(Not) Staying Home –once more

Yes, yes, I know, I’ve talked about the terrible NY Times article about how elite women are shunning work to stay home quite enough already. But Katha Pollitt had such a nice story about it in The Nation, telling still more about how a fake trend landed on the front page of our nation’s paper of record, that I find I have a little more to say on the subject.

When I first wrote about the article, I heaped scorn on a quote from a Yale history professor, Cynthia Russett.

In an only slightly less silly quote, Yale history professor Cynthia Russett says "at the height of the women’s movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing. The women today are, in effect, turning more realistic." (Emphasis added.)

I suppose, given the general shoddiness of the journalism evident in the rest of the piece, I probably shouldn’t have assumed that Professor Russett’s quote was taken in context. And, according to Pollitt’s piece, it wasn’t:

"…history professor Cynthia Russett, quoted as saying that women are "turning realistic," is happy to go public with her outrage. Says Russett, "I may have used the word, but it was in the context of a harsh or forced realism that I deplored. She made it sound like this was a trend of which I approved. In fact, the first I heard of it was from Story, and I’m not convinced it exists."

You and me both, Professor. I’m glad I called your quote silly, and not you.

I particularly like Pollitt’s point at the end of her piece.

What’s painful about the way the Times frames work-family issues is partly its obsessive focus on the most privileged as bellwethers of American womanhood–you’d never know that most mothers who work need the money. But what’s also depressing is the way the Times lumps together women who want to take a bit of time off or work reasonable hours–the hours that everybody worked not so long ago–with women who give up their careers for good. Cutting back to spend time with one’s child shouldn’t be equated with lack of commitment to one’s profession. You would not know, either, that choices about how to combine work and motherhood are fluid and provisional and not made in a vacuum. The lack of good childcare and paid parental leave, horrendous work hours, inflexible career ladders, the still-conventional domestic expectations of far too many men and the industrial-size helpings of maternal guilt ladled out by the media are all part of it.

Wouldn’t you like to read a front-page story about that?

Why, yes, I would.


One thought on “(Not) Staying Home –once more

  1. I don’t think we have talked about this topic nearly enough, as Alison knows, this topic is consuming me a bit as well.

    Pollitt’s response is beautiful and music to my ears on some level, but I have to say it may be too far the other side. My sense from very limited interaction with undergrads here at Syracuse University (I know, its not Yale) is that Story may be at least grasping at some surface level information from these students. Don’t get me wrong – her methods were atrocious, her conclusions idiotic based on what she asked, but I think that it is wrong to assume that there is no sentiment like she describes out there.

    The undergrads and even younger grad students here live a very privleged life without any recognition that it is privleged. The examples I have range from not being able to comprehend elder poverty because their grandparents are on cruises all the time – they can’t need health insurance from the government. To the idea that having to work, for a woman, is not a realistic idea. It is always about choice – women choose to work instead of valuing their kids.

    Again I am in no way agreeing with Story and I don’t have any idea if my limited exposure to students here is at all representative, but as a researcher I really think that we need to look into this some more. We need real research and real conversations with people to understand their perspectives and to work on opening peoples minds. (OK so that’s not the researcher part of me, but you get the idea.)

    I’m still talking about it and hope that it does stay on the surface of our thoughts.

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