And I honestly get annoyed with people who denigrate that decision, because my idea of feminism is that women should be able to make that choice — and that so should men. My feminism looks a lot like equality, in opportunity, pay, and responsibility. It’s one of the reasons I took a financial hit in the divorce — X was a bit older and had less time to make up a decent retirement than I did. More careful figuring would probably have meant a smaller hit, but I don’t resent that a bit of generosity meant things remained amicable. But I digress.

I think what makes the report that gives this article substance most interesting is that it confirms that sneaking suspicion that many of us had — yes, being a SAHM is a lifestyle choice, but it’s often a choice made as a response to factors we don’t like to admit. I can’t really think of any of my acquaintance who has made this choice, who has not mentioned the cost of child care as a factor. For many women, it’s not that it’s the first choice, just the most sensible, given the situation. I think that, in academia, we see this less, but only because we already have the phenomenon of the trailing spouse who takes adjunct work, hoping eventually for a spousal hire. But the fact that one partner has already taken the lesser position because it’s the best choice for the couple’s survival is something we’ve learned to live with. Doesn’t make it right, though.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 27 July, 2008 10:00 am

    Thanks for saying this. One of the things I *hate* about Judith Warner is her assumption that her own classist assumptions need to color everyone else’s choices. And I *hate* the part of second-wave feminism that insists that it is possible for every woman to “have it all” and do it all well, so that if you are not having it all and doing it all well then you are somehow letting down the feminist cause. My feminism is: women get to do what they want–period–within their panorama of realistic possibilities. If they want to move to Utah and have seventeen children or write annoyingly whiny editorials in the New York Times or whatever, as long as they are not coerced: that is feminism. I certainly acknowledge that there are social factors that influence one’s choices, but (a) we can’t live outside of society and (b) what are we supposed to do? Ignore the price of childcare?That whole article reminded me a little bit of the people who criticized the Clintons for sending their daughter to a private school instead of a public school in DC. Do we really have the right to expect that our politics be carried on our children backs? That seems like the most antifeminist possibility of all.

  2. 28 July, 2008 12:12 pm

    Well, my hope is that demonstrating that this is as much or more an economic choice as one of personal preference is a step in the direction of making it more possible for parents to stay home with their kids because they really want to.

  3. 29 July, 2008 7:13 am

    Or even a decision that the child or children are better off at home than in childcare. Another one of these blanket second-wave assumptions is that all children do well in/benefit from child care–without regard to what kind of childcare it is, how many students are there, or even the individual child himself or herself, who may be better off in or out of child care. Women and men should make the choices that are best for their families within their realm of possibilities–and upper middle class snobs in big cities should stop looking down their noses at those choices.End of rant, sorry.

  4. 30 July, 2008 4:06 am

    What I liked about Warner’s article was that it stripped away the disingenuous “oh, look at those happy women making the happy choice to stay home with kids!” Not always!Some are happy to do the SAHM thing. Some aren’t. Some feel as if they have no choice and that last is where I really get annoyed because feminism is about choices, not about convincing women that what they really want is what they’re going to have to take (whether it’s working when their kid is a few days old because they don’t get the time off or dropping off their career path with no clear way of getting back on once their kids are in school).

  5. 30 July, 2008 7:52 am

    Exactly. It’s the pretending that the best alternative is actually a choice that bothers me. There’s a lot of this that forces women to sacrifice themselves because to do else would be irresponsible — but we should have the facilities that allow either choice to be the responsible one.

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