A few years ago I heard a radio spot for the lottery in which a woman said if she won the jackpot, she'd quit her job and become a 50's-style housewife. It was about the same time that I saw a commercial featuring a Yuppie mom who credited her brokerage with enabling her to quit her job and stay home with her daughter.
There's a strange commentary to these commercials: Something our mothers took for granted has now for us become a luxury attainable only by winning the lottery or by shrewd financial planning.
Back in the 50s the stay-at-home wife and mother was the norm. In the 70s, she was scorned and pitied. Today she's envied. The rare wife anf mother who worked in the 50s and 60s usually did so part-time for "pin money" or "just to get out of the house." In the 70s, we worked to make a political and social statement. Now we're working because we have to.
Often both parents have to work to maintain a lower standard of living than what they grew up with when only Dad was working. In short, working women have just discovered what men have always known: You don't work for "liberation" or "fulfillment;" you work for survival. Of course, back then most families had only one car, which Dad needed to go to work, one phone, one radio, and one TV, on which everyone watched what Dad wanted to watch, because he paid for it.
Not too long ago we were told we could Have It All -- the superfabulous, high-powered career and the beautiful, immaculate home and the loving, supportive husband who helps with the chores and the nutritious, home-cooked meals and quality time with our well adjusted, honor student kids and the perfectly toned body and the rewarding hobbies and the active community involvement and the terrific tennis game and the dynamite sex life.
Well, the 80's myth has become the 90's reality: After coming home from a mind-numbing job to an evening of mind-numbing chores, today's working woman has barely enough time and energy left to reach for the remote control.
It's natural to blame the working mother for all the problems her kids face today, but that's too simplistic and doesn't do her any justice. It goes beyond that to the social and economic factors that have forced her to go to work. The women's movement was initially all about choice -- we could either work at whatever we wanted or stay home and either choice was valid. But the bottom line is that we've just gotten more choices about the work we have to go to.
There used to be cigarette ads which proclaimed, "We've come a long way, baby." Have we really?