Why I Want to Stick a F.O.R.K. in the W.O.R.K. Act

large fork in road in pasadena ca
Fork in the Road in my hometown Pasadena, CA. Photo by wakitu, on Flickr

I want to stick a fork in the W.O.R.K. act.
The W.O.R.K. act was proposed recently by a Democrat in response to the media feeding frenzy over Hilary Rosen’s comment that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life.”  It would allow low-income single parents to count time spent raising children under three years old as part of the work requirement for receiving support through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

I fully support the goal of the proposed W.O.R.K. act and will do what I can to get it passed.

And I want to stick a fork in the anachronistic title, the “Women’s Options to Raise Kids” act.
I am just so completely done putting up with attempts to pander to 21st century women and mothers by falling back on 1950’s gender roles. I hereby rename this act the F.O.R.K. act, “Families’ Options to Raise Kids.”
Why, in the 21st century for pete’s sake, would we put “women” in the title? The act itself refers to low-income parents, mothers or fathers. Ten percent of current TANF recipients are men. The title shows we’re dealing with a cultural challenge that goes far deeper than the political pissing match of the day.

We continue to speak, act and legislate as if: “Caring for family isn’t work; it’s just what mothers do.” Falling into this outdated belief system cuts across party lines. Even MomsRising (of which I’m a huge fan) issued a statement of support for W.O.R.K. that didn’t quibble with the title and adopts language linking the act to women alone: “The devaluation of mothers is at a crisis point in our nation. ”

Correction: “The devaluation of unpaid family work is at a crisis point in our nation.”

Culturally, we conflate mother (the role and the relationship) with family work (the activities necessary to care for children and family). We must separate them if women and mothers are ever to gain true economic security.  The economic vulnerability of mothers is a direct result of the fact that they still shoulder most of the unpaid family work because we go merrily along assuming that’s “just what mothers do.”

Put a F.O.R.K. in it, I am done.

Done with politicians on both sides of the aisle stoking a fake “mommy war” for political points. Done putting up with 1950’s language and norms in a 21st century world. Done with the charade of lauding motherhood as “the hardest job in the world” and simultaneously failing to support the unpaid family work both men and women do.

We are at a F.O.R.K. in the road. Will we continue to link unpaid family work only to women – in our minds, in our homes, and in our policies? Staying on this road means families will continue to struggle to combine paid work and unpaid work in the variety of ways they want and need to today. Women will struggle to close the wage gap and live economically secure lives. And our society will suffer socially and economically from a failure to support the contributions of both paid work and unpaid family work.

Or will we shred the cultural norms linking women to family work and embrace a belief that “Caring for others is a vital human and economic activity and a public service.” That road leads to hope for changes that would help mothers and fathers combine and share paid and unpaid work, changes that would make it possible for women to close the wage gap and gain economic security, and changes that could maximize all the work necessary for us to thrive socially and economically.

Recognizing unpaid Family work as real work with real value helps all Families and all Fathers and all mothers and all of us. Join me in supporting – and renaming – the Families Options to Raise Kids act.

~ Kristin


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