The Very Concept of a ‘Working Mother’ Is Sexist Crap

Illustration for article titled The Very Concept of a ‘Working Mother’ Is Sexist Crap

It's 2013 and here we are, still looking around at one another with "Who farted?" faces when it comes to the topic of balancing both a career and a family. We've convinced ourselves that being a "working mom" is the dilemma of the modern woman without bothering to question that being a "working dad" is not even a thing that people say with a straight face. And that's what really stinks.

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Yesterday a story appeared on the cover of The New York Times, called "Coveting Not a Corner Office, but Time at Home," about how one Wisconsin woman's approach to her career is indicative of a national trend of mothers who:

[F]ind climbing a career ladder less of a concern than finding a position that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling or even the opportunity to work fewer hours.

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Is anyone else utterly floored that this is headline news?

Look, I love when women's issues are discussed in the mainstream on a national scale like this. At the very least—no matter the approach being heralded (lean in, lean out, lean back, what have you)—just talking about this stuff is a recognition of like, "Oh, hey, things aren't really equal after all. Would ya look at that?" Admitting you have a problem is always the first step, so that's a good start. But why have we stalled?

Maybe it has something to do with how it's still de rigueur on the front page of The New York Times to discuss a woman's favorite kitchen appliances in an article purportedly about her career.

On Sundays, she teaches at her church, and then prepares most of the meals for rest of the week, making great use of two wonders of modern cookery: the slow cooker and the freezer.

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I mean, come on. I was made to believe that the future is now. So why does it read so much like we're only at the halfway point in the Carousel of Progress?

To be fair, The Times piece does offer a bit of advice to take some pressure off of working moms, suggesting that they ask their employers to allow them to work remotely one day a week. There's nothing wrong with that suggestion. It's a fine suggestion—but it's not a solution.

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Honestly, I think that part of the problem is that we're approaching this all the wrong way. As women, we tend to ask ourselves what we can do to make it work. What more can we do so that we can do more? If that sounds like nonsense it's because it is.

The reason why we're all so fucked up over this issue is because women were/are raised with the implication that there's some kind of moral failing attached to improperly prioritizing making money and making a home. So to cover our bases, we take on everything, like this lady from Wisconsin.

On a recent Tuesday, which she said was broadly representative of most workdays, she rose at 5:45 a.m. and did a load of laundry before everyone else awoke. Soon she was wielding the hair dryer in one hand and a son’s permission slip in the other; running to the kitchen to pack lunches and help one of her sons make dirt cups (pudding and Oreo crumble) as part of a book report presentation; and then driving the children to school at 7:15 a.m. before commencing her 40-minute commute to the office, where she arrives a little after 8. She heads back out — often directly to the baseball diamond — at 4:30 p.m.

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This lady is married. She has a husband. He was not described as a "working dad." The only mention of his involvement with familial chores was picking his kids up from school and coaching one of their sports teams. It is unknown what his favorite kitchen appliance is or whether or not he ever does a morning load of laundry to let his wife sleep in.

The truth is that our cultural understanding of a "working mom" is that of a personal chef, maid, nanny, tutor, and chauffeur all rolled into one frazzled superwoman who also happens to work outside of the home. That's because there are still undeniable innate gender essentialist biases regarding childcare and homemaking.

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Our cultural understanding of fathers who work? They're just men. It doesn't seem fair. But perhaps we can tip the scales of inequality by tossing a couple of loads of laundry over their way.

Coveting Not a Corner Office, but Time at Home [NYT]

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DISCUSSION

This is related to a fear I have about the future, namely that I'll be working more hours and bringing home twice the salary of my husband and doing absofuckinglutely everything at home. My mother had trouble at the start of her marriage dealing with the resentment that can come with being a "working mom" (ugh, that term) while my dad just did his 80 hours at the office and not much else, and I imagine it will sting so much more to do it all when you're also the one paying the mortgage. How do you not grow to see the man you love as a mooch? My current partner is extremely liberal and feminist, and he's interested in being in charge of the home once our salary situations switch permanently and dramatically. But I doubt it will actually happen. There's a reason all his whites are grey and that the non dishwasher safe items in the kitchen are rusted. When we merged pantries he brought a bag full of hamburger helper. Even in a liberal household like the one in which I was raised, men are frequently not taught how to run a home, and since the Judgey McJudgersons focus their attention on wives not husbands, I've noticed that men don't always take the care that women might (massive generalizations; forgive me). All of this leads me and probably others to a situation in which we'd like to delegate tasks we'll be overwhelmed by, will not have time for, and will resent our partners for having to do on top of doing everything else and supporting the family, but we'll hesitate to relinquish control. I'm a perfectionist, a neatfreak, and a foodie who likes to entertain. I see no way arond hiring a lot of help and having twenty exhausting years. But my son will be taught differently, and in the meantime I'll try to teach my partner how to separate colors and pretreat stains without being too condescending about it.