The new, hyperdomesticated family reflects the convergence of two modern trends, one from the left and one from the right. On the left, people complaining about the supposed burden of labor in the market economy. The blogosphere and the correspondence columns in newspapers and magazines are full of letters from people who hate their jobs. "The workplace is nothing to get excited about: The majority of jobs outside the home are repetitious and socially invisible, and many of those jobs (men's especially) are physical as well...while prestige careers in law and business demand a degree of intensity and one-way commitment (employee to company, never vice versa) that would unbalance anyone's life, if one isn't unbalanced already." Perhaps the current generation, raised to believe there were no limits on their talents, experienced the realities of the workplace as an unusually nasty shock. But just because work isn't as wonderful as people fantasized does not mean it isn't usually the best alternative available. Perfect Madness gives us an unforgettable look at the downside of domesticity. The women "had surrendered their better selves--and their sanity--to motherhood...pulled all-nighters hand-painting paper plates for a class party...obsessed over the most minute details of playground politics....They dressed in kids' clothes--overall shorts and go-anywhere sandals. They ate kids' foods. They were so depleted by the affection and care they lavished upon their small children that they had no energy left, not just for sex, but for feeling like a sexual being."
The conservative side says that it is okay to withdraw from the rest of society to the selfish precincts of the family. This trend is perfectly captured by the postings on BloggingBaby.com from women who cannot imagine anything more important than the claims of their "own" children. One such mom wrote me recently: "After my first child was born I realized that I would soon be faced with sending my children to school. Public school is not for my family. Private school can not be afforded on my husband's salary. So I have chosen to homeschool. Now I feel that my 'giving back to society,' my 'mark on the world,' is my choice...to homeschool our children." So instead of trying to fix the public schools or the public policies that produce schools that are (for unidentified reasons) "not for MY family," all of the education and investment in this woman will now be directed only to her two children and no one else.
Of course, there are arguments against both trends: Working in the market economy has many rewards--of power, honor, money, exercise of capacities, and so on. And people ought to care about someone who isn't related to them by blood or marriage. But even if men and women hate working in the market economy and men and women don't give a darn about their public schools, that still leaves the question: Why is it that it's always the women--not the men--who wind up doing most of the work at home? Since people still have to eat, it almost without exception means men are taking off for work and leaving the women...homeward bound.
Choosing Your Choice