Thursday, October 01, 2009

On Opting Out, Again...

The opt-out revolution is what the New York Times invented some years ago, or so I recall. The idea is that highly educated women with wealthy partners opt out of careers in order to stay at home with their children. Note that we are not talking about poor women, or women who have to work to feed those children, or about Any. Kind. Of. Men.. Only about uppity women who have decided no longer to be so uppity.

Here's why this particular trend-making matters to feminism. Let me provide you with the extreme version of what a real opt-out revolution by educated women would mean, one which would truly reverse the trend so far:

If that revolution applied, colleges and universities might ultimately reinstall gender quotas in the sense of a maximum number of women allowed in law schools, medical schools and veterinary schools. After all, those are occupational degrees, and degrees which are today subsidized by the general society in various ways. If women are less likely to ever use their degrees, would they be allowed to be the majority of the students? What about all those poor men they exclude from the education which the women will never even use?

And how many middle-income parents would really consider re-mortgaging their houses just to pay for their daughter's Mrs. degrees? This is an argument that was not at all rare in the past. Indeed, I know a woman in her forties whose parents told her that they would not pay for her college degree as she'd just get married. The money would be wasted, yanno.

Likewise, once potentially powerful women were no longer interested in paid child-care and such, women who really, really need subsidized and good childcare will have fewer advocates, and all those powerful decision-making positions in the society would have far fewer qualified female applicants.

We'd probably also get back all those housewife jokes.

Those are the reasons why the invented trend is about the wealthiest of women, by the way, and not about mothers in general. It is the most educated and wealthiest who, after all, are closest to the top rungs of the societal ladders. If they can be kept away from the top ladder, so can all women and all women's issues. Besides, "opting out" is an incredibly clever way to make childcare once again something that only women do and something that really should be done by a woman alone at home for her own children. Since many women can't afford that option, they can then hate on the women who can and we can have mommy wars and the rest of the society can just chug along without worrying about any of that female crap.

So much for explaining the wider framework of all these weirdly breathless trendlets that the New York Times likes to stuff down our female throats. The widest framework of all is of course the one which assumes that it's up to mothers to take care of their children and of course they have a choice in how they do it but every choice is also wrong.

But they really should have more children and that shouldn't cost the society any money and they really should be at home taking care of those children. On the other hand, that we have so few Nobel Prize winning women is because women are more interested in their children and their families and that's really very admirable but don't come to us complaining about where all the woman award-winners are. If women make the choice of staying at home, they have only themselves to blame for not making the big bucks or the great inventions!

So I'm ranting here. It does a goddess good sometimes. I'm ranting, because we refuse to see that bringing up children is a time-consuming and necessary task, and at the same time we also demand that this nonexistent task (!) be done silently, quietly and without much money by mothers, and they are the ones to bear almost all the costs of this. If these mothers then point out that they can't be in two places at the same time we ask them to make a Sophie's Choice and to chuck out one part of themselves altogether. With very little empathy for those making that choice because they are rich enough to afford it.

Anyway. Here's the impetus for this rant:

A first census snapshot of married women who stay home to raise their children shows that the popular obsession with high-achieving professional mothers sidelining careers for family life is largely beside the point.

Instead, census statistics released Thursday show that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

Census researchers said the new report is the first of its kind and was spurred by interest in the so-called "opt-out revolution" among well-educated women said to be leaving the workforce to care for children at home.

Too bad that they didn't design the sampling frame so that they could answer that question, by the way. To find out the characteristics of SAHMs doesn't tell us the reverse: What percentage of the women with children in each social class are SAHMs. It could be that the original Census data does that answer, but they are not telling us what it might be here.

Gah. I really, really hate this topic. It's classist, essentialist and a major example of how we reverse everything about a topic so that we can bash on one group of women (usually either wealthier SAHMS or wealthier mothers in the labor force) while ignoring vast groups of women altogether. And all men, most naturally.
To understand my irritation a little better, read, say, the comments attached to this post. Then multiply reading comments like those by a thousand and you might get where I sit. The topic disintegrates into woman-blaming and anger and then turns into mummy wars.