Monday, June 04, 2007

Not All Choices Were Created Equal

I just finished reading The Price of Motherhood, which everyone should read.

I am disturbed.

I am the very most disturbed by the chapter 'It Was Her Choice.'

This is what I have always wanted to have the words to say, about women’s choices to stay home:
'… The sidelined ambitions, the compromises mothers live with that their husbands never had to make, all justified on the grounds of women’s choice… If they do this willingly, there's no problem. It's their choice. No one "made them do it," so no one has to do anything about it.'

'The big problem with the rhetoric of choice is that it leaves out power Those who benefit from the status quo always attribute inequities to the choices of the underdog. The current rhetoric about choosing motherhood sounds suspiciously like the 1950s rhetoric about "happy" women…. The modern version of the old "true woman” argument—the true woman appreciates that her proper place is in the home—is the "choice" argument.'
The author goes on to point out that our country taxes a second, usually female-earned, income as part of pooled 'household moneys,' thereby raising its marginal tax rate much higher. At the same time, money earned by one person is treated in the tax code as the sole property of the earner. Second earners are treated as if all the family's money were one for taxes, but mothers do not get Social Security credits on half the family’s income. Why not?

If family members could file separately, rather than creating an artificial divide of ‘head of household’ versus his or her ‘dependents,’ second earners would have less of their earnings eaten up by childcare, and the option of satisfying work would be open to more people. If caregivers got Social Security credits on their household’s income, poverty (especially among elderly women) would shrink. If there were more and better child-care available, it would be less heart-wrenching to put one’s children in it. Rather than offering a false dichotomy and a false choice- family or work; be a good mother or have a career- family-friendly leave policies, better child care, and a larger market in part-time jobs could remove some of the anguish of these hard choices.

But these are not precisely free choices. To some extent, yes, we are all constrained by outside forces in our decisions, but women and mothers are constrained more. If maternity leave means no promotions, if having a child before tenure means no tenure, if even new female professors are consistently paid $10,000 less than their male counterparts- the choices are not equal for men and for women. We choose, but we cannot choose willingly, freely, if our alternatives are constrained by our gender.

(Next week: And I Do It Too.)