There is a moment in every social movement when it swings too far in the opposite direction. When we arbitrarily put a $113,568 price tag on the work of a stay-at-home mother — and the general public blindly accepts that as so — feminism has gone too far. Far, far too far.
One of the past century’s greatest successes is winning the argument that women’s work is indeed work: that caring for children and a home is unbillable labor. I give thanks every day to my feminist foremothers for waging — and largely winning — that battle that has given rise to affordable childcare programs for the poor and a surge in work-life benefits from corporations in my lifetime alone.
Yet I have cringed each and every of the past several years when the annual version of the above survey from Salary.com is published, putting an absurdly high and arbitrary value on the work of a stay-at-home mom in the six-figure range. Let’s break down those nutty figures:
-The only services on this list that seem reasonable to me are the child care and housekeeper/janitor — but even those are highly circumspect. No business has a cleaning service AND a janitor. That is redundant. So we will reduce that to the housekeeper alone for $145. But even that seems high. In New York City where I live, my very hardworking housecleaner Sandra comes weekly, scrubs my 1,300 square-foot two bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, changes linens and does all the laundry for $100 weekly. This chart adds an additional $61.69 for laundry. When I sent my laundry out to a service that picked it up and dropped it off, I only paid about $30 weekly — again, in the most expensive city in the country.
-The Salary.com folks want us to believe that any woman who chooses to stay at home with her kids is entitled to a check of $341 for facilities management plus $180 weekly to be the “CEO” of her home. Marketers came up with the cute notion that moms are the chief executives of the family, and I get why that resonates. But no effective CEO would ever abandon paying work and career momentum. That is financial suicide for an organization, as I detailed here. Plus, just because you make decisions does not mean you make good decisions — as studies find huge percentages of American families live beyond their means. Further, if you do not have the education or experienced to be hired as a CEO, you are not entitled to CEO pay. But since you are apparently a business executive I don’t have to tell you that a service is only worth what the market will pay.
-Psychologist. See above. No degree or experience, no salary.
-Computer operator at $141 per week. Who even knows what a “computer operator” is? Has that job title existed since the Apple II in 1983? And what are moms doing on the computer for nearly 9 hours weekly if she doesn’t have a real job? Facebook, Pineterest and Twitter, that’s what. I’m not paying you to be on social media when you’re on the clock.
The big slap to working moms — and the vast majority of Americans mothers actually have jobs outside the home — is that we do nearly all of the things on this list. Because that is being a parent. I spend about $1,500 monthly, or $18,000 annually, on housekeeping and child care. The rest I do myself: make “executive” decisions, manage this facility, stalk social media, hug and talk to my kids, drive everyone around and cook nearly everything we eat. On one hand, it is thought-provoking to put a price tag on these tasks, but as my analysis points out, it grossly over-estimates the actual market value of these services, which are indeed predominately carried out by women. When we tout ridiculous claims in the name of advancing women, we instead ridicule an entire gender and undermine the very movement that empowered us to expect respect for these tasks in the first place.
But if you insist on enumerating every waking moment of your stay-at-home existence, I want to jump on board. Please calculate 5 hours monthly for my services as a pediatrician for diagnosing scraped knees as not in need of stitches and sore throats not requiring penicillin. Please tell me how much society owes me for my duties as dental hygienist for overseeing teeth brushing twice daily, that of a home care nurse for wiping poopy butts and cosmetology wages for clipping little nails. And while you’re at it, how much does it cost to purchase and operate an iron lung, because I am breathing 24 hours per day 365 days per year, and I really feel I ought to be compensated accordingly.