Sarah C. over at Mamapedia Voices is wondering why we hear so much about the alleged raging debate between “working mothers” on the one hand and “SAHMs” on the other. In her experience, women with children don’t fall into tidy little groups. A mother home during the day could still have one or more kids in some form of childcare, and might still work a few days a week, or pick up a night shift. More and more mothers are running small businesses and generating income, but still spend enough time at home to consider themselves, and be regarded by others as, “stay at home” parents. On the other end of the spectrum, some moms not in the paid workforce are so engaged in volunteer and community activities that they are neither “at home” much nor “at work” in the traditional sense either. Working for money may not require leaving home or, if it does, may do so in such a way that the “stay at home” description is still intact. These days identifications like “working mother” and “stay at home mother” no longer reflect how we are really living. Sarah C. finds this very frustrating:
I know it’s easier for the media to simplify, and that “Mommy Wars” makes for good headlines, and I also know it’s stupid to expect political sound bites to reflect reality, but I’d LOVE for someone to take a look at what moms are actually doing with their lives. We do not fit into two neat little camps—life is far messier and way more interesting than that. I’d also like to know why the real lives of the majority of women are ignored. Is it some kind of conspiracy? Keep us fighting each other instead of uniting against some common foe? Or just intellectual laziness by the media and politicians?
Actually, it has to do with how the Bureau of Labor Statistics collects data, how employers report it, and the statutory definition of “full time work”. The demands of our bureaucracy are not sensitive enough to capture and reflect the infinite variety of paid work vs. non-paid work combinations women with children use.
The media certainly oversimplify and distort comparisons between women for the purpose of creating compelling headlines. They provide and sell entertainment, leaving the less marketable activities of study and analysis to academics, sociologists and statisticians. So even while some people (like me!!) focus very seriously on how families provide both care and income, and non-profit organizations (like the NAMC!!) advocate vigorously on behalf of those engaged in this work, you won’t see them on TV or read about them in People or Newsweek. You can count on provocative covers, though, like the recent breastfeeding mama with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” It may not enhance public understanding of our very serious mothering issues, or point out how public policy has utterly failed parents, but it sure increases sales!
In the political realm, it’s not laziness but campaign cash that’s the cause. Members of Congress and those in state legislatures respond to the perceived needs and desires of their constituents and those who fund their re-election campaigns. Women give relatively little to political fundraising, directing most of their donated cash to charity. Not surprisingly, men mostly fund campaigns and candidates, and give much less to charity. Women also generally do not organize around social issues to communicate with their elected representatives. Lobbyists and well-funded professional advocates have the loudest voices, and theirs are the voices our elected leaders hear.
So that’s why, in a nutshell, the public discourse about women with children and the numerous ways they connect to the paid workforce bears so little relation to our lives and those of the other families we know. There are lots of ways to change this. The question is, do you think it is worth it? Would you give your time and/or money to do so? Let me know.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington