Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Guilt Track

Check out this article in the New York Times, or the commentary on said article in Salon. Apparently, there’s a new trend among single career women: quitting their jobs to care for aging parents, something the Times is calling “the Daughter Track.”

This article (Times, not Salon) irks the hell out of me.

It irks the hell out of me because it sets up this template for the modern woman that’s so fucking sweet and feminine and goody-goody and out of touch.

It irks the hell out of me because it taps all that guilt we grown women have as daughters, as if the guilt we have as either mothers or potential mothers isn’t enough. That kind of guilt coming from both ends can’t help but squash you like a bug. Or turn you into a Ritalin-snorting serial killer.

It irks me because now I feel like one more layer has been added to the “you’re not enough” pile. As a member of the single, childless and long in the tooth contingent, I like to think I’m not a mother yet because I’ve been career-focused. But being career-focused hasn’t actually landed me a career, at least nothing that resembles the radio news anchor, six-figure salary position formerly held by the woman featured in the Times. Now add to that the fact that I’m a terrible daughter because not only did I not quit my non-career to care for my aging parents – and never will – but I live clear across the country from my aging parents. I haven’t seen them in a year and keep ducking questions about when I’ll come because I can’t afford a ticket or the days off work, especially as I took two trips this fall – Napa Valley and London – to visit friends instead. In fact, even when my mother had cancer and was puking her guts up I only went back to visit once for a long weekend and then only because a friend sprang for the plane ticket. I suck, I know. And thanks, New York Times, for driving that fact home.

These holier than thou expectations are ludicrous. Dress us up in flouncy frocks and we’re right back in Jane Austen land (on not nearly so arch and clever). The article claims most women are happy to make this shift, since by the time they’ve reached their 40s and 50s they’ve had it with corporate culture anyway. But if they’re so fed up with corporate culture, why can’t they just quit without an excuse?

I can guarantee there won’t be any trend articles about men giving up their jobs to take care of their parents, even if it’s happening. Men may want to do it – more power to them if they do – but no one actually expects them to. And granted I don’t know all that many people, but I’m dubious about this being a phenomenon since I haven’t personally heard of one single career woman who’s done this. Not one. Have any of you? And we won’t even get into the fact that the majority of women couldn’t up and quit even if they wanted to because even those of us who are single and childless do still have rent to pay and one hungry mouth to feed.

Let’s just get this straight. There are plenty of women out there who aren’t perfect mothers or perfect daughters or perfect success stories, who aren’t overflowing with generous thoughts or life-altering sacrifices. It’s the 21st century. We get to be that way. Remember the seventies (ah, the seventies) when we cracked the shackles and set ourselves free? Stop with the ball and chain stuff, won’t you?



Martha Brockenbrough said...

FWIW, here are my thoughts on that article... When women act as caregivers -- no matter whom we're caring for -- it often gets written off as "opting out."

But why isn't it also considered "opting in"? Isn't there more to life than career, too?

I am starting to think that we need to define for ourselves what is enough for us, and to resist the media's attempts to either put us in the "sweet" box or the career box. We can do both, imperfectly. But who can do more?

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