Every now and again, in discussions about the gender wage gap, you see some misogynist yipping about how women get paid less because men work the more dangerous jobs. This is pretty absurd, given how many dangerous jobs pay badly (military, police, fire department, in many regions), but it also ignores something the 20th century had a lot of trouble processing: women are especially endangered just by being born into a class that’s considered ideal for victimizing.
While many stay-at-home wives and mothers are never subjected to any kind of abuse, a couple of social factors make this an extremely risky job. First, because employers don’t recognize what SAH partners do as work experience (managing a household, particularly with kids, involves skills that would entitle you to at least a career in middle management, if you’d done it in an office setting), SAH partners don’t have the option of just leaving and getting a job that will allow them to care for themselves and any children in a way that doesn’t invite state interference. Second, employers still think of men as needing jobs to take care of their families, and women as needing to stay home to take care of their families. When a SAH male partner’s situation flops, that’s only to be expected, since it defied gender norms. Employers may scorn a man for having done the domestic thing, but they will perceive themselves as big damn heroes for giving that poor deluded fool a chance to get back on his proper gender track. But a woman with kids and no provider? She must’ve screwed up somewhere. She failed as a woman, by failing as a wife-servant. Why give a failure a job? Additionally, women always face certain prejudices from employers who secretly wonder what they’re not allowed to ask: will she get pregnant and leave? Will she have a widdle emotional upset and go all flaky? Will she just sit around, painting her nails? Will she successfully play the gender card if we try to let her go?
By the way, there are two simple solutions to this problem:
- Force employers to recognize “household manager” as a real job with real skills, and teach SAH partners how to write a resume detailing those skills. This transforms a lamentable “lengthy gap in employment” into the valuable work experience it really is, and enables SAH partners to divorce without fear they will be lucky to work sixty hours a week at various minimum wage jobs until the state decides their kids aren’t being kept in proper style and returns them to the abusive parent. (This, for those of you who want a SAH partner but think alimony is such unfair punishment for having had one, could also provide a way to eliminate alimony eventually. But by all means, don’t use your brains and encourage your legislators to do this. Just keep whining about how unfair the courts are to men.)
- Teach kids in school that absolutely anyone can fall for an abuser, because most abusers are great actors and can appear not only nice but even progressive. But no, let’s not – that would shatter our stereotype that abusers are never middle class educated employed white guys.
If you own a television set, you’re probably aware of many of the ways women end up in abusive marriages or partnerships. Some are primed from childhood to believe men abusing women is normal. But if you think a woman coming from a loving, functional family can’t end up in an abusive relationship, you are so very wrong. The only difference is that a loving, functional family won’t let an abusive son-in-law isolate them from their daughter, and that gives her at least one option in escaping the abuse with her kids and some hope of providing for them.
Here’s a typical pattern:
- Young woman marries man who seems wonderful. She believes staying home for the kids is good for them, and plans to. Her unpaid labor helps husband make it through school, or the first years of work with repayment of school loans.
- Meanwhile, husband turns out to be physically, emotionally and/or sexually abusive. Thanks to a social conspiracy of silence, she lacks a framework for the abuse, and assumes the abuse is somehow her fault, and won’t be visited on any kids they have, so she has a child or two with him.
- Then he starts abusing the kids, of course, because abusers will abuse anybody. But she’s only just figuring this out.
- She threatens to leave, and either he gives her the beating of a lifetime, or he threatens to get custody of the kids if she leaves. Maybe by now he’s also turned her family against her, since the predisposition to believe stories that women are crazy often trumps the urge to defend one’s kin, especially when that kin is female, and hey, we all know what they’re like. (This is where the woman from a family that values her has a big advantage. Many families – even arguably functional, loving ones – simply don’t rate daughters as highly as sons, and these women can expect to be blamed by their own family for letting that lovely son-in-law get away.)
- So she waits, doing the best she can to protect her kids and suffering through whatever torture he doles out, until the kids are old enough to leave without him being able to stop them. In the meantime, she may try to get a job or some schooling, but he’ll know what that means and most likely stop it or sabotage it. Or her hours at the job or school may simply give him time alone with the kids, which is a terrifying prospect. (The link is to a series of articles on Dolores Claiborne. If you want a 2+ hour crash course in really understanding how few options women have in protecting both themselves and their kids from domestic violence, I can’t recommend it highly enough.)
- Then she leaves, if he lets her (see the “beating of a lifetime” link: the overwhelming majority of domestic violence happens when you try to leave), and finds herself an “unskilled” forty- or fifty-something woman in a job market that’s firmly entrenched in ageism, sexism and prejudice against workers without traditional employment histories.
- Meanwhile, her ex-husband is well-employed, thanks to all her free labor that helped him pay off college loans and get on with those promotions, so he can afford divorce attorneys and endless court battles, and she cannot.
And heaven forbid the abuse gets bad enough for her to feel she must leave before the kids are adults. He’ll almost surely get custody of the hostages (oops, I mean “kids”) because it’s not true that judges are biased toward women: judges are biased toward narcisissts, like everyone else in this society. Emotionless and conscience-free, narcissists stand there looking sad and wronged, unable to understand the venom coming from their spouse, and portraying him or her as mentally unstable because s/he is exhibiting emotions and self-doubt, like a psychologically healthy person who’s been exhaustively mistreated. Judges, like the rest of us, are taught to mistake functionality for healthy psychology, and no one is more functional than a narcissist who has no attachments or morals to get in the way of his functioning.
By the way, there’s a third solution to help with these problems: educate judges and social services personnel on how to recognize an abuser. This isn’t the place to get into detail about it, but abused kids often develop these skills instinctively. It’s very easy to recognize a narcissist once you’ve been taught what to look for. And sadly, you can safely assume that no narcissist genuinely loves anybody, because the inability to see others as anything but tools is part of the disorder.
So, I’ve stated the problem. I’ve offered three practical solutions to make it better. But by all means, just keep whining about how hard the menz have it.