December 11, 2013

A woman-boosting NYT headline gets paraphased to cause more pain in Time Magazine (or perhaps to boost a different set of women).

The NYT headline was "Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers As Husbands Do Domestic Duty, These Women Are Free to Achieve." (We discussed that article on this blog here and here.)

The Time article (via Paul Caron) that bounces off that NYT piece has the arresting headline: "When Stay-at-Home Husbands Are Embarrassing to Their Wives/We simply haven't evolved to the point where a househusband is considered desirable." Whoa! I don't remember anything in the NYT article about these hard-charging female bankers getting embarrassed over their home-front husbands.

The author at Time is Vivia Chen, and — before reading what she has to say — I hypothesize that she's going to skew left of the New York Times and promote policies about flex-time and childcare for all women in the workplace, based on the premise that the role-reversed single-earner family is only available to the rich. So don't see those women profiled in the NYT as a model for women's equality.

I guarantee that I wrote all of the above without reading beyond the headline and the link to the NYT piece. Chen says she's not surprised at the "tenfold increase (since 1980) in the number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses." The surprise is the new willingness to "admit" that couples were living like this. Chen's area of journalism has been law (not finance), and she's familiar with the stories of women in top law firms. The high achievers often have a husband whose contribution to the marital partnership is made outside of the income-producing workplace. But according to Chen, these women didn't talk about it.
I sensed that reluctance when I did a story on female partners at big Wall Street firms with househusbands a few years ago. Though three couples were happy to speak to me on the record about their arrangement, many more bowed out about going public. “My husband and I talked it over, and we’re not comfortable with the scrutiny,” said one partner.
That doesn't mean they were embarrassed! It's not necessarily shame that motivates a person to decline to submit the story of her private life to the template a journalist has in mind for an article. The fact that Chen would say it is shows the wisdom of declining to dish the quotes and anecdotes she wanted for her story.

Chen tells us that we have "entrenched ambivalence about changing gender roles" and:
Men in these situations often feel alienated, particularly if they are surrounded by stay-at-home moms. But the power moms with the stay-at-home husbands are just as uneasy, often more embarrassed than proud that they’ve upset the traditional order.
These are simply assertions, backed up mostly, it seems, by the data that women who earn the income in single-income families don't feel like being Chen's data. How convenient! Finally, in the last 2 paragraphs, Chen gets close to where I predicted she'd go:
[T]he publication of the New York Times article suggests that this atypical arrangement might be more palatable if the wife makes an outrageous amount of money. In one instance, the husband put the brakes on his architecture career when his banker wife started to make twice his earnings. At that point, “the solution seemed obvious.”

What remains to be seen is what happens when the economics are not so “obvious” — when women work at more pedestrian, less lucrative jobs. Given the unease about reversing gender roles when there is a superearner in the equation, I’m not sure we’re ready to have June Cleaver go to work and Ward Cleaver stay home with the boys after all.
Chen stops short of saying the single-earner household can't work anymore unless that single-earner makes a huge income (and she doesn't detour into the usual talk about what's really needed to support the parents who do (and must!) go to work). It's fair to ding the NYT for focusing on rich outliers and to cherry pick the phrases in that article that hint that the high-achieving women are not proud of husbands whose only activity is housework and childcare. Chen's last sentence is so tame that it's hard to fight with her: There's "unease," and she's "not sure," and maybe were just not "ready."

As you know if you've been following my single-earner household tagged posts — which go back to April 2012 — I am a proponent of clear thinking about household economics in light of taxes and the value of unpaid work within the family unit. I resist the endless propaganda that the single-income family is no longer possible for ordinary people — that it's some delusion haunted by the ghosts of the 1950s, who are almost always embodied in the characters June and Ward Cleaver. I think we are failing to see how much we lose when we accept the idea that all good adults must devote their work energy to the production of taxable income.

60 comments:

rhhardin said...

Take a job that's also a hobby and it doesn't come up.

Men can do that in the hard sciences.

Women don't have those hobbies.

Brando said...

"[T]he publication of the New York Times article suggests that this atypical arrangement might be more palatable if the wife makes an outrageous amount of money."

What is an "outrageous" amount of money? Twice what Chen's household brings in? A dollar more than the amount Chen thinks people should earn? Or is it an amount that causes the other spouse to say "I'm outraged!" when they see the earner's paystubs?

There are couples that can get by on half of what I imagine Chen brings in, but they're probably not subscribers to the New York Times.

Deirdre Mundy said...

The thing is, if a member of the household isn't doing that work, you're simply working to pay someone ELSE to do it. At high enough income levels, you may be able to hire that super-nanny who teaches your kids the art of french cooking, 5 modern languages, and how to ski-jump.

But for most couples, someone is working so your kids can go to a daycare and get plopped in front of a TV and fed mac and cheese with a random assortment of other kids.

Or, you're paying to let McDonald's cook dinner, when you could be having healthy, homecooked meals instead.

People forget that time is worth money. And that some people prefer to have less money, but more time to do things the way they want to....

surfed said...

Yup, I wanna' stay home and do some laundry. Maybe slip out the back and catch a few waves when the tides right, have dinner ready for the girl when she gets home, rub her feet, give her a glass of good red and wait for the daily Cialis to kick in. Yeah baby that's me. Where do I sign up?

Matthew Sablan said...

Mr. Mom, what cultural lessons have you yet to reveal to us?

Ann Althouse said...

"I wanna' stay home and do some laundry. Maybe slip out the back and catch a few waves when the tides right, have dinner ready for the girl when she gets home, rub her feet giver a glass of wine and wait for the daily Cialis to kick in. Yeah baby that's me. Where do I sign up?"

Do you realize what it would cost to hire someone to do that if it were conceived of as a job? I mean hire someone that the rich woman would accept as a sex-and-love provider. And what if she wasn't that nice or sexually attractive? That would cost a ridiculous amount of money. You would be willing to take a drug to appear sexually aroused and then provide sex to someone who wasn't attractive to you. You'd do that every day and cook excellent meals and provide companionship through the dinners, all the time acting as if you just totally, intrinsically enjoyed the activity?

I think that would be an incredibly difficult job if you conceive of it as a job. You never pile up money to take away if you want to quit. You are just paid in kind, able to eat the food that you prepare and live in the house that you take care of. You do have a few hours in the middle of the day to do your recreational activity, some sport (and you'd better do something that maintains a shapely torso).

Who can do this job?

Who can do it without the drugs?

It seems that many women do it, and I can see why men (who would have to buck social pressure and look at the deal more coolly) resist taking on this occupation.

My message is: This is not at all a sweet deal unless it's premised on genuine love and mutual dedication to the partnership.

pm317 said...

What if both incomes are needed and the wife can't afford a house husband? If we make househusbands the norm, these women will be cheated out of the government's helping hand. Left always worried about somebody snatching away some other person's handout.

rhhardin said...

I work on math problems and take dog play breaks when either I or the dog wants.

It would cost a huge amount to hire somebody to do that.

Matthew Sablan said...

"What if both incomes are needed and the wife can't afford a house husband?"

-- That's a problem. I remember being taught two can live as cheaply as one, but I'm not sure that's true. And the math goes out the window once you have three.

EDH said...

I thought "Leave it to Beaver" was about a lesbian couple?

Ann Althouse said...

I read that last comment of mine out loud to Meade who said: "That's good, but I would write 'I can see why men and a growing number of women'…"

And I said "Can I quote that?" and start writing this comment, and he's about to tell me something else I could add, and I'm all "Shhh, shh, I'm trying to remember verbatim quotes. Don't talk."

He keeps going, telling me to quote all that verbatim until I nearly lose my mind and he finally shushes and I get this comment written.

Joe said...

The silly phrase is "These Women Are Free to Achieve." Once again, the notion is that working in a career is what men aspire to and what women should as well.

The irony is that in a traditional household, Women are more free to achieve what they desire than men are.

Tank said...

My message is: This is not at all a sweet deal unless it's premised on genuine love and mutual dedication to the partnership.

Isn't that what marriage is about?

Mrs. Tank stayed home until the kids were in school, then went to work again. As a result, we had less money, but didn't really think about it much. We thought, if we're going to have kids, we're going to bring them up. I don't know, we never had much trouble partnering our mutual work based on what was important to each of us and what we each did well.

Ann Althouse said...

"I work on math problems and take dog play breaks when either I or the dog wants. It would cost a huge amount to hire somebody to do that."

Yeah, I love the idea of listing the things you like to do, then sitting back and saying why doesn't somebody else create a job that would consist of exactly that.

I remember when I had to explain to a child that jobs exist because it is in someone else's interest to pay someone to perform certain tasks.

The question, rh, is whether someone would give you room and board if you spent part of your day thus occupied and also contributed things like well-cooked meals and high-quality sex.

The writing of this comment was briefly interrupted by Meade delivering a plate of bacon and eggs and more lengthily interrupted by Meade telling me that I should write that my writing of this comment was interrupted by Meade delivering a plate of bacon and eggs.

Deirdre Mundy said...

When you hire childcare, you're probably paying more than it would 'cost' you to do it yourself.

That's because taking care of other people's children is vastly more unpleasant than taking care of your own.

Lyssa said...

My favorite thing about feminism is the constant and all-encompassing fear of being negatively judged. They're "embarassed"; people will feel "unease;" society won't accept whatever. I was totally going to acheive something huge, but you know, people *disapproved.*

I am woman, hear me roar (as long as nobody has any objections).

Meade said...

And now that you have your bacon and eggs, I'm heading out to devote my work energy to the production of nontaxable income in the form of not getting fined by the city of Madison for failing to remove last night's snow from the public sidewalk in front of our house. A little more high-quality... snuggling might hit the spot when I come back in from the frigid outdoor conditions. That is, if you're not too busy with your little blogging hobby.

Ann Althouse said...

I remember answering a child's question: "Do you have to pay to have a job?"

That is, the child saw that I had a job and wondered whether I was paying my employer rather than the other way around. It was a nice perspective on things. I knew I had a job that some people probably would pay to be allowed to do, to stand in front of a group of mostly young people who will listen, take notes, and respond to your talking about constitutional law.

It's great to have a job that makes your child think: I wonder how much money I'd have to pay to be able to do what she gets to do.

It's possible to have a job that you'd pay to be allowed to do but that produces excellent income.

Think about the single-earner household in that context. How much should the other partner need to contribute to make that a fair arrangement? Maybe rh's dream job of doing math and hanging out with dogs would be a perfectly fair exchange.

But I have not seen rh's torso and I don't know how pleasant he is to have around. Maybe he's a lot of fun and a great conversationalist and a total sex machine.

surfed said...

@Althouse - I raised two children on my own while I worked. Staying home at age 60, vacuuming, doing the laundry and having dinner ready for a great working gal would be a blessing. And as fate would have I am now in the position I flippantly wanted to apply for. I am a good cook and I find great Zen in vacuuming. Not to mention there is time to slide a few tasty waves when the tide is right....

BDNYC said...

I wish more women took note of Althouse's "clear thinking" approach. I can't tell you how many women I know who stay in jobs they despise when they'd rather be doing almost anything else. They worry about what other people (especially other college-educated women) think of them. They don't especially care about money; it's all about title, respect, self-esteem, not being a housewife, etc. They also complain about how hard it is to have it all and how easy it is to be a man.

Men also feel social pressure to work but we don't constantly bitch to others about self-esteem. There's just an unspoken expectation that we work to provide. And women think we enjoy sitting at a desk all day filling out TPS reports, so by working we're "having it all."

Broomhandle said...

"Take a job that's also a hobby and it doesn't come up."

Mr. White? Is that you?

Ann Althouse said...

@surfed Perhaps the offers will come in. You deserve it!

Ann Althouse said...

"Not to mention there is time to slide a few tasty waves when the tide is right…."

Nice double entendre.

Shouting Thomas said...

I don't understand why people need media applause to do that which humans enjoy doing.

For instance, I'm Mr. Grandpa now, and I'm sitting here spoonfeeding my granddaughter pureed sweet potatoes.

When I was younger, my status as a contractor and freelancer always allowed me to structure my schedule around being with my kids, which was a lot more fun than IT and programming... or even multimedia development!

My fate as I age is to be a live-in grandpa with my daughter and son-in-law, helping them to raise my grandkids.

There's something better to do?

Its pretty easy to fit my music and art sessions around the baby's schedule.

surfed said...

@Althouse - My writing was unclear - as so often happen when trying to be humorous in typeface - I applied for the job and was accepted for the position. I am happily ensconced with a great professional working gal dishing out the odd double entendre and dinner. Life is good...

surfed said...

@Meade. Damn if you didn't take the words out my mouth this morning (though in a Florida context). We think alike sir...

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Ann,

I think we are failing to see how much we lose when we accept the idea that all good adults must devote their work energy to the production of taxable income.

Amen to that.

Paul said...

Females are hypergamous and that is a biological imperative, not a social pressure.

Once again the left trying to fight human nature is just so much tilting at windmills.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rhhardin,

Take a job that's also a hobby and it doesn't come up. Men can do that in the hard sciences. Women don't have those hobbies.

(Apologies for scrunching up your text.)

The hell we don't, rh. I got into four pretty top-tier universities as an engineering student (ending up going to UC/Berkeley), I should think, partly on the basis of the model aircraft designs I submitted with my applications.

rhhardin said...

For instance here's math from not a half hour ago.

A dog is not surprised that it keeps somebody interested, so long as there are breaks.

Now I have to go field-release the night's garage mouse capture, since it's warmed up to the mid 20s.

Meade said...

@surfed - obviously we are brothers of different mothers.

rhhardin said...

Women can do anything men can do.

It's just that they do it grimly, where the guy is at home with it.

That's the theme of Get Smart (2008), hidden under the James Bond gags so that nobody notices.

So it doesn't wind up as a hobby.

Bob R said...

@rhhardin - 9:15. You don't have to pay that much to get people to work on math problems. Solving is another matter entirely.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

rhhardin,

Women can do anything men can do.
It's just that they do it grimly, where the guy is at home with it.
That's the theme of Get Smart (2008), hidden under the James Bond gags so that nobody notices.
So it doesn't wind up as a hobby.


Nah, rh. I don't do anything grimly, except work on a deadline. When I was designing paper airplanes as a kid, there wasn't anything grim about it. I had a delta-shaped plane that was practically half tape, to smooth the surface and hold the thing together and get the weight distribution right. I'd perfected an underhand launch technique, and was trying to tweak one rudder just so; I was trying to get it to spin rapidly on launch, and then kick into a lazy spiral glide down.

It never worked quite as I imagined it would, and I had to fetch the ladder from the garage innumerable times to retrieve my prototypes from the roof. But "grim"? Not.

Illuninati said...

Personally, I find discussions about how much housework each spouse does boring. Each couple has to work those things out for themselves. So long as they take care of their children and pets, its no on else's business.

Ann Althouse said...

"My writing was unclear - as so often happen when trying to be humorous in typeface - I applied for the job and was accepted for the position. I am happily ensconced with a great professional working gal dishing out the odd double entendre and dinner. Life is good…"

Oh, good!

It really wasn't unclear. I blame myself for reading too quickly (and maybe suddenly seeing an opportunity for matchmaking… one of the great unpaid jobs).

Ann Althouse said...

"When you hire childcare, you're probably paying more than it would 'cost' you to do it yourself. That's because taking care of other people's children is vastly more unpleasant than taking care of your own."

You're also paying with after-tax income to someone who must also pay taxes, so the govt is siphoning off a huge portion of the value exchanged.

Not only is it harder to care for other people's children (maybe!) but the care received by the children is not the same.

Presumably, the parent's care is more loving and individualized, but some parents are sluggish or irritable in the care they provide and the child might be isolated from other children, so it actually could be worse care.

And it's possible that a professional child-care giver is better at it. I've seen some providers who are just really good with children and only take in a few children to care for along with their own. Some people don't become grouchy and dispirited being with children all day long and the inclusion of a few more in the group could be good for everyone.

Illuninati said...

This shaming behavior affects females as well as males. ecause of health reasons my wife has been a stay-at-home mom for years. She faces some of the same shaming behavior from other people that the stay-at-home fathers have faced. Although she and I have paid off her school debts over the years other people still argue that she is remiss because society has wasted money in her medical education since she is not practicing.

Ann Althouse said...

On the subject of the shaming that's going on, let me quote my stay-at-home mother: They're envious!

FleetUSA said...

This has been a great series of comments, even getting a bit steamy too.

Loved the good Professor's opening volley at 9:12 a.m.

My wife, a Fulbright scholar, happily did all the homework and helped educate our daughter - now a university M.D. professor-in-waiting. When I retired I fully took over the cooking and dish washing. Not because her French cooking was not up to snuff but because I would otherwise be bored.

Sam L. said...

What's the Degree Of Difficulty in being left of the NYT?

And some would just as soon pawn the kids off on a nanny or a boarding school (messy little critters that they are).

virgil xenophon said...

George Guilder has written about the subject under discussion ("shaming") by saying that: "Both men and women have three choices. Women and either work, stay home, or do some of both--all without any social opprobrium . Men have three choices also: They can work; they can work; and they can work." I.e., for a man to stay home and grow prize-winning orchards, roses, etc., and some light house-work is to be regarded by society at large as a ne'er-do-well..

Shouting Thomas said...

You know, I never consulted anybody (including the press) for permission to live the way I wanted to live.

Why would anybody do that?

Meade said...

"Why would anybody do that?"

Gee, Shouting Thomas, we don't know.
Why are you consulting us?

glam1931 said...

Re: Your comment at 9:17 am. Ann, do you realize you just live-blogged your own blogging? I think we're going to need a new term for that.

Julie C said...

I've known at least ten stay at home dads over the years. Most of them were active participants in the school volunteer scene - running fundraisers, doing PTA stuff, volunteering as coaches, etc. I didn't view them as lesser men, and I know that many of them had/have great social lives and supportive spouses. Maybe it's a reflection of where I live - there are a lot of SAH spouses here. And Joe brought up a great point - when you are a SAH parent you can do all kinds of stuff you couldn't do when you had a paying job - I know people who not only do the school volunteer stuff, but also serve on the school board, run big fundraisers ($200K +), serve on charitable foundation boards, and so on. These are very accomplished people who are expanding their skill sets all the time.

FullMoon said...

It never worked quite as I imagined it would, and I had to fetch the ladder from the garage innumerable times to retrieve my prototypes from the roof.

Typical woman engineer. A man would have changed the launching area, or at the least, left the ladder in place for quicker retrieval.

FullMoon said...

rhhardin said...

Take a job that's also a hobby and it doesn't come up.

Men can do that in the hard sciences.

Women don't have those hobbies.


I have a friend whose hobby is working on old cars. Always has something interesting in the garage. He says he is glad he did not fulfill his dream of becoming a professional mechanic.

It would have taken the fun out of it if he HAD to do it.

Inga said...

I really don't see any shaming of stay at home spouses nowadays, perhaps men a bit, but women, no.

Gosh rh, what the heck is the problem, some women hurt you and you're still not over it? Or just dislike women for no apparent reason based in reality?

Inga said...

OR, maybe rh has been living amongst female canines for so long he expects female humans to be exuberant and pantingly happy at all times when serving man.:)

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Inga,

I really don't see any shaming of stay at home spouses nowadays, perhaps men a bit, but women, no.

That sentence can't seem to make up its mind.

Inga said...

Michelle,
Women's perogative, lol. No, I take that back, that's sexist!

Illuninati said...

Inga said:
"I really don't see any shaming of stay at home spouses nowadays, perhaps men a bit, but women, no."

The shaming is especially severe for lady doctors who do not practice. My wife doesn't like to explain why she is not practicing so she avoids social situations where she will be shamed.

ALP said...

The writing of this comment was briefly interrupted by Meade delivering a plate of bacon and eggs and more lengthily interrupted by Meade telling me that I should write that my writing of this comment was interrupted by Meade delivering a plate of bacon and eggs.
***********
It warms my heart to know you are a bacon and egg household. I am still reeling from reading this article, in which some dunderheads in CA are working on a plant based substitute for one of nature's perfect foods, the egg:

http://www.komonews.com/news/tech/Food-tech-startups-aim-to-replace-eggs-and-chicken-235093421.html

Bacon fat rules.

Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inga said...

Illuninati, of course I can't speak for your wife or the comments directed toward her that seem like shaming, or are indeed shaming, but we have two attorneys in our family and both are young women, one is my daughter who is pregnant and will need to continue working and an in law who has three children who stayed at home to care for the children. I've never witnessed any shaming of either one of these young women for their decisions. Perhaps my family and social circle are more accepting of an individual's right to choose what is right for them and their families.

Shouting Thomas said...

@Inga,

The enlightenment and brilliance of you and your circle almost blinds me!

Now, if only the two female lawyers in your family participate in slut walks!

The future enlightenment of human will be assured!

RonF said...

Why a lack of women at the highest levels of finance and other business organizations - or in science and engineering - seen as an issue that has to be addressed with some extraordinary effort to change it?

Inga said...

Althouse, would this be one of those times to shake one's head and roll ones eyes in response to a sexist comment by Shouting Thomas, or should one simply ignore him altogether?

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