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WOMEN/ A mother’s work is never done! (2)

MARGARET HARPER MCCARTHY, The Catholic University of America, examines in depth the issue of women and work, particularly as to mothers and the “work-family balance”. Second of three parts

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Second of three parts; here the first part.  First appeared in Humanum.

II. Nobody Home

Turning to the substance of the (one) legitimate choice, it is important to see that, notwithstanding all the talk about “having it all,” family and work, one has very little of the former (if not also, perhaps, of the latter). While one of the currents in early feminism tied a more active entry of women into public life to “social housekeeping,” namely the domestication of the public arena - plagued as it was by the abuse of power in the form of slavery, drunkenness, immorality, etc. - what seems to be more in view in the recent discussion is a workplace that will un-domesticate the home. As Lasch said, institutions “have a life of their own”; and women are unlikely to make the workplace as we know it more family-friendly (as some, like Slaughter, understandably want). Indeed they are more likely to make it less so. This is clear especially when women like Sandburg identify what change they want for women when exactly one-half of the board rooms are populated by women like them, and they have the power to effect it: more day-care, longer school days and school years.

There is not, then, much balance when it comes to the “work-life balance” question, especially when it is treated to the (one) official answer. And it is not the workplace that gets short shrift. It does not take much to imagine what becomes of the home when there are two full-time power-job careerists sleeping in the master bedroom. To put it in a nutshell, it becomes a home with nobody home, where very little happens among those who sleep there, much less with their friends and neighbors.

There is no nursing a baby (in the well-appointed nursery), no taking walks to the park, no witnessing first steps (which happen at the “wrong time”), no informal neighborhood clubs after school, no gathering of teenage friends under watchful eyes, no real cooking (in the gourmet kitchen), no dinners with friends (in the non-existent dining rooms), no neighborly charity for sick friends or new mothers. In short there is no time together.

And there are definitely no un-organized and un-institutionalized children roaming around neighborhoods freely on bicycles; because there is no longer what Sandburg takes for granted when she did just that: an invisible maternal presence in the background. You really can’t have it all. And neither, apparently, can the children who are now in “safe environments” and “enrichment programs,” cared for, for the most part, by “qualified” professionals, but rarely by the ones to whom they belong.

But this un-domestication of the home, implied in the imbalance of the “work-life” discussion, is only an expression of something deeper. It is an expression of a deep suspicion of the relations between parents and their children, one that reaches way back to the founding of modern liberal democracies and the “social solitaries” they presuppose. Given the unnatural, suspicious, and even “tyrannical” nature of family relations, these relations were to remain relaxed, tentative, conditional, and always in sight of the “exit,” even ahead of the game.