Women in Comparative Societies

The Price of Motherhood: Part One (Intro-Chpt. 4)

Reading:  Crittenden, Anne. 2001. The Price of Motherhood:  Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company (an Owl Book).

“The very definition of a mother is selfless service to another” (1).
Do you agree with this definition?  How do you define a mother?  What are her core traits and skills?

Motherhood as a symbol in American political culture and public policy.  Motherhood is as American as apple pie, no institution is more sacrosanct, no figure more praised (1).

The irony is that motherhood is lauded in speeches, romanticized as “a labor of love”, yet also a professional liability, something you need to hide if you are a professional woman, can’t put on your resume

Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer give Harvard $29 mln for new computer science and electrical engineering facility; name it the Maxwell Dworkin Center in honor of their mothers’ maiden names (i.e. their grandfathers’ names).  Note the irony here that the money is going to educate more men like them, not to help women who are mothers.

Crittenden’s argument:  That unpaid female care-giving is the heart of the economy (8).

That mothers generate wealth by raising productive, well-behaved, well-reasoning citizens AND that they are economically, professionally and socially penalized for doing it.

Economically, in that they are not paid for their labors; professionally, in that they are seen as less committed, unreliable for taking their responsibilities as mothers seriously; socially, in that people, even other women, see what their doing as “doing nothing,” unimportant, easy, invisible, and uninteresting.

Chapter 1:  We haven’t come very far, baby
Popular myth that American women have ‘made it,’ that second wave feminism succeeded in getting them into law school, grad school, med school, etc.

Media stories about the number of women working warned that no one was at home with the children anymore.

They provoked a national crisis over ‘family values’ and ‘quality time.’

They prompted social conservatives to argue that ‘women’s liberation’ created a host of problems and imbalances in our families and that these, in turn, had horrible consequences for our society (increased divorce, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, violent crime, etc.)

Are these trends and fears real, according to Crittenden’s research?

What counter trends does her research uncover?

 1.  That women are not primarily engaged in the formal economy and only secondarily as caregivers.

In fact, 28.4 % of all women 25-54 are not in the labor force at all (17).  Another 20% of American women with children under 18 is employed only part-time (18).  In other words, about half of all mothers are mothers first, and paid laborers second.
Only Turkey, Ireland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands have a smaller percentage of female college graduates working for pay (17).

Is this a good or a bad thing?  Is the economic calculus confronting women in those countries the same as in the U.S.?

 2.  That some men are doing some parenting, but that the majority of the responsibility for child rearing and for housework still falls on women, especially, those with infants and young children.

a. 27% of America’s children are being raised by their mothers alone (23); only 1.5% of children under 5 have their fathers as their primary guardian.  In most homes where ‘single fathers’ have custody of their children, there are girlfriends, grandmothers, etc., who help them (26)

b. mothers of babies/toddlers devote four times as many hours as fathers to their children (25)

c. men rarely had primary responsibility for any one child-rearing duty; and in NO household is the father responsible for all child-rearing tasks (25)

d.  mothers run errands; men go to bars and restaurants (26)

e.  1994: 73%-80% said taking care of the kids, cooking, doing laundry, housecleaning, dishes were women’s responsibility (26)

 3.  That women haven’t “made it” professionally.  That women can’t have it all, i.e., have a good career and a family.  They are forced to choose between career and family.

 4.  That women are not spending less time with their children because they are working, but that the more educated a woman, the more time she spends with her children.  Instead, women are having fewer children and investing more time in each one by forgoing housework, leisure and sleep (20-22).

 5.  That fathers are the parents truly in short supply (23).  Children say fathers frequently miss sporting events, etc., that they would like to have more time with them.  In 1996, fathers spent an average of 2,132 hors working compared to 1,197 for women (18).

This is a tough pill to swallow for feminists who argued that gender roles are socially constructed and that, therefore, women’s liberation involved simply redefining fatherhood, parenthood, getting men to embrace parenting.

But it’s not really happening ‘ why not???

Why are so many well-qualified women leaving the workplace?

 American work cultures that expect ‘your soul’
 Sixty-plus hours-per-week
e.g. a survey of chief financial officers at American corporations found that 80% of them were men with stay-at-home wives;  another found that 64% of male executives with children under 13 had nonworking spouses (18)

*Thus, ‘the presence of a wife at home to care for family and personal matters is almost as much of a requirement for success in business as it was a generation ago’ (18)

2005 NPR Interview on Why so Few Women CEOs

Chapter 2:  The Conspiracy of Silence
What is the conspiracy of silence Crittenden describes?

[covering up the mass exodus of well-trained women from the workplace because the workplace demands your soul]

expectation of long work hours; no interruptions by one’s family life

**the American work culture assumes the availability of unpaid domestic labor/child-rearing

Impossible to succeed with a family unless you have a wife

Expect women to ‘be a man’
 The problem with women was that they weren’t men (29).
 Mothers are the least likely to think like ‘we’ do, because ‘we’ are men who see their children a few minutes a day’ (29).

To succeed, men and women must be perceived as being committed to the ‘unencumbered life’

Note:  much of this was revealed in an article for Harvard Business Review by Claudia Schwartz, who found that women were more expensive to hire than men because of the interruptions in their career, flexible schedules, etc., that would enable them to balance work and family responsibilities (31). 

She hoped this would inspire changes in the workplace because she also found that IT IS MORE EXPENSIVE TO LOSE THESE TALENTED WOMEN THAN TO ACCOMMODATE THEIR NEEDS (31); instead it reified men’s assumptions about women being ‘less committed’, on the ‘mommy track’ etc.  So much for feminist research!

A great example of how women and men ‘similarly situated’ are perceived differently:  women took off their wedding rings to go on job interviews; men borrowed them to look more responsible (31)

Some interviewers even asked women if they would have an abortion if they got pregnant!

Why are women and employers uncomfortable about talking about these facts of work world?
 1) it reveals that women won’t succeed at the same rates of men, no matter how smart, well-educated, hard-working they are unless they choose to remain childless and/or unmarried

 2) it reveals that corporations’ ‘add women and stir’ approach has been a total failure

 3) it reveals that workplace norms for worker availability, hours, etc., are responsible for keeping children from their parents, and that many women have chosen (at their own professional and economic expense) to ‘just say no’ to career


Patterns of Work and Family for Women

Note the different patterns of work/family for college-educated American women over past generations (33)
1910s graduates must choose: career or family

1930s graduates: job then family

1950s graduates: family then job

1960s/70s graduates try to “have it all” career and family

What happens to them?  What are their stories?


1980s/90s graduates career then family

What will happen to your generation of graduates 2000-2010??  What kind of job/career/family pattern or balance will you have??


Chapters 3 “How Mothers’ Work Was Disappeared” and 4:  Truly Invisible Hands
These chapters show how the assumptions and values of male economists have warped economic theory, made women’s work invisible and valueless, unquantifiable

How/why did women’s work in the home become valueless/unquantifiable ?


‘economic man’ homo economicus’
Who is he, how does he behave?  What do economists assume about ‘human nature’?

How does ‘femina economica’ behave?  How do women defy these assumptions?

Are mothers ‘irrational’ for choosing to mother over having a successful career?