The feminist movement awarded women the opportunity to pursue their career goals; from long days at the office to “bringing home the bacon” women could “have it all.” However, women’s responsibilities in the home did not cease when they were accepted into the workforce. The female quest for perfection accelerated as a result of this newfound freedom. Now women desired to have the perfect career and perfect family life.
Arlie Hochschild branded the term “second shift”; she used this phrase to classify the cultural transition of women from primary home caretakers to income earners. As women entered the workforce at an increasing rate, they also continued to marry and have children. She questioned how these women were managing both career and family roles. Her answer, not surprisingly, was that women simply did it all; work and meetings as well as dishes and baths. She concluded that women continue to perform more household duties than men; additionally, men continue to be unwilling to assume responsibilities in the home.
“And so women who work outside the home are forced into active double duty, doing the “men’s work” of the office, shop, or factory, along with the traditional “women’s work” of the home. Yet it doesn’t seem quite fair to put all of the blame on men…Women could cut corners in the home, in other words, much as they already cut back their hours at work. Yet, increasingly, remarkably, we resist.” (158)
Spar writes today motherhood entails everything from scheduling their child’s hourly activities and being near them every second of the day to involving them in a variety of extra-curricular activities. She then questions if this style of parenting is healthy for children and furthermore their parents. There is limited proof that kids today are happier or more successful as a result of their nurturer’s micromanaging style. Additionally, parents seem to be more exhausted and less happy today than in previous decades.
Today male and female relationships, especially in the context of marriage, can be riddled with contradictory expectations and desires. “Marriage has never been easy” (164); however, the feminist movement only complicated it. These are a few of the contradictions women encounter:
- “We want to have free, frequent, and noncommittal sex for ten or twenty years of our lives, and then monogamous, passionate, and equally frequent sex ever after.” (166)
- “As women, we want men who love our bodies and our minds, who treasure our independence but still put gas in the car.” (166)
- “And even if we are working as truck drivers or management consultants, as welders or CEOs, we still want to be regarded as decent homemakers, as good mothers and wives.” (166)
These contradictions, brought about by feminism, are inherent components of women’s continual quest for perfection; women want it all perfect job, husband, and kids.
Spar comments on the effects of feminism on the “have it all” syndrome,
“Feminism, in other words, was meant to be about expanding women’s roles and choices; about giving them freedom, for the first time in history, to participate with men as equals, and to use their minds and bodies and talents and energies as they desired. Yet somehow this expansive and revolutionary set of political goals has been squeezed—or hijacked or mistaken—into something much more narrow and personal. Rather than trying to change the world, women are obsessed too often with perfecting themselves.” (171)
Spar’s first solution to the perfection problem:
“…We need to stop trying to be so damn perfect.” (170)
Her second solution to women’s obsession with the perfection involves lobbying government officials to support and promote increased after school programs, gender-neutral family policies, and tax-incentives for day care centers. She believes collaboration among women for better schools, group childcare, and other community initiatives will help women do motherhood and family life better.
1) Growing up was your mother a working-mom or stay-at-home mom? How did this affect your development and relationship with your mother? What is your opinion of working mothers?
2) What is your opinion of traditional gender roles within the home? Should husbands/fathers be responsible for household tasks?
3) Do you believe the government should play a prominent role in family life and motherhood as Spar suggests? Why or why not?