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July 25, 2008

Calling it by its name

Judith Warner of the New York Times blogs a little bit more about the horrific double standard in the way we approach gender and work issues, and the JEC's new report:

This week, Congress issued a report, [that] states categorically that mothers are not leaving the workforce to stay home with their kids. They’re being forced out...

Men, of course, were hit hard by the recession and weak recovery, too; in fact, as Louis Uchitelle of the Times reported earlier this week, the workforce participation rates of men aged 25 through 54 have dropped from 96 percent in 1953 to 86.4 percent today.

But when men in their prime working years drop out of the workforce we don’t say they’ve gone home to be with their kids.

We say they’re unemployed.

The distinction is truly meaningful beyond the neat way it encapsulates our inability to separate ideology from fact when it comes to thinking about mothers and their much-vaunted “choices.” Unemployed people, after all, are entitled to benefits. As a society, we tend to think it’s incumbent upon us to get them working again — for their own good, individually, for the good of their families, and for our collective welfare. Politicians promise to retrain them. Devise policies to retain them. The unemployed still fall under the ever-retracting umbrella of people we consider, to some extent, to be worthy of our care.

Mothers, with their glorious array of post-feminist lifestyle options, have long been seen as something else. They’re individuals, making choices, responsible for the fallout of those choices even if, in point of fact, those choices were made for them by a weak economy, the unaffordability of child care or an inflexible workplace. They don’t need “government handouts” like quality child care, flextime, sick days, family leave and top-notch afterschool programs, because they’ve made their proud choices and, by golly (unless they’re whiners), they’re going to go it alone.

I’m so glad that, at long last, this fiction has been officially acknowledged.

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