Women Work Because They Have to, Just Like Men

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Hey, Gavin McInnes, I totally like your little theory about how feminism is making ladies miserable by forcing us to "pretend to be men" and join the workforce, so we should prolly just all go back to being housewives like in the past when that was definitely factually a thing, and then all women will achieve maximum nonstop happiness until we die of orgasming too hard while vacuuming. You've done some fine work there. It's adorable, really. But maybe you should also, IDK, read some information with some words and numbers in it? So that you're more of a guy who knows what the fuck he's talking about, and less of an angry brussels griffon who missed dinner?


McInness, of course, overlooked some important basics in this conversation, notably: 1) that women, especially women born into poverty and women of color, have literally always worked; 2) that working sucks and everyone is miserable doing it because it's work; 3) that ease doesn't equal fulfillment and "happiness" isn't better than self-reliance; 4) that there's plenty of documentation of women being miserable even in domestic paradise; and most importantly, 5) that women don't work because mean feminists are hiding under their beds poking them with a broom handle every morning, they work because they need money to survive.

Matt Bruenig at the American Prospect worked up some numbers on how women's income affects families. Weirdly enough, their article isn't just a blank page with the words "STUDY AFTER STUDY" in the middle! (They should have consulted you, Gavin.)

In the reality of most women, working in the labor market is not a discretionary activity undertaken voluntarily for self-liberation purposes. Like men, women work because they have to work in order to survive. There is no option. This is most obviously true for single women, but it's also true for husband-wife families. In anticipation of a piece I am preparing with Elizabeth Stoker on this McInnes blow up, I calculated the following numbers. They all come from the Census' latest ASEC microdata, which covers 2012.

In 2012, there were around 59 million husband-wife families. In around 36 million of those families (or 60 percent), the wives earned money last year. The wives in the remaining 23 million husband-wife families (or 40 percent) did not.

...Of the 36 million husband-wife families in which the wife does market work, 54 percent (far right red bar) would be below 2x the poverty line if the wife didn't do so. It's not uncommon to describe those below 2x the poverty line as being in or near poverty. So under that convention, 54 percent of husband-wife families in which the wife works would be in or near poverty with just the husband's earnings.

Awww, it's so cute when grumpy old men try to do cultural analysis—they're obviously not suited for it.

Image via Getty.



I think this is a great point, but I also want to underscore that the best argument isn't necessarily "women work because they have to." While this is true, it can sometimes come off as "women would be stay at home moms if they could afford to."

There are tons of women who work because they genuinely want to use their talents and passions to change the world around them. For example, my mom is a brilliant research scientist. Her research literally makes the world a better place. She could have been a stay-at-home mom if she wanted to (we probably could have afforded it), but instead, she got her PhD and stayed in academia. Honestly, I think I did better to have such a strong female role model than having a mom who was miserable as a housewife (which my mom would have been - obvs many housewives are happy with their choices, as my mom was happy with hers).

TLDR: Saying "well, not all moms can afford to stay home!" makes it seem as if the "default" setting for women would be stay-at-home if not for economic necessity...and I don't think that's the case.