The Privilege of Having it All

23 Jul

The other day I read this really great article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have it All. Ms. Slaughter worked in Washington and after a less than 2 years doing a job that she loved, she quit. Despite having a supportive husband, her family could no longer cope with her absence during the week. She decided that she could no longer compromise the lives of her two teenage sons and her husband for her career. She outlined some of the borderline-hostile comments she received from other women, including telling her she could not write an article with such a title. But she did and I’m glad.

When her commitment to her profession was challenged it “triggered a blind fury.” She realized that,

“I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot). (emphasis added)

Since earning the ‘right’ to have a career, women have spent the last decades trying to prove that they can be a good mother and wife, and career woman. They have put pressure on themselves, and each other, to do two full-time jobs as if they have something to prove to society (and themselves and each other). Women who focus on their families at the often short-term expense of their careers are often viewed as just not committed enough.

Ms. Slaughter does an excellent job of deconstructing the notion of “having it all” so I am going to leave that to her. Where I want to step in is discussing an egregious display of male privilege.

One of the underlying ‘problems’ for women is children. Rather, raising children. For one, school lets out at 3pm. Most workplaces do not. This schedule is an ancient throwback to when children helped out on the farm and mothers stayed at home. That world no longer exists. Childcare is a major issue for women all around the world.

Women are more likely to be single parents than fathers and women are more likely to live in poverty. In Canada in 2006there were a total of 1,414,060 lone parent families and of those, 80% (1,132,290) were headed by women. The average after tax income of those single-mother households in 2006 was $39,700. The average after tax income of the single-father households in 2006 was $57,300. That’s a difference of $17,600! As of 1997, low-income single-mother households had grown significantly and were poised to take top spot from the ‘elderly’ category. In 2006, of the 1,927,000 low income “economic families” (ie. anybody either with a spouse and/or children), single mother families accounted for 296,000 – 31.2%.

From these statistics, we can conclude that if you are a single-mother you likely make significantly less than an equivalent single-father family and you are one of the largest, if not the largest, group of low-income households.

Now, what prevents women from getting an education and a good paying job? According to these statistics, being a woman and having children is strongly correlated with being a low-income earner. What might help single-mothers get better paying jobs? Childcare.

High quality childcare is prohibitively expensive. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear of families with 2 income earners have one parent (read: mother) stay home with the children because her income was less than the cost of childcare. For a single-mother, even if she has school-aged children, she has to be home by 3 when her children get out of school, or have enough extra income to pay for daycare. Thus, a significant percentage of single-mothers are likely to either a) not work so she can be home for her children, or b) work a low paying job that allows her to be home for her children. What would help women get better paying jobs to lift their families out of the “low-income” classification? Affordable, high quality daycare.

To the meat of my post. I posted the above article on my Facebook with the comment,

Thank you CPC [Conservative Party of Canada] for killing national day care [a program negotiated by the Liberal Party of Canada with the Provinces that was all ready to go when the CPC got elected to government], which would have kept brilliant women in the workforce and gotten others off of social assistance, neither of which have *anything* [sarcasm] to do with the economy.

To which an Unnamed Male Individual who I know is a “libertarian,” wrote,

It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of people’s children!

Everyone has two pretty great options:
1) Have children and take care of them, or pay someone to do it
2) Don’t have children

Which “triggered a blind fury” in me. Here is where I educate this Unnamed Male Individual on male privilege, a concept that he has significant difficulty grasping. I will give credit where credit is due: he isn’t a (terrible) hypocrite. He is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and the like, but only because he believes government shouldn’t legislate social policy. Those are pretty much the only reasons I tolerate his right-winged behaviour. I digress.

A fundamental, flawed assumption built into that statement assumes that every woman who becomes pregnant a) consented to the sex, and b) consented to pregnancy. Women who are raped are entitled to keep the resultant child without being ‘punished’ for that decision; they should be supported. Suggesting that they should have just not had that child is no different than the anti-choice ‘argument’ that women should just not have sex if they don’t want to get pregnant.

Another flawed assumption built into that statement is that having children has no societal benefit. Later on in the conversation, he railed against ‘State indoctrination’ of children occurring in day care, entirely missing the fact that education from age 5-18 is State funded! What is the difference between State funded education “indoctrination” and State funded day care “indoctrination”?

Thirdly, situations change. Couples have children and lose their jobs. Fourthly, and most importantly, people living in poverty are entitled to have children. It is entirely within the interest of the State to support them in any way possible to get them into the workforce. It is entirely within the interest of the State to support brilliant women to keep them in the workforce. When people work, they pay taxes. They fund the system rather than being funded by it. I had always planned on being child free and yet I could not logically complain about State funded education because educated children will eventually have the jobs that will pay my Old Age Pension (assuming it still exists). In fact, with an aging population it is very important for the State to encourage its citizens to have children. By terminating the National Daycare Program, the CPC effectively crushed the generation that will eventually fund the social programs their children will use in their older years!

When somebody who is incapable of getting pregnant offers the ‘solution’ of “just not get pregnant,” it really pisses me off. It isn’t that easy. And even if it is, it is an extraordinary example of male privilege to suggest that women are the authors of their own economic fortunes. Ultimately, men can, and do, walk away from the women they impregnate. A man is not tied to his child in the same manner that a woman is and it is arrogant to suggest that the solution is as simple as not having children. Thanks for mansplaination.

For more commentary on the “having it all” discussion, see this great round-up

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