Monday, February 1, 2010

Stay At Home Feminist - Forced Division of Labor Along Gender/Sex Line

In an effort to get my January post out actually in January (I only have 8 minutes left) here's a bit about what I've been struggling with recently. It really gives some perspective to the struggle taken on by feminist activists. I had mentioned in my October 31, 2009 post Feminist Mother Struggles - Part 1 that I would be discussing the forced division of household labor due to economics and how the Second Shift is often more like the third or fourth shift. Well, now is a prime time for that post. This will also touch a bit on the "working mother" versus "stay at home mother" debate. Although I won't really argue for or against, I will give my personal perspective to do with what you will.

My partner works 2 jobs. His part-time job is from 4:30am-1:30pm and his full-time job is from 3pm-11pm. He only works his part-time about 2 or 3 days a week (sometimes not at all depending on what the capitalist management decides is in the best interest of the owners money) and his full-time is usually 5 days a week (with the occasional 4 day work week for the same reasons as his part-time). He also does some catering with a friend of his. The catering is not steady but they do get some work a few times a year and they are usually pretty big jobs that require quite a bit of time. He schedules this in between the other two jobs. So, in short, he's a very hardworking person and understandably tired. I might also add that cooking is his career, not, just a job that pays the bills (trust me it barely does even that).

I graduated in August and have not been able to find gainful employment in my field and have continued to wait tables. I had a second job tutoring until May but I no longer tutor because it was student work. I attempted a new second job in retail (see this post) but the pay was less than what I would have to pay someone to watch my daughter on the off hours that I would be scheduled. I normally work mostly lunch shifts on the mornings he doesn't work his part-time so that my partner is home and we trade off watching the baby when he goes to his full-time job at three. Usually, we need someone to watch her for the hour of overlap time between me leaving work and him leaving home or he will ask for a later schedule and work 4-11pm.

Recently, he has been getting his schedule for his first job later and later in the week and getting scheduled more heavily (3 shifts). My schedule is released on Thursdays; his has been Friday or later. See the conflict? I can't schedule off or find shift coverage if I don't know when he's working before my schedule is released. Normally, if he is working in the morning, I'd be off so that I can be home with the baby. Also, my occasional sitter can't sit for me anymore and we had a nice barter system going: childcare in exchange for cooking dinner. As a result of this recent childcare fiasco, I am know about 95% "stay-at-home mom." I cut my schedule back to 1 scheduled shift a week and I will occasionally pick up a shift when schedules allow. It was either this or get fired for calling out 2-3 times a week.

This decision was not made lightly. We discussed and discussed any other viable option. The problem was there really weren't any. I would have had to pay most (more some weeks) than I was making for childcare. I cannot (and truthfully don't want to) put her in daycare not just because of financial but because the restaurant business is not 9-5 as the centers cater to.

Now, I am, for the most part, in the traditional gender role for my sex. I cook, clean and take care of the baby. Yes, I'm still prepping for law school but only at stolen moments while the baby is sleeping (like this one). I haven't been able to really study for the LSAT in weeks and I'm mostly just preparing application material and contacting potential recommenders. I thank God for email working at all hours of the night and day or this wouldn't be possible. This is driving me insane.

Let me begin by saying this: This situation was completely forced by finances. My partner didn't ask me to stay at home. His paycheck is the biggest and therefore the most important. I am thankful that I am just waiting tables and it is possible for me to hang on to one shift for my sanity's sake. I hate my job so I really don't miss it, just the sense of self-reliance it gave me. Had this break not been about finances and been about me preparing for law school, it would have been welcome but without the money to occasionally have someone else watch my daughter while I study this is just not the case.

Now, I am beginning to feel suffocated. I know in my heart that my partner does not believe that a woman's place in the home but lately it is hard to remember. Past experiences with men who to feel this way and demand that "their woman" take care of home has cause many a knee jerk reaction to a completely benign question. For example:

Him: I thought you were going to wash clothes today?
Me: I was, but I didn't. I did something else today. I worked on some law school stuff while the baby napped.  What's the problem?
Him: Nothing! I was just asking!?

Let me explain. I did say I was going to wash clothes. He needed something that was in the hamper to wear to work. I didn't realize this or, maybe I did and I forgot because I got wrapped up in what I was doing. He was smack in the middle of a 3 day stint of working both jobs. He doesn't have time nor energy to do laundry while he's home. He really didn't mean it the way I took it initially but nonetheless my reaction was based on prior experiences. I won't say that he doesn't occasionally just wait around for me to do laundry. He does. Quite frankly he sucks at doing laundry and I prefer to do it myself. I could use a little help with the ironing but I don't generally do any mopping, vacuuming or scrubbing so I think we're even. We share the cooking. Unless, he is just working too much to have time or is just too tired from constantly cooking at work.

So, he can't really share in Hoschild's "Second Shift." He's really just too busy with trying to support us not because he wants to but because he has to. Coming home after work to take care of the baby is more like a 3rd shift to him. As a kidney transplant recipient, he's really not supposed to be killing himself working this way but with no other options we don't have any other choice. I worry about him and I respect and appreciate all that he does. He sacrifices a lot to do what he's doing, even time with his kids which is something I know he values and wishes he had more of.

The feminist analysis:

What caused this?

A few things: a broken capitalist economy, an invisible working class, men's labor being valued more than womens, the job market. I could probably name more.

We fall into a category that is in the crack between poverty and middle class. We are working class. Our income is just above the poverty line used to determine eligibility for government assistance and therefore are left to fin for ourselves. I do take responsibility for some of this though. We bought into the capitalist idea of credit as a legitimate option for purchases. We have a car loan, credit cards, medical bills, student loans... way more than we can afford to pay in our current situation. We have depleted our savings trying to stay afloat. But really, how are we supposed to know any other way of living in a society and economy that is so heavily reliant on consumer debt and is so classist that we are taught to want more, more, more than we can actually pay for. It's not just the wants that get you into debt. Gaps in medical coverage have left us with a stack of bills as well as the incredible cost of higher education.

And, why the hell is the poverty line so damn low! Seriously, I think we should have the people who decide these things try to live off of the money they set the limits at.

How do we change this?

Well, activism is a big one. We feminists know that much. Most of us live and breath it. I also think that we need to teach our children to avoid consumer debt and the capitalist trap (you knew I had to tie this into feminist parenting practices, right?). We should teach our children the art of simple living and to avoid materialism, particularly when excess is going to cause unnecessary financial burdens. Of course, that means we must also follow the same principles. We must also advocate on a larger level for society to look in the cracks. To acknowledge we exists is at least a start. Dare I say we do something as a society to prevent people/families from falling in the cracks. Or worse! How about we stop everything below the crack from falling off completely. How radical and idea! Uh oh, someone might call me a socialist... if I'm lucky :D

FYI: Technically it is not January anymore. It is 7:53am on 2/1/10 but I started the post before midnight and the baby woke up so I finished this morning while she slept. She's awake now so I better be off. Comment away!

2 comments:

  1. Hi!

    There was no other place to contact you so am just commenting here. I just wanted to point out that it is really hard to read your blog because of the black writing on darker blue background. I think you might want play around with it so it is more reader friendly.

    Hope you are okay with me saying so.

    ReplyDelete
  2. well hello there! I'm not exactly sure how I happened upon your blog, but here I am.

    I feel exactly the same as you do!! DUe to the issues that you have raised, I too am at home with Miss 6 and Miss 18mths!

    I too am suffocating!

    And the exact exchange between your man and yourself also happened in this household yesterday! I have to agree with your reasoning too.

    Thanks for validating my feelings!

    ReplyDelete

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