Who’s Really a Threat to the American Family?

Surely not Barbara Ehrenreich. But at least one author (whose other employment includes work for the National Review and Fox News Channel) seems to think so. So Ehrenreich, fresh from a trip to Atlanta to see her son, nephew and their respective families, felt compelled to respond, in a funny essay published in Alternet, “Those Corporate Homewreckers.” There Ehrenreich deflects the criticism aimed at feminists, and by extension, herself, to focus on just who’s keeping working women and men away from their families. You guessed it: corporate America.

Kate O’Beirne, National Review Washington editor and Fox News pundit, has written a book called Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports. (I’d link to where you can buy it through our partner, Powell’s Books, but I don’t want to make it that easy, and I’d rather earn our commission off some other books, like some of Ehrenreich’s work that I link to below.) Ehrenreich looked up her name to find she was listed on page 4 of O’Beirne’s book, for ruining our families. (Apparently James Dobson of Focus on the Family also once deemed her a threat, describing Ehrenreich as “a woman who’d dedicated her life to the destruction of the American family.”)

If you know anything about Barbara Ehrenreich and her work, including such influential books as Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, and her latest, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, you’d probably quickly realize that she’s hardly a threat to the American family. It’s hard to see how calling attention to the plight of the American worker — and just how difficult it is to make ends meet in a decent job these days — threatens the family, unless you deem merely calling attention to a problem in a persuasive way a threat.

Ehrenreich attributes her inclusion to the rightwing tendency to call any leading feminist a threat to the family, just as Pat Robertson in the 80s claimed feminists were all busy “becoming lesbians, killing their children, and advancing Marxism.” Ehrenreich claims to have never killed any family members, “even one of the more irritating ones,” and expressly disclaims traveling to attend a “convention of lesbian, Marxist, child-killers.” (See Alternet essay.)

But then her musings turn serious and as insightful as her usual work: “If anyone is ‘ruining’ the American family, it’s all the employers who refuse to recognize that their employees have family responsibilities, as well as jobs. I’m thinking of two categories of employers, which often overlap: 1) Those who don’t pay enough for their employees to live on, thus forcing them to work second jobs, and 2) those who abuse their salaried employees with expectations of 10 or more hours of work per day.” Ehrenreich knows what she’s talking about: in Nickel and Dimed, she proved that it was impossible to make ends meet on a single low-paying job.

People can talk about work and family balance all they want, but it’s not going to happen until we start moving back in the direction of the 40-hour work week and get serious about a living wage. As long as employees are afraid to leave their desks at a reasonable hour, there’s no incentive to raise wages or to hire more workers. And until employers have to pay higher wages to all their workers, whether because it’s legally required or because the market commands it, there are going to be people who have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Surely Lou Dobbs isn’t the only conservative commentator unafraid to take on corporate America. But when books focus on people like Barbara Ehrenreich as a threat to the American family, you have to wonder who will be next.

More Information:

Work-Life Balance
The Income Gap

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.