In The Room Where It Happened

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

The cover editorial in today’s NYT Sunday Review asks “Who Is Going To Save The American Family?

That’s a loaded question if ever there was one, and the editorial is written by a conservative woman who has predictably conservative answers. The decline of the American family is the fault of feminists. By sending women into the workplace we’ve created a “two-income trap” where families can no longer survive on one income. And this is a problem because, you see, men want to be breadwinners and women want to be caregivers.

The two-income trap is real, but what the analysis is missing is discussions of what has caused men’s wages to fall. It’s not women entering the labor force.

But the piece is also missing any discussion of how women would gain true economic and political power within a system that is bifurcated by gender. It’s all well and good to say that being a mother is “the most important job in the world,” but that doesn’t change the fact that women are underrepresented, relative to the population, in all spheres of influence. Yes, of course this means political power, where despite significant gains in 2018 (notably on one side of the aisle) women are still less than 50% of elected representatives and we’ve never had a women president. (Despite many qualified female candidates, 2020 isn’t looking great for that to change.) But I also mean power more broadly. Women hold fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 spots. Most estimates put women at 15 to 20% of C-suite positions. Women of color, of course, have even less access to power.

Does that matter? I saw “Hamilton” on Broadway last night. My favorite song, by far, was “In The Room Where It Happened.” It is sung by Aaron Burr and it’s his lament that he was not in the room when Hamilton and Jefferson made a deal to move the capitol to Washington, D.C. He reprises the song later, when he’s running for President, because he wants to be sure he’s in the room where it happens.

Women need to be in the rooms where stuff happens. Where laws get passed. Where corporate decisions get made. It matters. Nancy Pelosi remarked that when she first ran for Speaker it was Democratic men who asked her “who said you could run?” They pleaded “Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.” Um, I don’t think so.

Does this mean we need to turn every American woman in a corporate wage slave and every American family into stressed-out hamsters running on a never-ending wheel of bills? Of course not. But there are plenty of proposals that would support all families and also support women who want to participate in civic and corporate life. And, by the way, policies that would support men who want to play a greater role in the lives of their children.

It strikes me that we are at a point in our cultural history where we could start to think different about our economy, family life, and gender roles in ways that would open up a lot more possibilities for everyone. Harkening back to the ideas of Phyllis Schlafly isn’t the way forward — it is literally the way back.