Repeat after me: CLASS WARS, not Mommy Wars

So Hilary Rosen Ann Romney blah blah blah.  You didn’t get comment from me on the matter because  last week was the buildup to the 2012 Minnesota NOW conference, which involved a great deal of work…..for which I was not paid.

At the conference I was approached by a political campaign that was interested talking with me about my writing.  “Is this a volunteer opportunity or a job?” I asked.

You can guess the answer.

A friend of mine works more than 40 hours weekly where our daughters attend school.  She monitors the cafeteria, goes on field trips, assists with special events, and fundraises like a maniac.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that school would crumble without her.  What’s her job title, you ask?

Co-Chair of the PTA.  Yearly salary: nothing.

On Facebook, a friend posted one of the bajillion links to the Rosen/Romney feud and one of HER friends claimed that her stay-at-home-mommy work is “priceless” and she would be “offended” if the government paid her.

I said:

And I wasn’t kidding.

Jill at Feministe wrote a few thousand words on the subject before getting to the real heart of the matter, which is:

Free female labor props up our economy and saves us all tax money.  …women with children, whether they work outside the home or not, aren’t just doing the inside the home care-taking work; they’re volunteering at schools, in community centers, on sports teams. They’re filling the gaps that state and federal funding leaves, so in the short term kids get necessary classroom assistance when lawmakers cut programs. Women are much more likely to be a (again unpaid) care-taker for an aging or ill relative. As a nation, we can afford to not pay for necessary things because there are so many women who are doing those things for free.

Again, in bold and all-caps: “FREE FEMALE LABOR PROPS UP OUR ECONOMY.”

Capitalism depends on our unpaid work.  We are conditioned to do it at every turn.  My job is  so idealized by our culture that my colleagues in the business (women like the Facebook poster) feel ashamed to ask for what is their due.  Ashamed! Can you believe it?

Second Wave feminism declared that women should have opportunities outside the home, but forgot to add that men need to shoulder the burdens inside the home.  The revolution should have demanded as many stay-at-home dads as female CEOs.  But it didn’t.  The goals of the movement became allied with making money, which is one reason why feminism gets accused of being anti-family.  Family is so precious is cannot be allied with something DIRTY like MAKING MONEY!  It’s the madonna/whore binary all over again.

No matter what women do, we’re made to be either/or.  To rob us of nuance is to rob us of autonomy, and that’s just how patriarchal capitalism likes it!

If you think that all of your decisions in life are your own, that you “choose your choice,” then you fail to question the systems in place that perpetuate oppression.  Systems like capitalism, patriarchy, racism, classism, you name it.

Here’s an example.

Minneapolis Public Schools is in trouble.  Every year, the budget cuts get deeper and deeper and the achievement gap between poor and not-poor students is astonishing. Yet somehow, my daughter’s school seems to persevere, and will continue to do so as the ax drops in the future.  Why?  Because of people like that PTA co-chair I know.  One day I asked her: “Would you consider going on strike to highlight how much free work the district gets out of you?”  She looked at me like I was nuts, and I knew why–a PTA strike in our school would only hurt the children, and women are conditioned to think of the children and not themselves.  Minneapolis Public Schools counts on the free labor of middle- to upper-class women to prop up schools when their budgets are cut.  Schools without the free labor force are left to fend for themselves, and their test scores show it.  Class systems stay rigidly enforced.

If women went on strike and refused to volunteer, our school district would have to put much more, and I do mean MUCH MORE, pressure on government officials to fund them adequately.  If the women who prop up our school system went on strike, Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak would be forced to put $150 million of city tax money towards hiring school staff, not towards a Vikings stadium–whose profits will be funneled straight into the pockets of the 1%.

Here’s a picture of our poor, old, inadequate football stadium.  I think it just needs an army of unpaid women to puff it back up again, don’t you?  Maybe we gals could install some of those fancy new corporate suites that the menfolk say they need to conduct the networking business whatchamacallit.

The Official Mommy War Narrative™ would have this PTA co-chair incredibly offended by me suggesting  such radical ideas.  We live under consumer capitalism, a system that encourages competition and discontent–if I’m right, you’re wrong.  Either/or.   If I pick a philosophical fight with Hilary Rosen, Ann Romney, the PTA moms, Linda Hirshman, Jessica Valenti, Phyllis Schlafly, The Feminist Breeder, Amanda Marcotte, the editors at Jezebel, and/or Hillary Clinton, I’ll be distracted.  In my absence, Minneapolis will build a billion dollar football stadium, and its achievement gap will remain one of the worst in the nation.

The (white, male) rich will get richer, the poor will get…..




9 thoughts on “Repeat after me: CLASS WARS, not Mommy Wars

  1. Kimberly

    The thing is, Ann Romney had a choice about staying home vs. staying in the workforce with only a brief hiatus for childbirth and whatever scant maternity leave she was offered vs. leaving the workforce until all her children were old enough for be in full-time school, etc.

    Ms. Romney didn’t face the economic pressures that led my mother to leave the workforce after child number three, because Gramma was too feeble to watch us anymore and Mom couldn’t afford paid childcare on her wages. Ms. Romney didn’t face the economic pressures that a few years later drove my mother back into the workforce, despite having recently borne child number five, because Dad lost his job and it was a matter of ONE of them getting a job, ANY job, as fast as possible. Or accepting off-shift work so she could somehow still care for her baby and squeeze in naps here and there.

    Ms. Romney certainly doesn’t face the pressures that initially led me to decide to stay home until my children were all out of pre-school, then stay home longer because both my boys are on the autism spectrum and juggling their needs with a full-time job would be incredibly difficult, despite the loss of income this means.

    All mothers work, whether outside the home or inside it. Not all mothers are a good spokesperson for what the majority of us suffer. Just like Mr. Romney is not a good spokesperson for the experiences of unemployed people.

  2. Alison

    Yeah, this is great! You’re right that it’s a class issue, and you’re right that our culture loves to spin it into a gender issue–the catfight!–rather than recognizing the ways in which middle class women’s unpaid labor props up the economy.

  3. Anne

    I don’t recall how I stumbled onto this post, but what you say needs to be said loudly and consistently. When women argue among themselves and tear each other down, who wins? “To rob us of nuance is to rob us of autonomy, and that’s just how patriarchal capitalism likes it!” That is BEAUTIFUL.

  4. Lauren

    I agree, this is one of the pithiest commentaries I’ve read on the debacle that gets right to a central problem with women’s domestic labor. Thanks!

  5. deb

    thank you for this post. as women we spend so much time trying to extricate ourselves from this trap of either/or. it’s so frustrating. i know you already said this, but it bears repeating: capitalism doesn’t function properly without the unpaid work of women. the two evolved together, so fixing this problem of where to work (in or out of home), whether/when/how much to be paid from within our current economic framework is like running on a gerbal wheel of feminism trying to get out of the habitat called capitalism. I suppose the least we can do is not turn on each other in the cage! thanks again.

  6. jen

    you hit the nail on the head. the value of work done for the benefit of children, family, community, etc. is exploited by the corporate/government complex. it is blackmail…”do this work and your kids (family, communtiy) will not suffer!”
    what about the human family? what about the mothers who are working hard just to get food on the table and make sure their kids have weather appropriate clothes to wear? what extra time do they have available to take care of the systems the government should take care of. who is looking out for their kids?
    we have to take an empathetic/sympathetic approach to ensure all children have access to quality education and care.


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