When Mitt Romney nominated Paul Ryan as his VP running mate, I posted my disappointment at Facebook. “I can’t relate to this ticket,” I said to myself. If I – an Independent female – could not relate to the ticket, I suspected lots of other women would struggle as well. I wasn’t mad. I knew both men had worthy conservative credentials. And while I tend toward conservative, I remain convinced that Republicans don’t understand women’s reality and what women need to return their lives to some semblance of sanity. Democrats don’t either. On this subject, I can piss off blue and red in equal measure.
Fairly, my FB friends wondered why I was agitated. Both Romney and Ryan have educated wives who are full-time mothers and whose life choices have not been entirely unlike some of mine. Both candidates and their wives and children live traditional lifestyles based on Judeo-Christian values I hold dear, committed to a financial conservatism that most people should follow. So what was my problem?
My similarity to these families, these white male candidates and their wives who are so much like me, occurred, well, after my marriage. Before my marriage, I was a working professional and single mother. Grateful as I am for where I am, I can’t forget, will never forget, what it was like to be a woman alone, with a child and a job that both demanded 125% of me. My daily life was a juggling act with more balls in the air than I could count, much less manage. Even after I married, there was a constant, steady demand on my time and a gnawing sense that I just could not keep up with anything. I did everything, but nothing well. I escaped the frustration only when I quit litigating. I quit the day one of the white male partners with a stay-at-home wife and a looming deadline he had failed to manage, tried to shame me into working the weekend, “I need you here. It just seems like you are not committed to this job anymore.”
“That’s right, Michael,” I snapped at him. “I am part-time. I have been part-time for several months trying to get some time with my baby, my toddler and my husband. I am done with your thoughtlessness and demands … and I quit.”
As happy as I am where I am, I know that I got lucky. I had the option of staying home and shedding the stress jerks, unrealistic expectations and limited options impose on the lives of working women everywhere. Most women, don’t.
The reality is that I am in the minority. As much as I love my life, my reality is not the reality of most women. The “war on women” rhetoric during the election was, in my opinion, outrageous. There is no war on women – but there is a struggle, a deep divide that blinds us – all of us – to women’s reality. The war, if you will, is between competing narratives about women’s lives. Neither party has it right and both parties are delusional.
I’m not a statistician – but I can follow the data (even if I can’t see the obvious) to recognize that married stay-at-home mothers – like me – do not portray women’s reality today – and most certainly do not portray the reality into which are daughters are being raised. A few statistics are worthy of review.
- “Nearly 40% of women have never been married, and fewer are in a first marriage.”
- Regarding marriage and young women, “In a dramatic reversal, the proportion of young adults in the United States who have never been married now exceeds those who are married.”
“Never married” does not mean “not mothers.” It didn’t for me. I gave up on a traditional family structure and went my own way. I was not the only professional woman in 1989 having a child as a single mother – a trend which continues to grow.
- “Around 45% of single mothers have never married, around 55% are divorced, separated or widowed. Half have one child, 30% have two.”
- “As of 2011, 11.7 million families in the US were headed by a single parent, 85.2% of which were headed by a female.” “One in four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent — a percentage that has been on the rise and is higher than other developed countries.”
Even though I am not a statistician, I think this means that “single parent family” is code for “women raising a child alone.”
Unmarried women raising children alone is no longer an exception. It’s the reality nearly 50% of women live day to day. Whether they are raising kids alone because they never married, got divorced or abandoned, the new reality is that nearly half of the women in the United States have primary responsibility for raising their children.
I am not going to review statistics on how much financial contribution these women are getting from men who call themselves fathers. In my case, I had my daughter “without benefit” of father and that decision, many women have made and are making. That reality exists for many women who cannot find, much less extract money from, the man who fathered their child. But even if women receive some amount of support from fathers, it is not ever enough for the single mother to be a fulltime mother, like Ann Romney or like me, now.
Which is not to say, that women juggling work and children wouldn’t love to be stay-at-home moms, or, at least, have more at-home time than at-work time to spend with their children. The 2009 Pew Report “The Harried Life of the Working Mother” gave loads of notice to Dems and Reps alike that the lives of women were running off the rail. “A strong majority of all working mothers (62%) say they would prefer to work part time.” This year, the media waves exploded over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” explaining why she – for one – had decided to leave her job, get out of the workplace and into her home with her kids – where she wanted to be. Whether by survey or anecdote, no matter how you cut it, women are drowning in responsibility, yelling for help and begging for more family-friendly options in their lives.
Is anyone listening to the voices of women?
In this world of impossible female responsibilities and expectations, abortion and contraception are not moral issues to most women. They are issues of survival. No matter how much a woman wishes that a man in her life would make an unexpected pregnancy into an “unplanned joy,” many women no longer incur such pregnancies with a known and legitimate father on the hook emotionally and financially, much less interested in becoming a partner in parenting. If women are to be the ones to raise children, if they are to foot the bill and carry the full load of responsibility, then contraception and abortion to women become more functions of financial planning and survival than the fate of their souls. The conservative option – that all single women live celibate lives until somehow becoming one of the increasingly rare women to find a man who wants to get married and start having kids, if the woman is still fertile – seems delusional.
On the other hand, the progressive feminist and liberal tendency to applaud, praise and push this inequitable burden of expectation and load of often heart-breaking choices upon women as necessary to achieve “equality” to men is also mind-numbing. Women are unhappy, often miserable, bearing this load. That the sexual patterns of promiscuous men and the measures of success of the capitalist male do not promote the well-being of most women seems oddly irrelevant in the progressive agenda being peddled to women. In this way, the progressives, too, are fueled by ideal delusion.
Amidst this messy morass of stubborn narratives, the 2012 Presidential elections returned the following numbers which would surprise only a cocky student who felt no need to attend class – like a Dem or Rep who has been willfully ignoring the reality of women’s lives.
- “According to national exit polls, the president won the women vote by ten percentage points, 55 percent to Romney’s 44 percent. Obama, however, lost married women by 7 percentage points, 46 percent to Romney’s 53 percent.”
No surprise. The progressive liberal narrative offers more support and benefits to women trying to negotiate the maze of career, relationships and child-bearing alone. Singlemothers.org, for example, considered re-electing President Obama “critical” and reminded its constituency that “single moms raise great presidents–Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama!” The conservative insistence that it’s all about “getting married, gals” appeals to a majority of women who, in fact, have a golden ring. But even married women, often working and bearing the load for children, medical decisions and home care, are losing conviction that the traditional formula for a happy life delivers.
So … we are back to the basic question …. just what DO women want? And, just as important, will either party listen? More on that soon – but feel free to email, leave comments etc. on what you think!