Miriam Peskowitz has an eloquent response to the recent New York Times feature on Ivy-educated women who plan to give up work for motherhood. And she also links to an excellent piece by MMO editor Judith Stadtman Tucker, who writes, in part:
- . . . [I]t's occurred to me that mothers may not be doing themselves any favors by repeating the feel-good mantra, You can have it all, just not at all the same time. Maybe we should be channeling the energy whipped up by all that enthusiasm and self-acceptance into imagining what "having it all" would look like in a more fair and just society. Or maybe we should switch to a new refrain: "Men can have it all, just not all at the same time." Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Story's report is that of the 138 undergraduate women who answered an email questionnaire about their future plans, only two saw their ideal husbands in a primary caregiving role. Apparently, the 85 students who expect to scale back or interrupt their careers when they become mothers assume the men they one day marry will conform to the ideal worker mold without complaint. And why not? For young men in high-performance professions, having a wife at home full-time assures that when push comes to shove, they are free to put their careers first -- and reap the attendant rewards.
The latest New York Times piece on unbalancing work and motherhood also raises interesting questions about the relationship between the rise of the hyperparenting phenomenon and the reproduction of privilege. A single-minded determination to claw one's way to the top may be tolerated in childless women, but in mothers that kind of thing is still viewed as an aberration -- and a blight on their children's futures. A University of Pennsylvania freshman quoted by the Times remarked, "I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mothers stay at home and kids who didn't, and it's kind of an obvious difference when you look at it." Well, no, it isn't, not after age four or so -- and studies show the behavioral variations of young children who spend more than 30 hours a week in day care fall well within the normal range of development. So what's going on here?
Even taking the Reagan-era-and-beyond backlash into account, it's profoundly unnerving to see how willing some of these young innocents are to toe the conservative line on gender and family. In the weird twists of politics and culture over the last thirty years, women were urged to drop the question of whether the smidgen of social power granted to mothers as the nation's nurturers is really all it's cracked up to be. In its place, we've been invited to behold the best practices of mothering as a means of modernizing corporate culture and contributing to the greater social good. Is it any wonder that a certain cross section of young women perceive motherhood as entirely compatible with their desire to excel? And isn't that what we really want?