“Leaning In” is all well and good, but if a woman is really going to follow Sheryl Sandberg‘s advice to devote herself to her career, something’s gotta give at home. A woman with a 5 pm conference call isn’t going to be home in time to make dinner, vacuum the living room, or pick her child up from pre-school. If her husband is “leaning in,” too, that means they’ll need to hire someone to perform all these duties. A new essay by Hannah Seligson in the Daily Beast puts the cost at $96,261 a year. “Don’t just lean in,” Seligson writes, “save up (for the hired help).” Really?
For some reason, either because women are loath to address the uncomfortable class issues associated with outsourcing a good chunk of their childcare, or are ashamed to admit that they don’t change every diaper and wipe every runny nose, we don’t acknowledge a core truth about the women who have gotten ahead. The Sheryl Sandbergs and Melissa Mayers (and even those a few rungs down the ladder) do not only have supportive spouses, nor do they only just “figure it out.” I’m willing to bet that they have backup nannies, drivers, baby nurses, cooks, weekend nannies, housekeepers, and people who come to pack lunches and do the dishes.
Seligson does the math and comes up with this:
Full-time nanny: $36,868 a year
Baby nurse: $10,080 for six weeks
Housekeeper: $6,000 a year
Preschool in New York City: between $2,000 and $32,000 a year
Full time daycare: $24,000 a year
She also cites an Investopedia article that estimates a full-time homemaker is “worth” $96,261 based on the expense for a private chef, driver, child-care, and the other tasks homemakers perform.
Seligson writes that she and her husband started a “nanny fund” soon after they married, because “If I am going to continue ‘leaning in’ to my career, even having a supportive husband is not enough to compensate for this dismal finding: When a husband and wife are both employed full-time, the mother does 40 percent more childcare and about 30 percent more housework than the father.”
Well, that is dismal: She’s apparently confident that she won’t be able to count on her husband to help out with their future children, based on a statistic taken from the general population. Or, perhaps, taken from her knowledge of his lack of helpfulness?
Dismal, in any case. But why does a woman like Seligson have to cover her home duties with money, rather than with a supportive spouse? Even broadly, why is the pressure on her, rather than on corporate and government policy-makers who leave working parents without resources to cope.
Also, is a baby nurse really “a necessity”? And what about those “backup nannies, drivers … cooks, weekend nannies, housekeepers, and people who come to pack lunches and do the dishes”? Surely any family that truly requires all of that can afford it. The average woman putting in a few extra hours at the office so she can ask for a promotion does not need a driver and a cook.
Finally, let’s remember the origin of the phrase “lean in”: It comes from a 2011 speech in which Sandberg urged young women not to abandon their careers before they have children. Her point was not that all young mothers should hire a baby nurse and get back to work. It was that women in their 20s who think they want children someday should keep pressing forward in their careers in order to be in a good position later in their careers, and when they do have children. “Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision,” Sandberg said, “and then make a decision.” It’s not going to be a $96,261 decision for everyone.