Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bless Me, Mother, for I Have Sinned

Since Linda Hirshman has elevated the moral tone of feminism by making working a moral imperative for educated women – and since it’s Sunday – I thought it due time to confess my sins.

  • For I have accepted thousands of dollars of publicly-funded scholarship money in the course of seven years of graduate school, only to subordinate my career to the needs of my family.
  • For I have abandoned my search for full-time work after only four years (during which time I applied – unsuccessfully – to all nine jobs in my field that were available across Canada) in order to have babies.
  • For I have taken two maternity leaves lasting nine months each, both of which have eroded what slender job security I ever had as a part-time instructor, according to the convoluted and possibly illegal logic of my collective agreement.
  • For I have spent my maternity leaves reading mystery novels, and Anne Lamott, and Waiting for Birdy, and the mommy blogs, rather than publishing scholarly articles on the construction of domestic masculinity in Victorian fiction.
  • For I have agreed to follow hubby’s career to a picturesque small town, thirty minutes outside of the city, where my employment options will include pizza delivery, home day-care, or low-status online teaching.

To be fair, though, Hirshman has managed to pull the rug out from under the family-values conservatives who have hitherto held a monopoly on moral coercion when it comes to the mommy wars. No longer can feminism be painted as the political voice for selfish mothers who place their own happiness over that of their children; working moms are embodying the feminine virtue of self-sacrifice in the global marketplace, fulfilling their duty to contribute to the GDP at whatever cost to themselves. Hirshman has also managed to garner media attention rivaled only by Caitlin Flanagan – hardly what she could have expected had she stuck to the boring old "feminism is about choices" party line. The down side, of course, is that her logic effectively lets employers and politicians off the hook: there’s no need to encourage a family-friendly culture in the workplace, or to provide meaningful part-time options for employees, or to create parental leave policies that would support mothers and fathers trying to balance work with child-rearing. No, as it turns out, those causes are simply a rallying cry for sentimental women who are self-indulgent enough to want more than one child. (That being Hirshman's ingenious solution to the work-family balance problem for professional women - have a child, but only one.)

In response to that argument, I’d like to close on a slightly different note than I began, with the list of Reasons I’m Glad I Had Another Baby:

  • At last, a chance to use all the lessons I gained the first time around. Like, do not allow an ill-advised perusal of Baby Wise and/or The Baby Whisperer to throw you into a panic if your baby falls asleep while nursing and slumbers peacefully through the "Activity" portion of the E.A.S.Y. routine. (This item also supports my theory about the plague of unwanted advice visited upon new moms: the knowledge we gain as mothers is so hard-won and of so limited a shelf-life that we feel irresistibly compelled to share it with others. It would be different if we were still having ten or twenty babies over the course of a lifetime; failing that, we have to borrow our nieces and nephews and neighbours and make them the unwilling recipients of our personal expertise.)
  • What is the point of breaking in that virgin cervix the first time, if not to propel a second baby out of it in less than seven hours?
  • Older siblings are the best entertainers. When Bub was a baby, I often felt that what he really needed was not an exersaucer or a swing or even a Baby Einstein video, but an older brother. Having failed to provide that essential bit of baby equipment the first time around, I am overjoyed to report that I was right: there is something profoundly unnatural about the isolated existence of a mother and her first baby, trapped in their deserted suburb all day – the whole house is warmer, more joyful and full of life, when there’s a toddler available on demand to entertain the baby.
  • And that’s what it’s all about: a two-year-old and a baby, naked and fresh from the bath, chasing one another down the hallway on all fours as the Bub shouts "Run away!" and the Pie struggles, between volleys of laughter, to gain an extra burst of speed by swaying her head back and forth like Stevie Wonder – bum up, head down, whole body alight with joy and happiness.

If Linda Hirshman can find me a workplace that offers something better than that, I’ll return the Pie to sender and get back to work where I belong.


sunshine scribe said...

I loved this post for about a million reasons. My comment would be longer than your post if I listed them all but I'll just say ... fabulous.

bubandpie said...

Oooh! A comment! I just went into the kitchen with a huge smile on my face and hubby said, "You got a comment on your blog, didn't you?" The echoing cavern of cyberspace just got a little bit smaller...

Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, dude. Along the lines of what SS said - I have about a trillion things to say in response to your post, or maybe a zillion, but even getting started would take up about 20 boxes worth of comment space. And I'm huddled in my sister's basement on day 1 of the Royal Tour stealing wireless connectivity for half an hour while everyone is out. So I'll just say this: I. SO. HEAR. YOU.

And, ditto.

And (on the second child thing), thanks.

Thanks for visiting my blog and leading me back here...

bubandpie said...

Hey, HBM (she said casually, stifling a shriek of excitement). When you've found a genetic combination that produces babies as cute as the Wonderbaby, you really have a responsibility to keep on going. Here's to many Wonderbaby siblings of the future (or at least one, anyway).

Suz said...

I work, but not in academe, where I originally thought I would be. And the reason why I work has nothing to do with my duty to contribute to the GDP, but the fact that my job can accommodate my desire to have a family. I work from home with a very flexible job and earn a wage decent enough to employ someone who watches the kids in my home. It gets crowded sometimes, and eventually, it's going to be tricky, but it allows me to remain in the workforce. If employers want educated women to remain in the work force, they have to make it attractive for them to do so. I sacrificed enough of my personal life getting through grad school; been there, done that, ain't gonna do it again.