Thursday, April 23, 2015

Calling out classist privilege

I have seen a lot of people criticize Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg for her brand of feminism claiming that you can have it all if you will only "lean in." The specific criticism has been "fine to lean in, if you can afford it." This has been a subset of the not uncommon criticism of current feminism which is that it is a fiercely classist movement seeking to advance the interests of privileged upper class women at the expense of all men and most women.

This artcile, The True Cost of Leaning In by Hannah Seligson begins to put some meat on those argumentative bones. As Seligson points out,
How much do you have to spend on household help to replace a traditional at-home mom—someone to do the schlepping, cooking, cleaning, child care, and laundry? About $96,261, according to Investopedia.
I am not confident in Seligson's close to $100,000 figure. I suspect that the figure is more likely in the $30-60,000 figure for a solidly middle class family. But precision isn't so important in this argument as simply having a concrete number with which to test the suppositions. On that basis I will use Seligson's figure.

So your job has to pay you at least $100,000 in order to cover the costs of not being at home with a child. Approximately 75% of all households earn less than $100,000 and about 90% of individuals earn less than $100,000. And $100,000 is the minimum you have to earn to make it worthwhile by covering your outflows. If you want to actually have some take home pay, that has to be on top of the $100,000. So let's say your goal is to have at least $50,000 on top of the replacement costs of $100,000, then you are looking at finding a job earning $150,000. You are already in the top 5% of earners.

So Sandberg is really only talking to the privileged upper class 5% of women. 100% of men and 95% of other women are not invited to the conversation based on Seligson's reporting. Seligson drives home the classist elitist message.
In the face of these spiraling costs at home, it’s hardly a mystery why many women choose to lean out of modest-earning careers.

If this all sounds elitist, let’s remember that even though Sandberg does her best to get folksy and put on her I-am-every-woman-persona, she isn’t. The dead giveaway is when she recounts an anecdote from her senior year at Harvard about how she forgot to connect the Freudian id to Schopenhauer’s conception of the will on a European intellectual history exam. I’m sorry, this book is a primer for women with impressive pedigrees—the types who apply, and land, jobs at McKinsey, who work in prestigious government jobs, and get plum internships as high school students. This is the breed of women who are fast-tracked for success, but get stymied for a number of reasons, one of which is the cost of child care and the lack of planning for it.

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