It’s a cat fight in the USA

31 May

by Janice Lindegard

This post first appeared on my blog, Snide Reply. It was written in response to an increasingly worrisome trend here: politicians and media creating and feeding a feud between working and stay at home moms and the concomitant denigration of feminism. It specifically addresses issues in the US only, as that’s my frame of reference. Please comment with your experience whether it’s in the US or elsewhere.

There’s a really ugly battle going on, one that I witness every single day. It’s a battle that’s been going on for years, but seems to have gotten particularly evil recently. It’s not in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Syria. It’s right here in the United States. It’s the one between the least likely set of combatants: American moms.

Every single day lately, I hear something hateful come from the mouths (or computers) of moms. Moms criticize moms for working. Moms ridicule moms for not working. Moms look down their noses at moms for using formula. Moms secretly envy moms who can breastfeed their babies. Moms hate moms and I’m freaking sick of it.

I’m particularly sick of the battle between stay-at-home moms and moms who work outside the home for pay. I call them Work-Away Moms. I don’t think there’s been a time when the battle has been so filled with vitriol. The Ann Romney/Hilary Rosen thing is only the tip of the iceberg. Recently, I read this from a SAHM regarding a WAM who asked what the SAHM does all day. “I wanted to shove my fist up her *ss.”

The Gallup organization recently released a study noting that stay-at-home moms are more depressed than other women, including work-away moms. Twenty eight percent of SAHMs report depression; only 17 percent of the work-away moms report depression, the same percent of women polled who have no children. The real news here though is that this is old news.

Betty Friedan wrote about stay-at-home moms and their unhappiness in 1963 in her pivotal work, The Feminine Mystique, which became a foundational writing in feminist literature. Nearly 50 years ago, Betty Freidan already knew what Gallup is reporting as the latest news: mothering is difficult work that is undervalued by our society and that pisses moms off. It’s not very PC to get mad about caring for your offspring, so Angry Mom becomes Depressed Mom. It was true then and it’s true now. Of course, today we’ve got a happy pill for Sad Mommy.

Let’s be careful when we look at these statistics, though. Most of the moms slinging mud at each other—staying at home, working at home or working away—are middle- to upper-class white ladies. When we talk about stay-at-home moms, though, we are most often talking about women living in poverty. Women who are at home because they can’t find work. Women who are the sole parent in their homes. Women who could work at Burger King, but then couldn’t afford the childcare. We’re not talking Ann Romney here, though I wouldn’t begrudge her a depressive episode, being married to Mr. Dignity Of Work.

Don’t be too quick to applaud Ms. Freidan for her prescience. Being a feminist is as uncool these days as being…well, I can’t think of anything that’s as uncool. Feminists are responsible for the bind we find our mothers in. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, SAH moms wouldn’t feel so damn bad about themselves and we’d be celebrating the glory that is being home with your children 24/7. If it weren’t for the stinking feminists, all those women who chose their careers over their kids would get their butts back home where they belong.

Wrong. In fact, there couldn’t be a more twisted, deceitful interpretation of what the Women’s Liberation Movement attempted to achieve. Gloria Steinem and her feminist friends envisioned a society where “the American child’s classic problem–too much mother, too little father–that would be cured by an equalization of parental responsibility.” In other words, Mom and Dad share the parenting—equally. Think that happens already? Who signs the kids up for summer camp? Who makes the doctor appointments? Who washes the sheets the baby puked on?

Steinem saw a world where “there will be free access to good jobs–and decent pay for the bad ones women have been performing all along, including housework.”

How would that happen? How could it be possible? If we could get past our rugged individualism, we could get to a world where we put our money where our mouths are. You can yap about family values all you want, but a Family and Medical Leave Act that doesn’t include pay of some kind is a joke to the majority of workers who can’t afford to go without pay for six weeks. According to Forbes magazine, in 2009, the United States and Australia were the only developed nations without some form of paid leave. I’m Danish, but didn’t have my kids there. If I had, I would have been able to stay home with my son for a full year at full pay. Instead, I pieced together four months of leave by adding all of the vacation and sick days I had to my six unpaid weeks. I saved like a demon so we could get by while my husband worked on building a business. Then I went back to work so we could keep our house.

Feminists didn’t make the world worse for women. Do you like being entitled to half of your marital property? Thank a feminist; it wasn’t yours until 1969. Are you married and use the last name you were born with? Thank a feminist. You couldn’t do that until 1972. Did you use birth control before you got married? Thank a feminist; you couldn’t do that until 1972.  If your husband treats you like crap, you can divorce him. Couldn’t do that in 1969. In fact, until 1976 your husband could legally rape you. I was a senior in high school; we’re not talking ancient history here.

It’s hard for me not to see the trash thrown under the bed in the mom-on-mom battle. White moms—the ones who have the greatest access to political and monetary power—need to be kept busy with stupid crap like whether or not Rush Limbaugh is a pig. If we weren’t, we might get together and work toward healthcare coverage that recognizes hormones are used for more than just birth control.

I’m sick of hearing that work-away mothers chose their careers over their children. I’m sick of hearing that women who can’t breast feed just aren’t trying hard enough. I’m sick of hearing that stay-at-home moms sit around scrapbooking. I’m sick of hearing that work-away moms take advantage of the PTA moms. I’m sick of hearing how hard stay-at-home moms work. I’m sick of hearing how hard work-away moms work.

It’s all distraction, distraction aimed at keeping us from joining together to fight for paid family leave so moms and dads can be home with their kids. It’s a distraction aimed at keeping us from fighting for equal pay for mothers who work away from home—for whatever reason. It’s a distraction that keeps us from fighting for the right to make our own reproductive choices and not be humiliated because of them.

I, for one, am sick of being distracted. Are you?


Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.

7 Responses to “It’s a cat fight in the USA”

  1. pascalinap May 31, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    In France there was a similar “war” when philosopher and feminist Elisabeth Badinter published her book the “The confilct”.
    She says “Like all mothers, I dreamed of being a perfect mother. But like practically all mothers, I was very average”.
    Creating wars, debates and make women fight on what is the best parenting method is inspired by the need of every woman to feel accepted for her choices because she is more judged on her choices as a mother than all her other life choices.

    The best parenting advice I was given was not from a book, a magazine, a philospher or even inspired by a fight, but by a very close friend who told me ” do whatever works for you and it will feel right”.

    We should refuse to join these “wars”.
    There are no “better” mothers, we are all average.

    • jmlindy422 May 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

      I, too, received my best advice from another mother. She was quite experienced and has great kids. She said pretty much the same thing, “do what works for your kids.” I think our children tell us what they need if we are willing to listen deeply.

      I have another friend, a child psychologist, who tells me not to worry about being a good mother, just be a good enough mother. I like that a little better than being average, just sounds a little more encouraging. But maybe that’s the American in me…can’t be average! Here’s to being good enough.

  2. natasha devalia June 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Great Post Janice! I’ve had some of this on my mind for a while as well. When I went to France last year and mingled with some young parents, I felt that there was no room for SAHM’s there. It was looked down upon somehow. I’m no expert of French society, and it was just an intial feeling. That got me thinking how silly all this was.

    I am lucky becuase my husbadn is very present in our family. And we try very hard and make many choices so that it is that way.

    I have a Finnish friend who told me some incredible things…I will have to get her to give the exact details – but it was something like mum gets one year paid leave, and of course father has quite a bit too. Parents get allowances for keeping their kids at home instead of sending them to daycare!!!

    A Swedish friend of mine told me how her boss had twins. Mum couldn’t cope on her own, so dad took a year off work and they did it together! Isn’t that just amazing?! I don’t know about pay and all that, but the system supported that somehow….and just the idea that their family is most important is incredible.

  3. Mirka Matilainen June 2, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    I’m the Finnish mother Natasha mentioned :). Living abroad has opened my eyes that we are privileged in Finland in terms of children home care. I’ve been out from the system for a while but I try to remember how it goes in Finland. (I will use rough money amounts and will not tell all details…)

    Prenatal healthcare is free. Nowadays it includes at least three ultrasounds+monthly or weekly health checks. After 24 weeks of pregnancy mom gets a baby stuff package: clothes, fabric diapers, baby beddings etc. Check a newest package from there:

    Childbirth costs are around 20 euros per day (usually mom stays in a hospital 2-3 days). I think 20 euros includes all the expenses, including delivery, caesarean section or intensive care etc. After the child is born, mom and baby will have weekly or monthly checkups. For all the kids, health care is free.

    Mom’s maternity leave starts at least one month before birth. Maternity leave is 4 months. During that time society or employer pays 70-90 percent of the salary to the mother. After maternity leave mom or dad can have parental leave which is around six months. Amount of the money one gets is around 70 percent of your salary. Child-care leave starts when baby is 9 months old and last until youngest child is three years old. Money one gets during child-care leave is 330 euros for first child. For older, under 6 years kids at home, parent gets 65 euros per kid.

    Father also has max. 3 weeks paternity allowance which is about 90 percent of fathers salary. If one have twins or triplets, money and the leaves are even more. In addition, every child who has Finnish citizenship gets about 100 euros every month for daily child care costs until the child is 17 or 18 years old.

    Parent of a child can stay home until the child is 3 years old. Before that parent’s employer may not terminate the employment contract if it is permanent. So, mom can stay out from work max for 3 years and return to the same position after maternity or child-care leaves.

    In Finland we have the same public debate between stay home and working moms. One of a highly regarded researcher in Finland is Liisa Keltikangas-Järvinen. She speaks strongly on behalf of children’s home care until the kid is 2 or 3 years old.

    On the other hand, despite child care subsidies, some parents don’t have enough money to stay home. And of course, there are parents who want to go back to work because they just don’t want to be stay home moms or dads but rather start working.

    I think in Finnish society, dowadays fathers are expected to be present in family life. In societal level, system is developed more in a way that the costs of parenthood is more equal between both parents and poth parents employer.

    • jmlindy422 June 2, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      My friends’ jaws would drop at this. I worked until the day before my son was born. I didn’t want to spend one day of my leave without my baby; seemed like a big waste of our money. As far as supplies, the only thing given to me was a can of formula. My family and friends had showers for me so we weren’t without baby things. I was in the hospital following birth for about 24 hours, but probably only because of the paperwork and my son had a circumcision (my husband is Jewish). My husband was home because he had been fired and was trying to build a business, but we had a nanny so he could work. We paid for the nanny; it was expensive! I”m not sure how to share your comments yet, but I want to figure it out. Americans are always yapping about how our children can’t compete with the Finns academically. Well, a good start in life is invaluable, regardless of the education system. Thank you for sharing.

  4. pascalinap June 3, 2012 at 7:54 am #

    A friend shared this link a few days ago, it’s a list of countries and paid maternity leave :

    • jmlindy422 June 3, 2012 at 10:56 am #

      This is amazing. There are so many Americans who would NEVER pick the countries that offer the most generous and would be dumbfounded at where we stand in caring about our children. Thanks for sharing!

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