This is just a conversation between two people of a similar age, looking at what happened, and what changed. Worthy of posting.
esmensetoo: There are women who fear a loss of privilege and an increase in expectations, and economic responsibility, for women from “feminist” striving. “If she can do that maybe I’ll be asked and expected to do it too.”
Plus, “working class,” as defined in many polls and studies does not necessarily mean “working women.”
Trump’s support, including his support among white “working class” women, was older and more affluent. These are women less likely to have “had” to work — who, because of the economic realities of their younger adulthood, and the greater ability to maintain a middle class life and even gain affluence on one salary — the husband’s — experienced more economic flexibility to stay home with children and, if and when they did choose to work, it truly was a matter of choice in which adequate, fair pay wasn’t essential. Older, white women are less likely to have a college education than younger women, which defines them as “working class.” But that doesn’t mean their households are less affluent.
They are the women more likely to see the demands of feminism and ambitions for power of women like Clinton as a loss; a loss of the protection of male earnings, with an increase in economic expectation for women like themselves.
In my generation — the eldest cohort of the Baby Boom — even in working class households white women were brought up with the expectation that they wouldn’t work outside the home, at least once their children were born. Even if they trained in traditional occupations, teaching and nursing, they expected that they would take years off to raise children — and outside of those occupations there really wasn’t anything else for women that would provide a lifetime “career.”
Of course, many of us found that expectation was unrealistic; and younger women even more so. We took on more economic responsibility both because we had to and wanted to — and started demanding more rights and resources and opportunities to go along with it.
( I went to an excellent public high school in a New Jersey community that was basically a bedroom community for professors from Rutgers and Princeton, and professionals from surrounding think tanks and research centers — a very highly educated population — in the early 60s. Although the importance of education was stressed for everyone in that community and college admission was a goal for almost everyone, girls were told that their education would be important for their FAMILIES; their children. And, of lesser importance, their communities. Education for women was couched in the language of service, NEVER ambition or earnings.)
Me: We pulled that off with the advent of children. We already had the house, dog, fenced yard, etc. Smaller home but very affordable on a heavily treed lot.
My wife was a Patent and Trademark Paralegal and she made more money than I did initially even though I had the BA, etc. She stayed home with our first and the others. Did all of the school things moms did when they were growing up. We agreed to do it this way. We did not have new cars and stuff and we had our funding issues.
You are right and we were very lucky to have done it the old way. Elizabeth Warren was right, the one income family became extinct unless you were fortunate enough to have money in the beginning. New and young families could not afford what we were able to do on one income. Eventually, she did go back to work and we fund a lot of those things for the offspring.
esmensetoo: That’s pretty typical, and was much more possible, in earlier post-war boom times. And still true for a lot of early Boomers when they entered the work force. Living on one income might require some belt tightening in the beginning but it was doable and as time went on economic prospects improved. And, often, once children were older, women went back to work, or school and work (my mom went to college at 50).
I worked through school and in the years before my son was born, but, while I was doing things I enjoyed, I didn’t really think of it as a “career.” I stayed home with my son for the first two and a half years of his life. But then BOTH my parents became terminally ill. My Mom was only 56 — years away from Medicare. Their illnesses were galloping through the lifetime limits on my father’s good union health insurance, which would not be available to her if he died first anyway, and neither would any accumulated pension. Plus inflation and recession were both raging and negatively affecting my husband’s business. And housing and health care costs were going through the roof. Faced with a lot of conflicting needs — from all the people I loved and cared about — I decided that I could best meet them by going back to work to provide some additional stability, and extra economic resources that might end up being crucial to my Mom’s care.
I always say I didn’t get ambition until AFTER I had a child — but it was really not just about wanting to help secure his future; my parent’s challenges, and the fragility of the “stagflation” economy, made me realize I had to be prepared to provide serious economic support when needed. And that made me much more willing to confront the inequalities that could limit my ability to do so. I was newly ambitious in this sense; I wanted the work I did to PAY, and I wanted the people I did work for to take me and my work as seriously as I took them and the work they needed done. I was empowered to speak up.
I still feel lucky that I had the “choice” to spend those early years with my son — years when he got my entire attention. But I also feel lucky that I had the opportunity and ability to contribute to my parent’s needs and peace of mind at the end of their lives, to our family business, and provide resources for my son’s future.
Being economic providers as well as caretakers got even more important for women younger than me. Inflation meant a second income became essential for just qualifying for a mortgage; but their paychecks often covered the house payment and day care, and little more. But those paychecks didn’t come with benefits like family leave.
I was inspired as a feminist in my early years in the workplace by older women; working or once middle class white women who returned to the workplace as widows, or with ill and disabled husbands whose needs had devastated family income and resources, or with elders or children with serious needs that demanded their support, or after divorce, or after freeing themselves and their children from abuse; and minority women who had always worked and expected to work to help stabilize and support families challenged by the instability, lesser wages and lesser opportunity that challenged their community and their partner’s work lives — women with big responsibilities, for themselves and others, in an economy and work places that offered them little pay and benefit, and, even less respect.
When I returned to work my feminism was further inspired by women younger than me — whose gains were not yet adequate to their needs, and yet were being constantly undermined by on-going economic weakness. Both young men and young women needed full-time work to afford to buy homes and have children — for instance — but the expectations and demands of the workplace, losses in worker protections and rights, growing job insecurity and economic instability, constant inflation in the basics of housing, education and healthcare, were all undermining all their gains. Leaving them further behind, rather than ahead.
In the early 90s I attended a retirement party for a woman who had worked in the advertising department of a large retailer since she was a young student at the University of Washington. She recounted her more than 30 year career, with gratitude, to the mostly much younger women who were there to honor her. She had worked for the company to help pay for her education in the summers and on special projects. Had joined the staff full time after graduation; working to help her husband finish his schooling and get established in his career, to help them save for house, etc. She left when her first child was born and returned, part time, when her youngest child started school. And then, as they grew older and more independent, she came back to work full time; to help provide resources for their education and help enhance their opportunities in other ways, and to contribute to her and her husbands’ retirements, and out of the pure satisfaction of work she loved and was good doing it.
She had “had it all.” It was such a contrast to what the young women in that room, doing the same work she had always done, pursuing the same careers, were struggling with and could expect. Was this progress, or were we going backward?
I’ve read that studies have shown that women’s economic progress peaked in the early 80s and they’ve been losing ground ever since.
That certainly feels true.