Those Who Will Not See
I have been reading Bitch PhD for, oh, about 2 years now, almost since she started blogging. Someone mentioned that she had posted about a letter issued by the
Dr. B, as she is sometimes called, is in many ways a fairly standard feminist blogger. She acknowledges that children are so much a part of life as to be inevitable and, thus, kids and parents need societal support. This is a nice contrast to some who feel that kids are solely a choice and, well, too bad if you need help, sucker! She is married and has a child. She has tried to avoid the mommy wars, but not always in what I consider the right direction as it were.
Let me be very clear at the beginning; I find Dr. B to be morally reprehensible. This is not hyperbole, I am not exaggerating to be snarky. Her narcissistic demands coupled with her insistence that all her troubles can be laid at the feet of ‘patriarchal society’ are not just distasteful, they are evidence that her life, her words, and her ideology are perfect examples of the damage “mainstream” feminism is doing to men, women, and society.
As her blog reveals, she has been pursuing a career in academe for some time while her husband stayed home to raise their child. She spent a fair amount of time insisting that this mutual decision of her and her husband was agreeable to both and that it was best for them. OK, I know a fair number of people online with a similar arrangement, and members of my own extended family were doing similar things in the ‘70’s. I thought it was a bit ironic of her to refer as often as she did to the housework she used to do, years back, but what the heck.
In a recent post this is revealed to be, well, not as clearly a mutual decision as she may have portrayed. She makes it very clear that she refused her husband’s proposal for some time. Was she unsure if she loved him? No, that doesn’t seem to be the reason. Was she unsure that he was the ‘right guy’? That’s a bit more unclear, but it doesn’t seem to have been the reason she delayed accepting his proposal and then insisted on cohabitating before marriage. No, her stated reason for deferring accepting her husband’s proposal and for living together before marriage are to… make sure she could ‘have it all’ – a career, a marriage, kids, the freedom to do whatever she wanted, etc.
She also insisted that her fiancé formally promise to support her in getting her PhD, no matter what. She insisted that he quit his (well-loved) job if he wanted children. She insisted that, if he wanted kids, he must be the primary caregiver/full-time parent. And if he wanted to keep their kids out of daycare (which she knew he did) he must be the one to stay home.
She also insists this wasn’t extortion. A casual reading of her blog will reveal that if she heard of a man making such demands of a potential wife, she would label it patriarchal sexism, and inherently oppressive. But just as some people will always view White men as oppressors and Black men as oppressed, regardless of the facts, it seems that making absolute demands of your spouse is a mutual agreement if you are a woman, and oppression if you are a man.
[Yes, I am not only aware that marriages usually have absolute demands from both spouses, I have given and received them. I just don’t call them ‘mutual agreements’ or ‘oppression’. I call them ‘marriage’ and ‘living with your spouse, who is, after all, different’].
So, her husband agreed to her demands, abandoned his well-loved career, and settled in as a house-husband. The post I linked above goes into detail, but the short version is – beginning-track academics don’t make very much money (which was not, I hope, a surprise to anyone involved). Her husband worked very hard to be frugal, was not quite the housekeeper he hoped, and she was irritated and upset about these things. Making him resentful. The big surprise was, of course, that while she had made all of these absolute demands that she be allowed to get a PhD, and that he follow her career wherever it might lead, in the end… she didn’t like the demands her career made of her.
That’s right. She carefully considered what her husband must be willing to do, clearly set forth what she expected him to do in the form of absolute statements, and proceeded to move their life down the path that her demands placed before her family – without being sure that she was willing to do the very things she demanded of her husband and child. Eventually, she decided she and her husband would look for work. She was a starting academic, he has a decade of specialized experience. To no one’s surprise (I hope) he got a new job first, and it pays well. She has now moved into the role of full-time mom.
As a stay-at-home mom, she is quickly discovering just how important stay-at-home moms actually are. She now realizes that a ‘professional mother’ is everything from teacher to medical aide. That stay-at-home moms support schools, are the driving force of charities, care for the sick and elderly, are the backbone of many grassroots political actions, etc., etc. In short, she is being forced to realize how valuable and critical stay-at-home mothers really are.
Don’t worry, though. I see no growing admiration of how hard her husband worked when he was in her shoes, just a smoldering resentment that he doesn’t do more around the house (just like she resented him not doing everything when he was the stay-at-home parent and she was busy working). She is very quick to insist that she is not a ‘lady-who-lunches’ - and then tacitly admits that the existence of social groups like ladies’ clubs, bridge clubs, and such make social networking more efficient, allowing women to do all of those roles with better communication. And never mind the recreation and social aspects of these support groups she disdains!
She moves on to argue that society does stay-at-homes moms a grave disservice; they are not recognized for the vast amounts of unpaid work that they do, and their economic insecurity is ignored. She is right on both counts, of course. The problem is, both of these areas of neglect can be laid at the feet of second-wave feminism. While Dr. B blames “society”, this change is recent. Betty Friedan was very vocal about disparaging the work done by stay-at-home moms and the mommy wars are largely fought between feminists who count the work of stay-at-home moms as valueless and those moms, who know better. The oh-so-despised 1950’s are chock-a-block full of open admissions that the lives of stay-at-home moms were packed with difficult, yet rewarding, work. Remember all those labor-saving devices? The advertisements portraying stay-at-home moms as busy, yet vibrant, as they did the essential work of caring for the family? Sure, the corporations were branding products, but not in a vacuum – the hard work and social contributions of professional mothers was widely accepted and acknowledged as part of society.
Not so any more. Now mothers are told that their work is valueless, primarily because they do not earn a wage. Dr. B wants to fix this by… well, adding them to Social Security [I agree – if we have social security, stay-at-home mothers should be a part of it, and not just because their husbands worked]. And ‘changing society to value stay-at-home mothers’. She rejects the Conservative methods as ‘lip service’, but has no real concrete statement of what she would do.
She explicitly rejects the concepts that being a stay-at-home mother is about creating a better quality of life to the mother and family, or that being a stay-at-home mom can bring a better balance to life. Not because these statements aren’t, or can’t be, true, but because she finds them… too “inward and nuclear”. Never mind that quality of life and life balance are about inner well-being and the well-being of the nuclear family.
She also decries the economic exposure of stay-at-home mothers. They are one divorce or death away from penury, after all. Of course, these issues aren’t new – this has always been true. Society responded with social answers - marriage was seen as a Big Deal and all parties were very careful before they entered into marriage. Marriage was seen as a life-long commitment, reducing a woman’s exposure. The extended family would provide assistance to the widow and orphan. Indeed, most or the elements of ‘patriarchal oppression’ that feminists decry were about ensuring familial stability to protect the most vulnerable members of society – women and children.
She goes on in her posts to claim that she is a victim of a society that has not ‘advanced’ enough. She is, she seems to think, ‘stuck’ at home because society doesn’t… something. Here is a quote:
“Here I am, twenty years later, in a position not unlike [a non-traditional student she knew as an undergrad]. Not because I've married someone like she did; but because whether or not my own personal husband insists on those expectations, my own personal society does. It's okay for me to have a career--as long as my house is clean, I spend a lot of time with my kid, I give up control over where I live, I accept economic dependence (on my husband or on the Bank of America), and I live with the depression that's surely partly the result of all these "choices."
Let’s take a look at this lament, shall we? She is a stay-at-home mom, economically dependent upon her husband. She blames society because ‘society’ requires her to have a clean house (no, that is you and your family), as long as she spends a lot of time with her child (God, what a burden! Society sure is cruel), she gives up control of where she lives (well, that is, based upon her writings, a function of the careers chosen by her and her husband), and she is economically dependent upon her husband (which is why marriage exists, to allow a team of people to raise children). She makes it clear she thinks these decisions were imposed on her by society and she is depressed by this lack of control over her own life.
Pardon me while I fail to agree with this wave of self-pity. I am not sure of Dr. B’s academic discipline, but it obviously isn’t Business, and Engineering branch, etc. When she chose a doctorate in Humanities and a career in academe, she must have known that these freely-chosen paths, made by her alone and stated to her then-boyfriend as imperatives, required that she go where the limited-number of jobs are. And she must have also known, very clearly, that people starting out in academia make very little money for quite some time. Two years of posts by Dr. B paint a picture of society disapproving of her choice in education and career, including the one I linked to above. For her to now claim ‘society forced me to take a career path that I now realize, about 20 years after starting down it, that I don’t like’ is the depths of hypocrisy. Worse, she neglects the sacrifices made for her by her husband and now demeans the work he has taken up to support her by seeing his hard work for her as oppressive! She is so busy pointing her finger in blame at faceless society that she forgets that her own ambitions, her own choices, her own demands, and her own failures are the cause of her being where she is – a stay-at-home mom with a husband providing more economic support for their family than she could while she spends her days with their child.
So we come back full circle to the core of the second-wave feminist argument, such as it is. That core is that the work of stay-at-home moms – although critical to society, although central to the family, although beneficial to children – is worthless compared to having A Career. A woman with A Career is complete, they say, a woman who just stays home is not, they say. Men who stay home while their wives work are cool, women who stay home while their husbands work are fools, they say. That self-same husband, working to support his family, is an oppressor, they say.
“But Deep,” you say “While Dr. B is narcissistic and hypocritical, she’s hardly ‘morally reprehensible’. Why did you say something so harsh earlier?”
Dr. B’s morals are well-advertised on her blog, and they are reprehensible. She believes in an open marriage, meaning that she has regular sexual partners other than her husband, and engages in casual sex when available. Her husband (who gave up his career and working life to support her in her education and career) is expected to support her in her escapades. She sometimes takes her young child with her on her overnight-or-longer liaisons with lovers. Why does she do this? Well, the usual excuse of ‘who can have sex with just one person for more than, like, a week?’ is in play. But she also argues that since her husband annoys her (because he is familiar) she can ‘work out’ her issues with her husband by being with other men. That’s right, she doesn’t stop yelling at her husband’s annoying habits through working with him, or compromise, she does it by sleeping around.
This makes me wonder why Dr. B ever married. It isn’t for economic security (she is angered by the very thought), or for an exclusive relationship. It wasn’t for children (she states, quite clearly, that she was fine without them, but her husband wanted them). It wasn’t for family connections (they live far from their families, she kept her maiden name their child has her last name, not his). She wouldn’t compromise on her education goals (she made him agree to support her PhD work, even if it meant living apart) or her career goals, or her demands in regard to having and rearing children. As far as I can tell, for her marriage is a tax break.
Indeed, I worry about her husband. Here is a man who gave up a career he loved for his wife’s ambitions. He worked hard as a stay-at-home dad while his wife made too little and the debt was piling up. He supports his wife’s affairs (and has some of his own, I assume), even when she takes their child. She kept her name, and gave it to their child. When, after 20 years, his wife decided she doesn’t really want the career he gave up so much for, he jumped back into the labor market and is making more than she did. Her reaction is often resentment – she resented that he wasn’t a better housekeeper, she resents that he doesn’t do more housekeeping now (a nice double-standard), she resents that he is supporting her! I assume he reads her blog, so this is probably well known to him.
Yes, she expresses admiration for him on her blog and, yes, I know that any marriage is complex and dynamic. I know that the years of schooling she went through and the beginnings of her career certainly had a dynamic home life swirling around them. All givens. But her extreme focus on what she wants, her career, and her desires are disrespectful of him to a high degree. Her need to be in relationships with others in order to make her relationship with him ‘work’ is devaluing to him. If I were to go to Feministe or Pandagon and describe Dr. B’s relationship with the genders reversed, I am quite confident that those feminists would say that Dr, B’s husband was being oppressed and that he should leave.
Of course, your next question is, why does anyone care? Dr. B’s blog is read by about 3,500 people per day, a healthy number, and she is fairly well-regarded by feminist bloggers, meaning that her ideas have a broad audience. She is generally seen as a ‘moderate’ feminist. I just want to point out how very messed up this moderate feminist is, how contradictory her life is, and how profoundly unhappy she obviously is. While feminists point to my wife and call her a ‘house negro’ or a ‘Serena Joy’ for choosing to be a professional mother, this particular feminist is in a tough position; her husband has completely supported her positions on a non-traditional marriage, a non-traditional working arrangement, and her choices of high-education and a career. After all this, she discovered that she wasn’t happy with her career and, due to the various choices her and her husband made over the years, she is now a stay-at-home mom. Despite her realization that stay-at-home moms can have rich, intellectually-demanding lives with a major positive impact on not just their family, but the community and society, she continues to reject it as less-valuable than a career. I have no idea how she can intellectually support this. It is important that we see this, recognize this, and repeat the intellectual bankruptcy of feminism.