The Forgotten Others: Women Who Have Always Have to Work

July 2, 2013

All the buzz around the mommy wars – should women work? are children better off if their mother stays home? – presumes that women made a choice to either work or stay home. Those that like to stir the pot, so to speak, conveniently forget that not all women have the privilege to make that choice.

The June Cleaver during the SAHM’s “golden age” was actually far from the truth for poor and minority women. According to Susan Chira, “ From 1900-50, the proportion of nonwhite married women who were working was around 30 percent, and that proportion soared to over 60 percent by the late 1980s” (31). In fact, she states, unlike childcare experts that bemoaned the children of working mothers being neglected, the children of these working mothers saw their work as determination to provide for their families.

Many of these mothers found ways to combine work and family life by finding ways to earn wages from home, by taking in piecework, washing laundry, and other odd jobs that could be done between childcare obligations. Also, unlike the white upper-middle class nuclear family, which left mother to parent by herself, many minority and immigrant families had large extended families to rely on (Chira 32). They had parents and grandparents to lean on for support and to provide needed childcare when necessary.

Because these women did not fit the ideal model, they were left out of the debate. Conveniently forgotten, these family structures are not to be discounted. They are proof that working women can and will provide the necessary support, both financially and emotionally, for a growing child.

Chira, Susan. A Mother’s Place: Taking the Debate about Working Mothers beyond Guilt and Blame. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. Print.

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