Labor shifting, not Labor saving, laundry edition

It is generally considered acceptable by conservatives and liberals alike to declare that SAHMs have it easy thanks to washing machines and tumble dryers compared to the grand old days of yore when they did “real work”.  This involves ignoring the explosion in ready to wear clothing that permits even lower-income households to own hundreds of pieces of clothing.  It also involves ignoring the reality that the older methods of laundering clothes were not always backbreakingly hard.  And lastly, it involves ignoring the fact that even for women in the lower tiers of the middle class, laundering their own clothing was often optional because of washerwomen who specialized in doing laundry for many families.

A side-pressing washing machine is more primitive technology than a top loading washing machine, but the former is easier on back and arms, given similar amounts of clothing washed.  Hand wringers could be more physical labor, but again, fewer clothes were owned in the first place, so there wasn’t as much total work involved on a family-level basis.

Having a washing machine perform the labor of agitating the dirt off the clothes (this is the part that cleans clothes, more so than the soap, although soap sure helps out) does save labor, but there isn’t a labor savings when you have to take heavy wet clothes out and transfer them to the dryer vs. hanging them up on a line.  In fact, the modern norm for SAHMs of washing, drying and folding multiple loads of laundry daily is not labor saving at all, no matter what people persist in claiming.  It is astonishing that it’s presented as a leisure activity and sign of how little SAHMs have to do all day compared to “the olden days”.

The feminist criticism that “mission creep” erases any potentially saved labor for housewives from a given technological advancement has some truth to it, as one can observe that creep with core household tasks like laundry.  The same conservatives who want all the women to come home pretty much never promote specialization in domestic tasks that again, even lower-income housewives used to take for granted.  And it’s a wealth problem.  Everyone has these machines that are supposedly so advanced and “labor saving”, so the idea can’t even form in the mind as an option.  People instead obsess about getting cheap machines rather than finding someone to do their laundry for them.  And there are always cheap machines around, so nobody can consider specializing as a source of income.

Part of the secret history of the domestic sphere is that “labor saving” devices are positioned as granting leisure to housewives, but do not, or do not save labor for very long.  It is perhaps the case that for a 1950s housewife a top loading washing machine saved some labor, as she didn’t have the full cheap clothing revolution that the 1970s housewife benefitted from.  But that didn’t last even a full generation before the metrics of acceptability changed, resulting in shifting rather than saving labor.

This isn’t to say that the modern SAHM has exactly the same level of physical labor on her hands as her domestic ancestresses.  It is to say that the idea that she has basically no labor is false.  Despite all the wealth and technological advancement, she still faces a great deal of physical labor to be considered an adequate or suitable SAHM.


Poverty slumming and the devout Christian male’s failure to provide for a wife

Related to my little example breakdown from yesterday, this post is derived from comments I made on a “letter to the editor” post here in which a reader wrote in lamenting a false binary of his own making between poverty-wage ministry callings and making decent enough money to provide for a family.

It was a false binary because not all Christian men are called to poverty-wage ministry.  And further, it’s not the only holy or pious way to honor and serve God.  Some are called to be accountants.  It’s ok, someone has to earn enough to pay for the relative few who are spiritually and psychologically prepared for poverty-wage ministry.

As far as the lament in the post and some of the comments that Christian women are money-hungry and demand high earnings from a potential Christian husband, it costs a lot of money to (badly) compensate for the lack of relationships that even very poor people used to take for granted. It also takes a fair amount of money to compensate for the multi-decade assault on the domestic sphere.  The domestic isn’t valued any more, even among much of the conservative world, and compensating for that with expensive conveniences and machinery isn’t cheap or free.

The sense of entitlement in the idea that it’s ok to pursue an expensive but low-paying “mission” so long as you’re a man is not a bit better than a woman believing there is no other income bracket she deserves in marriage than the very highest one. That money has to come from people who do boring but higher-paying work and frankly there are already enough Christian men sidestepping their responsibilities by slumming it out of a confused belief that it’s a good thing to not be a hydrological engineer/accountant/etc and instead rack up 80k in debt for a divinity degree while subjecting a wife and children to an itinerant missions lifestyle.

There has been an explosion in religious degree accreditations and men shelling out tens of thousands in student loans to acquire same and “callings” to live in the ghetto or hop on the missions merry go round with a wife and family to support. Sometimes there are multiple systemic failures. You can have more than one group of people making bad decisions regarding racking up college debt and misunderstanding the nature of vocations and callings. Or you can just blame women and their cruddy liberal arts degrees and ignore the men messing up for different reasons that still lead to the same debt-drowned, economically fragile place.

The OP who wrote in to that blogger is confused and entitled in the very way that leads to the expensive poverty slumming above. There’s a strain of idolizing poverty slumming among many devout Christians and it does involve men leaving their 50-150k jobs to go be poor for Jesus. A nondenominational example is all the guys quitting their decent-paying jobs to plant churches (while also getting an expensive religious degree). Since the men doing this are devout, it’s a bigger problem for the Church than when a culturally Christian woman majors in liberal arts.

Without real patriarchy, it’s expensive to be functional as a single-income family and that plays into the thinking of a lot of Christian women. It’s not all consumption obsession.  They may not be able to articulate it, but women can see the exhausted SAHMs with lower household incomes and they subconsciously are likely to think that maybe a six-figure income can buy ways to get enough sleep when it’s 4am and this year’s baby is up for the sixth time that night.  Or maybe they think they would plump for a maid when the kids were little and constantly making messes.  Whatever their hazy, not-conscious thoughts, it’s not necessarily greed and laziness motivating their desires that a future husband earn a solid income in providing for their needs as SAHMs raising a passel of younguns and also keeping a house on top.

What women do now when they SAHM is cheaper than encouraging Christian SAHM hopefuls to marry well and youngish, but it’s not actually functional.

250k isn’t enough, or why not even other right wing women want my SAHM lifestyle.

This is a breakdown of exactly how expensive it is to live substituting money for the network of support common to healthy patriarchal societies.  In this example, I show where 250k in gross household income per year would go in attempting to provide enough support with cash instead of neighbors and relatives to get a SAHM with several children through the under-5 years with closely spaced pregnancies and breastfeeding.

25k– tithe

35k– modest PITI (Principal, Interest, property Taxes, homeowner’s Insurance) of 1.5-2x income after 20% down, not before

50k– household services (sitter or nanny, weekend/backup sitter, house cleaning 2-4x per month)

15k– food (local, often organic, directly purchased from farmers wherever possible, fair trade and single-source where not local).

50k– federal income and social insurance taxes (approximate, tax treatment varies wildly from state to state)

10k– gas, commute and auto maintenance expenses (not including car insurance)

5k– car insurance, life insurance, disability insurance

15k– reserve or expenses for home maintenance and improvements

10k– utilities (internet/cell, electric, water, sewer or septic maintenance, garbage, any other common utilities)

15k– HSA/health insurance/health care (annualized estimate)

20k– savings/float/reserve against unexpected/anything I missed

This totals to exactly 250k per year, and there things I missed.  And even with this much money substituting for human relationships and assistance, women at this level of household income who SAHM still face plenty of sleep deprivation and exhaustion and none of these expenses make up for the lack of other women and their children in groups to hang out with while going through household routines.

This is my life*, and nobody wants it.  And nobody wants to admit it takes this kind of money to even come close to setting up a private household with a SAHM in something resembling a traditional way.  Despite the full time help wrangling my very active children and the friendly couple that clean weekly, I’m still exhausted and have trouble gaining/maintaining weight when I need it for pregnancies and breastfeeding.  And I always feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of household work to do that isn’t the canonical cooking and cleaning and childcare because I don’t do a lot of that day to day and *there’s still a lot of other housework to do*.

But I am not envied by other SAHMs because they think any childcare that isn’t mom 24/7/365 is “leaving your children to be raised by wolves, er, I mean other women”.  And having a house cleaner deep clean is just showing how I fail housewiving 4eva by not being organized enough to clean perfectly around squalling toddlers flinging rice in every direction because mommy’s ignoring them (sorry, lovingly caring for them in a way utterly superior in all possible ways to any relative or paid provider’s child minding) to scour the sink just right.

I am not envied by working mothers because holding any wage job outside the home (no matter how low-paying) and putting the kids into daycare at 6 weeks old (or more commonly, paying some SAHM whose household income is closer to 25k/yr 20-40 bucks a day under the table for childcare) means they are financial contributors to their household and I am not, so I am to be pitied and despised for being such a drain on my husband with my very existence.

And that’s the right-wing, conservative Christian side of the aisle.

*The exact household income and expense list in this example isn’t our literal personal one as our household is more agrarian in orientation, but there are some broad similarities.

The fundamentalist 1970s back to the land movement was funded with food stamps and welfare

This was also true of the more left-wing hippies.  There was an interesting confluence during this time of far left and far right starting “self-sufficiency” communal living experiments with the help of welfare.  I didn’t read a book for this one, although you can find little allusions in memoirs about some of this, and the very occasional one-off reference.  Mostly you can find out what happened by looking up the history of the food stamp/SNAP/WIC nutrition support programs on wikipedia.  During the 1970s, some changes were made to what was then still called “food stamps” to permit seeds, gardening equipment and some other tools to be purchased with the stamps instead of money.  A fascinating side effect was that a number of fundamentalist groups/cults/etc. decided to leave the cities and go try to live out in the country off the land.

What I find really interesting about this is that the right wing appears to have no history for this.  The entire Crunchy Con, fundie-hippie, prepper/survivalist, homesteading subset of conservatives finds its Ur-model in the Back to the Land movement.  And this movement that was all about surviving off the grid self-sufficiently away from The (Liberal) Man was jumpstarted by food stamps and cash welfare.  Yet as far as I can tell, it might as well be knowledge hidden under a rock to the modern conservative equivalents.

The Latina high school dropout and Asian immigrant SAHM revolution

So there was a Pew report a while back about the changing demographics of the American SAHM, emphasizing that they were disproportionately “less educated”, “young”, “lower income” and “less white”.  But of course digging into the report’s data reveals that they are also disproportionately “Latina or Asian” and “first generation immigrants”.

It is quite common for liberal women who work outside the home to sneer at SAHMs as uneducated axlotl tanks via news pulpits or just internet comment threads and of course in person, to a SAHM’s face.  They have been able to get away with this because people believed that this was just about being mean to conservative Christian white women who are of course fair game in our sad disordered society.  The reality that the demographic shift in SAHMs is ethnic and cultural is ostentatiously ignored when it comes to pushing that “lol dumb sheltered SAHMs” narrative.  Even when the ethnic changes must be acknowledged, as in the Pew report’s data, the headlines don’t emphasize that “poor and not-white” does not in fact mean “black and female”.  They just sort of let that be assumed even when it doesn’t add up, relying on the head explosion to make people skimming revert to their comforting stereotype that SAHMs are all stupid unschooled right wing white women.

This isn’t included in the Pew data, but it is worth noting as well that these Asian and Latina SAHMs are more likely to live traditionally in the form of households where gramma and auntie live in their own quarters but pop out to assist with the cooking, cleaning and childcare.  This means that these households can manage at a lower income on the books and have a more functional quality of life despite the appearance of “poverty level earnings”.  It also is misleading, as a larger but more efficient household can have a very decent living standard on poverty-level wages, as the thresholds for 5, 6, 7, 9 people are pretty high.

When gramma really will just cook all day while auntie takes the kids to the playground and mamma scrubs the bathrooms, you suddenly don’t need nearly as much money or consumption to maintain a decent living standard for the household.  Lastly, Asian (Including South) and Latin children (with indigenous ancestry) are more docile and less physically mobile as infants and toddlers compared to black and white children.  This is well documented by scientific observation across multiple decades. Thus, the changing demographic shifts also reflect women who have children more compatible with modern SAHM multitasking expectations than white or black mothers.  So it’s a very different experience and one that makes women from these ethnic and cultural backgrounds amenable to staying at home, particularly when their children are young.  Those ethnic differences in how little ones behave are, uh, also not mentioned when discussing SAHM realities and demographics.

The hourglassing of male income

True middle-income guys who might have married in the past are being squeezed out in favor of slackers and high achievers.  It’s an amplified version of “Yale or jail”, except it’s “xbox and living off your woman’s 35k/yr job or make 75k plus”.

Married men with SAHMs are making most of the taxable income, contrary to the narrative pushed about the “breadwinner mom”.  Direct from the very Pew data used for that narrative, the married man+SAHM household clears about 78k per year as the median, while the married “breadwinner mom” (plus husband with a job, carefully not worded that way though) clears about 80k per year as the median.  But because the “breadwinner mom” married households consist of two lower incomes and also get very favorable tax treatment for childcare expenses, they pay lower net taxes despite having a slightly higher gross income.  The American federal income tax system is structured to favor double-income married households earning about 75k who put the kids in daycare as far as tax breaks for broad swathes of the married population go.  It is not nearly so well set up to favor single-income married households as is commonly claimed because those households overperform economically and thus phase out of the tax benefits available to those married with children.

Needless to say, all this isn’t mentioned in any of the news articles riffing on said Pew data to declare the awesomesauce of breadwinning mothers.  But the current economic situation in America is that there’s a hourglass effect on male income, and female workforce participation increases aren’t sufficient to replace the lost male earnings, because as we can see from the jury-rigged comparison of earnings above, women just aren’t earning as much as men even if they earn the highest or the sole income for the household.  The result is a smaller and smaller number of married men who overperform and whose W2 wages provide the bulk of what tax base remains for the massive welfare edifice that the federal, state and local governments have built up in the last half century.

This hourglass effect is also mostly left out of the discourse on income inequality, along with its far-ranging effects on the long-term health of the current welfare state.  It’s also a pattern conservatives need to keep in mind when lamenting the decline of marriage and discussing ways to revive marriage as a social institution.

6 shocking facts about abortion both pro-lifers and pro-choicers never mention.

  1. About 67% of all reported abortions happen before 8 weeks gestation.
  2. Nearly 40% of all reported abortions happen before 6 weeks gestation.
  3. 92% of all reported abortions happen before 13 weeks gestation.  This means the overwhelming majority of reported abortions happen long before a woman is likely to feel movement and often before the sac is detectable by ultrasound.
  4. Surgical abortion, even at 6 weeks gestation, remains the norm, with nearly 75% of reported abortions before 13 weeks gestation terminated via invasive surgical procedures.  Keep in mind many of these surgeries are being done when the embryonic development is difficult to even detect reliably via ultrasound, which means an unknown percentage of women are undergoing risky, invasive surgery for what might not even be a viable pregnancy or even a pregnancy at all.  Luteal cysts and chemical pregnancies can sometimes trigger a positive pregnancy test before 6 weeks gestation, as can unviable pregnancies that would have naturally miscarried early at 7-9 weeks gestation.  This is why even pro-choice people should support transvaginal ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy before performing such early abortions.
  5. New York City alone represents about 25% of the black reported abortion rate.
  6. The “abortion access gap” is that black women’s abortion rates before 6 weeks are about 10 percentage points lower than white, Hispanic or other-ethnic women.  But there is no significant gap after 13 weeks.  Thus, all races of women have a reported abortion rate for the first trimester around the 92% figure cited above.  Needless to say, this is not how pro-choice people report the data.

All of these facts are based on the CDC’s abortion surveillance data.  That is why I use the term “reported abortions”, as California and some other areas have not chosen to report their data for a very long time, so we can only rely on what is reported.  The abortion rate is also decreasing across all racial groups, independent of abortion providers closing down.  There is some correlation, but not to the extent usually portrayed by abortion activists and mainstream media.  But the references for that come from multiple sources, some of which are pro-life, and I am not so good at chartifying data these days.

The takeaways here should be that women are getting abortions very, very, very early on, about as soon as the stick shows positive. For pro-lifers, this means that persuading women to stay pregnant just seven weeks instead of six would slash abortion rates by nearly 40%.  Get women to stay pregnant for nine weeks and now the majority of all abortions have been eradicated.  About 500k children would be born who’d have been aborted otherwise.

There is, however, no easy way to get this to happen.  The way to persuade women to stay pregnant once they’ve made a regrettable decision to fornicate (85% of reported abortions are obtained by unmarried women) pretty much involves actually being part of her life as a member of her social group.  There’s also the difficult work of persuading women that a little comfort with a guy who you don’t think will help raise the baby is maybe not worth the bother.  Celibacy also reduces abortion.  There is some inferential evidence that culture-wide, women are in fact just having less sex rather than continuing to have sterile sex that turns out to not be so sterile after all.

Another takeaway is that the pro-choice claims that women can’t get abortions or that “80 percent of counties in America have no abortion provider”  are very, very, very misleading.  The focus on second trimester and later abortions is purposeful misdirection from the fact that even poor black women and poor rural women can find their way to an abortion provider long before the second trimester arrives. One should also question how much they care about women’s health given their insistence that confirming there’s a pregnancy at all is woman-hating or a form of rape or, well, you can google their feels about transvaginal ultrasounds and see for yourself.

I’m not pro-choice or pro-life.  I’m pro-woman.  In the benighted hellholes known as Germany, France, Italy and Sweden (to name just a few countries), abortion is greatly restricted compared to American laws, the rooms have to be spotless and the procedure usually must be done in a real hospital.  They also have lower per capita abortion rates, deaths from abortion are a memory rather than an annual occurrence and the women’s health statistics are better overall.  Funny how that works.