Distorting Relationships

This is the fourth 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, Part 2 and Part 3 at the links.

Although Peck’s meaning could perhaps be interpreted differently, one way to read his suggestion that women “pick the right partner” in the context of a post about wages is that if a woman wants to make the “individual choice” to have children, she can compensate for the decreased pay she will receive by picking a husband who earns enough to make up for her depressed income.

Of course, there is a term for a woman whose only interest in a male partner is his paycheck, and it’s not a nice one – gold digger.

Understandably, most men would prefer romantic partners who like them for themselves. Most people want as much from even friends that they only see occasionally.

While the Chamber’s apology suggested that Peck’s post involved retrograde thinking, they have fought numerous concrete legislative steps to ensure that women could earn a family-supporting wage on their own. They’re happy with market conditions that are set up in such a way that it’s hard for a woman, and tremendously hard for a woman who’s also a mother, to be fairly rewarded for her own labor.

If a woman would like to be a stay at home parent for any length of time, well, there’s little to no market value awarded to even the work of raising someone else’s young children. Nor in caring for the elderly, another task traditionally handled by the women in a family. If she would simply like to work part time for a while, her employers get her work at an even steeper discount.

The resulting increase in women’s poverty is treated as an unfortunate, if distasteful, accident of history that no powerful institution will either claim responsibility for or lift a hand to fully correct. The attitude that this is simply the way things ought to be pervades not only business, but politics.

Ann Crittenden writes in “The Price of Motherhood” about how a mother’s relation to the market for salaried employment, whether as a part-time salaried worker or as a full-time unsalaried parent, often disqualifies her from top tier social benefits like unemployment, workers comp, job training supports and Social Security:

The Social Security system’s disregard for caregiving is reflected in other ways as well. No insurance is provided against the loss of a primary parent. The children of a stay-at-home mother who dies or becomes disabled receive no benefits. Even though someone will surely have to spend an enormous amount of money to pay for the services a mother once performed, or lose income to provide those services him- or herself, caregiving is not insured.

The loss of a breadwinner, on the other hand, does initiate Social Security payments (although not in every case). The system treats the widows and children of men who die like princes, and the families of men who divorce or desert them like paupers. Yet, as scholars have observed “nothing distinguishes the two types of women and children except their prior relationship to men.

… The double standard is particularly insidious because it denies insurance for a risk that is quite common and protects people against a risk that is rather rare.

My father died when I was a child, long enough ago that I barely remember him. My mom stayed home with us when he was alive, and she got Social Security payments for each of us when we were minors so that she could keep on doing that.

Being the one type of single mother that doesn’t get targeted for nationwide, public verbal abuse–a white widow–no one ever called my mother a lazy freeloader. In effect, my father’s affection for her sanctioned her desire to be a stay at home parent.

At the same time, my mother’s work taking care of us didn’t officially count as work. She’s at retirement age now and isn’t eligible for Social Security, no more than women who leave work to care for children are eligible for unemployment benefits.

If my mother had wanted to work outside the home, as many women do, that money would have gone a long way towards good early care. It would have supported her career advancement because Social Security death benefits aren’t means-tested. She wouldn’t have been encouraged to keep her salary below some arbitrary cutoff where she was making too much to qualify for help, but not enough to make up the difference between the cost of care and the loss of the support.

I know my parents loved each other, but it’s frankly offensive that the value of the work of teaching and taking care of us was entirely dependent on my father’s opinion of my mother. She had a male partner and he didn’t leave her until he died, so therefore I got a full-time, conscientious caregiver.

It’s a testament to the power of love that people can manage to still find it in the face of that kind of injustice.

Then when a relationship goes wrong, the economic realities of parenthood and wage discrimination often get blamed squarely on the woman and focused like divine vengeance on her children. If the father of a woman’s children has a bad opinion of her, if he thinks she’s a ‘gold digger’, if he can get a judge to believe that she fits this or some other negative stereotype of women, even if the father could help support them, chances are high that the mother+children side of the family will live in poverty following a separation.

Poverty, as you may have read, is bad for the mental development of young children.

Not to want to change the system, a system that the Chamber of Commerce’s public policy positions suggest it’s perfectly satisfied with, is to perpetuate a system that pays women mainly in love (which shouldn’t be a job,) and then insults them for still having living expenses that must be paid in cash.

It’s almost as if it’s inappropriate for women to want any money, at all, from any source or for any reason. Indeed, proclamations of women’s money fetishism seem like one more attitude of suspicious convenience to employers, one playing into a well-worn groove of negative cultural stereotypes and dismissing the economic harm the pay gap inflicts on families.

Would Brad Peck be satisfied if his labor were mostly valued in affection? I can’t know, but I really, really doubt it.

Cross posted from SEIU Early Learning.

4 comments for “Distorting Relationships

  1. Amy Beth
    September 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    This is really good, would it be alright if I reblogged this?

  2. September 1, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    I’ve seen some divorces, albeit not all of them, whereby women are able to stand on their own two feet, but this is something granted to women with means. Women without means often have to fend for themselves, as you have noted.

  3. karak
    September 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    I work in the caregiving career field. My wages are usually paid by the State, so I’m an official employee. I got paid barely more than minimum wage to take complete daily responsibility and care for another human being. At least 90% of my coworkers were women. Most of them had children, were single parents, and couldn’t get much in the way of help.

    Here’s women working full time, doing a desperately needed job, being paid nothing for it, and then being accused of “being a money fetishist”. Fuck you, sir. Get down in the trenches with the rest of us and see how important money becomes to you.

  4. Natasha
    September 2, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    @Amy Beth sure, and thanks!

Comments are closed.