Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Recession and Housewivery? Um, no.

It's no secret that the recession continues to take its toll on working Americans, with unemployment numbers climbing by the thousands every day. The media have been wild with stories about long lines of people seeking work at career fairs, applicants numbering in the thousands for single janitorial jobs, and major impending layoffs at some of the nation's largest corporations. However, this AP article on layoffs affecting working moms rubbed - no, chaffed - me in absolutely the wrong way. The article carries a subtle stench of discrimination towards working women - and a not so subtle matrix of gender bias which reinforces age old expectations for mother/father family roles:

Lucas and other laid-off women like her are involuntarily experiencing the life of a stay-at-home mom, and they are getting to know a lot more about the details of their children's daily existence. They are also discovering some of the things they have been missing.

Though the mass layoffs of this recession have so far affected mostly men, more than 800,000 women have lost their jobs since the end of 2007. For the mothers among them, it means that, suddenly, Mommy's home, often for the first time in many years.

For many of these women, unemployment has no doubt been terrifying. But for some — particularly those who have the financial resources to ride out the storm — it has been a precious opportunity to get to know their children a little better.

Ummm - excuse me? If the "mass layoffs of this recession have so far affected mostly men," then why don't you do a feature about laid-off fathers who are "discovering some of the things they have been missing"? I can't help but take offence at the tone of this piece and the way it frames once-working moms as "discovering things they've been missing" during a "precious opportunity to get to know their children," without ANY mention of laid-off fathers getting the same so-called "opportunities." So, are we to think that laid-off fathers wouldn't relish at the "opportunity" to get to know their kids better? I'm similarly disgusted with how the writer described newly-jobless mothers' day-to-day routines: "art projects and cooking, baking and yoga class together [with the kids]... taking them to a pizza lunch, listening to all the school gossip and spoiling them with a trip to buy candy." This positively reeks of 1950-era sexism and the once-glorified, stereotypical housewife of that time. To be fair, the article mentions the "anxiety" and "confusion" lay offs are producing for mothers in the unemployment line. But ultimately its message is one that seems to glorify the "opportunity" produced by this recession for mothers to "reconnect" with their kids, and the message speaks only to mothers. Recently laid-off fathers? Of course they're not "reconnecting" with the kids - they've got to worry about finding another job.