I've never been a fan of Bill Maher's "sense of humor," but I'm definitely getting tired of his misogyny and hypocrisy. His comments a few years back about Sarah Palin and her daughter were just plain nasty--the kind of thing that ruined (or ended) men's lives a couple hundred years ago. Although I couldn't help but appreciate the irony of using such despicable language to describe a woman who has only been married once, is still married to that man, had all her children with him, and has encouraged those children (albeit without complete success) to follow a sexually conservative path when pursuing romantic relationships. Kind of the opposite of what is implied by the name Maher called her, hmm?
The more recent controversy about what Maher said of Mrs. Romney, however, is more deeply troubling. Ill-bred people often resort to name-calling when talking about those with whom they disagree, but disparaging the character of such an opponent's spouse is inexcusable. And that is what Maher has done. Unlike Mrs. Palin, Mrs. Romney is not a politician, nor is she a candidate. Of course, she does support and accompany her husband and does the things expected of a candidate's wife, but she is not the candidate. A man of character would limit his comments to the candidate. Clearly Maher is not such a man.
Increasingly, though, I suspect Maher of something deeper than misogyny or hypocrisy. I suspect that he himself is deeply conflicted and troubled by self-doubt. I think he is trying to disparage others in order to convince himself and his audience of his own value to society. Let's face it: Maher's profession places him on a pretty rarefied end of the pay scale, in a white collar position, doing a job custom-made for his talents (whatever those are), in a field he had the luxury to choose himself that is completely irrelevant to the continuation of the society. In other words, he is in a pretty charmed and ultimately unnecessary position.
That said, it's more than a little rich for him to accuse someone of being lazy who has chosen a profession far more important to society's well-being. I'll grant that Mrs. Romney probably isn't the best example of a hard-working SAHM. She comes from and married into privilege. She has never had to worry about money, and she can hire someone to help her with housekeeping or childcare if she wants to. That's something most wives and mothers in the US, let alone the world, can't do. Still, the idea that the strains of the nine-to-five world are something to use against a SAHM is ridiculous!
Maher is right.
A SAHM doesn't know what it's like to answer to a boss. Instead, she's responsible for stuff that she can't delegate (much like that boss he mentioned). If she doesn't get dinner on the table, people go hungry.
A SAHM doesn't have to mask her emotions around colleagues and customers. She has to mask them for her children. My last miscarriage started when I was home alone with the children. My husband was at work an hour away, and there was no one around to help me, let alone take over. I had to put on a brave face and keep my children in line and occupied. If I broke down, my three-year-old would have thought I was upset with him.
A SAHM doesn't face a daily two-way commute, because her work is at home. Instead she has to be on-call 24/7. No sick days. No vacation time, unless carefully coordinated with her husband. No year-end bonus. No merit pay. There's no reward beyond sleep deprivation when the two-year-old wakes up at 3am with a fever. Even if she has to take said child to the doctor before breakfast and it's cold out.
A SAHM does spend a lot of time at home. She spends that time washing other people's clothes, cooking other people's food, cleaning other people's messes, dealing with other people's bodily fluids, scrubbing the floors, cleaning the toilets, and taking care of general home maintenance. I'd like to see Maher try to call janitorial workers, doctors, nurses, cooks, butchers, and plumbers lazy. We SAHMs might not have as much specialized knowledge in those fields, but we do a lot of the basics of those professions.
When a SAHM does all that stuff at home, she often does it while simultaneously minimizing risks to the small children who follow her about and try to "help." When was the last time Maher tried to unclog a drain with a curious toddler trying to get in on the action (and chemicals)?
When we do get out of the house, it's almost a triumph of logistics. We have to coordinate our children's needs with traffic patterns, sales fliers, spousal schedules, and the next meal, preferably while not forgetting anything, being fully dressed, and keeping the children in reasonable order. And, no, we can't just pass the buck to our secretary.
Maher on the other hand can take a day off. He probably doesn't have to deal with other people's bodily fluids very often. If he's overbooked, he can delegate.
In that regard, Maher's hypocrisy should shock the blue-collar workers of this country as well. All that cooking and cleaning and childcare that SAHMs apparently waste their time on is stuff that countless Americans do for their meager living. Is blue collar work also a waste of time? And most of those jobs involve long hours and limited sick days too. All those workers labor much harder than Maher is ever asked to. Does that make them lazy too? What about field hands?
Yet for all that, we American SAHMs are a privileged minority. Unlike most people in the world, we have indoor plumbing, safe heating sources, artificial cooling, safe cooking appliances, washing machines, safe water, and in many cases dishwashers and electric dryers. We also don't have to worry too much about infant mortality.
We don't have to work in particularly hazardous conditions, like my refinery-working relatives do. And unlike janitors, cooks, nurses, and, yes, teachers, we serve people for whom we care deeply.
We also get the privilege of teaching our children to be honorable, moral, productive people, who don't say cruel things about other men's wives. Sometimes we fail. And it grieves us. Perhaps Mr. Maher should consider that the next time he wants to defame someone's character.
To all those SAHMs out there: Good Job, and Keep it up! It's been said that the press is doing its job if it's making people uncomfortable. By the same standard, we must be doing pretty well. We make a lot of people uncomfortable--almost as many as we keep comfortable.
And to those women who are thinking about coming home: Welcome. Come on in, the water's fine. America needs more like you.
This post has been linked to Raising Arrows.