Stay at home mother is a gift from 1970s feminists.

The story of the transformation of the”housewife” into the “stay at home mother” providing “mother-care, not DAYCARE” in American society in the wake of the Pill and Roe v. Wade is an interesting one and there’s not much information on the internet about it because the idea that there was a transition (and that this transition destroyed a substantial amount of soft power among married women) is not compatible with either right wing or left wing narratives about the topic.

We didn’t really have the term before motherhood could be conceivably viewed as entirely intentional/optional, even within marriage.  And nobody seems to ask why it bloomed so suddenly and took over, when by its nature it explicitly separates motherhood from marriage, while housewife emphasizes, well, property benefits of marriage for women foremost.  Homemaker, it’s worth noting, has begun to turn up as a transition away from stay at home mother, but it lacks that wilful connecting of property with marriage and in fact shifts the domestic world to something a woman must make/build, rather than something she is inherently part of and maintaining/managing.

Since this is just thinky thoughts, I will close with the little data point that over half of American SAHMs use center-based daycare for children aged 0-4 and that we hit that point about 10 years ago and this is in every region of the country, not concentrated in one place, it’s about half everywhere.  Employed or not, it’s 80% for BA or higher-possessing mothers.

Advertisements

The College Funnel and fertility hysteria on the American right.

The right does a tolerable job beefing about and critiquing the problems with left/liberal hysteria about “too much” fertility. But they conflate two issues into one and thus come out unsuccessful in their rhetorical quest to get married women to pop out more babies.

The fact is that American white fertility has been clustered around 2-4 children (with 5-6 the acceptable fringe due to Catholic and Mormon influences) since basically we had free black people and free white people (so, since 1870 or so). American black fertility has been more like 2-6 children until the 1970s, when they pretty much went to the same pattern as whites. There were also extended periods where both black and white women had 20% or so rates of no children.

So fixating on 1950s style fertility, with its unusually low rate of childlessness among the women of both races, is historically inaccurate. The excessive and vigorous rhetoric on even the mainstream right regarding family size is not very successful because it’s going up against long-standing American norms about family size being relatively small even when there wasn’t much or any modern birth control.

And it causes the right to make that conflation error I led with. They look at small family sizes through a 1950s, historically wrong lens, and declare, repeatedly, that college education is responsible, whether it’s simply attending at all (non-mainstream right) or liberal indoctrination while attending plus too many people attending (mainstream right).

Which brings us to the College Funnel. The College Funnel is the process by which married childbearing increasingly requires women to climb into the College Funnel and squeeze their way through to a degree. Some, quite a few, fall out at various points, but even that much makes getting married before the kids come a whole lot more likely.

With whites, the College Funnel has clearly increased births for women attending and especially completing college. But the births for white women without college attendance have plunged dramatically. With blacks, the College Funnel is at least partly another way to describe married black birth becoming the province of educated immigrants and/or mixed marriages (racially or ethnically, as in marrying a black immigrant) at higher and higher rates since the 1980s. What you have left over in both white and black cases is a small hard core of annual unwed births that combined were around 400k in 1970 and are now around 900k-1m annually since 1990. Sharp rise, then flattened out.

The College Funnel is fairly raceless, with more racial and ethnic intermarriage, which probably muddies the numbers some too.

So you have this problem where people of a certain level of brains are having the married kids and in the case of whites and Asians, it’s most of their kids on top. You have this different problem where people who might or might not have that level of brains, but don’t get into the College Funnel basically can’t have kids except in a handful of “wheeee feckless pride” areas, mostly urban. And the second problem is real, and worth discussing. But combining it with the college thing and declaring college renders anyone who stands next to one sterile is incorrect and not a solid way to get to solutions to let those second-problem people get to have children, much less children mostly in wedlock, again.

The numbers are from data in the National Center for Health Statistics Vital Statistics Reports’ various pdfs.

ETA 7/14/17: And right after I make this blog post, Ace of Spaces pushes a user comment to the top that is the very hysteria I was lamenting.

Ace of Spades misses the unseen use of social media to be social offline.

Ace of Spades, a fairly major conservative blogger, writes here that conservatives need to abandon Facebook.

What he misses though, probably because they’re all literally closed, secret and otherwise kept from public view, is that Facebook is where mothers, particularly the SAHMs conservatives make lots of noise about supporting, are arranging their playdates and finding childcare and cleaning help or doing swaps or looking for extra work doing those things, where they are buying and selling stuff, and all the other things that used to be on mailing lists but are increasingly on Facebook.

Small businesses have also stopped using their own webpages in many instances in favor of Facebook.

Women, especially mothers, are using Facebook to arrange IRL stuff, that’s why they can’t quit it. Find a way to make all these things as one-stop shop as Facebook is and craigslist used to be for selling and buying, and then people will exit en masse. Right now I see lots of people leaving, but not the ones who need Facebook for these arrangements. Just single people, and some older folks.

We now need social media to form social bonds locally because of breeding for antisocial and autistic tendencies.  Plus, women are social creatures and that means they want socialness offline too.  I’ve tried to join mommy-only startups, and photo-posting sites, and so on and so forth.  But the critical mass never gets there, and it’s because these SAHMs can’t quickly set something up on their phones with ten different websites.  But Facebook is integrated into every smartphone, so you can easily arrange everything from it.

Conservatives are really unwilling to confront the woman problem, which is not that women need to lead their political movements or even participate in them, but that they need to actually have a real space with status and support for women and they just plain won’t do it and then whine about the consequences of women taking on liberal alternatives that supply what they sorely need.

Draft, so very very open for discussion and disassembly.

I am Shirley Jackson and Shirley Jackson is me

As T.W.O. would put it, that’s overegging the pudding a tadge.  I’ll never publish the most notorious and universal short story in American history.  More intimately, my husband is not a Kavorka Man.

But she and I both are housewives with strong intellectual drives living in whitopias where household help is only for weird inferior women who can’t manage entirely on their own or micromanage the bleep out of that poor cousin they did have come by a few days a week.  She couldn’t get nice college girls because mother’s helping was beneath them in 1950 and non-college girls were from families that hadn’t moved in 50-100 years and so they didn’t have anyone “strange” come help.  People tend to think college towns are all the same, but they operate along a continuum.  And Jackson was not in a college town where the degree was a MRS.

She also put her kids in preschool, which was called “community nursery school” and which 10-20% of women used back then.  Exact data is had to come by because of terminology and lack of collecting data issues.  And even back then it was the middle and up stay at home mothers who used it part-time and the smaller pool of working mothers using it full time.

I have her sense of anxiety and frustration, but not her pretty solid domestic skills. Our children find us odd but loving.  There is a sort of weirdly beautiful e-drama online somewhere where one of Stanley Jackson’s coed affairs is bragging about it on salon or something similar and Shirley’s kids post comments defending their mother and whaling on the smarmy coed selling the only interesting thing about herself. I was touched by the love her kids (one of which I think was a grandparent by now) had for her and their respect for her hard work keeping their home so it could be an entertainment vehicle for dad.

Stanley Jackson was a literary critic and professor who tomcatted around and expected his wife to produce both domestically and intellectually, but was jealous of her ability to get thousands of dollars for a handful of stories about women and children and often the domestic sphere.

I 100% do not think I can compete with the mad literary skills of Mrs. Jackson, but it’s reassuring in a strange way to know that this literary ninja had some of the same struggles I, a much more ordinary housewife, have sixty or so years later.

It also brings me back to wanting to smash conservatives in the face for chronically declaring that there was no widespread frustration among average women in the 1950s and during the WWII era and that anyone talking about it was just a loser who was unhaaaaappppy or a communist.  Shirley Jackson wrote for Good Housekeeping, for pity’s sake.  She was not writing some edgy scandal stuff like Peyton Place.  And yet there remain in both sets of writing much the same sort of struggles of women trying to adapt to the rapid shifts in technology, social roles and relationships with men.

One of the anecdotes in her domestic memoirs is about a pregnant woman she meets at the hospital when she has her third baby who is running late on delivering and is relieved and happy to be free of household tasks for what in the anecdote is about two weeks and heading into a third.  General audiences of women wouldn’t have wanted to read about stuff like that if it didn’t seem real.  They were very quick to write letters where they believed something to be unrealistic in its slicing of life.

Anyway I’ve only just begun reading her domestic memoirs and that sensation of being drawn close in time to a writer across so many seismic changes in daily life is dizzying.

Women CANNOT mother alone

There, I said it.  Women simply can’t do it.  Either the village is coming along for the ride of raising your kid(s) by coercion or they’re coming along willingly, but it’s still going to happen.  There are news articles from time to time about women that expect kids’ toy or clothing shops in a mall to watch their children for several hours while they go buy their own stuff.  These women are single mothers and they sure aren’t dithering about how terrible it is to have a strange person keep an eye on your kid for a couple of hours.  This is the brutality of making motherhood so hard that only women who really really really want children or are really really feckless will do it.  The women who become single mothers are the ones who will just create situations where other people have to help out.  The women who marry first are more likely to wilt alone until they crack under the strain.

In a bizarre confluence of toxicity, the worst sorts of “traditional” or “conservative” narratives on mothering as something a woman does alone intersect with attachment parenting, which also presents mothering as something a woman does alone (sometimes not even bathing or meeting other private needs without the child physically on her body).  In both cases, women are told “it’s going to destroy your children to have anyone else feed, hug, kiss or show affection and other care needs to them, even (in the most extreme forms of this narrative) your own husband”.

Forcing women to take the burden of caring for their own children as if it’s normal to care solely and with complete emotional absorption for your own specific children is another one of the reasons women have fewer children than they used to.

Single mothers forcing the issue in the opposite direction, demanding lots of concessions and tolerance doesn’t always work out for them, but it reveals that when facing having to mother alone literally, women are very quick to try their darndest to avoid that.

 

3 historical reasons American Motherhood is so dysfunctional

  1. Ambivalent servants!

    Ambivalence about domestic help.  It is worth noting that where this ambivalence was overcome enough to have mother’s helpers, maids, cooks and the like, the birth rate generally was quite a bit higher than where women expected to go it alone, though not as high as where relatives helping mom out was common (and yes, where relatives helping was common was sometimes also where it was ok to have a maid, though only sometimes.)  When women are expected to go it alone, 1-2 children is far more typical than in the current conservative Christian culture where women have been manipulated into believing that it’s normal to go it alone with 3-7 children, particularly 3-5.  It’s not and we conservative SAHMs have been horribly lied to.  Yes, non-conservatives reading, conservative Americans really think it’s no big deal for a woman to get pregnant, nurse and also perform the three C’s (cooking, cleaning, childcare) for up to SEVEN children with zero friends, relatives or paid help before “completing their family”.  A lot of the ambivalence is due to America having waves of white immigrants who would have been servants in the old country.  A lot of conservatives like to talk about how America was populated by middle class types, but that’s historically delusional.  It was populated by broke people who wanted to be rich lords and ladies and settled for what we now call middle class because in America you could do a passable imitation  of gentry pretension with your teeny weeny farm (big yard and home well apart/distant from other folks).  People could have the land as wealth, but coming from servant/peasant backgrounds, they didn’t want the obligations of a lord to vassals or serfs, and America was rich enough that they didn’t have to and could still mostly get along.  The women just didn’t have many children, though, as few as they could get away with.

  2. This is just our starter home, we’ll move to something bigger in a couple years.

    Frequent moves. Chasing temporary financial gain is an American staple.  Americans have historically been of the hustler mode when it came to wealth rather than the slow and steady myth conservatives like to tell themselves.  This is why conservative Christian culture is riddled with MLM and generally scammy business practices.  Because Americans are money grubbing, they were always happy to relocate for a few extra bucks rather than stay put and build lasting generational wealth.  It was all about getting ahead in the moment and remains that way to this day.  This is hilariously thought of by many conservatives as an attitude of black people alone, which just goes to show that it’s not just SJWs (radical leftists) who engage in projection.  This frequent moving due to short-term money grubbing meant that women were under pressure to cut corners and economize raising families on very little actual money and without any hope of building informal non-monetary support networks.  So again, they tailored their family sizes accordingly.

  3. Individualism is bipartisan!

    Wild eyed individualism (spawned both libertarianism and cults that didn’t happen in the rest of the post-industrial West). Women in America have always been big on freedom and equality and gaining more hard power because they had nothing else due to the wild eyed individualism.  Some of them ended up leading cults of the self (Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneida), and a few founded libertarianism (Rose Wilder, Gene Stratton Porter), but conservatives keep pretending that Americans were interested in quality of life rather than quantity of STUFF, and that’s just not the reality.  Individualism leads to consumerism, even in the absence of modern mass culture and that’s exactly what happened with American women and motherhood.  It has gone through many iterations of consumerism, but it never settles on functional, healthy communitarianism intentionally.  Where it happens is despite the wild eyed individualism, not because of it.  The individualism looks more functional than it ultimately is because until pretty recently it was backstopped by the remnants of strong collective institutions.