It has happened like clockwork. In the past two economic downturns, as job losses have forced women out of the workplace, a sort of angel has appeared to guide their way and re-label their unfortunate circumstances as virtuous “choice.”This is not to say, as some female readers I know might object, that raising children well and with love is not a worthy goal, nor that it is easy work. But having made the 'choice' to have children, as though 'two roads diverged in a'--well, however Frost did describe that wood--yellow? Which one is 'the least traveled by'? Working with kids, or staying home with kids? And what does 'make all the difference'?
But when men in their prime working years drop out of the workforce we don’t say they’ve gone home to be with their kids.
We say they’re unemployed.
The distinction is truly meaningful beyond the neat way it encapsulates our inability to separate ideology from fact when it comes to thinking about mothers and their much-vaunted “choices.” Unemployed people, after all, are entitled to benefits. As a society, we tend to think it’s incumbent upon us to get them working again — for their own good, individually, for the good of their families, and for our collective welfare. Politicians promise to retrain them. Devise policies to retain them. The unemployed still fall under the ever-retracting umbrella of people we consider, to some extent, to be worthy of our care.Mothers, with their glorious array of post-feminist lifestyle options, have long been seen as something else. They’re individuals, making choices, responsible for the fallout of those choices even if, in point of fact, those choices were made for them by a weak economy, the unaffordability of child care or an inflexible workplace. They don’t need “government handouts” like quality child care, flextime, sick days, family leave and top-notch afterschool programs, because they’ve made their proud choices and, by golly (unless they’re whiners), they’re going to go it alone.