The Thinking 

Choices and Duties

June 7, 2011


SEE Jesse Powell’s comments in the previous entry in response to a reader’s contention that feminism supports traditional mothers and wives. He writes:

Why would a man treat as a duty the financial support of the household if from the woman’s point of view being a homemaker is merely a “choice?” If women view homemaking as a mere “choice” then men likewise will be inclined to see their wife’s homemaking as optional and be unmotivated to financially support it, denying the woman the “choice” to be a homemaker at all since being a full-time homemaker by definition requires the husband’s support in order to make it practical.

Claiming women have the right to “choose” whether they be homemakers or not implies that men have a “duty” to support the woman in whatever she “chooses” to do; there is a problem with this formulation. “Duty” has a higher order of importance than “choice;” a “duty” regards something important while a “choice” regards something unimportant; if the man has a “duty” to support the woman’s “choice” then what you are claiming is that it is very important for the man to support and facilitate an activity by the woman that intrinsically has no great importance; this is logically unsustainable and contradictory.

On the issue of finances and whether a household can “afford” to have a stay-at-home mother, the idea that married women have joined the workforce in great numbers since 1900 due to economic necessity is absurd. The simple fact is, women initially entered the workforce as the wages of men were increasing. In inflation adjusted terms, in 2009 dollars, a man in 1899 employed full-time in the manufacturing sector earned on average $17,015 while the median earnings for a full-time male worker in 2009 was $47,127. In 1900, 3 percent of white married women worked while in 2009 about 60 percent did.

I wish to further add that, perversely, family finances in the middle-class deteriorated greatly after 1970; women’s gains in earning power and their contribution to the family budget was accompanied by the household budget of the middle-class becoming worse, not better. As the income of wives increased after 1970 the savings rate fell, the amount of credit card debt increased, and the number of personal bankruptcy filings increased as well. Truth be told, women taking on financial responsibility in their marriages not only has been harmful to the well-being of children as they get shunted off to day care but has been financially disastrous as well. To see how family finances deteriorated along with the increase in wives’ earnings watch this video by Elizabeth Warren in March 2007.

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