I just came across an article I had read for one of my Doctoral courses years ago: Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood, which examines the ways in which society has diminished the value of women when they become mothers. The third chapter, titled “How Mothers’ Work Was ‘Disappeared’: The Invention of the Unproductive Housewife,” begins with a quote from a former vice president of a Washington-based trade association who gave her career up to stay at home with her children:
I go to professional gatherings as my husband’s wife and when I say I’m at home with two children, people never talk to me about anything serious…Everything in this culture tells me that what I was doing before was more important. (45)
I find this interesting because while I stay home with my kids, I am always looking for part-time work that will make me feel the fulfillment that motherhood does not. This upcoming semester, I have committed to teaching 7 courses for two different colleges — for half what I would have gotten paid in New York.
Why do I do it?
Because I have worked since I was 16. Because I learned early on that working not only gives one gratification and self-confidence, but also economic independence. I put myself through undergraduate and graduate school working two jobs and taking on a full course load. And this is perhaps the main reason: I need to feel like a productive human being because motherhood alone makes me feel devalued — as a woman and as a person. Motherhood as it stands today robs women of the value of their sacrifices for their family.
Crittenden addresses the work that mothers are doing, which no one respects or pays attention to. Work that is valuable and necessary but is deemed as glorified baby-sitting. In her article, Crittenden addresses the issue that
when a woman accepts what everyone agrees is the most important job in the world, her economic contribution literally disappears off the charts. Her unpaid work is the dark matter in the universe of labor. (44)
I have stood by my husband at his work functions and no one ever asked me what I did for a living. They all assumed I was a stay-at-home-mom even before I had kids. I was his dependent. I had no voice. Had they asked, I would have told them I was a writer and a college Professor working on her Doctorate.
They weren’t curious about me — I was just my husband’s wife. Nothing more.