Verso: Everybody’s talking about it by Jen Creer

I have been thinking about this issue since I’ve seen it bandied about in the blogosphere. Susan has posted about it articulately a couple of times, and I was already percolating a post, when I got an email from one of Susan’s readers, and without revealing her identity, I’d like to copy it here.

I read a comment you made at Susan’s blog earlier and I wanted to ask you something about it:
Your comment was:
“I found this to be very interesting, because actually, what I have encountered is working women who pity the stay-at-home mothers, and rather than idealizing them, cast them into the category of too stupid and too boring to talk to. At least, that was my perception of how I was treated by most “working” people when I was a stay-at-home mother . ”
So, I wonder, what gave you that impression. See, I work but I have always thought staying with child/children at home was the harder choice. In fact my husband stayed at home and I went back to work because we both felt he was the better choice and we had the ability that one of us could stay home. I have heard other women say this, both where I live and on line but they often can’t tell me exactly how they get the impression (I have asked the my friends I trust to answer). Although we are not officially friends or anyhting I do feel you are pretty articulate so I want to know and here is why: I don’t think I do this but I am insecure about doing this and I want to make sure my behavior is not the behavior that other women/men find offensive. People always say things to me and musband like like ‘Oh, how does it feel to be the bread winner? Or (and veins pop when I here shit like this): So he is a Mr Mom? Such garbage. I usually respond with something like: I may earn a paycheck but it is a joint effort on our part, I do not feel like I am earning a paycheck because I couldn’t do what I do without him (nor do I ever want to try). Or: Right, fathers can’t be nuturing primary care givers, only moms.
I am sorry if I am being too forward but I really care about this issue and that perception.

Here is my response. Feel free to chime in!

You know, I think I can pinpoint what gave *me* the impression that working mothers pitied me and thought I was too stupid and boring to talk to. For one thing, I live in a unique setting. Even though I live in a small, conservative, Missouri town, I moved to it because my ex-husband got a position teaching here at the university. So, apart from other stay-at-home mommies, the women I encountered (well, the people), were either faculty at the university or my ex-husband’s students. And when we would have them out to our home or be invited to theirs, or when there was a university social function, people just didn’t talk to me. For the first time in my life! I have always been able to talk to people! But it was like an invisible wall went up between us when they met me and saw me with my son. I have written talks about this and given them and actually, I was just thinking about this topic tonight and about to blog about it when I saw your email.

One of the questions that these women used to ask me was, “Do you work?” And I understand the question. They are asking me what my primary mode of employment is, is it at home, or is it out of the home? But it’s still (on a feminist level) an offensive question. If I did not have a small child attached to my leg, would they ask it? Or would they ask, “Where do you work?”

I know it’s really a question of semantics. But I prefer the question, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” Because we *all* work. And I am sure that your husband would not want to be perceived as someone who does not work! Nor do you view him as someone who doesn’t work. His work is primarily at home, and you work both places. ) But I think that it was that question (Oh, do you work?) and their very silence in just not knowing what to say to me, not thinking that maybe a person with a child could have anything interesting left to say, that really gave me the impression that I was someone to be pitied, or at least respected less, because why would I do what I was doing if I were capable of doing anything else?

But like I said, I think it was unique to the circumstances of being around university people who were teaching classes about feminism, and students who were taking their classes. I don’t know that it would extend to others– but I did sense among the stay-at-home mothers a certain sense of superiority about *their* choices, which pissed me off too. Because staying at home *was* very hard and very isolating for me. Back in the day, I didn’t have blog friends. I had message boards at iVillage, and they were like a lifeline for me. I lived in the country (ex-husband’s insistence), and it was lonely and hard. I don’t think I was well-suited for the kind of isolation I experienced, while raising young children. My weekly playgroups were my absolute salvation, but they weren’t quite enough to stave off the underlying depression I felt the rest of the time (which was as much due to my marriage as it was to everything else).

I think that because you are sensitive to it, you won’t make anyone feel defensive. You read blogs written by stay-at-home moms, so it doesn’t seem to me that you are firmly entrenched in a camp. I view myself as a feminist absolutely, but the idea that women with brains are betraying the feminist movement in their choices to stay at home is bullocks. If the Linda Hirschman’s of the world are pissed, then maybe it has nothing to do with women and their educations or their choices. After all, she isn’t raising the class flag and saying that Ivy League-educated women may have also met Ivy League-educated men, so perhaps their incomes are better-suited to staying home. Also, why is she talking to young women about their intentions? My intentions and my reality turned out to be very different. Staying home was much harder than I thought.

But maybe one of the things that really scares Hirschman, and makes her feel entitled to speak about women as a gender, is the nagging suspicion that maybe Betsy Friedan wasn’t all correct. Or maybe she was: here’s a pesky, nagging thought. We all know that staying home with one’s children is difficult. And it makes a lot of us a little nuts. The internet is FULL of blogs written by stay at home mothers who write daily about the minutae of staying home, the tantrums, the messes, the boredom, the isolation– and yet, according to Hirschman, women are STILL signing up to do this. This mind-numbing job, which “wastes” their educations. Even women who are not Ivy Leaguers, whose families might benefit tremendously from an extra paycheck are *still* doing this

And that is my suspicion. Hirschman is just trying to distract us from the fact that even though it’s mundane, repetitive, messy, sleep-depriving, boring, frustrating, etc., that some of us DO IT ANYWAY. And maybe she doesn’t understand that decision, she doesn’t understand that it can be fulfilling ANYWAY in its own way, even when you literally want to pull your own hair out. It doesn’t make you a better mother to want to do this. It may even mean you are a little nuts. I was. I still am. But the fact is, just because it is all of these negative things I have listed doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing.

I would also like to ask this question: Why is it that it’s okay, selfless, and admirable to work in a job in which you wear loose, comfortable, shapeless clothing, get barfed on, have to wipe someone else’s ass, dress them, bathe them, feed them, lose sleep over them, comfort and soothe them, have them yell at you and be rude to you, only when you work in a hospital or a nursing home, and have a pager on your pants? Why is doing these things so unremarkable and unrespected when you do them for someone in your own family? Is it cooler with a pager? Or is it the paycheck? Because we have clearly established that there is little difference in the education.

It’s funny, though, because now I stay home full time– and it’s much easier because the kids are at school for several hours of the day. I had troubles working a 9-to-5 job too (square peg!), but now I have found a career that I love very much– I am a medical editor, and I do it from home, the coffeeshop, hotel rooms, malls, bookstores, wherever there is an internet connection. I am re-married, but working is no longer a choice for our family financially. It is a necessity. After student loans, there isn’t enough money for five people to live on one income. And I am much more at peace now, being able to be a parent earning a paycheck– and still be at home.

It’s so different once the kids are at school, and nobody (except home-schoolers) expects to be with their children all day. That kind of tears down the whole argument doesn’t it?

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