To Right-Wingers, the Value of Women's Work Depends on How Rich She Is
So there it is: the difference between a stay-home mother and a welfare mother is money and a wedding ring. Unlike any other kind of labor I can think of, domestic labor is productive or not, depending on who performs it. For a college-educated married woman, it is the most valuable thing she could possibly do, totally off the scale of human endeavor. What is curing malaria compared with raising a couple of Ivy Leaguers? For these women, being supported by a man is good—the one exception to our American creed of self-reliance. Taking paid work, after all, poses all sorts of risks to the kids. (Watch out, though, ladies: if you expect the father of your children to underwrite your homemaking after divorce, you go straight from saint to gold-digger.) But for a low-income single woman, forgoing a job to raise children is an evasion of responsibility, which is to marry and/or support herself. For her children, staying home sets a bad example, breeding the next generation of criminals and layabouts.
All of which goes to show that it is not really possible to disengage domestic work from its social, gendered context: the work is valuable if the woman is valuable, and what determines her value is whether a man has found her so and how much money he has. That is why discussions of domestic labor and its worth are inextricably bound up with ideas about class, race, respectability, morality and above all womanhood.
I hadn't been able to put my finger on what galls me so much about this flap (particularly that toxic bilge water from SE Cupp yesterday) until I read the passage I emphasized above. This discussion about motherhood gets to the very heart of the issue: a women's "value" is still largely a reflection of her relationship to men in all kinds of ways from economic status to moral agency. And I don't think most modern women are aware of it on any conscious level --- at least I'm not, until something like this 'War on Women" comes along and I'm forced to take a fresh look at all my assumptions. It's primal stuff, buried deeply in the human subconscious and hard to ferret out. But it's quite real and this so-called conversation we're having about women's rights in this political campaign is mostly just dancing around it. Pollit brings it nicely into focus. You should read the whole piece.