Monday, July 9, 2012

Who Cares About the 1%?

Elizabeth Wurtzel - author of Prozac Nation (remember that? From the early 1990s?) apparently would like to slap me. Really! She said so in the Atlantic:

I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time -- by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits -- is her feminist choice.

I don't even know what Jivamukti classes ARE! But that's because I'm an idiot.

Before I write this, let us talk about credentials. Elizabeth Wurtzel lives in an affluent section of New York City, writes memoirs and has no children. I live in a non-affluent section of Northern Ontario, mostly write emails and have three children, who I am raising full-time. I apparently do not exist:

To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met -- none of whom do anything around the house -- live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. 

I can't wait to tell my husband about his high-paying job in finance/entertainment that allows me to live my feminism-ruining life of pedicures, mysterious Jivamukti classes (SERIOUSLY WHAT ARE THOSE?) and hot pool boys (I HOPE.). My slatternly housecleaning can also be nicely blamed on my maid, which is handy. Okay, no. In all honesty, I know very few wealthy people and I don't know ANY SAHMs who get to live a life of rich loafery - although unlike Wurtzel, I can apparently imagine the existence of people I have not met. Some women are rich and useless and exist only to display their husbands' wealth! Feminism should forbid it!

*eye roll*

Here is a brief biographical description of me: I spent my early 20s having a complicated, drawn-out breakdown, much like Elizabeth Wurtzel, non-idiot; although it didn't occur to me at the time to write a profitable memoir about the whole miserable experience, so instead of finding myself with a book at 26, I found myself instead newly married AND accidentally pregnant (within the same two weeks, dammit!) and very, very fragile.

I had been working part-time and was writing a lot at that time and this was 13 years ago, so it was before the era of subsidized childcare for low-income families in Ontario (and WERE WE EVER) and without a degree, I had few options for decent-paying work. Hooray for me! I made great choices! But making bad choices is okay, says Wurtzel, so long as they're for love (or sex, whatevs.):

I really don't consider it my feminist business that an awful lot of strong and solid women -- Simone de Beauvoir, famously -- are idiots about love and romance any more than I care that Helen of Troy's face started a naval war, because we are all fools for love.

WE ARE? But I made an AWESOME marital choice! Seriously, marrying my husband was the smartest damn thing I ever did. I couldn't have done a better job if I'd chosen him rationally, which I certainly did NOT do. And here's where Elizabeth Wurtzel and I suddenly diverge: I DO judge you if you spend your adult life making moronic, predictably stupid, life-damaging romantic decisions. COME ON NOW. CUT THAT OUT.

For the longest time I would not date anyone who would now be called a one-percenter because money and power are such a potent combination, and if I am going to be bossed around, I don't want that to be the reason

Er, what? I wasn't sure about this, so I phoned my husband at his sole-wage-earner of the family job and asked him if he bossed me around.

"No?" he said. Did he know he has all the power in our relationship, I demanded? He only sighed heavily. Here's the thing: he doesn't boss me around. HE NEVER HAS. This is because he's a decent human. Tricky, eh?


So was staying home with my child a bad decision? Well, no - economically, it made sense at the time, and it made sense from my health's perspective as well. The childcare options available to us at that time were NOT great - and let us not pretend that all child care options are equal. Of course they're not - and so we did the best we could with the choices we could make.

And was it the wrong choice?

Well, possibly, from my stand-point NOW. But it was the very best choice I could have made at the time with the resources I had available to me.  Making a bad choice doesn't necessarily mean you've done the wrong thing and even knowing what I know NOW, I would still choose to stay at home with my kids. Childhood is short and it was fun. But am I  - and my choices - to be granted the same respect Wurtzel grants women who spend their  lives needlessly miserable because of men who don't deserve it? Apparently not, because I'm getting lumped in with the useless show-trophy wives of the very rich. Apparently not, because the love I feel for my  children does not rate the same respect as Simone de Beauvoir's desperate love for the unfaithful, frog-like Jean Paul Sartre and the decisions I make do not deserve the same respect as Simone de Beauvoir's decisions (among which - seducing underage students and then pimping them out to Sartre. L'amour!) because MY possibly-bad choices involve money. OH.

38 comments:

  1. I think I would blow Ms. Wurtzel's ever-loving mind. My husband would blow her mind, too. He works so I can stay at home with a million kids and has never, ever held that against me or over me. Not once have I felt bossed around. Maybe I just don't know he's doing it to me.

    Me not as SMRT as Ms. Wurtzel.

    Great post, Beck.

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  2. I think her assumption that all stay-at-home-mothers MUST be part of the 1% infuriated me almost more than anything else. No, some of us have chosen to live more simply so that we can make do with one modest income (THE HORROR). Or in my parents' case, be dirt poor, because childcare was non-existent or cost an arm and a leg back then, and even a second income wouldn't have been enough to cover it.

    And I get that not everybody can make that work, but just as it is a disservice to mothers who work outside the home to assume that it's because they don't WANT to be home with their kids, it's a disservice to SAHMs to paint us all as lazy, worthless leeches who care for nothing but our own immediate gratification.

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    1. Another assumption that bothered me was that it these are easy choices - but I know women who are home with their kids out of stark, desperate necessity (like 1 mom I know who quit her job because there is no safe place for her non-verbal autistic child to go during the day.) and a LOT of women I know would dearly love to be able to be home more with their kids but economic necessity says they can't. Life can be very hard and most people make the best choices they can.

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    2. Exactly - all the parents (not just moms!) I know are doing the best they can for their kids and their family, and quite frankly, whether or not we are waving the banner of "feminism" by those choices is irrelevant.

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  3. "If you can't pay your own rent, you are not an adult." That is the line that I can't get past. It makes me so angry I could spit.

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    1. It's a fairly stunning line, isn't it? I mean, we're in a bad economy right now - does this mean the unemployed lose their adult status? And I know some staggeringly immature people who can pay their own mortgages, so.

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  4. I wonder how Wurtzel's opinions will change when she is elderly and dependent on others.

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  5. Here is the thing: there are some of us who had "good careers" who stopped working so that we could care for our children. I was a lawyer before kids. I could not figure how to make it work, for me, after having kids. I know enough about myself to know that at 630 after a long day slogging it out with petty clients, annoying opposing counsel, and having to wear a suit, that I wasn't going to have much left for my kids.

    But I had thought about that before I had kids, before we even got married. When we bought our house, you can imagine the realtors gleam in her eye, "two young lawyers, with their best years ahead of them, surely they want to live in *insert name of posh community* and have a showcase house!!!" She was sorely disappointed when we were determined to buy a house based only on hubs' income.

    So, we live in a farther out community (hubs has a solid one hour commute each way), more generic cars. We don't live near family who can help with the kids, but I belong to a babysitting coop/swap so that it is affordable. We aren't struggling, but we don't have lots of extras. And we knew that was the way it was going to be.

    Golly, she is arrogant and narcissistic and I hope sometime that she HAS to care for someone 24/7 who is totally dependent on her. That might beat some of the selfishness out of her.

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    1. Thanks, Kimberly!

      Because of the unplanned nature of our rather-youthful entry into parenthood, we started out being parents as really, really poor - and although I wouldn't recommend it, it REALLY has made me appreciate being not-poor NOW, when - like you - we don't have a lot of extras but things aren't so freaking hard anymore.

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  6. I can't figure out whether she ACTUALLY thinks that all SAHMs are members of the 1%, or whether she just doesn't understand how to use paired dashes. Is it ignorance of the world? Or ignorance of the rules of punctuation? (And which would be worse?)

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    1. I am so in love with this comment.

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    2. I actually am so terrified to making a grammatical error in response to this comment that I'm not going to say ANYthing (but I love it, too.).

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  7. I read that article a couple of weeks ago, and also a response to it at the Atlantic. Part of me was angry at Wurtzel's smug assumptions, but part of me recognized that she is so out of touch with normal people that she's more to be pitied than anything else. I wonder if she realizes how much of an idiot she sounds, and that people across America are dismissing her as such.

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  8. What disturbs me is that she isn't aware that the people she is surrounded with are not the ENTIRE WORLD.

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  9. Your perspective has been missed. Thanks for writing.
    Linda

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  10. Grin. I just had to boss my wife around. I told her to go eat dinner.

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  11. I love you like I love the chaise lounge I sprawl on all day while I eat bonbons and get mani-pedis from the six children in my care...

    No, wait.

    I'm glad someone wrote a rebuttal. I wish she'd read it. I honestly wonder if we aren't all being punked. Surely no one actually *believes* this, do they?

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  12. Oh! Apparently, I need to phone someone about the severe lack of maid, nanny, and of course, the plethora of weird martial meditation yoga classes in my life.

    Apparently, I have the means for these

    No? Oh. Right. Because I live in the real world.

    Oy, what a catastrophe that woman probably is in real time.

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  14. Just to recap my twitter-based comments: I really don't have a lot of patience when a forty-something, childless, single woman makes vast generalizations about all SAHMs and then tries to prove her theory by citing examples of upper class women in NYC.

    Thanks Samantha Jones -- but I would really prefer to hear from Miranda or Charlotte or the woman that Aidan married AFTER Carrie slept with Mr Big. Now go have sex with the doorman and leave me to the business of raising up another generation who will understand that remaking the gender constructs of our society is going to take GENERATIONS.

    Great post!

    Signed,

    Nan
    SAHM, nanny-less housewife, member of the 99%

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    1. I remember back when Callista Flockheart adopted a baby while she was on Ally McBeal and one of her co-workers said something to the effect of "It's great, now she'll have something to love after work." And that's a prevalent attitude that people who aren't interesting in having kids frequently have, that children are like a pet and you can partition the care for them into easily-managed post-work segments. Her comments about the amount of time and work involved in raising a child well (easily, as one makes supper and so forth) were pretty damn funny.

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  15. Okay, this is the comment that I'm shy to leave, because I was brought up to believe that talking about income, etc., was appropriate NEVER. So, I'm shy. But I think my perspective is valid, nonetheless. Plus, I love you, Beck, so I will comment on what you have to say!

    So here's the thing: by definition, my husband would be in the 1%. And yet, despite the fact that I left my job - which was both intellectually stimulating and decent paying, albeit it came with a price tag of long hours, severe stress, and bad health, culminating in a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia when I was pregnant - despite the fact that my income is now ZERO and I write a very unsponsored blog, he has never, ever made me feel like I was a shackel around his ankles or an old ball and chain, and never has he "bossed me around". Never has he made me feel like I owe him something for being the breadwinner in the family.

    I don't have a nanny. I don't have a housekeeper. I clean my own house and I make all our meals and do all our grocery shopping. I parent all the time. I take my kids to school and pick them up every day. Our choice - because it was a choice we made together - for me to leave my job was the best choice we could have possibly made. The other choice was for me to continue at my 12 hour a day job, have someone else raise my children, and constantly feel like I was doing everything wrong. I would not be the parent I wanted to be, and I would not be the employee I would like to be. I would always be divided.

    I don't think that's wrong. I don't think that's anti-feminist. I think that's making the right decision for what our family needed.

    Also, I don't live in NYC or LA. I know! It's hard to imagine such a thing. A housewife doing things in the house, and living on one income.

    I guess we really are just fools for love. Right. I think I made a great choice of husband, regardless of his earning power. He's a good husband and a good dad and that has nothing to do with his paycheques.

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    1. Nicole - you are brilliant. THIS: "The other choice was for me to continue at my 12 hour a day job, have someone else raise my children, and constantly feel like I was doing everything wrong. I would not be the parent I wanted to be, and I would not be the employee I would like to be. I would always be divided." That is exactly what I thought. I would be a cranky mom and a cranky lawyer and doing a disservice to my kids/husband AND my clients. So I quit.

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    2. Nicole, I love it. And you. And now that I know you are One of the Wealthy, there is NOTHING stopping you from flying out here so we can finally meet face to face, right?

      Kidding. I'll never mention again that your husband is a captain of industry. But kudos to you (and Kimberly too!) for entering this discussion with your own story. I think it's pretty damned important to get the other side too. :)

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    3. There! Hannah just said what I was trying to say myself. Thank you so much for writing that, Nicole. I know it was nerve-wracking and I appreciated it!

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    4. What I think is MOST frustrating about all of this is that we are even having to have the discussion. I mean, I think it is a basic truth that *most* children do better being raised *mostly* by their parents, and *most* mothers will be better parents if they are with their children more. There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but I don't know why there has to be so much angst about it. Just own your decisions. Life has lots of them. Give up work bc you want to stay home. Stop working bc you need to stay home. Work bc you will go mad if you don't. Work bc you want to maintain your career track. Whatever. Just own your decisions. So many people don't.

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  16. In a way, I hate that we are trying to answer such baseless, dimwitted asshattery with logic and pesky real-world examples. I guess in Wurtzel's World (new show coming to TVO Kids!) there shouldn't be kids, since anyone who willingly gives up an income to care for them or accepts an income that probably wouldn't meet with her approval to care for them is beneath contempt. Or kids should be shipped off to internment camps, or closed up in life-support pods until they can look after themselves. And my husband only bosses me around when I tell him to. Jesus. What a twit she is.

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  17. i found your blog on twitter after spending the day fielding comments, both positive and negative, to my very similar response to Ms. Wurtzel's article - it seems you and I have a similar take on things!

    http://www.emptyhousefullmind.com/stayathomemomsandfeminists/

    Love the way you write!

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    1. Thanks, Sharon! Your post was really excellent.

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  18. I can't begin to explain how angry this article made me. Not having kids pretty much disqualifies her for making this argument, but it doesn't calm me down.

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    1. I wrote this post after yelling for 2 solid evenings about the damn article. I feel much better now.

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  19. I am very afraid to go read that article because I think I might become incensed.

    This whole argument is so damned crazy making. We all make choices. They're right for us. Or they aren't. But they are ours. At present, I am the working parent in our little family, and my husband is home with our child. Does he loll around getting his toenails painted? In point of fact, the reason that he's home at all is because he's disabled. Does that have anything to do with anything? Not really.

    I'm rambling.

    Good post, Beck.

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  20. Another thing that makes me sad about this article is that the 1% she is referring to. The ones who are as she describes (and they are out there), are often married to the men who run the US. The men who are out there making decisions about childcare, healthcare in the US often think that way about women. And it is sad. I don't think it is the same in Canada as you don't have to be ultra wealthy to run for government office here. But maybe I am wrong.

    Is SAHM for valued in our country? I don't know. Also has anyone ever taken a moment to add up how many hours of volunteer work a SAHM (parent, men do it to) does. I bet she wouldn't value that time at all. I feel sorry for her.

    Gah sorry for being so rambly. I just ready the original and yours back to back and I am annoyed (with her) and having a hard time organizing my thoughts.

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  21. So, let's see. The logic goes like this: Money = power. Powerful people determine how the powerless will live. Therefore, any wealthy woman, or any woman who has the means to become wealthy, betrays feminism the moment she fails to wield her power over others. Feminism being defined, in her mind, as "winning at the game" -- as ousting males from positions of power & replacing them with females.

    I believe this is a peculiarly American viewpoint. Or, dare I say it, a peculiarly New York viewpoint.

    I always thought that feminism was about changing the game -- not about playing the existing game better than men.

    **

    Beck, hello! I just found this blog by following a comment at Veronica Mitchell's. It's nice to hear your voice again.

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  22. Hey Becks!

    Jivamukti is a kind of extra sanctimonious yoga, where they yell at you if you're not a vegetarian, and you are supposed to change the world by holding the correct opinions while stretching out your hamstrings.

    Her article was so inane and your response so (characteristically) excellent that all I can do is solve that one wee definitional problem for you.

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  23. I just read this, and then went and read her article, and then my head exploded. Literally.

    All the rebuttals and indignations are rushing forth at once such that I cannot say or write anything, but am sitting here sputtering.

    To be fair, I don't think she was intentionally lumping you in with 1% SAHMS. I think she just doesn't realize people like you and me exist.

    But on second thought, yeah, I guess she is saying that IF people like you and me were to exist (which we don't as far as she knows because her own personal acquaintance is apparently authority enough to generalize about all people), then we are also waging a war against women. I had no idea I was doing anything so important as that!

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