The Mommy Blame
A response I wrote in my Women’s Studies class that I wanted to save.
1) How does the ideology of “the ideal nuclear family” affect people’s ideas and public policies concerning personal relationships and family life? Use material in Chapter 7 (readings by Crittenden and Chambers) and Chapter 8 (reading by Parrenas). Think in terms of micro-,meso-, and macro-level factors.
2. What are the opportunities, limitations, and losses for women in the global South arising from the globalization of the economy? What responsibilities of people living in a relatively rich country like the United States to address social and economic problems faces by women from countries of the global South? What can be done? Think in terms of race, class, culture, and nation. Also think micro to global levels of analysis and action.
In the United States, we have bought into our own myth. We have been raised to believe that a nuclear family consisting of a husband, wife, and assorted offspring – heterosexual and of matching race – is the cornerstone to our society, when really, if we looked at our history, the ideal of the nuclear family is the result of a romanticization of a brief period in United States history when the White middle class was briefly able to sustain itself on the income of one individual.
It is important to acknowledge the romanticization of this time period. Post World War II, pre-Vietnam War, the Baby Boom. These times are held up as idyllic when even a rudimentary examination of what life was actually like for the majority of individuals around the world at this time. In Europe and England, massive reconstruction and redrawing of borders, and wars would continue to take place for decades. In Japan, reconstruction from the devastating fall out of two nuclear bombings, and in China, the oppression of it’s dicatorial system and one child policies continued to ensure that infanticide of female babies was often seen as the only hope. And in the United States, the Civil Rights movement was underway. In Ann Filemyr’s essay “Loving Across the Boundary,” she discusses the embrace of White people of their own naivete about what was so eloquently described by W.E.B. Dubois as “the color line.” Indeed. The color line is not invisible. It’s not indescribable. And that brief, romanticized era of United States history is not what we should set as our life goals.
Programs to encourage marriage in the United States and demonize single mothers or working mothers draw heavily on the myth of the 1950’s working family. Wealthy White families who are able to thrive on one income are held up as examples to the working poor. You should be able to have this, the US says to its people. You can have this! As long as you remain married, have children, go to church, and work hard, you should be able to have an ideal life, own a home, retire well, and relax as your life nears its end. I mention going to church because the Conservative movement in the US has a deep investment in marriage as a religious institution. In order to maintain this highly unlikely promise of the benefits of marriage, modern Conservatives have done what White religious movements have been doing for centuries: demonizing single women, especially single mothers, and in the US, especially Black single mothers.
Essays throughout our chapters document this pressure felt by women, but most especially felt by Black women. The pressure to give back to a poor family and community is felt by all children who do better than their parents or better than their siblings, but it is most acutely felt in the Black community. Veronica Chambers writes about how a couple who set aside $500 of their monthly budget to give to family. She also writes about Angela Kyle, who said “I felt that I didn’t have the right not to marry a black man. I felt I had a responsibility to have a Black child.” (Kirk & Okazawa-Rey, 2013, p.351.”
When you combine Chamber’s essay with Ann Crittenen’s essay about “The Mommy Tax,” we quickly see this is a trap women cannot escape. If you work to have a successful career, you may face the inability to have children later in your life. If you have children when you are young, even if well educated, you can expect to be hired for less and to receive smaller increases in income throughout your life. If you have a child in the middle of your career, the need to take maternity leave or the desire to take a few months to spend with children is likely to affect you for the rest of your career. All of these factors will affect you when you reach retirement. In these years, when you would want to help your children attend college, your retirement may hold hundreds of thousands of dollars less than it would otherwise, and you may find yourself inable of assisting your children, even after a long life of dedicated motherhood and work. If you are single, all of those numbers go down. And if you are single and Black, you are now termed “pathological.” What is seen as the descent of the United States way of life and economy has been placed on the shoulders of single Black mothers as solidly as a yoke, and the burden is destructive to the body, soul, and mind of Black women, and Black children. By placing false blame for a perceived deterioration in society on Black single mothers, Conservatives and the Liberals who take part in this game maneuver Black women into a corner they cannot escape.
Women living in the global South, and traveling as labor from the global South to Northern areas face similar persecution for perceived abandonment of their families. While men also travel, a large portion of the blame for increased stress upon children and family bonds is placed not on the shoulders of the father, but again on the shoulders of the mother. While carrying this burden in their hearts, women from the global South work as housekeepers, nannies, nurses aides and caregivers. Because they cannot find work at home that would provide their children with food and shelter, they move to other countries to do so. They are rewarded by being shouldered with the blame for the perceived decrease in the quality of their society and culture.
When the United States exports its idealized tv shows and movies that continue to extoll the virtues and rightness of the White, 1950’s US family, it places pressure upon families in other countries. It creates dissatisfaction with one’s primary culture and way of life. Additionally, it creates unrealistic explanations for those who migrate to the United States, Australia, Europe, and Canada. Very few migrant workers who come to the United States will more than scrape by. There are horror stories everywhere about the treatment of the women who care for the families of those in so called “developed nations.” Denial of health care, denial of food, sometimes denial even of personal space or a place to sleep is a common theme about what happens to women who come North looking for work to support their families.
I see a rather radical need for change in the global economy that would improve the lives of women around the world. And yes, White women, I mean our lives would be improved as well. What needs to occur is a split from the ideal of the 1950’s US nuclear family. A push toward fair wages for domestic workers, as well as fair working conditions. Implementation of funds for parents to assist them as they raise their children in order to prevent them from needing to leave the country to work. And for the upper echelon of businesswomen, a move away from viewing having children as a bad thing in an employee. Paying mothers less is ridiculous and companies do it because they can get away with it easily. Mothers, especially single mothers, know they have to take jobs that come their way. They know they have to buy the most economical products, which often means using items made in terrible working conditions in factories in the Global South.
In short, the woman occupying Earth in the year 2014 is trapped in a cycle that only few escape. And when those few escape, they are held up as models of society, without acknowledging the backs of the other women they had to walk across, or the fact that they may have had additional skills, additional resources, additional advantages that other women did not. They managed to find that high paying job, have their children at exactly the right moment, and then they are able to afford the advantage of paying another woman to leave her family in order to care for their own. Even at the height of the pinnacle, women like Sheryl Sandberg are caught in “The Mommy Trap,” and perpetuate its cycle. Instructions to “lean in” or “ban bossiness” in little girls are only instructions to continue the system of least resistance that we all are a part of: the patriarchy.