The Strange Case of the Backlash Against Women

Updated at the bottom!

Uber-parenting. Mom Enough. The “changing” definition of rape. I think this tweet says where many of us think the current cultural (counter-cultural?) movement is pushing us:

Then there was Ann Romney’s speech. I think Pamela did an excellent job of covering it.

There is a push “towards” (loving this word today after reading this from Mud Hut Mama) a different America than the America we live in. And I believe it started here. No, let me go back further.

The economy tanked in 2008 for real. But let’s go back even further.

On September 11, 2001 the world changed. The reaction to it was the following: we were told by many high officials that we needed to keep our life as normal as possible. “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy,” Bush said in an address to the nation on Sept. 20, 2001. As a country, America spent a lot of money and went into debt over foreign wars after 2001.

Do you remember the fascination with nesting and buying homes and making homes beautiful from 2002-2007? The many HGTV shows about remodels and beautiful homes?

“Cultural experts have made much of Americans’ ‘nesting’ more since the terrorist attacks in 2001. Todd Gruenewald, president of the St. Louis Chapter of National Spa and Pool Institute, said he believes more people are staying home and putting their money into their houses. ‘We’re seeing this industry-wide,’ said Gruenewald, whose group is a nationwide trade organization for the pool industry. ‘Instead of spending $10,000 on a vacation, people are putting that money toward backyard entertainment – meaning a pool or spa.”

Post Dispatch, May, 2004

I think this was an understandable shared impulse: when life seems so out of control and scary, why not stay at home and nest and make it lovely? We had many businesses and financial products pop up to make the American dream of owning a home possible. And the Wall Street buccaneers who wheeled and dealed our way to financial ruin, based mostly on one platform: a shared cultural impulse to own homes. Then the housing boom bubbled and eventually bust.

During this time (and really since the 90s) male dominated professions like manufacturing and construction were being decimated. The housing bubble propped up the construction industry but when that bubble collapsed, it threw millions of men and women out of work, but in fact, three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men.* We’re still dealing with the repercussions today.

The truth is women are looking at a much rosier financial future than men: the professions that are growing favor women almost exclusively. “Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of all M.B.A.s. Most important, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees — the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life.”*

I approach this development from a very odd position indeed: I am a SAHM. And lately, I really really like it. (Although I’ve had my ups and downs with the position.)

But I rankle to think that a woman’s choice to, well anything, is being threatened. I think it’s safe to say that one thing the Mommy Wars have done is put a premium on and really put SAHMs on a pedestal, especially ones who do extending breastfeeding, grow organic vegetables and fruits and raise chicken. I’m into that too! But maybe, could it be that we are into elevating such a thing into being aspirational because so many families can’t afford to have a mom stay-at-home?

I used to feel shunned at some social gatherings for being a SAHM. NOT LATELY! I find men, particularly, have been very interested in what I do. I’ve gotten a few “Good for yous!” lately and “Your husband is a lucky guy.” This is a drastic turnaround.

Because I am a worrier, I worry about the repercussions of a world where “rape is a form of conception” as VP candidate Ryan noted. I worry about the choices of women: to choose their careers, their lifestyle.

It seems that women hold most of the cards in this current economic climate, but another climate is booming. One that aims to belittle women for making choices and pitting one against the other. When in reality, shouldn’t we be talking about why men are having such a hard time adapting to schoolwork and college and why they are not interested in pursuing growing professions even if they are dominated by women? The odd peer pressure other guys give each other over being “lame” if you study?*

The End of Men is good for no one. But neither is the Mom Enough movement.

What say you? And Mel makes a good point: do you find that moms in general, SAHMs or WOHMs have been promoted to an ideal in your area? I’m sure that she’s right and there is a geographical component to the opinions…

*The End of Men by The Atlantic, 2010



Filed under What Say You?

17 responses to “The Strange Case of the Backlash Against Women

  1. I’d say this is one of the most insightful and IMPORTANT posts I’ve read in a long, long time. Super-kudos, am going to re-post broadly.

  2. Mel

    I still need to read the End of Men article.

    I wonder if it’s also contingent on where you live. I don’t think the elevation of the SAHM has happened here in Washington. I wouldn’t say there’s outright hostility toward the choice, but it certainly isn’t respected. I will say that operating like a SAHM while being a WOHM is the ideal here. To volunteer in school AND have high security clearance at work AND bake for the bake sale AND travel for work makes for the perfect woman in these parts (no pressure!).

    • No pressure indeed! Sheesh. And the expectations for men?

      • Yes! I agree with Mel. I’ve been trying to blog a response to the Anne Marie Slaughter article in the Atlantic about professional working women mothers since it came out in early July, but I work all day, spend every other minute when E is awake tending to her and every other minute after she goes to bed and before I go to bed working again. And I have no PTA-ish responsibilities yet. How will I ever work that in?

    • I never thought of the elevation of the SAHM as being geographical, but I think you’re right. I live in Iowa. I am a HERO for staying home with my son. I live in a state that wants its women to stay home, and its constitution ammended to prohibit gay marriage (I am proud of our state for legalizing gay marriage). So ass backwards, and I constantly ask myself, “why does anyone else care what I choose to do, or what anyone else chooses to do?” If I lived elsewhere, I’d be asking the same question, but on different topics.

  3. Thanks for the shout out! Much appreciated…

  4. I think the questions you pose about the male/female educational achievement gap are important and worth careful consideration. However, in regards to the economic recovery, women aren’t doing better than men in the current economic climate. In fact, women are still losing jobs as local and state governments contract, and men are gaining employment in fields typically dominated by women. That, in addition to our lack of representation at the state and federal level, the minute percentage of women that run powerful corporations, the ever present pay gap AND the awful attacks on women’s rights at the state and federal level paint a terrible picture of women in the current economic and political climate.

  5. Really thought provoking post. I’m living in a part of the world where mothers are definitely not put on a pedestal. They are expected to take care of the children, prepare the field, grow the food, preserve the food, cook the food, take care of their homes, and take care of and obey their husbands. If they can get a job and bring in some cash even better but they are still expected to do all of the former. There isn’t much gratitude for these women but God help those who are infertile – they are still expected to do it all while being ostracized by their communities. In April Malawi’s first woman president was sworn in so I’m hoping we are moving “towards” more compassion for all women but there is a long long way to go.

  6. Such an interesting post, the way you tied all of those components together. It seems like the ideal for most people i know is to work part-time, or work from home. Which I guess is another way of trying to have it all. Sigh.

    And I really like the last question you posed – why can’t men just move into these traditionally-female jobs, if they’re growing and steady and well-paid?

  7. This is a GREAT post!

    I agree with Mel (and was going to say so myself) that the elevation of SAHMs is definitely geographically and economically specific, though. Around here it is almost expected that you’re a SAHM (and that your husband rakes in the dough), but that perspective is fairly limited to the economic elite, of which tehre happen to e a lot around here.

    I also read an interpretation of the nesting you point to as fear: spending money on your home because you were afraid to go elsewhere. I know several people who did that, for those reasons. Not sure where that leaves your argument, though.

    I will say that I’ve experienced the backlash against intelligent working women … so who knows … maybe I just happen to know some real a**h#les.

  8. Let me start out by saying that I am as pro-choice as they come – for our country. I don’t think I would choose to have an abortion myself, and I wouldn’t want my teenage daughter having one, but I surely don’t think that my views on this should have anything to do with the choices that someone else is afforded. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It means that we all have the freedom to make the choice that’s right for us. I totally feel that.

    With that said, I don’t see what the issue is with what Paul Ryan said. All he said is that some rapes result in pregnancies, and HE believes that life is life no matter how it started. He is Catholic – this is nothing new. I watched the video thinking there must be more to this, but there is not. He simply stated his belief that rape is a method of conception – and it is. It’s not a nice one, but it is a method, nonetheless. So is incest. So is IUI. So is IVF. So is having consensual sex with one’s partner. Let’s make something out of his beliefs that there should be no rape/incest exceptions when it comes to abortion (and really, there should be no exceptions because it should be a free choice without limitations within the first 3 months, IMHO, and used for ANY medical reason in the second and third term – not just life of the mother), but let’s not pick on this one statement that didn’t really go anywhere. I would much rather bloggers and the media be making a big deal out of his desire to outlaw IVF.

    There is so much more to pick on with this guy – so much more with real substance and threat behind it.

    But maybe I’m missing something.

    • This is a good point and I should have clarified how I think it adds to the backlash on women: It’s your second point. “Let’s make something out of his beliefs that there should be no rape/incest exceptions when it comes to abortion (and really, there should be no exceptions because it should be a free choice without limitations within the first 3 months, IMHO, and used for ANY medical reason in the second and third term – not just life of the mother)” What you said so eloquently was my main point. There is something a bit creepy to me about calling rape a “point of conception,” something that maybe implies that it’s allowed even? The statement made me uncomfortable for many reasons that are maybe just shading or me just getting the heebie jeebies that a statement like that may create a greater acceptance for the men who rape the women, the fathers of the future baby. Maybe I’m way off base and paranoid, and I really hope that is the case, but…

  9. This is a great and thought-provoking post. I wish I had more time to devote to a proper comment. But I thought to myself, I have time to read one blog at lunch today and I want to read jjiraffe. But then I opened all your links and read them too, and now my lunchtime has extended far too long! Really loved this post, though. I’ll have to leave it at that 🙂

  10. cw

    You will have to forgive my lack of knowledge as it pertains to American politics but what and huh? Is this person running for president? Rhow can someone with such outdated views possibly even be considered? I get the whole religion thing (ok not really) but how can a country as great as yours even consider taking away a persons choice?

    Onto your actual question ……. Hmmmm …… It’s really hard to tell. I do feel that the mummy wars about the way we bring up our children are not as prevalent in Australia as it appears to be in the states. There are definitely people who do things differently but my experiences so far is that you do what you need to do.

    As for SAHM V WAHM I think a lot of us are still going back but part time and only after 12 months of maternity leave. I don’t know tooany that are 100% SAHM. I think, actually I really do think the part time working mother model is the one that is revered as opposed to the other extremes. I think a lot of women would love to be at home permanently but financially can’t afford it.

    I dont feel in our economic climate any one gender holds the cards. Both men and women are being equally impacted with the job losses.

    Some really interesting things to consider. I really enjoy perspectives from different countries and am often surprised at how collectively we are considered “western” but we are all still very different.

  11. Thought provoking post. I’m not sure that working mothers are lionized hereabouts, but it is probably the norm more so than SAHMs. The cost of living is such around here that most families do need the two incomes, particularly if you want to achieve anything resembling a middle-class lifestyle.

    I just saw “The End of Men” book in the bookstore today — I read “Manning Up” last year & had some of the same questions in my head that you did. I’ve always thought it was highly unfair that childless women, and particularly single childless women, get harangued about “waiting too long,” etc. — like they are deliberately staying childless. Many would love to get married & have a child, but they can’t find a guy to commit, to them let alone a baby. You rarely hear these guys getting bugged to move out of their parents’ basements, settle down & start a family.

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