Who's the Real Enemy?

Hint: It's not the woman going to work every morning

When TNH went "live" a few weeks ago [This was written in 1999--Ed.], I got a careful letter from a work-outside-the-home (WOH) mom who cheered the magazine and then asked me if this was going to be one of those stay-at-home (SAH) mom things that bashes WOH moms.

I told her, and I'm telling you, that's not going to happen here.

In the introduction to the site, I talk about how TNH has preferences. We prefer breastfeeding to formula, cloth diapers to disposables, natural to chemical, thrift to convenience, equality to submission. On this list you can include staying at home to working outside the home.

It doesn't mean that if you work outside the home, formula feed, use disposables, really love "scrubbing bubbles," have a freezer full of TV dinners and/or believe in submitting to your spouse that you're not welcome here. By all means, stick around! I occasionally use disposables, obviously have a job of some kind (though I work from home) and sometimes don't make everything we eat from scratch myself.

What it does mean is, you won't find the non-preferred points of view discussed here; that's for other sites to cover, not this one. There are plenty of other places for that stuff (most places, in fact). Conversely, what it also means is that there won't be any bashing of those points of view, either.

I will be completely honest and say that I do hope that people might walk away from TNH with a desire to try a different way, or at least thoroughly examine the path their family is on and make absolutely sure they're doing the best thing for everyone. So often I find that some people don't hold opinions so much as assumptions; they just don't question that they'll go back to work, use formula, get a box of Pampers, buy packaged dinners and so on. They don't realize another way exists for their families, and that it's not a big deal martyr trip fit only for granola types, the independently wealthy, or religious wackos (all stereotypes I've had to answer in mail to this website).

The real enemy

WOH moms are not the "enemy." They feel as embattled as we SAHs do, and on top of it, they're pulled in two directions. Those of us who have been WOH and who are now SAH can and should empathise.

Both WOHs and SAHs say the messages they get from society, family and friends is that they should be doing exactly the opposite of whatever it is they're doing. So if everyone feels embattled, who's doing the attacking? Ah, that's the question! And we all need to be asking it, loudly and often.

The real "enemy" in this situation is not the person who's doing something differently than you. The real enemies are the forces in this society that are actively working against the family, whether the parents are WOH or SAH.

Much has been said in recent years about a "culture war" going on in the US, allegedly between liberal and conservative elements, personal freedoms versus family values. That is baloney.

The real culture war is not between "secular humanists" and the "religious right," or even between WOH moms and SAH moms. It's between families and the consumerism created by corporate America and promoted by the government and the media. The consumer culture is what's out there telling you and your children Club Med vacations every year, new cars, $200 basketball sneakers and fancy televisions are more important than you being home with your kids--all the while selling things like peanut butter and detergent with idyllic and unrealistic visions of at-home life. It's in that consumer culture's best interests to refocus the criticism (via the media) off of itself and onto women.

Sisterhood is powerful if it don't kill you

And where better? Women are raised to question every little thing we do, especially when it comes to our children and family. We are so vulnerable to criticism, and it is so easy for us to turn on each other for making different choices.

It didn't help that many feminists of the Second Wave (the'60s-'70s) bought into the big lie that "men's work," ie work outside the home, was inherently more valuable than "women's work"--taking care of children and the elderly, keeping house, volunteering. In fact, they swallowed the idea that "women's work is worthless" hook, line and sinker, and they should be ashamed of themselves for denigrating an entire class of women for so many years.

I remember the pain my mother, a stellar example of the SAH mom, went through during this time. She was always a feminist; she taught me not to take a back seat to anyone. But she didn't think she was, because the Second Wave kept telling her that because she didn't bring home a paycheck she was worthless.

Even so, the enemy here isn't feminism, though corporate culture used the openings the feminist revival of the '60s and '70s created to further splinter the family.

Neither is it constructive for SAH moms to sit back smugly and criticise working women. We don't know their circumstances. We can only assume.

What I choose to assume is that we all do the best we can with what we have, in knowledge, time, and ability. Some women are out there because they have thought through the issues and decided that working outside the home is what's best for them and their families. Some working women are out there because it's just "what you do"; they haven't considered alternatives. And some of them are out there wishing, wishing, wishing they were us and looking for a way back home. Are we going to criticise them, or extend a hand to help?

Bashing them isn't going to get us any more respect, or make any choices easier for anyone.

Lynn Siprellle edits this site.