Mommy’s on strike?

Post image for Mommy’s on strike?

by Katrina on March 28, 2011

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that I write a lot of posts about how overworked we are in the U.S. I write about how we lack government, workplace and familial supports that exist in many other parts of the world to balance work and family demands.

And if you read the comments on these stories, you know that every once in a while someone gets worked up and says we should all go on a Motherhood Strike.

I never know if this is a joke or not. What would we stop doing? Stop being mothers? But our families need us. Would we stop going to work? But we can’t afford it.

What if we just stopped having babies?

You know, like an anti-labor labor movement.

This may sound like a silly, made up argument, but right now, women in their childbearing years are “on strike” in more than 90 countries in Europe and Asia and it’s creating serious problems.

Confused? I was when I first read about this, too. I grew up hearing about the dangers of overpopulation, not underpopulation. But population growth has slowed dramatically. Today the average woman bears HALF as many children as she did in 1972. According to a Foreign Affairs story by Phillip Longman, the total number of human beings on the planet may begin to decline within our children’s lifetime.

This is good news in one way, because fewer people means fewer resources consumed. But it creates other problems. The birth rate is many countries is so low that it threatens the future supply of workers and taxpayers, which in turn, threatens the health and even national security of these countries. Whole cultures could die out. Which begs the question:

Why aren’t women in these countries having more babies?

Because the economics of family life have changed. Women are joining the workforce. They’re becoming less inclined to sign up for a large family and the stress and financial strain that goes with it.

You don’t want help us out? they say. Fine. Then raise your own future generation.

Could this happen in America?

Why not? Our current birth rate is 2.1, exactly replacement level. Wouldn’t you say that graduating more women from college than at any other time in history while simultaneously providing less support for working families than any developed nation in the world is practically willing it to happen?

I first read about this phenomenon in a 2010 book called The War on Moms, by Sharon Lerner. It’s fascinating stuff (and a great book). I started looking for other research about the International Baby Strike (also known as the Global Baby Bust) and found several stories, including this one, a 2008 New York Times story by Russell Shorto called ‘No Babies?’

It turns out women in Baby Bust countries want to have more babies but can’t swing it when a.) they don’t have family-friendly jobs and b.) their husbands won’t mop the floor. (We’re lookin’ at you, Italy!)

From the Times story:

“…women who do more than 75 percent of the housework and child care are less likely to want to have another child than women whose husbands or partners share the load…”

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Studies show that when women are given access to things like flexible work schedules and decent, affordable childcare, the birth rate starts to climb closer to replacement levels again. We just need a little helping hand. That’s all.

Also from the Times story:

“In Europe, many countries with greater gender equality have a greater social commitment to day care and other institutional support for working women, which gives those women the possibility of having second or third children.”

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Some picket line chants, in case you decide to join the International Baby Strike:

  • On strike! Shut it DOWN! My WOMB is now a union TOWN!
  • Pay a mother what she’s WORTH or forget about CHILDBIRTH!
  • Give us schedules that are FLEX or you get no procreative SEX!
  • 1-2-3-4 Pumping rooms need LOCKING DOORS! 5-6-7-8 We’re not going to REPLICATE!
  • You don’t want to pay the PIPER? You can change the baby’s DIAPER!
  • What’s disgusting? MOMMY BUSTING! What’s outrageous? PAY GAP WAGES!
  • What do we want? Flexibility, part time options, paid parental leave and sick days, and better on and off ramps! When do we want it? NOW!

Want to write your own chant?

It’s fun! Best one will win a prize.

Leave a comment or email me at katrina AT workingmomsbreak DOT com

* * *

UPDATE from 5/23/11 – See all chants readers submitted, including the winning entry here.

* * *

It’s too late for me to join the strike. The photo above is my little guy, Jake, when he was about 3 months old.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim

just that supercute picture of Jake is going to make someone want to have more babies. like the chants ;-)

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Eric

What’s the prize?

Also, look to Japan for what happens when there aren’t enough workers… they had no baby boom after WWII like USA, and had been experiencing an economic downturn for the last 20 years or so.

Though now they have more problems to boot.

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Katrina

re: prize. Haven’t decided, but I’m thinking a mug. Who wouldn’t want a Working Moms Break mug?

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Eric

It seems that if mothers truly wanted to be effective, they should get all Lysistrata-like and go on a general sex strike altogether. The powers that be (men) don’t understand the long-term effects of the declined fertility of a population, but do understand other things…

“We have the ability to kill our fertility, give us more power or take a cold shower”
“Looks like the next generation’s out of LUCK, because we’re killing the economy by refusing to _____.”
“The population’s look Peak-y, because us ladies won’t get Freak-y”
“If you want our loving touch, stop sucking so much”
“Give me fair treatment, for goodness’ sake, or I’ll keep saying I have a headache”

The way to a mans mind is through his…

Also, I have included the following, which relates more to mothers’ workplace problems than population issues:
“C’mon Boss, don’t be a jerk, let me pump my milk at work!” (boobs can be substituted for milk in this one, for added effect)

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Heather

That replacement rate includes a massive amount of under-educated illegal immigrants. With the downfall of education and fewer educated women having children, our society could look very different in 20 years if something is not done now.

That said, I think it’s a matter of incentives. Every woman who has a baby should get a grant, just like they do in Norway and job protections. It’s all very simple but moms have no political or economic clout, which is why I started my site & called it “ultimateoutcasts”.

The best way to improve this situation is to have a ladder of incentives available to all women based on their education and work experiences.

Eric has a point. There is plenty of money. We need to developed a Mom-economy by making ourselves a new sort of banking system. The feds printed money — at 0% interest would circulate alot further this way than getting locked up in Bank of America. The returns would be far greater than another trillion dollar investment in a foreign country.

But no one listens to moms!

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Eric

You know Heather, I really don’t like your idea of the incentive ladder. I like giving mothers money for having babies, but basing it on education and work experiences seems like whatever the socio-economic version of racism is.

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Heather

@ Eric,

Life is centered around incentives. You have alot of educated women not having babies as they are contributing to the economy while some young, poor women are incentivized to have them because there living expenses are covered by the government. That is a well-known situation.

Basically, the system is already there. I simply propose one that leads to a culture of all women — all races — incentivized to go to college and contribute to the economy. It doesn’t mean we still do not support women who have children without doing those things but maybe they will make better choices down the road if they can see a reason to wait. The current way it is done actually makes the racial divide far worse.

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Logan

I don’t understand why contributing to the economy is the end all be all of life for you. What an unimaginative uninspired world that would be if everybody did it for the money.

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Heather

Our economy is how resources are set up to move. That’s just how it is and how we feed our families.

I don’t think that it is the end all be all — we all have our passions and would I think we should be able to survive doing them, but that is NOT the way of capitalism and for now we are stuck with it.

Women generate a lot of wealth — in their capacity as mothers and workers. I think it’s easier to come up with ideas to improve the system which includes paying mothers so they have better control over resources, than unravel it. There is a very greedy set of people who will have none of that anyway.

The fact that mothers ignore the effect of the economic system is to our detriment. We are all very dependent on it. Just look at the third world. When there is no economy to contribute to women and children starve or hope for a hand-out.

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eric

Heather,

From you I get the message that having children at a young age is a bad choice. I don’t know you or your story, but you seem to think that the best thing for all women is contributing to the economy. I think the economy is important, but our Profit-driven capitalist structure is not what is best for families! there are other, better options for the family that becoming slaves to a wage (or two.)

in order to achieve a better system, we each need to individually understand and LIVE the truth that there are more important goods than the material.

Heather

Eric,

I can agree with you but this is naive. People the world over are living that truth, and being exploited, corrupted, sold–they lack comparable economic power to those exploiting them. Those lives are worse than being slaves to a wage.

My trip to India 10 years ago shined lights on serious human issues when people have to rely on each other — it’s very distressing and you should take a trip to a place like that. People are not very reliable. Capitalism highly flawed — yes. But it can be done smarter and that is my angle.

I don’t think having children at a young age is a bad choice, but I was the child of a 17 year old mom. First the morality police is on her, then the economy makes it hard for her to feed that child without government assistance. So I know someone very well who did not have incentive to look for possibilities beyond her boyfriend at 16. I’m sort-of a case study.

One example of why women’s economic involvement outside of the home is essential: Women may not be able to access birth control unless their husband’s buy it, or travel unless their husband approves, or eat after he dies. The poorest countries and the most dismal prospects for women on this planet directly correlate to their political and economic opportunities.

I love your ideas, but the world does not work that way.

eric

Heather,

Instead of sighing and shrugging your shoulders, why don’t you take action to MAKE the world how you want it? Idealism is not naivete when it is properly focused and actions follow. Sure, blogging and commenting on blogs help to foment and solidify ideas, but to be effective those ideas must be concretized and put into action. You have no ultimate control over the gov’t, the business world, or anyone else, but you do have control over your own actions and the way you treat the people in your own life. And I have control over mine.

eric

Heather,

one more thing: in reference to poor, exploited people, you wrote: “Those lives are worse than being slaves to a wage.”

please provide the data to back that statement up, as well as the metrics used, or admit you are making a subjective value judgment.

Heather

Eric,

Why do you presume I’m shrugging my shoulders and doing nothing? I use my blog to try to educate mothers about where they fit into the bigger picture — of politics, culture and economics as it is — to understand where we can gain influence. I actually live in L.A. and I am in constant search for media opportunities and additional exposure and the exchange of ideas. I’m active–believe me. But I’m 6 months in the blogosphere and making local connections. These things take time. I deeply believe we have to make mothers feel differently about how they can influence the culture. Religions and governments have written us out. That is wrong!

Using the media is a far more effective approach to cultural change than in public office. Which by the way, I have looked into…but the positions don’t pay, I’d have to solicit donations and the commitments would take away from my family time — which I highly value. Aside from my working hours, like most moms, I’m constantly with my family (playing games, cooking, going to the park — not shopping/consuming!).

In regards to the data you request, here you go. It uses the best metric for women — “The Best/Worst Places To Be A Mother”:

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/ReproductiveHealth/us-ranks-28th-best-worst-places-mother/story?id=10576232

Eric, have you been to a third world nation? I don’t need data to know verify what I have seen, what is available to know in the paper. I the world calls me just a mom, but I am a credible source.

I’m very certain you would come back and say: “Those lives are worse than being slaves to a wage –especially women with children who cannot pay for medical care.” The problems can be worsened when there is no middle class. The rich exploiting the poor is very evident in developing countries.

Eric

Heather,

I hate the rich exploiting the poor, but poverty is not the worst evil in the world. Change will not come about through politcal action and large-scale restructuring of the economic system. Or rather, the necessary changes in those arenas will not come about unless we make the necessary changes in our own lives: realizing that each of us has a deep and personal obligation to love our neighbor and strive for justice, striving to do the right thing to the people in our own lives. Mentioned in other comment threads on this blog, the Government is not and cannot be a friend to those in need, but you (and me, and that guy over there, etc.) can and should be.

Heather

Eric,

I completely support and agree with your stance, in a perfect world. And we can still get there. I see it happening in a different way than you do.

I asked the question about if you have traveled to a developing country or the 3rd world because your comments exhibit very high ideals and I respect them. But it doesn’t sound like you have had much personal experience outside of the U.S. The life you propose is out there, fraught with plenty of trouble. Just hop a plane anytime.

To deny that the government does not have a hand in making America great is to ignore the fact that we are having the comfort of having this conversation in a civilized society — over the internet, in an economy that provides us with dependable electricity, opportunities to purchase computers, after many of us have had the benefit of free public education (RAISING HAND!) — and has chances for women ensure they could care for their children if the father died or left them.

Most people would trade your seat for theirs any day. I’m sure we could easily find a mother in Ethopia for instance.

People may be nice and good at heart, but poverty is very, very corrupting — much like greed.

Why begrudge others the freedoms, comforts and safety that you enjoy?

Logan

Eric and I have traveled in developing countries and the eye-opening experiences we had there are part of the reason we have dedicated ourselves to serving the poor. Eric these days works closely with service organizations to regularly send people from our area overseas to serve the poor.

Basically I don’t think that your suggestions for improving the lives of underprivileged young women are practical, and I also think they are elitist. (You say the government should give educated women grants– maybe you should lobby to increase the Child Tax Credit. I certainly wouldn’t complain.)

I worked for several years with at-risk Hispanic kids, and as a rule, these kids I was working with didn’t care about education. I came in fresh faced and very idealistic out of college and took a big hit to my ideals when my, “girls, you can do anything with yourselves!” riff didn’t raise any spirits or change any minds. I am positive that if I had rephrased my speech as “don’t you see if you hold off having kids till after you finish school then you’ll make so much more money because the govt will give you a special grant”–it wouldn’t have been much of an incentive for these kids, either. I realized too that it didn’t matter if I couldn’t convince them to go to college, that being a productive member of society doesn’t have anything to do with being highly educated. It was ok. I could help them simply by teaching them values that would serve them no matter what they choose to do in life. And yes, that included trying to get them to understand that life would be a heck of a lot harder if they got knocked up at thirteen, which sadly did sometimes happen.

What these kids needed were mentors. And they needed parents too, but sadly their parents were too busy working combined 20+ hour days to be able to give their children the home that they needed. On NPR the other day I heard a talk by a guy who worked with the same sorts of problems but in the Bronx, and he, too, thought the biggest problem was that in the absence of parental presence, kids were left to the institution to be raised.

I think if we help families be better families then we’ll see less of a drain on the economy in general because we’ll be raising well-adjusted youth. Perhaps the best thing to do is make it so both parents don’t need to be “contributing to the economy” all the time, We’ll actually be doing something productive for society, which is more important than the economy.

Heather

@Logan,

While my comments refer greatly to the economic aspects, please know all of it is in conjuction with a strong family life. This is why Katrina I relate to Katrina’s blog. We want to be with our families more.

It isn’t elitest to demand that the wealth that is generated in a society through labor (within the family & outside of the home) be returned so that the family can have access to resources. This is practical and works in other parts of the world! Grants are paid to all mothers in Norway — one of the best places in the world to live and raise children. It’s a small scale, but on a state level this could work.

I’m very glad to know more about your experiences and your good works. I married a man whose mother fled El Salvador to work in this country because of their dismal future there. His memories of that life haunt him (he moved to the US when he was 12) for ever. Was she gone alot, yes — but he is so forever grateful she got them out of there. Those parents come to the U.S. for a reason. Yes, alot of them run into trouble here but here, their parents did not have to see them starve.

I think we are all on the same page — this falls to parenting and instilling important ideals and values in our children — Moms want this very much! There is the cultural espect to address. It’s entrenched and very negative.

Personally, I see major opportunities to turn the media in to a positive cultural tool to help this happen quickly, responsibly. We have a modern society, we need to work with what we have — to make it all better.

I have a feeling a dinner party with you guys would make for lively and entertainly convo. I’m glad to connect with people just as passionate on this issue!

Eric

Your plan is IS elitist because by incentivising education and employment, it favors those who are already at an advantage.

And isn’t Norway’s whole deal with being nice to moms only because they have such a low fertility rate and desparately need people to procreate for demographic reasons? However attractive their system is, it’s there because their society is broken in other ways.

Heather

@Eric,

“being nice to moms”? So glad someone is patting us on the head and at least some place is! And it shows in the peace, prosperity and safety of their country! By all accounts, it’s a very nice place indeed.

Many of Norway’s politicians and officials are mothers. They understand the value of mothers and women as contributers to society as parents, political advocates who must dually protect their countries resources through a viable economic system. It’s just smart!

And so now is going to college elitest? Why is it that employers can pay a person who went to college more than a person who did not? Because it is considered an incentive to that individual and society as whole to be educated. The fact is we have plenty of incentives around, they are just going all sorts of strange directs but should be directed more toward family.

am

@heather – can you expand on this statement – The current way it is done actually makes the racial divide far worse.
Thanks…

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Heather

@am — I grew up in South Louisiana and currently live in L.A. Alot of racial tension exists because whites carry a resentment for subsidizing the food and shelter of those who are lower income — many of whom are black or latino and have several childre and don’t contribute to the economy. It is plain — unfair!

It’s not this way because women or minorities have had any power. It’s because the welfare system is just another market for business. I could elaborate, but that goes on and on. Basically, it’s an industry for profit and prevents people from living in slums.

So I say, level the field — let everyone be part of this investment/profit wheel. We already are! The work/reward aspect simply needs to be changed to reward workers more and subsidize non-work less.

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am

@heather O dear, you have opened a can of worms that i must say is elitist…minorities arent the only ones on welfare or that benefit from it. Its too much to get in to right here, but that first statement is why ignorance and all that it breeds persists.

Heather

@am — I see that my terminology is divisive here in the first statement. My response is to your question about why the economic divide further promotes a tone of racism in this country. And yes there are white people who benefit from welfare, but you asked the question about racism — which is about how different races interact and why so I answered it — The racism issue was presented by Eric in an earlier comment.

The problem is not race though– it’s situational and structural. My point prior to this comment is that you fix the situation then you improve the racial make up of everyone as a whole.

And I cannot be that elitest or that ignorant– I am married to a man from El Salvador and am quite entrenched in the Latino culture — complete with my own little hispanic son. I know their conversations — many are of this same unfairness built more on economics than race.

Personally, I think the volunteer work and charity that goes into the situation of children — while commendable — do not get at the core reason why kids are in bad situations. We must examine the place of their mothers economically and politically and find a situation that works better for them.

Logan

Wait Heather, you say charity towards children isn’t a solution, that we need economic fixes but you want to take away the only money their poor uneducated parents have and give it to more privileged people. I really don’t see how this is a helpful to them!

Eric

Heather, I did not bring up racism. Rather, i said that your incentive ladder idea seemed like whatever the socio-economic version of racism is, that is: privileging one socio-economic class over another, as opposed to one race or ethnicity over another.

Heather

@Logan, the best way to help kids is to give their mothers opportunities and where they can obtain work/life balance so they would not have to rely on charity. There are hundreds of countries where the economic framework excludes them. In fact, here is a list:

http://www.news-world.us/pics/2010/08/22/60-worst-countries-in-the-world/

You never asked where the money would come from for the grants. There is more than enough that can be diverted from the military industrial complex.

If you read my theories, it’s to lift all mothers, educate them and promote their productivity in society however they see fit. All of them — their choices. A woman (regardless of race or age) who would not choose to go to college or work, would still get a good sized grant per child to do with as the family sees fit.

@Eric — As it stands now many women are effectively financially penalized when they have children (all races and ages!). And yes, I think she should get more if she has paid taxes through her work and through sales taxes. It’s math. There’s nothing wrong with it.

I respect your idealism and agree parents need to be more involved parents. But your ideas are not solutions. There are several countries where women are not allowed to work out of the home. Go there for several months and try it out. Make sure it’s a life you really want before you think about imposing it on others. Because many women in those countries risk life and limb to come to this one.

Believing women should not be in the workforce is to ignore how many women are working right now to maintain our comfortable lifestyle inthis country. They are working at the power company, and made it possible for you to have the food you eat and the computer you are using to read this.

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Lucie

I don’t know know but I’ve been told
The Western World is getting old
If good positions we can’t hold
No more babies; we’ll lock the mold.

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am

i think moms should go on strike from doing all/most of the housework….so lets see what i got: (most of mine start with hell no!)
Hell no, I won’t clean another dish
Hell no, I wont mop another floor
You helped make them, now help take care of them!

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Brian

No more baby boom!
I’m shuttin’ down this mama’s womb!

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Jess b.

Make our system more like France
Or keep your penis in your pants!

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Katrina

I’m loving the picket line chants! Keep ‘em coming!

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Rachael

The longer it takes us to conceive a second child, the more exhausting the idea of having a second child seems. This post sheds a different light on my ambivalence.

Other notes: Jake = adorable. Working Moms Break mug = excellent idea. Though we don’t really need any more mugs around here. No chant ideas of my own, though.

Reply

Eric
Katrina

Yikes! Thanks for sharing that link, Eric.

Excerpt:

“(February 2011) The number of babies born in the United States fell by 2.3 percent in 2009, and the number is continuing to slide. The total fertility rate, or average number of lifetime births per woman, for 2009 was 2.01, the lowest level since 1998.1 The recent drop in births puts the U.S. total fertility rate below the replacement level of about 2.1 births per woman. (Preliminary figures for the first half of 2010 show births down about 4 percent compared with the same period in 2009.)”

Reply

Eric

Katrina, please judge our chants… I have made a pot of coffee, but I have no clean mugs and I need to know if there is a mug in the mail for me, or if i need to drink it straight from the pot.

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Katrina

Hang tight, Eric! Still trying to get more people to submit chants. Victory will be sweeter with more competition…

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Eric

but coffee would be drinkable with a win! do i get bonus points for begging?

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laura

Hi. I’m considering promoting a parent strike in our school district. Just one day when nobody helps with the carpool, makes copies, writes grants, holds fundraisers, helps in a classroom, etc. I’m hoping to help our leadership and the public at large understand the value of all the unpaid work that parents do and inspire them to take our requests for transparency and communication seriously. Thoughts? I can’t find any references to this on line

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Katrina

I’ve never heard of parents doing such a thing, but I can imagine how a school could grind to a halt without the parent volunteers. I wish you luck. Come back and let us know what happens.

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tmcraddock

I ran across this blog because I googled stressed out mom and wife. I have a 15 year old, 10 year old and 9 year old. Between work, clipping coupons, saving, cleaning the house, laundry, buying clothes for them, trips to target, bjs, school events, pta, homework god the homework, trying to make everyone feel pleased including dear hubby, house chores, keeping myself up, emails with teachers, trying to keep it together at work, kids sports, making sure grandmas know we care, scheduling doctors appointments, and even more to boot. I now see a therapist weekly and I am on Zoloft for severe anxiety. I use to run circles around people and would pride myself in having the house cleaned and making homemade meals ever since I have returned back to work 6 years ago I having been falling apart the last year or so. I love my kids but what women would sign up for this and don’t even talk to me about mommy/wife guilt.

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