WORK, FAMILY BALANCE, FAMILY VALUES, AND TRICKLE DOWN FEMINISM
For the July/August edition of Atlantic Magazine, Anne Marie-Slaughter‘s Why Women Can’t Still Have It All has received a lot of feedback. When this discussion, first started, my initial reaction was thinking, “This is such a privileged and racially exclusive conversation.” And, really it is. On one level, this is about class privilege, right? I mean, I don’t think we’ll see the working poor or the homeless talk about balance at all. Conversations that center around notions of “balance” or some sort of harmony in people’s lives are chiefly the concern of people who are USED to stability and order in their lives. Balance, aka, middle class stability with leisure and yearly vacations are luxuries to the working poor, and particularly to poor women, single mothers, and working women who are pregnant. We can pay lip-service about family values, and taking care of the disabled, but really, why are pregnant women legally defined as temporarily disabled? (hat tip to Erin for this!) Are children a handicap to the economy?
Besides class privilege in this discussion, the elephant-filled hole in the room is race. I have learned that feminist-discourse in academia is also anti-racist, race and gender roles as social construct are interconnected, and the historic experiences of Black women in U.S.American history is just part of the evidence (one could also point to the stories of Irish Women, First Nations women, for example). Last month, I pointed to the fact that there were enslaved Africans in this country also involved a rape culture, one that in fact continued all the way during segregation, and today, in the form of the Prison Industrial Complex. I would like to apologize however; I skipped over some important facts, especially in one of my follow-up posts on Christian Theology and Abolitionism. From Frederick Douglass to Sojourner Truth to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionists were also simultaneously women suffragists (fighting for women’s right vote). Women didn’t get the right to vote until the era of segregationist/KKK sympathizer Woodrow Wilson in the first decades of the 20th century. But during the early 1900′s, black women migrated north due to the harsh economic conditions in the Jim and Jane Crow South. According to Katie G. Cannon in her work, Black Womanist Ethics, Black families stuck together (unlike other migrant groups in the past), and black women out numbered men in terms of migration. Using their “Justice Tickets” Black women WERE EXPECTED to work as “domestic servants” [LIKE THE HELP!], “cooks, cleaners, washerwomen, and wet nurses” (page 59-60). Now if you notice something I put in ALL CAPS, it’s that the social expectations were for black women, single and married to work menial jobs. Racial Segregation in the north in South meant separate and economically unequal. Black families had to have both parents working in order to survive. No one is talking about “balance” when your very life is at stake.
Black men and white men were of course pitted against each other in Northern labor affairs (how else was the boss gonna control the employees?) but black women had to wait until World War I to get more opportunities to work. The Not-So-Free enterprise system was closed to people of color once WWI ended. The Depression came, and very little improved for black women and men. FDR’s New Deal was bad news for rural black women who worked on farms, for example; for more, see Ralph Bunche’s The Political Status of the Negro IN the Age of FDR. In the post-Civil Rights Era, black women have been the victims of racist politics, with Corporate Welfare Nobility like Mitt Romney taking cheap-shots at poor women, and with both candidates supporting the continued break up of black (and other) families with the “War On Drugs” little has changed for women of color. In terms of economics, those who want balance, sound more and more like the elites at the top, whites who have a median income of over $100,000 while black and Hispanic households have a median of around $6,000: CNN Money: the Wealth Gap.
I ask you, who is going to be more concerned about balance, who is concerned about just getting by, living day to day?
For more on this topic, see the following posts: