Friday, October 05, 2007

Juggling Balls

A good headline? This post will be on the topic of women not being able to have it all, as usual, specifically on that old saw I first read in an anti-feminist book by a Women's Studies professor who went all Catholic and decided to sacrifice the rights of women to the rights of families, defined as husband+children-wife.

The old saw was her advice that a woman can juggle two out of the following three: marriage (or partnership), children and job. So, for example, a woman can have a husband and a job but no children. Or she could be a single mother with a job. Or she could have children and a husband but no paid employment. Trying to do all three is just impossible.

I came across this advice during the last seven days three times on various comments threads in the blogworld, which means that the stupid statement has been absorbed into the folk wisdom of the American culture and needs to be lanced before it infects even more otherwise sane women.

So into the lancing. Note, first, that according to that aphorism it is easier to be an employed single-mother than an employed mother with a male partner. Really? The only way this could at all be true is if having a husband around means a net increase in work for the woman, that having that male partner means more socks to wash and more hurt egos to soothe with nothing positive coming out of the relationship for the woman. How very sexist, to think that way about men!

But then an astonishing undercurrent in anti-feminism has always been the assumption that men are rats. The reason why this isn't attracting much attention from men is that the assumption is linked with another undercurrent stating that nothing whatsoever can ever be done about men being rats, that it is these rats who run the world and it is their rat values which determine how women should behave. Note that I'm not saying this. I'm telling what a certain school of anti-feminism actually believes.

The corollary of this is that men are work for women, children are work for women and work is work for women. It is women who are seen as responsible for all the social and psychological work that goes into keeping a family together, all the child-rearing work, all the sexual work of keeping a husband happy and, naturally, all the work that a paycheck requires. No wonder, then, that only two of the three balls can stay in the air for these juggling women.

What makes all this much clearer is to do a reversal and to ask whether men can juggle the three balls of a job, a marriage and children. We don't ask this question very often. Almost never. Neither do we ask questions about the wider circus in which the juggling women perform.