Imagine you are a man. If you're already a man, then this should be easy for you. Someone tells you that it's really better for you to stop working when you get married. Even though this would cut your household income nearly in half, you do. But your wife leaves you after years of marriage, and you've now been out of the workforce for 20 years. You can only get jobs that pay a fraction of what you made years ago because your skills are out of date (granted, men's breaks from the workforce tend to whether better than women's do, but for the sake of this scenario, stick with me). But wait, you say, why would I ever stop working and cut my income?
That's the way Leslie Bennetts wanted women to think about the the male breadwinner model in her book last year, The Feminine Mistake. She posted something today on the HuffPo responding to someone she debated on the Today show that outlined again many of the core pieces of her argument. She interviewed many women who divorced after taking a break from working to raise the kids and found themselves wondering why their incomes are suddenly far less than they used to be. Bennetts' work was certainly controversial -- she even talks about going on endless book tours and speaking engagements. To cut against her argument, many states try to equalize incomes in a divorce through alimony, but if men make enough to afford a good lawyer they my get out of paying as much. But she's right that divorce (or a spouse's death or loss of income) is devastating and emotionally trying. Finding out they are worth a lot less in the workforce is even more devastating for many women.
Logically, of course, it doesn't make any sense, especially if the people we're talking about can afford day care. If you think of every person as a worker, removing some workers for long periods of time that results in vastly diminished earnings isn't a desirable scenario.
Of course, some people find it really valuable to have one parent take time off to spend with their kids in the formative years of childhood. I don't have a problem with this. What I do have a problem with is that it is always the woman that's expected to take time off by default. But the problem with these debates it that all too often they tend to focus on upper class families that can afford not to work.
To really support working families, we need to think about how to keep wage-earners valuable and provide quality child care for all families. Many families don't have the option of keeping one family member home -- they can't afford to. Not to mention single mothers that also can't afford to stay at home with the kids because they're too busy providing the families only income. Leslie Bennetts tries to make the case to women that it's not in their best interest to quit work and fulfill dated ideologies about stay-at-home moms. Especially in the midst of a financial crisis, the male breadwinner scenario may be seen in fewer and fewer families. We should work from the assumption that women will keep working -- either because they want to or because they have to -- and look for ways like quality and affordable child care to support them.