Thursday, August 10, 2017

Define Job

I just read "The Selfishness of Motherhood," an opinion piece by Karen Rinaldi that ran in The New York Times. It was published last Sunday, but you know how it is. Sunday turns into Monday which turns into Tuesday which turns into Wednesday, and here it is Thursday, which seems like a good time to read The Sunday Review section.

I've been a stay-at-home parent for the past 11 years (well, mostly; I've done a smattering of freelance work), and Rinaldi's piece made me feel defensive and cranky. I felt the same way when I read non-mother Elizabeth Wurtzel's 2012 piece in The Atlantic, which ranted that motherhood isn't a job because one isn't paid for it. Wurtzel went on to say that being a stay-at-home mom is really about ruining feminism while getting your nails done and going to yoga all day long as a nanny does the heavy lifting. Grrr.

The hook for The NYT piece is a well-meaning comment from Rinaldi's mother: "Motherhood, it's the hardest job in the world. All sacrifice!" This statement stuck in Rinaldi's craw, so being a published novelist, she churned out an op-ed piece. She's a mother of two, and, she writes, "I don't believe for one second that motherhood is the hardest job in the world nor that it is a sacrifice."

Yeah, there are probably harder jobs. I can think of a few. Firefighter. Stunt person. Cleaning toilets all day. Sandhog. Pedicurist. Giving colonics. Anyone who has to deal with Trump.

But why write a whole piece that aims to prove that motherhood is not a job? It's semantics.

Parenthood is work. It requires physical and emotional and intellectual labor. True, it's unpaid.  I know what it's like to get paid, because I worked full-time as an editor and writer for 23 years; 6 of those years I was also a mother. Being paid is really awesome. Not being paid stinks. (Aside:  if a parent is not available to do the work because she/he is at a paying job, then someone has to be paid to do it. If a nanny is doing the same tasks that a parent does--it's a job because she is getting paid.)

According to Rinaldi, the purpose of the tendency to call motherhood a job is to preserve the feelings of homemakers who want to be valued. How dare those homemakers want to be valued! She says motherhood is not a job because not only does one not get paid, one does not have a boss. Um, ok. Not to get personal, but does she, a novelist, have a boss?

About a month ago I was at a very hoity toity party, where I told a woman how much I had enjoyed her daughter's memoir. She was pleased, and then asked, "Aren't you in publishing?"

"Not at the moment," I said. "I am mostly at home with my children." She looked like she wanted to murder me. "Well, that's a luxury," she said disapprovingly. I sweetly agreed, but she was done with me then. This unpleasant interaction comes to mind now, maybe because Rinaldi's piece makes me feel similarly dismissed.

I recently saw the 1970 film Diary of a Mad Housewife at Film Forum. It's a must-see if you haven't already, the story of an Upper West Side mother of two with an insufferable husband. In some ways it's dated, in others you can see how little has changed. I liked it so much I bought and devoured the novel on which the film was based. The frazzled protagonist--a liberal arts grad named Tina--does a lot of "women's work" and is dismissed by all.

I'd have more to say about this, but right now I have work to do. Unpaid work.


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