Working Mothers of Color Can’t Opt Out of Working, Motherhood

By Channing Kennedy Jun 12, 2009

Ann Friedman has an excellent piece at the American Prospect, "When Opting Out Isn’t an Option." In it, she addressed a conversation that the media’s been having with itself about women making the choice to ‘opt out’ of their careers to raise a family. It’s bogus, of course, because the women in question — women who have sufficiently pushed back against gender-based disparity and discrimination to be in a position to opt out of making money — are the exception that proves how persistent gender inequity is. Ann says:

Even though professional, highly educated women who can afford to "opt out" account for only about 10 percent of working women aged 25 to 44, this debate has dominated the conversation about women and work. Examining the lives of privileged women and their work-life choices is certainly much sexier and more controversial than telling the stories of the majority of working women in this country. After all, most women must balance work with caregiving. They don’t have the option of opting out. Where’s the debate in that?

What I would add to Ann’s article is that these other women, this unsexy 90%, are disproportionately women of color. Racial discrimination and inequities, gender discrimination and inequities, and expectations of women’s role as child-rearers mean that women of color make less money than their white or male counterparts. (Graphic, from ARC’s Race and Recession report, below the cut.) For many women of color, faced with a family to care for, and stuck in a job (or two or three) without healthcare or retirement options, the idea of ‘opting out’ from any of one’s obligations must seem like like a media fairytale. For more on the life of mothers in communities of color, check out Rinku Sen and Gabriel Thompson’s ColorLines cover story "The Welfare Nanny Diaries." 2009 Race and Recession Report t