As I'm sure many of you have read, a recent Pew report found that mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners in 40% of American households with children. I read that headline yesterday and thought hmmm, given that part of that percentage is made up of single mothers, and women are outpacing men in the college graduation and graduate degrees, it must mean that we're doing better but still have a ways to go in equal pay. And then I moved on with my day because I was busy doing my job.
But no, as it turns out, I wasn't just busy doing a job I enjoy using a degree I worked hard to earn to provide health insurance and put a roof over my family's head before coming home in the evening with the smart, funny children I love before later cuddling on the couch with a husband I adore. No, I was, in fact, destroying my husband's self-esteem and putting him on anti-depressants, causing "the disintegration of marriage," proving that "society is dissolving around us," and being "very anti-science" because "when you look at biology - when you look at the natural world - the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is a dominant role. . . . having mom as the primary bread winner is bad for kids and bad for marriage, and reality shows us that's the truth."
All in a day's work people.
Clearly, this is absurd. All the quotes are brought to you by a Fox News manpanic panel about the Pew report and an utterly idiotic and illogical video and blog post by Erick Erickson, EIC of redstate.com, two places I clearly don't watch, listen, or read unless something like Slate is making fun of it, so I won't waste much time debunking the silliness except to make three points: (1) Divorce rates are actually on the decline and the time in which they rose the most was also a time in which more women stayed home because the average middle class American could afford to live comfortably on one average salary, something that is no longer true; no one in the manpanic explains what women working has to do with the disintegration of marriage but facts do get in the way of panics so I understand why they'd want to avoid them; (2) I enjoy, greatly, the citation to "reality shows us that's the truth." All the best legal briefs cite to "reality." (Also, the first time I read it, I read it as "reality shows" show us that's the truth and I thought it was even more awesome than it already was because the only thing better than citing to reality is citing to reality shows); and (3) we're advocating looking to the animal kingdom? really?. First of all, irrelevant. I could cite to you a dozen type of animals that have exhibited a preference for homosexual matings over heterosexual ones in response to all these same people's cries that gay marriage is unnatural and they would immediately tell me that isn't relevant. I would actually argue that in terms of defining what's "natural," it just might be, but I would still be happy to sign on to the principle that we don't need to look to the rest of the animal kingdom for cues on human social norms. But if Mr. Erickson has decided that we should, I'd simply like to point out that females are "dominant" in a number of species, that males rarely have any role (or even presence) after a female is impregnated, but when they do, it's often an egalitarian one, and most animals copulate without any regard to their marriage vows or monogamy and children often don't even know who their father is. Also, I don't know that "science" can say whether a female lawyer lion making more than a male businessman lion would be "unnatural" or would upset the "dominance" of the breed. Partly because I don't think "dominance" can instantly be equated with "earns more money," but mostly because animals don't have paying jobs. So, sir, your analogy and attempt to work the word "science" into your thoughts has all failed and you need to try again, starting with more citations to reality shows.
But moving on to something that isn't pure headline-generating false hysteria, it was actually this CNN Opinion article titled, "When moms earn more, it's tough on dad" that gave me pause. One, it happened to be right next to an opinion article on raising strong girls by dropping princess and sex stereotypes, so that was amusing. Let's all make sure we raise strong daughters, but when she's an adult and out of that college and graduate school we told her she should go to because "she can be anything she wants to be," she better make sure that "anything" doesn't pay more than the "anything" her husband has chosen because then he will be sad and his self-esteem will suffer. So go be that doctor or lawyer honey, just don't make too much or boys won't like you and the one you've chosen to spend your life with, to love and support above all others, will be 5x more likely to cheat on you and this will be your fault for actually believing all that "little girls can be anything" stuff we told you when you were little. Maybe alongside the strong girl articles we could have a few about raising strong boys whose self worth isn't dependent on what they make (particularly, not dependent on what they make "beating" what the person they love makes), or who aren't threatened to the point of manpanic when it's revealed that women are making some strides in earning what they should earn and thus providing their families with a choice on the best roles for each party, or who have an example of marriages based on equality, love, and support to draw on in creating their own unions one day. Maybe we could do that.
But until then, I think articles like the one above should stop pretending like these special man-feelings of isolation or listlessness after leaving their career path to care for children, even when they know it's best for their children and are glad for the choice, are unique to men. All I kept thinking while reading was, you're describing exactly what I would be feeling if I left law for a time, and exactly what I've heard other women describe who, for decades now, have left careers that mattered to them for children who needed them more. It's absolutely real and legitimate, but it's not new. Which gets to the root of my annoyance with really anything that overly elevates the role of the mom in child-rearing and minimizes or outright dismisses the role of the dad and then acts like any switch in the two is cause for great outcry and commentary. Our daughters who can "be anything" and our sons for which that is apparently assumed unless you mean "care for children" will never see equality in the workplace or the home until both choices are possible, and they can't be possible until people stop flipping out about them.
I don't have a real end to this except to say I can't imagine being married to someone whose self-esteem was dependent on beating my salary. I wouldn't respect that person and I've found that respect is very important in this successful non-disintegrating marriage of mine. In the words of JP while laughing over the Erickson quotes, "we must not be very dominant if we can't handle our wives putting extra money in our bank accounts." And while the quotes at the top are just stupid in the way that's supposed to be stupid to drum up responses like the one I just indulged in, the more mundane commentary and the examples it all sets unnerves me just as much.