Love in the Time of Layoff: Her Expendable Career

April 1, 2009 posted by Deborah Siegel Deborah Siegel is the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild, creator of the group blog Girl w/Pen and a long-time friend of the Council.  The following was originally posted on Recession Wire as Deborah's latest installment of her weekly column, Love in the Time of Layoff. Those who read this column know that I’ve been writing very personally about how the downturn has affected my relationship. In all honesty, I’m starting to fear that by focusing on what’s happening inside relationships, we may be losing sight of larger contexts—what could and should be happening in the structures that govern our lives. The personal is political, after all! Whoever invented the notion that a wife who earns less than her husband has a career that is, by definition, “expendable”? The ubiquity of this sentence—“she has an expendable career”—was brought home to me once again when I read Diane Clehane’s “Recession Marriage Wars” in yesterday’s Daily Beast. Clehane poignantly shares her frustration that for her, and for many working mothers she knows, “The recession means wives are under pressure from their husbands who tell them a sitter is now a luxury they can’t afford.” These are working mothers, mind you—women who have defined themselves by their careers for most of their lives and who know that being a good mom and having a great career are not mutually exclusive. As someone with big hopes of starting a family, and as a feminist, I’m thinking government-funded or employer-subsidized childcare is sounding like a pretty darn good idea right about now.

But instead of going there, so much of the writing about how recession is affecting relationships (mea culpa!) tends to focus on marital fallout alone. Says Clehane, whose contracts have been halved but who refuses to give up the work she loves, “No matter how many times we have the conversation, my husband doesn’t understand why I’ve chosen to drive myself crazy staying up half the night to write for half of what I was making a year ago.” Is it that surprising to the men who married us, in part, for our ambition that we’re going to fight righteously for our beloved, hard-won careers? I mean, isn’t that what they’re going to do in the instances where they are the ones with the so-called “expendable” jobs? My computer dictionary defines “expendable” as “not worth preserving or saving for reuse; easily sacrificed or dispensed with if the need arises or in order to achieve an aim.”  For women like Clehane, women like me, and women everywhere whose work is not merely central to our identity but a contribution to society and to the GNP, words like “compromise,” “expendable,” and “sacrifice” take us back to the days when Father Knew Best and paychecks were gendered male. While ruthless pragmatists may reduce a woman’s worth to a cost/benefit analysis, I for one will pull a Lysistrata on Marco the minute he suggests my work is not worth the cost of daycare. So here’s what I suggest: Let’s dispense these putrid terms from our collective vocabulary. Let’s turn our frustration around and make the personal political once more. Let’s take to the streets—to our employers! to Capitol Hill! to the new White House Council on Women and Girls!—and rally for subsidized childcare.  This is not a women’s issue, by the way, but an economic affair.  For efforts already underway, and efforts to join, see here.


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