State of the Debate: Work and the Moral Woman



WORKS DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY

Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work (Russell Sage Foundation, 1997).

Diane E. Eyer, Motherguilt: How Our Culture Blames Mothers for What's Wrong with Society (Times Books, 1996).

Sharon Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (Yale University Press, 1996).

Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work (Henry Holt and Company, 1997).

Tera W. Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors After the Civil War (Harvard University Press, 1997).

Elizabeth Perle McKenna, When Work Doesn't Work Anymore: Women, Work and Identity (Delacorte Press, 1997).

Jennifer Scanlon, Inarticulate Longings: The Ladies' Home Journal, Gender, and the Promises of Consumer Culture (Routledge, 1995).



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A good woman is hard to find. Either she's threatening a lawsuit because she was denied a promotion. Or she's expecting the taxpayers to subsidize her illegitimate children. Or she's neglecting, even foregoing, children in favor of a career. Or perhaps she wants it all-work, children, love, leisure, and a flexible schedule-making her entirely unreliable.

If women seem confused about what they want, society is even more confused about what it wants from women.
Social philosophers have long pondered the meaning of work and its place in our moral lives: whether it is ennobling
or degrading, whether virtue requires hard work or hard work inculcates virtue, or whether, in an ideal world, there
should be more or less work. But when the worker is imagined as a woman, philosophy goes into a new key and
both the questions and the answers are of a different tenor. About women, the questions concern whether they
ought to work outside the home, whether they are capable of many kinds of work, and whether tending home,
family, and community count as work at all.

Such philosophical questions have always been at the heart of both labor politics and gender politics.
Protective labor legislation in the U.S. finally got off the ground with assistance from women's reform
groups and widely accepted ideas about women.

In 1908, after years of striking down protective labor laws, the Supreme Court finally upheld a state
maximum-hours law because the law applied only to women; and women, everyone knew, needed
special protections to fulfill the "benign and noble office" of motherhood to which history
had "destined" them. Driven by passionate philosophical views, politics in turn piled shifting
layers of contradictory norms and imperatives on women, and created a legacy of inconsistent cultural
ideas, practices, and policies.

Let's start with an old chestnut: Is work stultifying, or is it fulfilling and uplifting?
[See Alan Wolfe, "The Moral Meanings of Work,"
TAP, September-October 1997.] Ask that question assuming the worker is a man and the implied
comparison is other kinds of jobs or other ways of organizing work. When the worker is a woman,
the implied comparison is with unpaid housework and child care, so the measure of work's effect
on the female worker has a different yardstick: Compared to dusting and diapering? Compared to
rearing the next generation of citizens, soldiers, leaders, parents? And the question has a different
moral valence in a world where many people, both men and women, have thought that women should
not do certain kinds of jobs or engage in paid work at all except in dire necessity.

Since marriage and motherhood have been treated as moral obligations of women, if not sacred callings,
the question of whether virtue consists in performing disciplined, paid work is shaped by the alternative
moral vision of women as guardians of the family and hearth. Probe yet one level deeper and the debate
for women is over something even more fundamental: How to reconcile work and womanhood?

You might have
thought that issue was settled by the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s,
or by the sheer overwhelming scale of women's participation in the workforce. But Sharon Hays and Diane Eyer,
authors of two recent books on motherhood and work, each make a chilling case that in the dominant scientific
culture, biology is still destiny. According to the three gurus of child rearing, Benjamin Spock, T. Berry Brazelton,
and Penelope Leach, women are supposed to be selfless, nurturing, and caring, not selfish, competitive, and
climbing. "In an ideal world," Leach wrote in 1989, "no woman would ever have a baby unless
she really knew that she wanted to spend two or three years being somebody else's other half." Moreover,
mothering is instinctive and what women really want to do, so all the social pressure on mothers to work is
unfortunate. From Brazelton in 1983: "We may be ignoring . . . a deep-seated drive in women—a strong
feeling that their primary responsibility is to nurture their children and their spouse. It may be unfair to expect a
woman to be the fulcrum of her family; but it has always been so, and women feel it instinctively."

Spock, Brazelton, and Leach have not been oblivious to the revolution in women's roles, and they each
make stabs at accommodating women who need to work, but less so women who just want to work.
The latest edition of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care (now co-authored with Michael Rothenberg) uses
the gender-neutral language of parents instead of mothers, but gives away the game in suggesting that
a parent in the doldrums "buy a new dress" or "go to the beauty parlor" to get some
relief. In the revised edition of Infants and Mothers, Brazelton acknowledges that he may have inadvertently
"added to mothers' feelings of guilt when they were not able to stay at home throughout the first year"
(note that he doesn't say "unwilling to stay"), but then he whipsaws them back into guilt: "an
understanding of the importance of their role as mothers . . . should help them see mothering as a goal that
is as important as anything they can achieve in their professional lives." Leach, too, pronounces raising
a child as "more worthwhile than any other job." It may seem like the child experts are asking very
little of women, just a couple of years at home with each child. But the routine interruption of a woman's career
required by the experts' advice is so taken for granted that it barely rates a mention. In their assertions of the
priority of motherhood over job, they simply assign women different life possibilities than men. Moreover, though
the advice may seem slightly archaic in 1997, the books by Spock, Brazelton, and Leach are the three top-selling
child-rearing manuals, and they create a reservoir of guilt even among today's women. Just glance through Parents,
Working Mother, or Redbook to see how much effort they devote to helping women cope with that guilt.



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Sharon Hays calls these child-rearing manuals "hesitant moral treatises," though it's hard to see
from either her or Eyer's reading of them what's so hesitant about them. They are, as Hays argues, moral
prescriptions for appropriate child rearing and womanly behavior. They condemn impersonal, competitive
market relations—paid child care, for example—and glorify women's unselfish love, relinquishment of personal
goals, and, of course, financial sacrifice. The soul of a woman is a giving soul. If she gives at the office,
she'll have less to give at home. In the eyes of child-rearing experts, a woman who works while her children
are young, who cannot turn off her career interests and aspirations, or presumably, her desire for the luxuries
her earnings afford, is morally stunted.


WOMAN'S PROPER WORK

One of the ironies of women's history is that the leading white women social reformers of the
Progressive Era sought to keep women in the home (despite their own enjoyment of careers as
social workers, nurses, teachers, and political activists). They advocated higher wages for men
so families could survive on one income, and they submitted every proposed social reform to the
litmus test of whether it would encourage women to work or stay home. They opposed child
nurseries and employer-provided maternity insurance for working women—policies dearly sought
by current advocates of family-friendly employment—because they didn't want to encourage women
to work. They established state Mothers' Pensions and later federal Aid to Dependent Children to
allow widowed, abandoned, and divorced mothers to be full-time mothers. Black reformers, by
contrast, understood the necessity for women to work, and focused their energies on creating
the preconditions for women to be wage earners and community leaders.

Women's magazines and a new profession of home economists in the early twentieth century
provided another source of cultural authority on the questions of women and work. Ladies' Home Journal
and its advertisers promoted consumerism as an identity and way of life for women, but, as Jennifer Scanlon
argues in Inarticulate Longings, the enterprise was full of contradictions. The editorial line had to be that
women were better off—and better women—if they stayed home and consumed all the products that would
improve their womanly skills. Yet much of the magazine was written by women, and the magazine frequently
recruited female staff, so its editors made an exception for the kind of clerical, sales, and office work it offered.

The larger contradiction, Scanlon notes, was that by promising women "better living through purchasing,"
the magazine made paid work more necessary and more desirable. Scanlon has unearthed how the magazine,
against mounting pressures from younger, single, working women, fought a rearguard action to portray the nobility
of the homemaker. Writing under the moniker of "A Plain Country Woman," between 1905 and 1918,
Juliet Strauss steadily exhorted women to avoid paid employment. "God loves you if He lets you know that
the plain is the great. The dish washed, the skillet or the dinner-pot scoured, the hearth swept, the bed made up,
these are the great accomplishments." (No one is telling mothers on welfare anything of the sort today.)
The magazine's editorial staff and many of its older readers castigated younger women
for shunning the "humdrum." Indeed, the Journal's motivating story of societal
decline (all social and political magazines have one) was a tale about younger women who
hadn't the moral backbone to do society's vital drudge work.

The old-fashioned virtues of Kinder, Küche, Kirche might not have held much appeal for the Journal's
more urban and educated readers. For them, the magazine offered the more modern challenge of household
engineering: Apply the principles of industrial efficiency to housekeeping, turn it into a science, and thereby
professionalize the job of the homemaker. Christine Frederick, a contributing editor much influenced by Frederick
Winslow Taylor and his scientific management ideas, promoted a philosophy of housekeeping as both a science
and "the greatest business in the world." She advised women to take up home canning "not
because you love your family but because it's good business to do so." As a complex science, she believed
housekeeping could give women new respect in the eyes of their husbands and a chance to use their brains and
their college training. Housekeeping would no longer be drudgery. With just a mite of defensiveness, she vouched:
"It is just as stimulating to bake a sponge cake on a six-minute schedule as it is to monotonously address
envelopes for three hours in a downtown office."


THE SACRED CHILD

Consumerism and the home efficiency movement neatly incorporated middle- and upper-class women
into the market world without letting them marketize their labor, without, in other words, granting them
full economic citizenship. But alongside these movements, according to Sharon Hays, another resolution
to the problem of women's place in a market economy was taking shape. What she calls the "ideology
of intensive motherhood" offers society an alternative moral mainspring to the market's values of self-interest,
competition, and acquisitiveness.

The ideology of intensive motherhood, as Hays describes it, has three elements. First, a child should have
one central caregiver, and it should be the mother, not the father. Second, children and their needs should be
at the center of child rearing; mothers should lavish time, energy, and material resources on their children. Last, the child is sacred, so that comparisons of worth between child rearing and any other activity are
impossible and morally forbidden.

The principles of intensive motherhood would seem to render mothering especially difficult for women who also
hold down paying jobs. Yet, Hays found, working women try to live up to the ideal of intensive mothering just
as much as stay-at-home mothers; and they are more likely than stay-at-home mothers to view home and
children as more rewarding than work. Why, Hays asks, does intensive motherhood persist as an ideal in a
society where most women work?

Historian Karl Polanyi, in The Great Transformation, showed how capitalism's transformation of humans into
mobile and fungible elements of labor was a violent wrenching, and how people in eighteenth-century English
society created communal mutual aid systems to protect themselves against the brutalities of markets in human
labor. Hays argues—quite brilliantly—that the ideology and practice of motherhood are likewise a counterforce to the
marketization of all of social life and "the last best defense against . . . the impoverishment of social ties,
communal obligations, and unremunerated commitments." Sure, the ideology serves the interests of
capitalists (women are more likely to accept lower wages in the market if they believe they have more important
work to do at home); men (they get maid service on a grand scale so they can dedicate themselves to paid work,
and fewer women compete with them for jobs); and native-born middle- and upper-class women (norms of appropriate
child rearing have been their claim to superiority over the unwashed masses and immigrants). But, Hays insists, men
and women—even working women—accept and operate according to the values of intensive motherhood because doing
so is a way of actively rejecting the supremacy of market logic inside the family.


TO WORK OR NOT?

It's conventional wisdom nowadays that most women have to work out of economic necessity, if not
as the sole or primary breadwinner, at least to be able to keep up their standard of living in an economy
of declining real wages. Yet, there are still a lot of pressures on women (even mothers without husbands)
not to work. For one thing, the organization of work is hostile to family life and responsibilities. Work takes
time from family life. Inflexible work schedules make it difficult for parents to respond to unscheduled needs
of kids like sickness or emotional crises. Overtime, travel, irregular hours, sudden shift changes, and just
too much work—all wreak havoc on child care arrangements, not to mention parent-child relationships. The
magazines are full of stories of women committed to combining work and motherhood who get shipwrecked
on the shoals of work.

The more interesting—and sobering—explanations of why women work or don't are cultural rather than structural.
Elizabeth McKenna, who inhabits a world of professional women in relatively high-powered jobs, sees a trend
for some of these women to quit because they find their work unsatisfying. In her book, When Work Doesn't
Work Anymore
, she says that a clash of male and female value systems is what sends these women packing.
Women brought up under the influence of postwar feminism still carry the traditional expectations of their mothers
and grandmothers; they want to have a personal life, a family, and a community role. They find themselves in a
male work system, where work comes before personal life and personal success is equated with work success,
and before long they're judging themselves by their boss's standards—attendance, long hours, productivity, and
ability to suppress their feelings. By the time they hit their professional stride in their thirties or forties, they're
fed up or empty or both, so they reclaim their values by cutting back, quitting altogether, or making a career
change.

While McKenna calls for the usual panoply of family-friendly policies and reformed fathers, her book is mainly
an inspirational how-to guide for people who want to step off the treadmill ("Stop trying to be so successful"
and "Live by what you treasure" are two of her "new rules for success"), not a blueprint for
reforming work. McKenna's rules might offer some directions for a cultural change, however, and that would be
all to the good. Unfortunately, many of her rules are practical mainly for women who have high earning power,
big savings, or a husband to fall back on.

For Diane Eyer, author of Motherguilt, it's not the attractions of a female value system that draw women
out of the workforce, but rather a culture of blaming mothers that drives them out. Blame starts with academic
psychologists, some of whom transformed the idea of maternal-infant bonding into a requirement for healthy
child development that could be met only by exclusive, maternal, stay-at-home care. This dubious scientific
claim undergirds the child-rearing manuals, and they in turn perpetuate the notion of the "maternal
sculptress."

From the psychologists and pediatricians, the torch of "mother-blame" is picked up by social
scientists, politicians, pundits, and lawyers, who blame working mothers for just about everything that
can go wrong with children and society. Riots, delinquency, crime, drug addiction, homelessness,
even terrorism have been pinned on single mothers, divorced mothers, welfare mothers, teen mothers.
Note that women in any of these categories almost always have to work to support themselves and their
kids, so they are guilty from the get-go. They can't possibly be the dedicated, full-time, by-the-book,
meet-your-child's-every-need mothers the culture reveres. Even as politicians are telling them that they
are irresponsible and not entitled to public aid just for taking care of their kids, the scientific establishment
tells them they are bad mothers if they go to work. The courts are even more threatening, what with judges
occasionally removing kids from a mother on grounds that her work prevents her from taking adequate care of them.

The tensions between being a good mother and a good worker affect different social classes differently.
A minority of affluent women can participate more intensively in their children's lives or balance work
and family with the aid of domestic help. But the vast majority of working women can't purchase their
way to balancing work, family, and personal fulfillment. Perhaps this explains why business and political
elites have so little sympathy for the cross pressures on working parents. (John Clendenin, chairman of
BellSouth, recently told a reporter for Fortune magazine, "People have always had to make choices
about balancing work and family. It has always been a personal issue, and individuals have to solve it.")


THE POOR PAY MORE

The vise of cultural contradictions squeezes low-income women especially hard. Kathryn Edin and
Laura Lein set out to learn how low-income single mothers cope with this dilemma and how they
choose between welfare and work. Edin and Lein interviewed close to 400 women in 4 cities,
half of them "wage reliant" and half of them "welfare reliant." In Making Ends Meet, they
came up with a vivid and detailed picture of how women survive in both situations (they all do lots
of things they aren't supposed to do by society's laws, rules, and morals) and how these women
think about their own moral choices (they all want to be good mothers and good providers, and
they struggle constantly to reconcile the two).

Wage work actually diminishes poor women's ability to be good mothers. It prevents them
from keeping their kids safe. Keeping children out of danger, at least the kinds of dangers
that confront poor kids, is something middle-class moms can take for granted while they
worry about language acquisition, learning disabilities, and emotional development. Poor
mothers worry all the time about their kids' exposure to gangs and drugs, the seductiveness
of selling drugs as a way to afford the things they covet, the temptation to skip school, the
possibilities of getting pregnant (none of the mothers worried about their sons impregnating
anyone, as far as I could tell), the risks of their apartment catching fire. Many mothers go to
elaborate lengths to assure their children's safety while they are at work. One held fire drills
every night after supper. The best way, and sometimes only way, to keep their kids out of these
kinds of trouble is to stay home with them.

There are two other big reasons why the responsible choice for a low-income single mother
might be welfare rather than work. Welfare provides health insurance for her children, and
most low-wage jobs don't. And welfare, however miserly, provides security that most jobs
don't—at least it did before 1997. In the jobs available to many low-skilled or unskilled women,
such as fast food or home health care, workers can never be sure of getting enough hours to
make enough money while they have a job, and they are always subject to firing or layoffs.
When insecurity doesn't just mean a little less of something but the possibility of starvation or
homelessness, the rational risk-benefit calculation counsels taking the secure but less rewarding option.

Why, then, do any poor, single mothers work, especially when, as Edin and Lein
demonstrate, wage-reliant mothers usually come out financially way behind welfare-reliant
mothers? They work because they accept the dominant political culture. They work, in spite
of being materially worse off than on welfare, because when you go to welfare, "they treat
you like an animal just because you need a little help getting back on your feet." They work
because "it makes you feel good to know you have a job."

The low-income single mothers who do work, Lein and Edin found, worked also because special
circumstances lowered their costs of working. They had fewer or older children, or free child care
from relatives, or day care subsidies, or free or low-cost rent. Several working women had quit better
paying jobs for ones with lower pay in order to get better benefits or an employer more sympathetic to child care responsibilities.

Very often, a low-income mother has to violate one moral code in order to comply with another.
She may have to engage in off-the-books work and lie to the welfare office to be a good provider,
or she may have to be a less reliable or punctual worker to be a good nurse to her kids, or she may
have to neglect her kids' health and welfare in order to be a good worker. Working and motherhood rope
low-income women in a tangle of moral double binds.


GOOD WORK AND BAD

Laundry may be the epitome of drudge work. In India until quite recently, the lowest social caste
of all, even lower than the Untouchables, was the group who did the Untouchables' laundry.
To 'Joy My Work, Tera Hunter's study of African-American laundresses and domestics in
Atlanta after the Civil War, puts dirty work in a wholly different light. In most of the nation, domestic
work was all there was for a black woman. In the Atlanta of 1880, 98 percent of wage-earning black
women were domestics. But to a people inspired to wrest genuine freedom from a still-paper victory,
the kind of domestic work everyone else considered drudge offered important moral possibilities. Work
was the means to a precious self-sufficiency and a concrete bridge to the abstract ideal of freedom.
Hunter demonstrates just what was at stake in a bundle of dirty clothes: "Black women's success
or frustrations in influencing the character of domestic labor would define how meaningful freedom would be."

Fought at every turn by their white employers, black domestics made their own rules about work—their
schedules, their total hours, their duties, their pay. Through what was quaintly called "pan-toting,"
they adjusted their compensation to accord with their own sense of justice. Cooks took leftovers, perhaps
even a few staples, from the kitchen. Laundresses held onto a client's dressy outfit for an extra week so that
they or their children might wear it for a special occasion. Most importantly, domestics claimed their expertise
and authority by maintaining control over their methods. One cook, accustomed to the detached kitchens of
southern homes, disagreed with her Yankee employer's order to wash the dishes in the sitting room. "[I am]
gwine to be cook ob dis ere house, and I'se want no white woman to trouble me. . . . We done claned dishes
all our days, long before ye Yankees hearn tell of us, and now does ye suppose I gwine to give up all my rights to
ye, just cause youse a Yankee white woman?"

In America after the Civil War, the job of laundress was relatively autonomous, and since it was
typically done in the woman's own home or at communal washtubs, it was rather more accommodating
to women's child care responsibilities and community activities. Perhaps for that reason, laundresses
were able to form a trade union, stage a strike, and credibly threaten a general strike of domestics on
the eve of Atlanta's 1881 International Cotton Exposition. Laundering was still drudge work, still backbreaking,
demeaning, and unremunerative, but these laundresses found their dignity and mustered deep personal and
collective strength in washing on their own terms.

Much of social theorizing about work holds that different kinds of jobs impart different moral possibilities
to workers, and that dignity and control are mostly inherent qualities of occupations. Hunter's depiction
of black domestics reminds us that to a large extent, people make their own moral meanings in their work,
and that autonomy is something workers can exert, even in the most inauspicious conditions.

As Hunter
shows, even the worst kinds of jobs can be "good work" if people make them part of a struggle
to achieve larger ideals. In The Time Bind, Arlie Hochschild explores another way work can be good: It might
come to take the place of home and family in people's emotional and moral lives.

Hochschild studied employees of a large company that offered about as many family-friendly
work options as you're likely to find anywhere. She wanted to solve a puzzle: Why do employees
eligible for such options gravitate to those that help them spend more time at work (such as on-site
child care, child and elder care referral services, and emergency backup child care) and make scant
use of family leaves, part-time work, job sharing, and other programs that enable them to spend more
time at home? And why do so many people who otherwise complain about being stressed out by the
demands of work and family request so much overtime?

For all of the company's lip-service to its "Work-Life-Balance" program, top and middle managers
continued to judge employees by their willingness to put in long hours. Even those people most staunchly
committed to more balanced lives knew that reducing their work time would be a certain career killer. But
why didn't people put up more resistance to the company's pull on their time? For many people, Hochschild
found, work has become the place where they get their sense of self-worth, their sense of belonging to a
community and of being needed, of giving and getting help, and their sense of growth, accomplishment, and
recognition. Many workers—men and women, executives, middle managers, and production line workers—feel
they are better people at work than at home, better friends to their co-workers and better fathers or mothers
to their subordinates than they are to their children. People often feel more competent, powerful, and appreciated
at work than at home.

Hochschild doesn't pretend that this reversal of the place of work and home in people's emotional lives describes
the majority of the people she studied—at most, perhaps a quarter of them fit this new model. Nor does she explore
class differences in how work might operate as a sanctuary and home as a site of oppression. But she does
illuminate an important piece of moral terrain, the terrain where people make choices about how much time to
spend with their families and how much to spend at work. And while she's out exploring that terrain, she has
some disturbing insights about how people experience time at home.

For many people the family has been transformed beyond Christine Frederick's wildest dreams. People
have Taylorized their relationships, not just their tasks. Time has become the hard currency of the family
economy and there's a whole moral code about how family members earn it, save it, invest it, bargain with
it, and borrow it on credit. A man goes fishing on Saturday morning knowing he's leaving his working wife
with kid duty, but he forgives himself by telling himself he "earned that time" away from family.
A woman requests overtime as her way of "sneaking free time" without having to negotiate for it
with her husband or kids. A parent avoids spending time with a child by promising an IOU of future time.
Much of family time is regulated as scheduled appointments, and time between appointments is felt as
squandered. Sadly, many parents know only those aspects of their children's lives that fit into prearranged
time slots—the soccer games, dance recitals, school plays, and medical appointments.

The "work/family dilemma," as it's called in policy circles, is usually portrayed as something
that can be ameliorated by adjusting work schedules and providing services to cover for adults, especially
women, while they're on duty at work. Hochschild sees a more profound dilemma. It is not so much about
having enough time, using it more efficiently, better balancing demands on one's time, or finding ways to
get family tasks accomplished. It's about how we live in time, whether we are present in our acts and our
relationships, and who or what we're present for.

Hochschild is all in favor of family-friendly policies and she thinks more employers should have more of
them, notwithstanding that they may "serve as little more than fig leaves concealing long work-hour
cultures." But she's smart enough to see that without a cultural transformation in our values about time,
changes in scheduling and assistance with family care cannot change the ways we are deeply diminished by
the cult of efficiency. And she's historically grounded enough to know that cultural transformations don't come
out of nowhere. They are always the result of political agency, however inchoate and unforeseen the causal
chain might be. So, borrowing good ideas from every corner—academics like Juliet Schor and Lotte Bailyn, the
"voluntary simplicity" movement, the old "eight-hour day movement"—she drafts a
blueprint for a national "time movement." Her ideas won't solve the dilemma anytime soon, but
they are the stuff of which important change is made.

It's hard to
find a good woman because we live with a whole series of incompatible moral constructions of women
and work. Deeply embedded in our history is a
traditionalist view that assigns women a life project of cultivating domesticity. Add an overlay
of scientific child rearing that declares women are selfish and will destroy their children if they
work while their children are young. Add that pregnant women have been deemed unsuitable
workers and women generally have been considered unfit for a whole variety of occupations. Add the
claim that women's most important work is motherhood, and then reverse it to insist that motherhood
doesn't count as real work. Add a feminist revision that says women are the equals of men and real
women ought to prove their mettle in challenging careers and community activities. Reconcile the view
that it would be better if poor mothers didn't have to work with a theory that the poor, women included,
would benefit from the discipline of hard work. Add a recent welfare reform that tells poor mothers they
had better be good providers—but not neglect the kids. Juxtapose the reverence for dull and dirty jobs with
the stigmatization of people who do them.

The books discussed here all illuminate some aspect of these moral constructions, but they're mostly
at a loss about what to do with women. Meanwhile, beyond the bookshelf, we have calls for women to
balance their time more effectively (balance is the predominant metaphor in the whole work/family discussion)
and calls for employers to balance their needs for competitiveness with respect for employees' family lives.
We have calls for poor women to work and work harder, and to be more responsible mothers, and to become
mothers less often or not at all, and to put off becoming mothers until they can be good providers.

The over-arching lesson of these books is that women are still subject to conflicting moral imperatives.
In addition to advocating changes in government and corporate policies, maybe we—experts, philosophers,
and activists, men and women—ought to work on making a big cultural tent in which it's possible to be a
good woman and a good worker. Maybe we can accept that different women have different needs and different
goals, and aim all prescriptions and policies at helping them figure out how to live well by their own moral lights.



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