Friday, March 30, 2007

The Needless Fear of Day Care - Judith Warner - Domestic Disturbances - Times Select - New York Times Blog

Playing the Mommy Card: Real and Unreal Work

The Needless Fear of Day Care - Judith Warner - Domestic Disturbances - Times Select - New York Times BlogI’ve got some good news to share. The latest word about day care from the nation’s largest, longest-running, highest-quality, mega-government-financed study is this: it doesn’t really matter much at all. That’s not, of course, what most newspaper headlines announced this week. They declared that new links had been found between day care and aggression, between day care and fighting, disobedience to teachers and, well, bad behavior in school generally, right on up to sixth grade.

So, a study indicates that there's no significant different between kids who've spent their early years in day care and those who've been raised by stay-at-home moms. But the media spins the insignificant, ambiguous difference in outcomes as a result indicating that day care is bad for kids.

Qui bono? Why is there a market for this spin? And why am I, apparently, the only person on the Internet who understands why there's a market for it?

It isn't hard to understand really. Most work stinks--and most women's work is especially stinky: it's mindless drudgery with nothing to learn, no chance to achieve, no result to show at the end of the day and no opportunity for advancement. You sit in a carrel taking phone orders. You sit at a terminal inputting data while your supervisor monitors every keystroke. You stand behind a checkout counter scanning groceries. That's what work is for most people--not some underclass minority who are especially oppressed, but most people and not just women. "Real Work" is mindless drudgery at high reps without anything to show for it, and women's work especially is physically constrained and closely supervised. It's being buried alive.

Every reasonable person will do everything in their power to avoid Real Work. That's why I got a PhD. Most women, and men, can't get PhDs and, in any case, there isn't enough Unreal Work--work that's interesting, challenging and produces results you can be proud of--to go around. For most women, the only way to escape Real Work is to plead child care responsibilities. Most women are desperate to hear that day care is bad for kids so that they can cite the statistics to justify getting out of work, and have a response to husbands pushing them out of the house. "Get your butt to Walmart, bitch, and get a job." "No, no Honey, it would be bad for the kids."

Between high school and college I worked as a clerk-typist for a bus company. I sat between Lois and Mrs. Kuhn who, though they weren't much older than me, were married and were trying desperately to get pregnant because it was the ticket out of the office. I saw that this wasn't a long term solution. Besides young women like them, doing what they could to get married and pregnant so that they could quit work, there were older women who were pushed back into the labor force after their children were grown. I realized that marriage and childbearing wouldn't do: the only way to avoid Real Work permanently was by getting the qualifications and credentials for Unreal Work--work that was interesting, challenging and produced some satisfying result. That's why I went to college, killed myself to get the highest possible GPA, and then went to grad school: to avoid boring work.

But that route isn't feasible for most women, or men, and there isn't enough Unreal Work to go around. So the only way most women can get out of work even temporarily is by playing the Mommy Card. Taking care of young children is bad, but the alternative is much, much worse and anything that will get you out of the pure hell of work even temporarily is a good thing. Is work really that bad? You better believe it is. The chattering classes, the tiny minority who have the incredible luxury of doing interesting work, don't recognize that but the overwhelming majority of the population for whom work is pure hell will do anything to avoid it even temporarily.

There's a market for bad news about day care because it's become the only chance women have to play the Mommy Card. That's why the Mommy Wars are going on--between that minority of women like me who've managed to avoid Real Work by getting Unreal Work and the majority of women, like Lois and Mrs. Kuhn, whose only chance for respite from the hopeless, mindless drudgery of Real Work is the Mommy Card.


Andrew said...

absolutely damn right, as often. Mind you, having spent time as a mother myself, I don't think it is quite as bad as you remember. ie, it is very clearly better than real work.

David said...

Hit the nail right on the head with this one, you did :)

Made me remember my forays into Real Work long ago as a young man (cust svc call centers, factory jobs, and such) and you're right - it's why I went on to finish college. So I could become a "Knowledge Worker."

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