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September 2004 edition:

  • Elsewhere on the web:
    From Alternet: what happened to women at Wal-Mart, bitches, bastards and modern marriage, motherhood in the war zone, and historian Ruth Rosen on the Summer of ‘64; Catherine Blinder on the changing face of feminism; A program on maternal depression from American Radio Works; In Slate, End of Blackness author Debra Dickerson wonders if rich kids always end up with an obnoxious sense of entitlement; Checking up on U.S. Healthcare by Merrill Goozner for TomPaine.com; and “Aborting my marriage” by Laura Walters and Amie Klempnauer on babymaking for lesbian couples from Salon.

It’s official:
women do more housework, child care than men

Results from the first American Time Use Survey

American women devote far more time to housework and child care than men do, while men with full-time jobs dedicate slightly more time— about 36 minutes a day— to paid work and related activities compared to women who work full-time.

These findings are from a report on the first results of American Time Use Survey, which was released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on September 14. The ATUS represents the U.S. government’s first systematic effort to collect information about the actual number of hours Americans expend in specific non-paid activities such as housework, recreation and child care. The new report, which is based on a 2003 survey of 21,000 individuals age 15 and over, confirms once again that women living in households with children under 18 put more time into domestic tasks and care-giving and less time into leisure and recreational activities than men in comparable families.

Women reported spending significantly more time caring for children under 13 as a secondary activity than men (6.38 hours compared to 4.12 hours), although both men and women were most likely to multi-task caring for young children with household chores (including cleaning, food preparation, yard work and laundry) and leisure activities (which include socializing, watching TV, recreational pursuits and exercising). Of the time men and women spend caring for young children as a primary activity, women spend the greatest amount time providing physical care (.69 hours) and the least amount of time reading to or with children (.05 hours); men spend the greatest amount of time providing physical care or playing with children (.22 and .21 hours respectively) and the least amount of time reading with and talking to children (.02 hours each). In households with children no younger than 6, men spend a negligible amount of time “looking after children” as a primary activity; for children of all ages, women spend at least twice as much time as men in “travel related to care of household and children.” The latest ATUS findings are consistent with those from other recent studies on mothers’ and fathers’ time use.

A finding that is more perplexing—but perhaps not unexpected—is that men and women classified by the ATUS as “not employed” use their time very differently when there are children under 18 in the home. Not-employed men spend a whopping 10.11 hours in personal care activities—which include sleeping, bathing and “personal or private activities”—compared to 8.72 hours for employed men and 9.68 hours for not-employed women. Not-employed men in households with children under 18 also spend significantly more time in leisure and sports activities (6.76 hours) than either employed men (4.07 hours) or not-employed women (4.91 hours); employed women in households with children under 18 had the least amount of time for leisure activities (3.49 hours). The leisure gap for employed mothers has long been recognized by work-life scholars but is not often factored into public discussions about the recent surge in the number of mothers leaving the work force, although it probably should be. Not-employed women gain almost an hour-and-a-half of leisure time a day, as well as another 25 minutes for personal care (but they only gain more personal care time if their youngest child is 6 or older). Not-employed women in households with children under 18 spend far more time doing housework (3.29 hours compared to 2.12 hours) and care-giving (2.47 hours versus 1.29 hours) than not-employed men in similar families. In fact, not-employed men spend less time on caregiving than employed men living in comparable households. I’ve heard that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” but it appears that some not-employed fathers may be taking this concept to the extreme. And although the scope of ATUS doesn’t venture anywhere near this touchy subject, there may be significant differences regarding how men and women feel entitled to spend their time outside of paid work, especially when caring for young children is part of the daily mix.

The MMO used selected data from the new ATUS report to whip up two handy graphs of time spent in selected non-work activities by adults in households with children under 18. Readers are invited to download, print, share and/or tack firmly onto the husband’s forehead:

Graphic 1: Time spent on selected non-work activities by men and women in households with children under 18 by employment status. (PDF)

Graphic 2: Time spent on selected non-work activities by men and women in households with children under 6 by employment status. (PDF)

The American Time Use Survey – First Results
Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2004
Report and Tables (in HTML)
Full Report (in PDF)

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Bad Mothers in The New Yorker
A Canadian mother falsely accused of Munchausen syndrome by proxy is the focal point of a thought-provoking feature by Margaret Talbot for The New Yorker (“The Bad Mother,” August 9, 2004). According to Talbot, a journalist and Senior Fellow at The New America Foundation (www.newamerica.net), Munchausen syndrome by proxy, or MSBP—a very rare but potentially life threatening disorder—was first documented in the late 1970s by a British physician who authored a case study of two mothers who intentionally harmed their otherwise healthy children to induce symptoms of severe or chronic illness. Unlike run-of-the-mill child abuse, the doctor speculated that MSBP mothers were motivated by a pathological need for the attention and sympathy they received from medical professionals. Talbot writes that in the last few years, public concern about MSBP has grown out of proportion to its actual incidence, leaving mothers of chronically ill and disabled children vulnerable. “In recent years, Munchausen by proxy has seeped into popular culture, with rapidity and a fervency that recall the fascination with child sexual abuse in the nineteen-eighties. … Paid experts now regularly testify in court about the syndrome and conduct workshops for law-enforcement officials and social workers. Web sites publicizing the disorder offer checklists and warning signs. And, lately, mothers of chronically ill kids nervously joke—or openly worry—about being accused of the disorder.”

Indeed, Talbot’s investigation suggests that the line separating well-informed, proactive, emotionally invested mothers from criminally pathological ones has become razor thin: “By the mid-nineties, clinicians in the United States, Britain, and Canada had begun to disseminate a psychological profile, a set of suspect traits, of the Munchausen mother. According to various journal articles on the subject, a perpetrator was “masterful in the world of deceit, because she gains the support of the nursing and medical staff,” who view her as a dedicated, committed, loving, and caring mother.” She might call doctors and nurses by their first names, or bring them cookies. She was familiar with medical terminology and knew complex details of her child’s case. She might “solicit and encourage diagnostic procedures,” and be calm in the face of them. …When she was asked about her child’s illness, she appeared to be ‘tearfully frustrated with the chronic nature of the condition.’ She was reluctant to leave the sick child’s side; her constant hovering made her, in the words of one expert, a ‘helicopter mother.’ She was likely to be ‘overinvolved’ and ‘overprotective’ of the child, and would ‘tend to him as if he were younger.’ The Munchausen mother was prone to bond with other parents of sick children on the ward. She was, in sum, ‘obsessed with the child’s illness’.” Needless to say, one cannot imagine that a mother who is not to some degree “obsessed” when her child has serious or unexplained illness—or one who fails to advocate for her child’s effective treatment—would be viewed as either normal or caring.

Talbot also reports that a new group of mothers—those who constantly pressure school authorities for more testing or professional intervention for children with learning disabilities—now run the risk of being branded as Munchausen moms. She also relates an incident in which a child with severe asthma was removed from the home of his welfare activist mother because she frequently demanded emergency treatment for him and was consequently suspected of MSBP; shortly thereafter, the boy died while in foster care because no one had bothered to inform the foster parents of the severity of his condition. While Talbot emphasizes that real cases of MSBP do exist and the syndrome does result in fatalities and terrible pain and suffering for its victims, her article suggests that mothers who persistently challenge reigning authorities regarding the best treatment options for their child are more likely to fall under suspicion; the threat of being labeled MSBP—and facing a possible criminal investigation and/or losing custody of one’s children—is another big stick individuals and organizations with greater social power can use to keep unruly mothers in line.

Talbot’s The Bad Mother also sounds a warning bell that the formation of a new negative stereotype of the over-achieving, over-involved “full time” mother is already underway, and—considering the level of public exposure moms of the “opt out revolution” have received lately—I’d hazard a guess that we are likely to see an increase in studies and news reporting on mothers who damage their children by living for and through them.

The full text of Margaret Talbot’s The Bad Mother is available online through the New America Foundation web site.

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The sagging safety net:
Women’s eNews series on women and welfare

Women’s eNews (www.womensenews.com) launched an exceptional five-part series on women and welfare in early August. All the articles are free and available online.

Law Drops Moms in Deeper Poverty
By Jennifer Friedlin, Run Date: 08/06/04
“In 1996, the federal program that provided cash aid to impoverished families--90 percent of whom were headed by single mothers--changed dramatically. This is the first of a five part series that takes a long, hard look at welfare as it functions now.”

Child Care Promises Fall Through
By Jennifer Friedlin, Run Date: 08/13/04
“When the federal welfare program was restructured in 1996, the government promised to provide child care to single parents required to take jobs outside the home. Often, however, that promise is not being kept and families pay the price.”

Child Support Cash Kept by States
By Jennifer Friedlin, Run Date: 08/22/04
“Diverse groups agree that more state-collected child-support payments should go directly to families rather than refilling welfare coffers. Action on the popular reform, however, remains pinned under a large and stymied reauthorization bill.”

Services for Abused Women Scarce
By Jennifer Friedlin, Run Date: 08/27/04
“Most states have adopted The Family Violence Option, which waives welfare work requirements for up to a year in cases of domestic violence. But advocates say too few states are aggressively implementing the option.”

Block Grants Starve State Budgets
By Jennifer Friedlin, Run Date: 09/03/04
“The federal government funds welfare with so-called block grants to states, which have not been raised since 1996 and provide no adjustment for inflation. Even though programs are getting pinched, no increase is on the horizon.”

Belva Elliott, Mother of Five, Speaks
By Belva Elliott, Run Date: 09/02/04
“Belva Elliott chronicles her experiences as a married victim of domestic violence who seeks safety and turns to welfare for assistance. Accompanied by a photo essay.”

Also on mothers, work and welfare:
Walking The Child Care Tightrope
Karen Schulman and Helen Blank, September 23, 2004
TomPaine.com (www.tompaine.com)
“Help in paying for child care makes a big difference for both families trying to leave welfare and low-income families trying to hold on to their jobs. Parents struggling to make ends meet cannot afford child care on their own, and parents cannot work without child care. Yet for the third year in a row, Congress has left child care funding on hold—leaving millions of families’ lives on hold.”

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Nurturing the class divide
Two recent articles from Salon.com inadvertently expose a grimy corner of the dirty little secret of motherhood, which is that one of the key social functions of mothering is the reproduction of class.

The scope of this issue is too complex and too controversial to cover in this small space, but consider that in our present political/ideological climate certain mothers— the affluent ones— are expected, under ideal conditions, to cut back on their workforce participation while their children are young, while other mothers— the poor ones— are compelled to work at low-wage jobs whether or not safe, affordable, good quality care is available for their little ones. Both situations are rationalized as being “best” for children and society in general, but it seems unlikely that children’s need for attentive one-on-one care— the baseline quality and quantity of care-giving necessary to ensure optimal development— fluctuates to such extremes based on a child’s economic status. What we end up with in the eyes of society is one group of kids who are primed to do well “because of” their mothers and another group who— with the right kind of support, self determination, hard work and a great deal of luck— may do well “in spite of” their mothers. We are also force-fed political rhetoric and public policies that sort women into groups based on a narrow assessment of the social potential of their fertility. For one group, child-bearing and child-rearing is a prized commodity that nourishes a burgeoning consumer market in children’s clothing, gear, furnishings, toys, enrichment activities, and private and supplemental education— not to mention the rapid proliferation of costly assisted reproductive technologies. The fertility of the second group is viewed as a threat to the economic and social order, and the prevailing strategy is to discourage child-bearing by limiting these mothers’ and would-be mothers’ access to public resources. This is hardly a new problem, although it’s likely to become a more urgent one as the gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in America reaches unprecedented proportions. For the time being, perhaps it is enough to begin questioning why we’re willing to believe that the motherhood of some women is innately more valuable than that of others, and why some children have greater value to society than others.

This is the kind of mood I’ve been in lately, which is why a piece by Rebecca Traister on the latest upscale baby gear really ticked me off. In “Bugaboo, beware!” (Salon.com, August 9, 2004) Traister devotes 1,800 words to extolling the too-too-coolness of the high-tech Danish baby stroller—which just happens to sport a hefty $750 price tag—she predicts will be “the world’s priciest and most sought after transport device for humans under 4.” The “world” Traister is alluding to is not, of course, the one that most of us actually inhabit but that of trendy moms and dads in major metropolitan areas with the financial means to morph parenthood into an ultra-hip fashion statement. Why a reasonably critical cultural outlet like Salon would print such an unreflective paean to lifestyle porn is beyond me, but there it is.

Another article published the same week is both more inquisitive and less overtly oriented toward the very privileged set, but the undercurrent is there. In “Beyond Harvard and the SATs” (August 5, 2004), Katy Read interviews Beth Kephart, author of Seeing Past Z: Nurturing Imagination in a Fast-Forward World. It’s not Read’s approach or writing that’s flawed, but the whole subject of “nurturing” (a perfectly good word that's been encrusted with all sorts of messy ideology) always makes me very nervous. It turns out that Seeing Past Z is part lyrical memoir, part parenting advice; Kephart argues that by over-scheduling children with structured enrichment programs and over-stressing the importance of academic achievement, today’s parents—or at least the ones who have good reason to expect nothing but the brightest futures for their children—are filling up the open space their children’s imaginations need to grow and flourish. She suggests that instead of pushing children into the type of activities that ultimaty look good on an Ivy League college application, parents should consider a more homemade approach—specifically, they should reach out and nurture the creative whimsy of children in their neighborhood by organizing informal workshops in the arts.

This sounds kind of fun, and I’m all in favor of making more room in everyday life for imagination and creativity. I hope that one day America will have an exceptional public school system with plenty of well-trained (and well paid) teachers who have the all time and resources they need to expand every child’s mind in all possible directions. But since we’re not there yet, I find something a little fishy about books like Kephart’s and the values that drive them. In my thinking, the plight of children who are expected to do too much seems to underscore the plight of children who are expected to do too little. Kephart’s advice may flow from a spirit of open-mindedness and generosity, but it’s aimed squarely at mothers and fathers who can count on their kids ending up on the top of the socio-economic heap. Perhaps what more parents need is some timely advice on how to level the playing field.

Bugaboo, beware!
“Come this October, the Bugaboo Frog won't be the only designer stroller option for hip (and wealthy) parents. Meet the new stroller on the block: The $750 alien-like Stokke Xplory.” By Rebecca Traister.

Beyond Harvard and the SATs
“In ‘Seeing Past Z,’ Beth Kephart argues that ambitious parents are smothering their kids’ creativity with lessons, activities and schedules.” By Katy Read.

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Elsewhere on the Web:

From AlterNet (www.alternet.org):

The Women of Wal-Mart
By Geri L. Dreiling, September 16, 2004.
“A gender discrimination lawsuit offers a glimpse inside the nation's largest private employer and its treatment of women. It ain’t pretty.”

Marriage and Its Discontents
By Larry Smith, August 17, 2004
An interview with Cathi Hanauer, editor of The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth About Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, and her husband, Daniel Jones, whose anthology The Bastard on the Couch: 27 Men Try Really Hard to Explain Their Feelings About Love, Loss, Fatherhood, and Freedom was released earlier this year.

CATHI: For women especially—but it applies for men, too—there’s a maternal instinct that conflicts directly with ambition, or at least it seems to. It’s something you don’t face until you have a child. You can’t understand the intensity of that dilemma, and the conflicts it can cause if you’re a working woman until you become a parent.

Then begins the dilemma: Am I going to work or am I going to take care of my baby? And if I have to do both—or I want to do both—how can I find the time and the energy for it? The cliché that she has two full-time jobs is true. So suddenly she’s completely overwhelmed, at least when the baby is young and if she has the sort of career that’s unforgiving.

DANIEL: That's the great awakening for a lot of women these days. She’s zooming along through college then into a career and on up the ladder. Then suddenly she's home with the baby and thinking: So how is this supposed to work? And then her husband’s paternity leave ends—if he even gets one—and he heads back to work.

I think this is where the resentment begins for many career women. Not because she doesn’t want to be with her baby, but because she's the one being tugged in two directions and he usually isn’t. In his essay ["My Problem with Her Anger"], Eric Bartels says fathers may miss being with their children when they’re at work, but they won’t feel guilty because they are doing what they are programmed to do.

Mothers at War
By Judith Matloff, August 19, 2004
“Mothers who cover wars go to agonizing lengths to balance child-rearing and work. … Female war correspondents readily admit that it goes against all maternal instincts to place the most precious thing in their lives in danger. They find it wrenching to leave their children for weeks while they cover the front lines. But as women swell the ranks of senior correspondents, a growing cadre – nearly all in their forties – are choosing not to relinquish high-profile careers just because they have kids.”

The Summer When Everything Changed
By Ruth Rosen, August 24, 2004
“The summer of 1964 is when the sleepy 1950’s ended. During those months, and in the years that followed, many of us lost our innocence. Official lies led to skepticism, which eventually gave way to cynicism and political indifference for too many Americans. The demand for equality – for minorities and women – created new fault lines and irreversibly altered the political landscape.”

From ctnow.com (www.ctnow.com)

This Is Not Your Mother’s Feminist Movement
Catherine Blinder, August 29, 2004
In a Hartford Courier/Northeast Magazine cover story, Catherine Binder reflects on the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the Second Wave, the Third Wave and the future of feminism. Access to the article is free but registration is required.

From American Radio Works (americanradioworks.publicradio.org)

Suffering for Two: the bind of maternal depression
By Sasha Aslanian, August 2004
“More women than ever before are taking anti-depressant medication, including more pregnant women. An advisory panel to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to add a warning that some babies exposed to drugs like Prozac and Paxil during the last trimester of pregnancy developed tremors, jitteriness and even required hospitalization. While the FDA negotiates with drug makers over wording, Canada has moved ahead with similar warnings. But researchers warn that not treating depression also poses a risk to mother and child.” An article, audio file and transcripts are available online.

From Slate.com (www.slate.com)

First Class:
Is it possible to raise rich kids who don’t have a sense of entitlement?

By Debra Dickerson, September 3, 2004
“ I'm desperate to prevent them from becoming the kind of privileged snots with that disgusting sense of entitlement I saw in too many of my trust-funded classmates at Harvard Law School. Their (white) grandfather is tenured at a public Ivy. Their mother writes books and is on television. Dad’s an architect. My son’s godparents are Harvard muckety-mucks. My infant daughter’s are journalism big shots—can you say early admission to an Ivy, snazzy internships, and eenie-meenie-minie-moe-ing between cushy first jobs? I scheme and freelance so as to squirrel away money for them so they can have all the ski trips and concert tickets that their mother never had. And yet even as I do so, I begin to wonder if, on some level, I'll come to despise them.”

From TomPaine.com (www.tompaine.com)

Time For A Checkup
Merrill Goozner, September 21, 2004
“ Infant mortality—a prime indicator of how well health care services are distributed in a society—is another area where the United States lags sadly behind its industrialized rivals. The CDC rankings of selected countries showed the United States at 28th out of 37 countries. …Who fell below us in safe and healthy childbirths and infant care through the first year of life? Virtually all the laggards (other than the United States) are countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. How can it be that we not much better off than Romania in this vital statistic? It’s not middle-class moms in suburban hospitals losing babies. It’s poor mothers without prenatal care. It’s teenagers who hide their pregnancies, deliver low birth weight babies and have few support systems to help them care for their newborns.”

From Salon.com (www.salon.com)

Aborting my marriage
By Laura Walters, August 19, 2004
“With or without William, the idea of having a child overwhelmed me. I had few local friends or family, and lived in a city I detested. And yes, I was selfish: The prospect of having a child and raising it on my own felt insurmountable, like the end of my life. For a woman like me who’d lived an independent life, the idea of giving birth and raising children began to seem almost a retro, labor-intensive enterprise, like growing your own vegetables or sewing your own clothes. There's a reason why women in the 1960s and ‘70s tried to escape this way of life – it’s hard work, and it’s not for everybody. …Yet when I suggested terminating the pregnancy, I hoped, against all the evidence, that William would pull me back from the precipice, assure me that we’d work things out, that he’d take care of me. He didn’t. Panicked about the impact a child would have on his career, he readily agreed to an abortion. I scheduled the procedure for the earliest date I could have it.”

By Amie Klempnauer, August 11, 2004
“Jane and I spent 10 years discussing whether to have a child. Like many straight couples, we finally decided to leave it to the fates. But in our case the fates held a speculum, a catheter and a vial of sperm.”

— MMO, September 2004

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