It was lame when Betty Friedan was criticized for not writing about working class women or women of color in “The Feminine Mystique.” And it’s lame that Sheryl Sandberg is being attacked right and left for being too privileged to have anything valuable to say about working motherhood.
Sandberg, the massively influential COO of Facebook, has written a new book, “Lean In,” which aims to tackle the issue of why women still have so much trouble getting to the top of the ladder in business, government and pretty much every other high-powered field. I haven’t read the book, because it’s not out yet (March 11 is the release date), but from my understanding, it’s main gist is that women need to be more assertive and willing to toot their own horns in order to succeed in competitive fields. Sandberg acknowledges the structural issues that can make success difficult – no paid maternity leave, inflexible policies, etc. – but encourages women to band together and fight these. She even suggests weekly “lean in” sessions (which sound like a modern update on 1970s consciousness raising groups) for women to get together and talk about their successes and failures together.
Not so fast. Apparently, Sandberg is a Marie Antoinette in Louboutin heels, too blind with her “privilege” to offer anything of use to “real women.” Because she has “a husband, children, a beautiful home, a seat on the board of a billion-dollar company, a nine-figure net worth of her own,” her interest in supporting fellow ambitious women is merely a useless “vanity project.” She is a mere “pom-pom girl for feminism,” whose Prada boots and access to private planes make her impossible to take seriously.
This is bullshit.
Betty Friedan was writing for and about a specific demographic of women – middle-class women, most with college educations, who found themselves shunted back into the home due to postwar pressures to return America to safety and normalcy via domestic goddess-dom. Sandberg is writing about women who want to succeed in the upper realms of business and industry, a place where they are sorely underrepresented. Criticizing either of them for what they didn’t write about strikes me as grossly unfair, an easy – and yes, sexist – way of diminishing their message.
I am 1000% in favor of making structural changes that will help ALL women (and men, for that matter) – ambitious and non-ambitious, rich and poor, black and white and Hispanic and Asian and native, educated and not – be better able to balance work and family. I think Sandberg would completely agree. But just because that’s not what her book focuses on doesn’t mean it’s worthless. There are so few people addressing the ways women are socialized to fail in the workplace – being afraid to ask for raises, not applying for ambitious enough positions, etc. This is important stuff!
What do you think? Will you be reading Sandberg’s book? For some more positive takes, read Janet Maslin’s New York Times pre-review, or Anna Holmes’ New Yorker defense of Sandberg.
A real question to Slate’s “Dear Prudence” advice column:
Q. Crafting Obsession: My sister and I live close to each other and get together with our kids a few times a week. We have a pretty good relationship overall, but lately one thing has come up that is becoming increasingly hard to deal with. While she was always crafty, it seems as though the combination of Pinterest has made her almost obsessed with crafts and presentation. At a recent birthday party, my brother-in-law told me that his wife was up until 2 every night that week and 4 the day before the event. It is clear this is taking a toll on both of them. I work part time and spend the remainder of my week with my 3-year-old and 5-year-old doing normal mom stuff that does include homemade meals and some DIY projects, but I’m certainly not up until 2. I would like to bring this up to my sister, but I’m not sure how to be tactful and concerned instead of pushy and unhelpful.
Hmmmm. I dunno. Knit her a straightjacket? Attach electrodes to her fingers and shock her whenever she tries to access her Pinterest “cute DIY projects!” board? Cross-stitch her a sampler that reads “All craft and no sleep make Jane a pain in the ass”? Send her to Cupcakes Anonymous? Use her hot glue gun to glue her Craft Drawer shut?
Spinning at North House Folk School
As the self-sufficiency/DIY phenomenon grows, a number of “folk schools” teaching old-fashioned, nearly lost domestic and homesteading skills are springing up around the country. Writing in Grist, Lori Rotenberk looks at the rise of the folk school movement:
But now, a growing interest in sustainability and the rise of craft and DIY culture, as well as unease with the current course of the economy and climate, are drawing people back into the folksy classroom.
“There’s a level of uncertainty about what the future holds for us as a society,” says Kyle Lind, a 27-year-old college graduate who recently started a 10-month internship at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minn. “Oil and food prices are on the rise. The cost of electricity and heat are skyrocketing. More and more people are realizing they have to know how to do for themselves.”
At Driftless Folk School in rural Wisconsin, you can learn to make cheese, butcher a deer, make a broom, build a solar cooker or forge a knife. At the Folk School of Fairbanks, Alaska, you can learn to build a canoe, make children’s toys, and weave. At North House Folk School in Northern Minnesota, you can learn to sew Scandinavian-style work shirts, learn to grow your own fruit orchard, make herbal medicine and build your own sauna (yes, please!).
[The organizers of the folk schools] see the movement as more of an awakening, an awareness that we’ve drifted a bit too far from nature. Not as doe-eyed as their earlier ’60s counterparts, they know the world won’t become one happy commune. Still, they point to a budding homesteading movement in both urban and rural areas as evidence that these ideas are gaining traction.
I’m gonna guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about these folk schools in the near future. Is this something you guys have heard of?
I was inspired by a post by Danielle at From Two To One, on why feminism as a whole benefits from religious feminists. It’s a great post, and it got me thinking about religion and new domesticity. While I don’t identify as religious (I was raised Jewish and I still love to make latkes on Hanukkah and matzo ball soup for Passover dinner, but don’t go to synagogue), but I’m really interested in the ways religion shapes our identities as women and as people.
While I was researching the book, I interviewed a number of women whose domestic identities were deeply tied to their religious identities. I talked to a number of very conservative Evangelical women who ran Etsy shops because, in their communities, mothers didn’t work outside the home, so selling homemade goods online was one way for them to have some financial independence. I talked to Mormon mom bloggers who felt it was their calling to blog about motherhood in a positive, upbeat way to counteract anti-family messages in the mainstream media. I talked to a Jewish urban homesteader who felt that “reclaiming” lost domestic arts like canning and crocheting was a way to honor her the women who came before her.
Though I’m not observant, I think my heritage as a reform Jew helped shape my interest in gender equality at home and at work (at the synagogue I grew up in, women gave sermons and men baked hamentashen; very “Free to be You & Me”). Do you have religious backgrounds that have influenced your identity as a woman, and your participation in domestic life?
dad bloggers. image via nytimes.com
Dads. Those incompetent man-children who can’t diaper a baby, those horse’s asses who would rather watch football than help their sons with homework. Sure, they’re fun. They’ll feed the kids candy or rile them up with tickle fights before bedtime. But when it comes to real domestic responsibilities, mom’s in charge.
A growing number of dads are rejecting this sexist imagery. And, as dads start to blog in greater numbers, dad blogs are helping shift the way advertisers deal with parenting. As the New York Times reports, on a recent dad blogging conference:
[The dad-as-idiot paradigm] is an image that many fathers who attended the Dad 2.0 Summit — a meeting of so-called daddy bloggers and the marketers who want to reach them — have come to revile. They are proud to be involved in domestic life and do not want to serve as the comic foil to the supercompetent mother.
Right on, I say.
As we know, mom blogs have become a major outlet for product promotion. Readers trust bloggers more than they trust print or TV ads. McDonald’s, for example, has used mom bloggers to promote its healthier choices menu to great success. Attendees at any mom blogging conference worth its salt are loaded down with more swag than Beyonce at the Grammys. Popular mom bloggers can earn everything from ad dollars to paid sponsorships to free products to “test drive.”
Say what you will about the insidiousness of bloggers-as-flacks for big business (and I have plenty to say about this in my book). But if a new breed of dad blogger is helping shift the corporate narrative around parenting, I say hallelujah! As the Times writes:
Mr. Candelino [vice president of marketing for Unilever] described his target customer as a father, or an expectant one, who is in his late 30s and married, cares deeply about his role as a father and mentor, and is as comfortable having a tea party with his daughter as he is having beers with his friends.
“No brands were talking to guys at that level,” he says. “Society is ready for a new narrative about dads.”
Thoughts? Do any of you read dad blogs? What are some of your least favorite “man-as-idiot-in-the-home” commercials? This is mine.
UPDATE: You can listen to the segment here. It’s at about 0:45 or 0:50, I believe.
Just FYI, I’ll be talking about the 50th anniversary of “The Feminine Mystique” this morning (Tuesday, February 19) on the BBC News Hour (which plays at 9am on various NPR stations in the US), along with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the feminist activist and co-founder of Ms. magazine.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Feminine Mystique, historian Stephanie Coontz applies her usual genius to the question of why gender equality has stalled in the New York Times. If you haven’t read any of Coontz’s books – I’m especially indebted to her “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap” and “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s” – they’re totally fascinating.
As Coontz writes, today’s women and men hold egalitarian values – most of us believe that both men and women should work and should share housekeeping and childcare duties. But few of us can live up to these values, largely because of “structural impediments” – lack of maternity leave, incredibly long work hours, lack of reasonably priced childcare. So women end up dialing back their career ambitions, whether or not they want to. Fewer mothers are working than in the 1990s, women’s labor force participation has stalled across the board, and there’s still a gender wage gap in nearly every field.
“The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall,” Coontz writes.
But since no one wants to feel like they’re a pawn in the system, we women tend to justify our decisions in terms of “personal choice:”
Some people began to argue that feminism was not about furthering the equal involvement of men and women at home and work but simply about giving women the right to choose between pursuing a career and devoting themselves to full-time motherhood. A new emphasis on intensive mothering and attachment parenting helped justify the latter choice [we see a lot of this in New Domesticity]…Anti-feminists welcomed this shift as a sign that most Americans did not want to push gender equality too far.
But women shouldn’t have to make these choices between work and family. And they shouldn’t have to feel like, when they fail at balancing both, it’s their fault. As Coontz writes:
Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice. So let’s stop arguing about the hard choices women make and help more women and men avoid such hard choices. To do that, we must stop seeing work-family policy as a women’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders. Feminists should certainly support this campaign. But they don’t need to own it.
Hong Kong domestic helper ad
Over at The Atlantic, Alexis Coe takes a look at why high-earning working women don’t get much help with housework, even though they can afford it/should presumably be empowered to ask for it:
People assume that women who earn high wages outsource a good deal of domestic responsibilities, but Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald found this “buying-out hypothesis” to be overblown, particularly when it came to housework.…if they can afford it, why aren’t these women outsourcing housework so that they have an organized, sparkling home that creates more leisure time?
Gender norms and perceived societal expectations of wives and mothers may play a role…Housework has a performative quality to it, and conforming to traditional gender norms may produce social and psychological rewards. This is true for Killewald, who said while she and her husband often cook meals together, when her mother-in-law is expected for dinner, she not only cooks the meal, but urges her husband to make it clear that she was the chef. “That’s important to me because I’m showing [my mother-in-law] that I’m a good wife,” she said. “Those expectations don’t fall on fathers and men.”
The article goes on to add that women are loathe to “delegate” housework to their male partners or children, probably for the same reasons outlined above – housework is seen as nurturing, women are socially programmed to have higher expectations for cleanliness than men (though not always, obv – my husband is much neater than I am), women are suspicious of pre-prepared or packaged food options, etc.
But back to the question of why women who can afford it don’t hire paid household help. We’ve discussed before on this blog the tension around the idea of whether it’s OK to hire a maid in the first place. A lot of people were inherently uncomfortable with the idea of giving other people your “shit work,” while I argued that, as long as someone is being paid a decent wage, housework is no worse than any other kind of job.
This tension does not seem to exist equally in all cultures. I’m in Hong Kong now, where many middle-class people have full-time, live-in hired help. Adults – men and women alike – work extremely long hours, and immigrant “helpers” from Indonesia or the Philippines make domestic help affordable. Perhaps because apartments are so small here, or because cheap restaurants and street food stalls make eating out much more common, people seem to feel less a sense of “house pride” and feel less of a moral obligation to cook from scratch. Having a live-in helper is a status symbol – rather than projecting “I’m a bad mother/housekeeper/woman” (as American women fear it does), it seems to say “I’m wealthy enough to afford help.”
That said, the relationship between Hong Kong women and their helpers is not tension-free, as illustrated by this super-creepy milk ad. Basically, the pretty, pale-skinned Hong Kong woman is jealous of her son’s attachment to his darker skinned nanny, and bribes him with milk to love her better.
How many of you have domestic help? What kind? And how many of you would “outsource” work if they could afford it? What would you outsource?
I'm a man doing laundry! via slate.com
In Slate, Finn Boulding talks about life as a “stay-at-home dude” (ie, full-time homemaker with no kids supported by a working wife):
I drop my wife off at her office (we’re trying to remain a one-car couple), then clean, mend, cook, run errands, and deal with the various logistics of life…I found myself taking on the things we used to do in a rush in the evenings, such as laundry and cleaning, and eventually the things that we had never had time for at all, such as cooking and mending clothes we might have just thrown away. Years of old paperwork got purged or organized, unwanted books sold on Amazon or donated.
As a result, when she is done with work—if I’ve managed my time well—the evenings and weekends are now totally open for us to relax together. And if there is cooking and cleaning for me to do while she is home relaxing, I do it without feeling frayed and resentful, because I can relax here and there during my “work” day in a way she can’t.
Staying home with your kids is one thing, but staying home all day to “mend” and do laundry? I’m guessing this is fun for the writer because, up until recently, he was working a stressful, crazy-hours job as an architect. This sewing and cleaning and errand-running probably feels like a vacation. I know that when I’m overloaded with work, I sometimes fantasize about spending whole days cooking or crafting – things I currently do as hobbies. But if I suddenly had unlimited free time to do those things? I’d probably be bored out of my skull in about 3.7 hours. Also, Boulding is putting himself into a position of terrible economic insecurity (obviously) by depending on his wife while his career skills atrophy, as generations of female homemakers have learned. Being a man doesn’t change this. And no kids equals no child support and little alimony in the case of divorce.
Also, Boulding and his wife must have a waaaaaay bigger house than I do. Between my husband and I, a pretty thorough weekly cleaning takes about 2 hours every Sunday, and laundry and cooking take another 2 hours a day max (and we don’t have a dryer or a dishwasher). And mending? This might be a time-suck if you have six kids, but for two people? I know I rip a hole in the occasional sock or skirt seam, but this isn’t Little House on the Prairie here. Busting out the sewing machine twice a year or so pretty much takes care of it.
If I told my husband I was going to quit my job to be a homemaker, he’d A) laugh, and B) say “hell no you’re not! Seriously.” My interest and engagement in things outside the home and our family unit are part of the reason he likes me. And I feel the same way about him. Also, he would not be cool being solely responsible for our financial security in exchange for my cooking and cleaning. I feel the same way.
Do you think housework (minus childcare) could consume your entire day? Would you be OK with a stay-at-home spouse (NOT a stay-at-home dad)?
eating homemade baby food via theatlantic.com
While we’ve all heard a lot about what I call “DIY parenting” (the kind of parenting that embraces anti-institutional, self-sufficient strategies like homeschooling/home birth/making all your baby food from scratch, etc. etc.), we don’t talk that much about why this kind of parenting has grown so popular. In the Atlantic, I take a look at the historical and social factors that made DIY parenting so ubiquitous among educated, progressive parents.