by Vanessa McGrady
Editor's note: On September 5, 2016, Phyllis Schlafly died from cancer. A staunch conservative against the Equal Rights Amendment and one of the most polarizing figures in American politics, Schlafly's niece, Suzanne Venker, obviously holds the same sort of views on equal rights and gender roles as her deceased aunt. Here, our writer Vanessa McGrady offers her condolences, and a few choice counterpoints to Venker's A Letter To My Breadwinner Husband.
Your A Letter to My Breadwinner Husband inspired so many emotions. Rage, to begin with, moving in to slack-jawed disbelief, followed by guttural sounds of distress. I scrawled curses on the printout of your letter and finally landed on feeling pity.
"I was thinking about how grateful I am to have never, in all the years since we had kids, had to face a trip to the grocery store in the evening or on the weekend."
I felt sad, not only for you, but also for all the rest of us who have to dance on a tightrope of razors when we try and figure out how to have jobs and kids and relationships. You've trivialized this constant juggling with your assumptions and complete disregard for the struggle of others — dare I say, most of us. When you don't acknowledge other people's choices and situations and that not everyone has your good fortune, you're basically rubbing their noses in your clickbaiting patriarchal mommy war poop.
There's nothing wrong with saying thanks to your husband for the many sacrifices he's made for you. But that letter wasn't just for him, otherwise you'd have left it on the dresser. It's a tone-deaf grandstanding of your White-Lady-One-Income-Yoga-in-the-Middle-of-The-Day privilege — and this is coming from another White-Lady-One-Income-Yoga-in-the-Middle-of-The-Day person. Except the one income is mine, from a job I had to create, and I have to exercise while my 5-year-old is in school.
When I was a brand new mom, my husband and I cobbled together our paid and unpaid parental leave, then had to go back to work after nine weeks. Which was excruciating. I was the go-to parent when Grace or her sitter was sick. (My husband rarely took that burden, as he was afraid that it looked bad for a man. Thanks, patriarchy!) I begged the daycare lady not to tell me if Grace took first steps or said any words, because it was unbearable to think I might not be there for milestones, let alone for full days of her sweetly blooming babyness. I took a $20,000 pay cut to move to a job at a nonprofit that I thought would be less toxic, but found that even those guys give you the stink eye when you need to take your kid to the doctor. I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom, but it was impossible.
"But alas, writers do not make enough money to support a family, so you gave up on that dream."
Untrue. I got divorced with no alimony and very little child support. I left my job to freelance as a writer, not because I fancied myself one, but because I had to earn a living on my own terms while still being the best mom I could possibly be. I make a very good living, so no need to give up on any dreams! But maybe don't tell your husband that because he might be pissed that this whole time you made him keep some chump job that sounds more like a prison than a satisfying career.
This is what true gratitude looks like: You are mortified your husband gave up his dream to be a writer. You work out a deal to take the reins a while so that he can pursue his dream too, even if it's just on the weekends or giving him an hour in the morning to do his thing.
"It is the steady breadwinner husband, men like you, who allow women like me to
live such comfortable lives."
There are women who make their own fortunes in the world and live comfortable lives because they invested in themselves and their futures. You're also leaving out same-sex couples and women who support their husbands as homemakers. If you were truly grateful for your own situation and vehemently believed that America is better off with a parent who stays home while the kids are small, you'd use your platform to promote a living wage. You'd advocate for equal pay for men and women so that women can make more while working less to support their families if they're single, or if their mate stays home. You'd push for fair parental paid leave policies, universal free or low-cost preschool, accessible healthcare, and affordable housing so that other people could have what you've got.
You're also laying on the expectation that men need to be high earners to be of value — such a vile objectification. You're spitting in the eyes of male teachers, social workers, and others who don't make much bank but who are so vital to society. What would you do if your husband lost his job, and all your savings disappeared?
"I can just decide on a Tuesday to go shopping or out to lunch if I want."
When you say this, you're diminishing the work of parents who do mind the kids and run the home. That work is hard AF, thankless and exhausting. Wasn't it for you?
A lot of us would like to have that same twee thought you wake up with every morning: "O glorious day! What adventures will befall me? Shopping? Spa? Eating salad alone while laughing?" There are very few single-income households in which the stay-at-home spouse gets to loll around all day, and the decision has only come after agonizing over the math, whether they're trying to return to a career they love, or trying to eke out another month or year at home to raise kids.
"Most married mothers with children at home do not work full time or year round
as their husbands do."
Please show your math. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2015, 34.4 million families included children under age 18, and 60 percent of women in married households work. 12 million of them work full time (that's up from the year before), and only four million worked part time (down from 2014).
You should also consider our sisters in abusive relationships, forced to stay home in fear they'll lose their homes, their children, their lives. What do you say to them? Read up on why they stay.
"All we ever hear in the media is what life is like for the harried working mother."
Ding ding! We do hear about this because it's an actual problem (maybe not as bad as having to go to the grocery store on a weekend, but still). It's a man-made issue, and it's critically important to the future of our society that we figure it out. We have not yet reconciled our careers and self-worth and families as we wallow around the in the dregs of the house patriarchy built, with inflexible workplaces and insane expectations. So when you wave us harried working mothers away like pesky puppies, you're going to hear about it. We're going to take off our earrings and lurch for you.
The reason the media doesn't publish more gloating letters like yours is because they are vapid, insensitive, and serve nobody.
And hey, if things don't work out for you in the end, do know there's a safety net of sisters out here who will catch you when you fall. We probably can't help you find another rich husband, but we can help you find a job, take a babysitting shift, and will make a pot of tea and sit with you while you pull yourself together.
P.S. You may be reeling from the recent loss of your aunt, Phyllis Schlafly. My condolences. I know you're perpetuating the 2.0 version of her work to keep outmoded and dangerous gender roles the rule, but my wish is that her hatred and hypocrisy have died with her, and you can now be free to truly support families in a meaningful way, and lift others up.
Vanessa McGrady is a Los Angeles-based money, parenting, and feature writer, and single mom to a magical 5-year-old girl, Grace. She likes when you share the shit out her stories. She is very grateful to have to job she does so that she can get mad about stuff and write about it. Find her at vanessamcgrady.com and www.greenmeansgotravel.com. Also, tweet her up! @VanessaMcGrady