Read of the Day: “Home Economics: The Link Between Work-Life Balance and Income Equality”
6:30 pm, July 3rd | by Weiyu Li
In today’s Read of the Day, Stephen Marche argues that family issues should not be miscast as women’s issues. (THANK YOU!) As Marche posits, “the central conflict of domestic life right now isn’t men versus women or mothers versus fathers; it’s the family against money.”
I remember, as a boy, waking up on a mattress in the back of a station wagon in a hospital parking lot in Edmonton, Alberta. My father was not in town—he commuted to another city by plane every day for two years. And so, on a few occasions, my mother, who is a physician, left my brother and me in the car while she delivered a baby in the middle of the night. At the time, I loved the adventure. Later, I came to realize that my parents had worked their way into the middle class through many such superhuman maneuvers. My mother-in-law, for her part, used to return home from her job as a broadcaster, feed two children, put them to bed, and then return to the office for a couple more hours of work. If it was like this for doctors and broadcasters, what must it have been like for factory workers?
The solution to the work-life conundrum is not “enlisting men” (as Slaughter puts it) in the domestic sphere. The solution is establishing social supports that allow families to function. The fact is, men can’t have it all, for the same reason women can’t: whether or not the load is being shared 50-50 doesn’t matter if the load is still unbearable. It will not become bearable once women lean in, or once the consciousness is raised, or once men are full partners, always, in domestic life. It will become bearable when decidedly more quotidian things become commonplace—like paid parental leave and affordable, quality day care (which Sandberg and Slaughter both advocate).
As was recently noted in a New Republic cover story titled “The Hell of American Day Care,” the National Institutes of Health has rated only 10 percent of child-care facilities nationwide as providing “high-quality care” (most are instead rated “fair” or “poor”). And in every state, the average annual cost of day care for two children exceeds the average annual rent. Not surprisingly, low-income mothers are far more likely to stay at home today than are upper-income mothers. Such women are forgoing paid work not because they refuse to lean in but because they can’t earn enough money at their jobs to cover child care.
If men’s voices are absent from the conversation about family, we have, I’m afraid, only ourselves to blame. Yes, there are the occasional pieces in newspapers and magazines by new fathers—a genre that at times seems more oriented toward establishing one’s literary machismo than toward engaging in substantive dialogue—but men have generally failed to make themselves heard. Those who speak loudest tend to be either members of the aforementioned men’s-rights groups, or explicit anti-feminists, who long for a traditional family that bears little resemblance to the current reality. Men are not victims in this story, nor helpless witnesses to their wives’ struggles. And yet: A chorus of women demands maternity leave. Where is the chorus of men asking for paternity leave?
To read the full essay, click here.