So what’s the reason behind this prejudice? Are SAHMs criticizing those mean, nasty moms who put their kids in daycare and their husbands are just picking up the negative vibe? Are the mommy wars being fought behind closed doors at home, with working women being left with the fallout?
I don’t know for sure, but here are my guesses, just because I love to speculate.
· Like begets like. I think people who have more traditional attitudes toward women are more likely to be in traditional marriages in the first place. In other words, the men with stay-at-home wives were already traditional before they even got married. They probably searched for a marriage partner who wanted to stay home, and planned to make it happen because that was their ideal. I’m not saying that everyone in traditional marriages has an everybody-should-be-like-us attitude, but I bet that many men whose marriages are traditional think it’s the best arrangement for families with children, and they project this idea at work, consciously or not.
· Work how you know. There’s an old cliché among writers—write what you know. When you do, the saying implies, your writing will be more authentic because the real you will come shining through. I think the same thing happens at work. If their wives stay at home with their children, men will be more likely to assume the women they work with want to do the same, even if they don’t or can’t. If they aren’t used to being around career women, when they’re trying to figure out what to do with the strange creature wearing a suit and carrying a clipboard in front of them, some men stamp her with “domestic diva” ink, simply because the women they know well fit so neatly into that category.
· Transferral. If I like chocolate ice cream, so does everyone else. If my wife wants something and she’s a woman, then all women must want the same thing. If my wife hates math equations or doesn’t want to travel or shies away from leadership positions, then other women are quiet math-hating homebodies, too. Sometimes this can work in women’s favor—maybe their pro-homemaking bosses are eager to give new mothers extra time off, and maybe that’s exactly what they want. But sometimes it can work against women, as in when their bosses assume women won’t come back after a baby without bothering to ask.
· Moral superiority. We made the right decision. You’d better do the same. And if you don’t, you’ll be punished. Not in obvious ways, because that would be illegal, but in subtle ways. We’ll find a reason to give someone else the promotion you’ve worked so hard for. We’ll give another person the big client. Why are you so worried about it, anyway? You should be focused on your family. If you’re trying to go after money or position, that means you’re selfish and worldly.
I realize these explanations may come across as man-bashing, but that’s not my intention. Disclaimer: I am not a man-hater! There are many men who value women’s contributions in the workplace, and some of them have stay-at-home wives. Unfortunately, sometimes men who are stuck in the Dark Ages end up in positions of power.
So what can you do about it? There are a few options, but I want to focus on just one for now.
And keep talking. Make sure that your boss knows that just because his wife scaled back on work when her kids were born, for example, doesn’t mean you want to or can do the same. If he still won’t respect your wishes, you can talk to other women at your office to determine if his treatment of you is consistent with how he treats other women, bring up your concern to his superiors, or even file with the EEOC if you don’t get anywhere.
Talk about your interests and ambitions. Make your goals clear so that everyone knows what you want. Women are not all the same, so do all you can to highlight what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid to contribute and to celebrate your accomplishments. If your boss makes a sexist remark, you can educate him!
If you’re married, talk to your husband, too. Even if he’s relatively enlightened, it’s important for men to be aware of gender discrimination, and as the woman in his life, you can help bust those stereotypes (even if you stay home yourself).
Have you ever had a Neanderthal-type boss? How did you deal with him (or her)?