Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, May 28, 2012

"'Mommy Wars' Redux"

The NYT this weekend published another of its periodic pieces about 'the Mommy Wars',this one really solid summary of the current state of the argument in feminist legal theory, by Dartmouth philosopher Amy Allen.  She ends with this conclusion, the same one I've reached in a lot of my work.  So many of the feminist legal theories & mainstream media debates focus on the psychological or theoretical implications of the 'choice' a relatively few privileged women in this country have between raising a family and taking a paying job, when the more significant issue is a structural conflict:

. . . the conflict between economic policies and social institutions that set up systematic obstacles to women working outside of the home — in the United States, the lack of affordable, high quality day care, paid parental leave, flex time and so on — and the ideologies that support those policies and institutions, on the one hand, and equality for women, on the other hand.

This is the conflict that we should be talking about.  Unfortunately this is also a conversation that is difficult for us to have in the United States where discussions of feminism always seem to boil down to questions of choice.  The problem with framing the mommy wars in terms of choice is not just that only highly educated, affluent, mostly white women have a genuine choice about whether to become über moms (though the ways in which educational, economic and racial privilege structure women’s choices is a serious problem that must not be overlooked).  The problem is also that under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs:  for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place. (Families with working mothers and fathers who are primary care givers avoid some of these problems, but have to pay the costs associated with transgressing traditional gender norms and expectations.)

If the “the conflict” continues to be framed as one between women — between liberal and cultural feminists, or between stay at home mothers and working women, or between affluent professionals and working class women, or between mothers and childless women — it will continue to distract us from what we should really be doing: working together — women and men together— to change the cultural, social and economic conditions within these crucial choices are made.


Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "'Mommy Wars' Redux" :