Saturday, May 14, 2011

She's Costing Me How Much?!

According to this Yahoo article, this child sleeping on my lap right now is not fiscally worth it. The article's about a study showing that women who have children earn less overall than their childless counterparts, even when looking at identical work experience (so this isn't because of time women take off after having a baby). "Low skilled" women earn 6% less overall when they have babies, and "high skilled" women are sacrificing a whopping 24%.

I suppose statistics like this should upset me (and I do think that there are prejudices in the workforce that account for at least some of that difference), but it really doesn't. I've never really cared about seeing how much money I could make in a lifetime. I'm much more concerned with having enough money to live comfortably and be able to have the experiences that I want. And I think that, while societal prejudice against mothers is most likely at play in these factors (especially since the study found no impact on father's salaries), some of it probably has to do with a shift in priorities for the women as well.

The article concludes by asking "Why would high-skilled women pay such big economic price for having children, especially if they return to full-time work immediately afterward?" which would insult me if it didn't seem so obviously designed to be insulting. 

I give it my all at work. I really do, but it's more important to me to be in a position that allows me to give it my all at work and at home than it is for me to climb the ladder. My definition of success is not primarily status or salary driven. My workplace success is defined by the meaningfulness of the work that I do and the competency I feel I bring to it.

What did interest me about this article, however, is the vitriolic nature of some of the comments. There's the stay-at-home moms outraged that their choices are being attacked. There's the career women who say that whining mothers are making all women look bad. There are also the comments attacking those who choose to have children without figuring out all of the costs as drags on the collective economy. These seem expected to me. Then there's some from men and defenders of a man's position who complain that the article isn't taking their sacrifices into account. Consider these:

bo: "i see a lot of women putting men down . just so you know i gave up just as much as my wife if not more. so all of you women that had kids by sorry !@# men don't blame it on all the other men. so shout up with all the man stuff. if you want kids have them if not leave everyone else alone"

Nicole: "A man's lifestyle doesn't change? That is BS. It's the men who have to work more hours because the women get to go home early because apparently giving birth means that their life is now 100% more important than anyone else. It's the men who work more so their spouse can stay home or work less. They are the ones who miss out on raising their kids because of their work and so many mommys are too afraid to leave their children alone with the man they apparently love for more than two seconds because "something may happen". Yea, if anything, men get the short end of the stick and the swift kick in the junk."

There are others (including a multiple comment rant about paternity fraud and the costs of fatherhood), but I wonder about the pulse of these comments.

In my definition of feminism, there must be room for gender equality to move from both ends of the spectrum. So, to me, the feminist ideal requires that men be given the space to step outside of constricting masculine constructs just as I need to be given the space to step outside of restricting female constructs.

The rhetorical positioning of articles like this one deny that kind of mobility for men. These statistics (which are somewhat shocking and definitely indicative of a larger issue about the way society values working mothers) are framed in a purely female point of view. The article asks why a woman would choose to make this sacrifice. It does not take into account alternative paths that might have a couple balancing out the sacrifice between them. It also does not look at the labor division in these couples. Is it purely giving birth that causes this salary disparity? Or is it giving birth and then providing a majority of the care? Are these women who have to take off every time their child is sick, or do they have a partner who shares that burden? Are these women who turn down training opportunities because they have no one to watch their child for three days, or do they have someone who can?

Studies like this one look only at motherhood instead of teasing out the complexities of parenthood. In doing so, they further normalize the stereotypical roles of parents. Showing that mothers are disadvantaged without exploring possible means to escape that disadvantage (without having to give up the role of mother) is depressing and unhelpful--and I don't believe it's the full picture.

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