Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Female Breadwinner's Lament

Rather than take the occasion to offer a reasoned answer to the problem posed by a female breadwinner, Carolyn Hax launches a feminist tirade. One might imagine that she is on the side of the truth. I assume that she imagines it herself. As it happens, things are more complicated.

So, husband runs a research lab at an academic institution. Wife works in a biopharmaceutical company, where she heads up manufacturing. But, they now have a child. And husband’s parents believe that breadwinning Mom is neglecting her daughter. We would note, because no one else seems to care, that husband is gainfully employed. He might not earn as much as breadwinning Mom but he is not playing video games in the basement. 

We do not know how much the wife earns and how much their lifestyle would suffer if she were to work less. We do not know how much time husband spends away from work and how much his absences-- perhaps he has diaper duty-- are compromising his research and his prospects for advancement. And we assume that a woman who heads up manufacturing at a small company is largely being consumed by her job. And this means that the mother is probably neglecting her daughter. That the grandparents are concerned is not a sign of their insanity or bigotry. It is normal adult human behavior. Perhaps breadwinning Mom is so detached from her child that she does not even know.

I raise these points because Hax does not. She does not consider them.

For the record, here is the letter:

My husband, "Bill," heads a research lab at an academic institution. We met when I was working there my first year out of college. He stayed in academia and I moved on to the biopharmaceutical industry; I'm now head of manufacturing at a small company.

My in-laws believe that Bill's Ph.D. means his job is much more important and lucrative than mine when actually I make quite a bit more than he does. We never felt the need to correct them, but my mother-in-law has been a royal pain about me working ever since I had my daughter, "Sara," two years ago. I recently got an earful about how I'm neglecting my daughter, how I don't need to work with Bill's salary and so on. I usually let this go since I'd work whether we needed the money or not, but I'd had a miserable, stressful couple of weeks and I snapped and told her to talk to her son, since I'm the main breadwinner and he should be the one to stay home.

Of course she doesn't believe I make more money since I "only" have my master's, and she told Bill I was telling lies about him. Bill is now ticked off at me because he says his dad would be "devastated" to know that I out-earn him.

Should I go along with what my husband wants and tell my mother-in-law I made a mistake, and of course Bill makes more money? If I do this Bill has promised to get her to lay off me, but the truth caused all this trouble — will a lie fix it?

— Breadwinner

Hax misses the complexity of the issue and makes it into a feminist morality play. She wants the couple, and especially the husband to be open and honest with the grandparents. She wants them all to be truthful about their apparent role reversal marriage.

The truth did not cause this problem! Your in-laws’ sexism did, with a hard assist from their delusions. And from their son. Wow.

You say Bill is “ticked off at me” — not his parents — and he’s offering to back you up only if you lie for him. He is angry at exactly the wrong party.

You can certainly apologize for losing your composure, and using the truth as a weapon. And you can spend some time exploring your own mind for the reasons you played along with this twisted charade.

And naturally, she wants the woman to lean in:

Tell Bill you’re not going to be part of a lie anymore. You’ll love him, encourage him, support him emotionally as he stands up to his parents and takes a universe of flak for it, but you will not lie for him to appease anyone — especially not people who are so eager to diminish your value just to reinforce their own ignorance and self-satisfaction. And diminish his value, by measuring only in terms of pay. Enough.

Of course, the issue is not the question of who earns more. The question is: she is a bad mother and is neglecting her daughter. The second question is: it is altogether possible that being married to her is damaging their son and his career prospects. So, bad mother and bad wife.

For all I know they are speaking for their son. (Or to their son) And they are noting that their son is checking out of the marriage because he does not like the role reversal. A woman who chooses truth over her marriage is likely to lose her marriage. For all I know Bill's parents are trying to rescue him from his marriage.

Here, Hax has missed all of the salient issues. A bad column, but symptomatic of what happens when people see real relationships through a warped ideological lens.


David Foster said...

SItuation is not being helped by parents' attitude that the worth of a job is / should be determined by the college degree of the jobholder.

ASM826 said...

Not sure I agree this time. Both parties have education and rewarding careers. If she was to quit to stay home, more than halving the family income, she might never stop resenting her husband and the situation. A person who functions, whose life and activities have meaning to them, is better situated to be a parent, even if they are working.

Additionally, this is not the in-laws business. That she would presume to insert herself says nothing good about the family dynamic. The husband's response is telling. Lies corrode. It's really one of the main reasons that having an affair is so destructive. You have to lie. And once you start, there's no end.

If she is comfortable in her career, it might be best if they reassessed whether they share enough values and goals to maintain a marriage.

Sam L. said...

Are these two people making enough to hire a baby-sitter? It would seem so, to me, but I could be wrong. One has to wonder WHO is taking care of the child during the workday.

urbane legend said...

Mr. Foster is correct.

The other thing is what this couple has neglected. Both of you have jobs, which apparently are satisfying. Both of you also have a child. Did the two of you at any point prior to her birth sit down and discuss, " How will we handle the job of rearing this child? Does one of us quit working? Work part time? We want our daughter to have the best development we can give her. How do we do that? "

Now she is here, and the answers you have aren't working for the two of you. You don't want to evaluate it honestly, either, keeping in mind the child's welfare. So what do you do?

His parent's opinion shouldn't enter into this.

Anonymous said...

Oh please. Why can’t they hire a nanny? better than day-care. The husband needs to tell his mother to butt out.

David Foster said...

ASM826...."If she was to quit to stay home, more than halving the family income, she might never stop resenting her husband and the situation."

On the other hand, if the *husband* were to stay home (somewhat less than halving the family income, and saving on child care costs, she might lose respect for him, and never stop resenting his income and status deficiencies.

UbuMaccabee said...

I usually appear after the recently emancipated wife, having left poor hubby over nonsense, is striking out on her own, and is giving me the come hither glance at the upscale tavern. I smile and turn my chair to display my back, thus forming a wall for her to hit. Goodbye, dear, you were lovely once. I do treasure those moments. At least I don't have to listen to her drone on about how men are all afraid of strong women. The black fellows seem interested in her tales of bravery and courage. Another round for girlie.