We are in the middle of major renovations at my house right now. Unfortunately nothing fancy — more like a getting back to zero scenario (sealed walls, doors that close, upgrading the 70s mushroom brown paint, though that won’t stop me downing a few glasses of serious bubbly when it’s done).
As a result, we currently have no internet access at home. We have been spending our nights, once the kids are asleep (on the loungeroom floor), listening to the radio and painting walls. It has been strangely cosy and kind of a relief to be barred from the computer for a while.
The only downside is that I keep hearing things on the radio I’d like to comment on without the time, or easy means, to post something.
One subject I seem to keep hearing (and thinking) about is the issue of mothers judging other mothers. I am flagging that up as something I want to write about.
But more urgently—despite being about six months late on this one—I recently listened to the repeat of Megan Basham talking on RN’s Life Matters about her book, Beside Every Successful Man.
It could be seen as one of a spate of post-feminist books coming out of the US over the past decade about “modern marriages”.
You can read an article I wrote for Arena Magazine back in 2004 on this subject here.
Also, definitely listen to Monica Dux's great follow-up comments.
Basham is arguing that, since most mothers are choosing not to work full time, they may as well shift their focus on to supporting their husband’s career, as this makes economic sense all round.
Hers is the kind of conservatism that can dress itself up as pure “reasonable-ness”.
She seems flabbergasted that anyone would feel troubled by what she sees as a simple idea: the idea that you help your husband’s career so that more money is flowing in for the whole family.
We all know that statistics show most mothers of young children choose to stay at home, at least part time. This in itself is not in itself a controversial notion (though the basis for that choice can be very complex).
It is Basham’s leap to the idea of exploiting the “marriage premium”, as it’s called, that is so disturbing.
Her “supporting your husband” idea is based on “personal experience” (ie. as a woman surrounded by other women married to men with high earning capacities) and economic data that shows the presence of a “wife” at home has a positive impact on a man’s professional success and income.
The economic argument is a no-brainer. This is the division of labour that has traditionally characterised the neo-liberal economy. But at whose expense?
Hasn’t she watched Mad Men lately?
Basham quotes data that shows a man with wife at home will make 20–60% more than single man with the same job/credentials. The more hours a wife works, the smaller that marriage premium, or “advantage” becomes, she says.
She calls this teamwork.
This is surely the most expedient notion of teamwork I have ever encountered. Instead of a partnership being about individual growth and development, it’s about privileged couples milking the current system to suit their economic ends — no matter the impact on women generally.
She says women who do want to work full time and get to the highest levels should be able to, without a glass ceiling preventing her — but she doesn’t acknowledge that her argument is one of the very ideas that creates such ceilings.
It is all about encouraging an economic system that sees people get ahead by working long hours, unimpeded by family responsibilities — the very thing feminists have been trying to transform for three decades.
It is this deeper, underlying conservatism that poses the real danger for women. Along with the whole tone of the argument: men and women reverting to their most traditional roles; leading separate, if mutually serviceable, lives.
Personally I don’t want to be at home all day alone with the kids from 7am till 9pm and a husband we only see on weekends, sacrificing my own interests to his career purely so that he can make us some more money.
Is that really what life is all about? Is that the life my mother fought for me to have?
After all that, you better hope he won’t leave you for a younger model…