Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Dividing Women Does Not Serve Anyone

There was an opinion piece in the Opinionator section of the New York Times, which is their online commentary section, entitled “Mommy Wars Redux: A False Conflict.” This article includes a critique of a book that was recently translated into English called “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” by Elisabeth Badinter.

Photo Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a woman, I can’t help but feel that all of the seemingly-fabricated conflicts trying to pit stay-at-home moms against working moms or against working women who are not mothers, feels like an intentional effort to divide women along class lines.

The truth is that most women do not have a choice whether or not to work outside the home in order to provide for their children. And some women who do have a choice, make the choice to work because they believe that outside intellectual stimulation can help make them better parents.

While the article in the New York Times is fairly academic, I appreciated this statement, which rings true for me:

…under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs: for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place.

While I realize that every woman’s experience is different and every life decision requires couples to make difficult choices, I quickly tire of the rhetoric trying to divide women. This is a critical issue that needs examination, but the divisive rhetoric does not help move this issue forward.

What do you think? Wouldn’t all women support more family friendly policies in the workplace, including policies that enable men to spend more time with their children or policies that make quality child care more affordable? Why do you think people try to divide women like this? Do you have any tips for moms who are trying to work and take care of their kids to create a better work-life balance? Or are you a stay-at-home mom who has tips for other stay-at-home moms about how to manage those stressors? What do you think it will take for Congress or State Legislatures to finally do something to encourage or require more workplaces to establish family-friendly policies?

This is a complex issue and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!


Filed under Career Planning, equality, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women

47 responses to “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Dividing Women Does Not Serve Anyone

  1. Your are absolutely right: divisive rhetoric doesn’t help move the dialogue forward. It stops it altogether. This may be one of those situations where generalizations fail us. Generally speaking kids benefit from having an at-home Mom. But there are many exceptions. Each case must be addressed on its own — depending on the woman and her situation. No?

    • Exactly. I don’t understand the judgements and divisive rhetoric around this. It is a choice that every family has to make for themselves, or that is made for them for most families. And every family’s circumstances is so different and unique. What may work perfectly for one family may not work for at all for another…

  2. I think any developed, open-minded society would have “family friendly” policies without question. Not having one is not only dividing women, but also dividing children, fathers, grandparents, and neighbours. Family is the core of society, and anything that threatens it is a pathology within our communities.

    • Well said! I couldn’t agree more. I can imagine that people who read this post from outside the US will have some interesting perspectives about how this is handled in their countries. It is an issue where we should be able to find common ground since this is a near-universal experience, but it has gotten caught up in all sorts of other political battles. Thanks so much for your comment!

  3. sometimes it’s the women themselves causing the division. why? I’m not sure. Maybe they feel guilty??? I think each woman should have the right to choose or make the best of the lot given her…

    • True. Sometimes we do contribute to the problem. But men seem all too happy to turn it into a political issue – here at least. I don’t think it is the same around the world. Thanks for your comment!!!

  4. A real and important issue and one that needs to be discussed… often. I think the impetus for change along the family friendly work practices line has ratched up a notch with more and more Gen Yers entering into the workforce. There are is now so much more literature on practices to retain employees than there ever was. The GFC and its aftermath has diluted the message temporarily, but mementum will come again. I agree though, that there is something to be lost (and gained) whichever way a woman goes. Nobody should judge anyone else’s path. The sisterhood has much to learn about unifaction and supprt.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I couldn’t agree more. It is really kind of baffling why we have not come a little further on this issue. Women unite!!! 🙂 Sign me up! Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  5. You wrote – “The truth is that most women do not have a choice whether or not to work outside the home in order to provide for their children”.
    To me, this is the glaring failure of how our two political parties Govern us.
    They focus and to the extreme sometimes on just the economics of policies.
    If we could focus on how to make the choice easier, then maybe we could find ways to make the economics better.
    But to place policies above people because of money?

    • Good point. I was thinking about the economic realities that families face, but these are certainly determined by government policies as well. I know other countries have found ways to handle this issue very differently than the United States and we could have a lot to learn from those countries. Perhaps in other countries, policymakers are more willing to place human needs above economics? Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  6. This is an incredibly complex issue. Women are divided against one another by political and intellectual rhetoric, and yet we have allowed it to happen and play into it by going on the attack. Mothers, whether working or stay at home, frequently feel that we are so busy defending our own choices that we don’t have the time or energy to see the bigger picture — that being systematic sexism and lack of support for women in the working world. If we were dealing with a system in which equal pay was guaranteed, in which extended maternity and paternity leaves were the norm, in which child care was affordable, the whole equation would be different. Women who currently stay at home might go back to work sooner if childcare were more affordable, and women who go back to work right away might stay home longer if they knew that they would not be in any way penalized in the workplace for doing so. As for how to go about creating meaningful change, I don’t think it can happen as long as mothers keep attacking each other and refusing to support each other’s choices. If we were to all band together, working moms, stay at home moms, rich moms, poor moms, we would be a formidable force politically. But right now we’re too fractured.

    • What a great comment! I completely agree. We need to stop judging each other and start supporting each other’s choices. I can’t help but think that it is intentional when people try to divide women, just for the reason that you say – if we came together and unified, we would be a force to reckon with! We already are, but we could be even more so! Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  7. I think in many ways the rhetoric in which women’s choices are so often framed up in, is a completely false one. Choice has become some what of a luxury. Perhaps what we need to recognize this and ask why is it so?

  8. Pingback: The Rhetoric of Women’s Choice « seventhvoice

  9. Jennifer,
    Before I begin leaving my comment I just wanted to congratulate you on your recent blog awards! Your blog really poses so many thought provoking topics that in the past weekend I must have read about three articles that I haven’t until now been able to respond to because of time constraints but your post have just been marinating in my head. In a nutshell keep your posts coming : )
    Now on this mommy war business. I don’t know why we lagging so far behind on this topic in this country. As someone who has both worked and is now currently a SAHM I have to say that whichever path one takes (whether that path is a chosen one or there was no other way to go about it), it is never, ever an easy decision. There are gains and losses in both decisions.
    I often ask myself what is it going to take to change the laws in this country. We should have moved past these “mommy wars” debate a long time ago. I really admire the European countries that support a woman (and sometimes the spouse) taking a year off from work and still receiving a salary and medical care and they don’t have to sit around worrying about their jobs being in jeopardy. Can you imagine what would happen to the the American psyche if this were to happen here?! I think it would alleviate a lot of mother’s guilty conscience of going back to work so soon ( I’m making a very general statement and do not in any way speak for all mothers. I know we are all different). Seriously, 6 weeks and back to work? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to stay home for a year with a 80% of our salary, medical care and being able to devote our time to our newborns and recuperate our minds and bodies in a healthy manner. To know that we were able to be with your children at least during that first year and know that our jobs and salaries and medical care is intact is something that seems so out of reach for our country (at least for the moment).
    I think if women everywhere were to band together (and I mean ALL women) and lets say call some kind of strike. Whether it be shopping for groceries, not buying clothes, etc., perhaps then congress (men) would listen to us. We should remember that we as women have A LOT of economic buying power (Most advertisements are aimed at us anyway). Can you imagine what would happen if just for a day we put our heads together and boycotted things and went on strike. Trust me CEOs, and congressmen would finally listen to us bc. in the end money is power but oh wait, they don’t want us thinking about doing those things. Instead, we’re still thinking and debating the mommy wars….
    Sorry. I didn’t mean to get carried away but as you can see your post REALLY made me think. Like I said, it’s been been marinating in head for a while ; )

    • What an inspiring and honest comment. Thank you! I couldn’t agree more and would sign up for a strike tomorrow. That may just be the only way. We would all have to agree – SAHMs would have to let their partners, if they have one, handle the mommy duties for the day. Working women would have to stay home from their job in protest. I like it! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Maybe I should post less frequently to give people time to let their thoughts marinate. Thanks again for a very thoughtful and inspiring comment. This and health care are two of the places where the US needs to catch up with the rest of the world. Thanks again!

  10. That seems ironic to me. Women have fought for HOW LONG to be equal to men? And now that, legally, we have equal rights, some women are trying to divide our gender? Everyone is different. Everyone wants something different. We’re all faced with hard challenges and even harder choices to make. Why add another stress?

    • Thanks for your comment! You are absolutely right. But I think that it is not really,or certainly not only, women who are creating this division. I honestly see it as a strategy – perhaps unintentional, perhaps intentional – of making sure that women do not become too empowered.

      • I had the same idea when reading this post. Especially having read some of the stuff in the news lately. There seems to be more people against women lately than people realize. It’s very down played so as not to stir notice. I just meant that women shouldn’t be helping the resistance along, creating more ways for us to no longer reach our goals of equality. Wow, that sounded uber psycho feminist. I swear I’m not psycho! Well, at least not in any negative way. 😉

  11. Hi again

    First off, good post, as usual.

    Second: Badinter although sharp and insightful isn’t entirely unbiased: she comes from a wealthy family and then she got married to a wealthy man, while being already wealthy and succesful on her own, so although I respect her views, her status and the way she has been able to live her own life keeps her a considerable distance away from the rest of us…

    Now, about the issue per se. I’m a WAHM by choice and quite happy with it. But working from home isn’t for everyone, especially since most people can’t stand being home and don’t have the discipline required to pull it off.

    I’ve seen all sides of the story: the working moms who juggle their schedules each day to keep up with their family and their home activities; the workaholic moms who just don’t have the time and then shamelessly spoil their kids to compensate for their absence; the stay at home moms who go overboard and become overbearing, or the contrary: those who, despite having no real occupation, never find the time to be for their kids and therefore leave them to be raised by the nanny.

    There is no room for judging here, for each of us has our own life to live. I guess in an ideal world, employers should give moms (and dads) flexible hours to save them the time invested in commuting; extended paid maternity leave for both mom and dad; onsite daycare; the possibility of videoconferencing or whatever solution they can come up with to allow people not be torn between their work and their family/home, especially since most people have to work for a living and don’t really have a choice.

    • Great comment. I couldn’t agree more. There really is not room for judgment. But I do with the corporate culture would help make this easier and realize that they would have more loyal employees with more family- friendly policies. Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

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