Mojo Mom's A-Ha Moment: Cracking the Privilege Code
I have cracked the feminist code and I understand why the Baby Boomers are mad at us younger women who have opted out. The text is about money and career, the subtext is about power and privilege. Boomer feminists worked to give us a place in a man's world, the world of power and privilege. That world is built on a foundation of a lower class, low-paid support system that is assumed to exist but rendered invisible. This could be the unpaid work of wives or the low-paid wages of service workers.
In the 1970's, women were given begrudging access to this kingdom, as long as they "played like a man."
Fast-forward to our generation. The invisible work, the second shift is still there and "playing like a man" just isn't working for many of us. We are able to eke out egalitarian relationships before we have children, but gender roles haven't changed that much. Men still don't expect to divide that work 50/50. When babies arrive, this invisible workload shoots through the roof. The truth is that someone has to do it, and we don't have a social infrastructure that lifts this burden off women's shoulders. So in the most privileged couples, the "opt-out" dynamic becomes very apparent when a high-power woman leaves her place in the man's world to go home.
Boomer femininsts are mad that women would leave behind the position of power, privilege and money that they worked so hard to earn on our behalf. One woman leaving the corporate ladder signifies gender failure when one man leaving the corporate ladder is just a guy making a choice.
Privileged men are generally glad to see women move home because this allows the men to have more time and energy to focus on their careers, thereby exercising their male privilege. Egalitarian marriages become more "traditional" to some degree when women stay home.
Women who leave the workforce are frustrated to see that they lose their previous status and become socially invisible and devalued in their role as a mother. Work at home is necessary and important but it is not admired, valued, and privileged. Sometimes this work it is only noticed when it is NOT done perfectly, which is expecially frustrating. We mothers see the value of the invisible work we are doing. We certainly see how much of life is made up of that work. Our eyes are opened to this big picture and we can't comprehend why others don't understand it.
So I finally understand why opt-out women are truly radical: we expect to be able to leave the world of privilege, take the blinders off our eyes and see the whole picture of life, expect others to do so, and return to the world of privilege on our own terms. Although we say in our democracy that "all men are created equal," the last thing the world of privilege wants is to be asked to see the big picture that includes caregiving, poverty, and discrimination. This is why I want more mothers in public life. Nancy Pelosi may play the political game with the best of them but I love knowing that she knows understands what it means to be a caregiver.
The younger generation of mothers hopes that we are reclaiming power in a new way by creating a career spiral to replace the old career ladder. Our plans challenge the whole system. With Mojo Mom I aspire to be more than just a writer telling individual women how to cope within an unfair system. This is why the short-lived Total 180! magazine and the book Happy Housewives drive me crazy--they are at best gallows humor that helps women adapt to the current system of privilege without challenging it.
For the first time I feel like our generation is attempting something truly radical. In Mojo Mom I consciously traced a path from self care to women's leadership and that trajectory continues to soar. We have to keep working to get caregiving counted in our society. As Pamela Stone says in Opting Out? mothers are the canary in the coal mine for an often inhumane workplace. We are cracking under the double-bind pressures of being an ideal worker and and ideal mother and we are finally demanding that something has to give. I want to be a good mother and a good worker. I want to work on my own terms and have paid opportunities to contribute even though I've taken time away from work. I am determined to make this happen even if I have to create my own path, in a manner that I hope paves the way for other women to do the same.
There is a tsunami of caregiving need coming our way. We are the ones who will have to shepherd the older generations through 20, 30, 40 years of retirement and elder care. Many of us will spend more years worrying about our parents than we will caring for our children, and as I have written before, that is not a matter of choice. If parenting cracks us, will elder care crush us? There is only so long we can get away without making the invisible work visible and dividing it fairly. We'd best get started now.