In Defense of Stay-at-Home Moms
In a widely read piece published last week in The Atlantic online, New York City attorney and author Elizabeth Wurtzel makes a number of provocative arguments about feminism, class and politics that denigrate stay-at-home moms. Its title, “1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible,” along with its subhed, “being a mother isn’t a real job — and the men who run the world know it,” sum up parts of the piece, and its arguments go even farther. It surprises me not at all that Rush Limbaugh spoke at length about it on the air, for if there were a “war” on stay-at-home moms, as he’d like his audience to believe, Wurtzel would be on its front lines.
She’d be taking aim at women like my mother, for though my family has never belonged to the 1 percent or “the 1 percent,” my mom left the work force for a number of years to raise my sister and I, returning to it when we were in high school. As an attendee of Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, I’ve had occasion to interact with a lot of women who chose a similar traditionalist path. An e-mailer familiar with my background asked me if I felt outraged on their behalf, but as I see it, Wurtzel’s notion of who stay-at-home moms are is so far removed from the reality of most women in the stay-at-home category that few of her blows even land. “To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria,” she writes in a characteristic passage. “Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income.”
The generalization from “families I have met in New York and L.A.” is always a risky proposition. In this case, according to a 2009 data release from the Census Bureau, 75 percent of stay-at-home moms live in households where family income is less than $100,000 per year — such families, after all, rely on only one salary — and families with stay-at-home moms are, not surprisingly, on average poorer than those where both parents have incomes. The states of Utah and Arizona have the highest percentage of families where one parent stays home. And insofar as the states of New York and California have above-average numbers of stay-at-home moms, it is largely because “Stay-at-home mothers were more likely to be Hispanic than non-stay-at-home mothers,” and “stay- at-home mothers were more likely to be foreign born.”