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Love & Money

Jessica Grose has a fascinating series up on Slate about marriage and money — how couples manage their money, whether they share, and why they split or merge their bank accounts. Part One lays out the inspiration for the piece: She’s recently married, and she and her husband are figuring out whether to maintain separate bank accounts, pool their money or do some hybrid of the two. In Part Two (Parts Three and Four are coming soon), she looks at couples she calls “Common Potters” — people who have joint accounts and pool their money.

I’m not so much in the marriage market, but if I were, I can’t imagine pooling finances into a single account. That said, Jessica’s detailed look at couples who do pool their finances is giving me second thoughts.

On Generosity

This is the third in a series examining issues raised by a blog post from Chamber of Commerce Senior Communications Director Brad Peck, where he suggested that women’s interest in closing the gender pay gap amounted to a “fetish for money,” and the subsequent apologies for it by himself and Chamber COO David Chavern. Part 1 and Part 2 at the links.

Seth Godin, a popular marketing author, has written extensively about what he sees as the two key elements of future business success: creatively using the cognitive surplus and participating in a gift economy.

Cognitive surplus refers to the time and mental energy modern workers are supposed to have left over after their regular work that’s represented in volunteer projects like Wikipedia, the online reference site.

Many people have commented on the fact that contributors to projects like Wikipedia are overwhelmingly male. Maybe it has something to do with what the AFL-CIO found in a 2008 survey of working women, that nearly half reported having less than an hour a day to themselves.

If a person has less than an hour of time to themselves per day, it’s the extraordinary individual who has any surplus to give.

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The Motherhood Discounting

This is the second in a series examining a post written by Chamber of Commerce Senior Communications Director Brad Peck, and the subsequent apologies for it by himself and Chamber COO David Chavern.

Peck decided to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the recognition of women’s right to vote by writing that the well-documented gender pay gap is mostly due to “individual choice,” then suggesting that women who want equal pay have a “fetish for money,” and recommending that women focus their energies on “choosing the right partner at home.” The apologies were cold comfort, considering the Chamber’s lobbying history. Part 1, here.

Numerous workplace studies, including those conducted by government agencies, have demonstrated that given equal levels of education and experience, women get paid less than men.

Mothers have it worse. Not only are they paid less than men, mothers are usually paid less than women without children, while fathers are usually paid more than childless men. (If you were wondering, no, the premium paid to fathers wouldn’t make up for the lower wages of mothers even in families with both a mother and father in paid employment.) Since about 80 percent of women become mothers this represents a quite large and consistent shift of wealth away from working women compared to their male peers.

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New York Expected to Extend Protections to Domestic Workers

This is great news. The bill that New York is considering also protects workers who are undocumented, and requires a series of basic workplace protections:

The State Senate this week passed a bill that would require paid holidays, sick days and vacation days for domestic workers, along with overtime wages. It would require 14 days’ notice, or termination pay, before firing a domestic worker.

The Assembly passed a similar measure last year, and lawmakers expect that the two versions will be reconciled and that Gov. David A. Paterson will sign what they say would be the nation’s first such protections for domestic workers. It would affect an estimated 200,000 workers in the metropolitan area: citizens, legal immigrants and those here illegally as well.

This is long overdue, and it’s a shame that New York is the first state to pass legislation like this (assuming it’s signed, which it looks like it will be). There is some question as to whether it will actually help undocumented workers, who may be hesitant to report violations, but it is a step in the right direction. And other types of workers in New York — deliverymen, grocery store employees — have successfully challenged workplace violations, even where some of the individuals were not here legally.

The bill will also give workers more negotiating power, and will help people who hire domestic workers to parse out what is fair and what isn’t.

But for nannies and parents alike, the legislation, if enacted, could well create a kind of baseline for negotiations over pay, hours and benefits. Now, the dealings typically leave both sides unsure of what is fair, and in the end, employers sometimes feeling guilty and employees feeling shortchanged.

“We are really looking toward healing the divide between employee and employee,” said Sara Fields, program director at the advocacy group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

New York Domestic Workers Fight to Pass Bill of Rights

Via Equal Writes, the BBC has recently reported on the struggle of domestic workers in New York state to pass a bill of rights for those in their line of work. In this context, the term domestic workers refers to nannies, housekeepers, and caregivers, of which there are over 200,000 in NY alone. Domestic workers are overwhelmingly women — they are also very disproportionately low-income, women of color, and immigrants. And under U.S. law, they have very few legal rights and are subjected to all kinds of heinous abuse by unscrupulous employers.

For 17 years, Barbara Young from Barbados has worked as a nanny in New York, arriving at 0700 to care for the children of high-flying parents, often working through the night to care for newborn babies.

Because domestic workers are specifically excluded from the National Labor Relations Act of the 1930s, nannies operate in the shadows, their pay and conditions determined by their employers.

Ms Young has had to endure a lot over the years.

She told me how one employer paid her the bare minimum for her daily nannying work, and then expected her to sleep in a room with an infant, and feed that baby overnight, all for no extra pay.

“Because you work in the home, people don’t see you as an employee. It’s seen as women’s work, not proper work,” says Ms Young.

Ms Young believes the bill would make a huge difference to her.

“It would require notice of termination, paid sick leave, paid holidays, the right to a day off, and it would recognise domestic work as real work.”

The bill would also give nannies the right to organise collectively.

Because domestic workers are frequently economically vulnerable, vulnerable to deportation, and/or likely to face racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other prejudices, it’s usually not so easy as “just quit.” Abusive employers, of course, know this and use it to their advantage. And legal action is rarely an option.

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Preach it, Judith Warner

It’s about time someone wrote this:

Now, I’m just as jealous of the yoga-pants-at-9-a.m.-on-Monday-morning crowd as the next frazzled working mom. But, I’m sorry to say, however delicious charting the downfall of the wealthy at-home mom may be, we do have to stop for a little reality check. While the rich, bathed in our attention, are turning necessity into a hand-wringing sociological event, most women in this country are just going about their business, much as they always have.

We — journalists and readers both — simply must, for once, resist the temptation to let what may or may not be happening to the top 5 percent (or 1 percent) of our country’s families set the story line for what women’s lives are becoming in this recession.

Because, the fact is, the story’s not about them.

“This is a classic blue collar recession,” says Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress. Fully half the jobs that have been lost so far have been in construction and manufacturing. Only 5.1 percent of job losses have been in finance and insurance — the kinds of careers that support the opt-out lifestyle.

The kind of marital tensions that we’re seeing in the downwardly mobile lifestyles of the rich and wretched, the family historian Stephanie Coontz told me this week, aren’t necessarily typical of couples further down the income scale, either. Wealthy families, she said, have tended, with their work-around-the-clock husbands and at-home wives, to have adopted a rather old-fashioned model of marriage, with fixed sex roles. They’ve set the tone, but the rest of the population hasn’t necessarily followed.

Increasing numbers of working class women now — in a downturn where 82 percent of the job losses have been among men – have become their family’s sole wage-earners, it’s true. But their husbands, very often, are holding their own at home just fine. For while the stereotype has long been that working class men won’t do “women’s work,” Coontz said, the truth is that in recent years they’ve had a better track record than the most high-income men in sharing domestic duties. Twenty percent of these men, in fact, actually do more housework and child care now than their wives. “These people have been doing it for some time and they’re much more ideologically committed to doing it,” she said. “I think your worst offenders” (dirty coffee mug-wise), “are in that top 5 percent.”

“I’ve been a little irritated by the slams on men,” she added.

It’s not just for the sake of being fair to the hubbies that we’ve got to keep our wits about us these days and avoid falling into the usual clichés about class and gender with which we tend to make sense of men and women’s changing lives. There’s a deeper reason, too: paying attention only to the – real or perceived – “choices” and travails of the top 5 percent hides the experiences of all the rest. And this means that the needs of all the rest never quite rise to the surface of our national debate or emerge at the top of our political priorities.

This happened very obviously in the 1990s, when the New Traditionalist story line hid the fact that many mothers at home were actually either poor (and unable to “afford to work” if they had kids, as Coontz puts it), or had had their nonworking “choice” made for them by an inflexible workplace or a high-earning husband’s nearly 24/7 work schedule. Years of public prosperity passed without any real action on creating family-friendly workplaces.

We can’t let that happen again now.

Wealthy families may be downsizing somewhat, but many others are living right on the edge. The former don’t need government support; the latter desperately do. There were hopeful signs emerging in the not-so-distant past that much-needed change might be on the way: a number of states had voted to start to pay for family leave, and momentum was gathering behind paid sick leave, too. But now, states are backing away from those initiatives. A ballot measure that would have brought paid sick leave to Ohio has been withdrawn, the Associated Press has reported, and in New Jersey and Washington state the implementation of new mandates for paid family leave may be delayed because of fiscal concerns.

The Obama administration clearly has made the real-life needs of middle- and working-class families a high priority. But in the current climate, fighting Republican and business community concerns about “raising the cost of work” is going to be a real challenge.

So let’s make sure we remember who’s really suffering. And give their stories their due.

Word. Read it all.

“Bridezilla”? Really?

The right-wing obsession with trashing women never ceases to amaze me. Kathryn Jean Lopez’s write-up of Feministing blogger Jessica Valenti’s wedding is no exception (and of course, Ace of Spades follows up). Lopez titles the piece “You’ve Never Met a Bridezilla Like a Feminist Bridezilla” — the implication being that Jessica is acting like a crazed, selfish bitch about her wedding (that’s what “Bridezilla” usually means, right?). And Ace writes:

Everyone who believes that she was seriously considering delaying marriage until “everyone could,” and believes she’s looking at her wedding as a “pro-active way to talk about same sex marriage among our friends and family,” rather than as Princess’ Special Day, please raise your hand.

The reality is… less entertaining. Jessica talks about deciding whether or not to change her name (she’s not going to), how getting hitched squares with her beliefs that marriage shouldn’t be a hetero-only institution (she’s using the wedding as a platform to raise both awareness and money for same-sex marriage rights), and what color her dress should be (not white).

There weren’t any Bridezilla or princess antics as far as I could tell — just a basic look at which traditions she and her fiancee want to keep, and which ones they want to scrap. Which is what most couples do, right? Even if it’s not from a feminist perspective?

Kind of amazing how even totally normal wedding planning, if it comes from a woman (and especially a feminist woman) is de facto evidence of selfish bitchitude.

And then there’s the “Bridezilla” concept in the first place. We place an incredible amount of pressure on women (especially women of certain social classes) not only to get married, but to make their wedding The Best Day Of Their Lives. Entire industries thrive because of weddings — because of the pressure to put on the biggest and best party, because of the pressure to match or best the other weddings in your social group, and because of the pressure to be the most “beautiful” bride (“beautiful” often couched in terms of conspicuous consumption). Women are still largely charged with organizing the wedding, because it’s supposed to be their day. Wedding planning, for a lot of couples, is a huge endeavor — for a lot of women, it’s the equivalent of a part-time job on top of whatever they already do for work. But if all that pressure ends up making them crack just a little, they’re crazed selfish biatches.

Not that I’m defending the bad behavior of some women in planning their weddings. Assholes are assholes, and there are a fair number of assholes who eventually get married and, unsurprisingly, act like assholes in the process. The ability to even freak out about your wedding is a function of socioeconomic and cultural privilege.

But when we get to the point where all we need as evidence that a woman is a selfish jerk who thinks of her wedding as Princess’s Special Day is the fact that she’s a woman, I think we’ve gone a little too far down Misogyny Lane.

All of that said, Jessica is asking readers for feminist wedding planning tips. Another friend of Feministe (and real-life friend of mine) is also getting married this summer, and has had a lot of trouble navigating the (thoroughly un-feminist) wedding industrial complex. Any suggestions or tips?

The washing machine liberated women

So says the Catholic Church. (And what the heck is going on this week with the Church being publicly ridiculous in full force?).

The article was printed at the weekend in l’Osservatore Romano, the semi-official Vatican newspaper, to mark international Women’s Day on Sunday.

“What in the 20th century did more to liberate Western women?,” asks the article, which was written by a woman.

“The debate is heated. Some say the pill, some say abortion rights and some the right to work outside the home. Some, however, dare to go further: the washing machine,” it says.

It then goes on to talk about the history of washing machines, starting with a rudimentary model in 1767 in Germany and ending up with today’s trendy launderettes where a woman can have a cappuccino with friends while the tumbler turns.

If that’s not liberation, I don’t know what is.

And in case that isn’t enough bullshit for you, Rush Limbaugh adds in his two cents — it wasn’t the washing machine that liberated women, it was the vacuum cleaner.

Thanks to Nicole for the link.

Reconsidering the Black Single Mother Argument

A great essay on what is really at the center of hatred directed toward black single mothers, single mothers in general, and other non-nuclear families, by BlackScientist, especially with arguments like this one threatening to break into the media narrative again:

I want to point out that nuclear black families do exist, and have in the past, alongside other family arrangements. Before Moynihan declared in 1965 that the problem with black america was that “nearly one-quarter of negro births are… illegitimate,” and “almost one-fourth of negro families are headed by females,” 74 percent of all black families were maintained by a husband and wife, and 22 percent were headed by women. Interestingly, by 1982, almost two decades after the implementation of policy that followed his report, black families maintained by married couples had dropped down to 55 percent, and single mother households rose to 41 percent.

The principal problem with the argument that intergenerational crime and poverty are due to the prevalence of single black mother households (aside from its sexist undertones) is that it centers blame on the family structure itself — which is queer — as opposed to the state-sponsored hostility that incriminates that family structure and makes it so difficult for single-mother households to survive. The fact of the matter is, through policy, the nation-state systematically discriminates against single-mother households and other queer domesticities that are not husband-wife-child. There are federal and state policies that not only encourage marriage, but also actively discourage other forms of love and commitment by granting multiple economic and legal privileges to married couples.

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