About a month ago, I linked InkWell readers to Caitlin Flanigan’s article How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement in the March issue of The Atlantic. Flanigan makes some trenchant points about the women’s movement as catering largely to highly educated, high-earning women who are able to gush over their perfectly groomed kids and crow about “having it all” only because servants are doing most of the housework and providing most of the child-care. I expressed certain reservations about Flanigan’s conclusions, however, which struck me as an excercise in excessive breast-beating over the plight of these lower-class, usually immigrant house-cleaners and nannies. Women, including stay-at-home-moms, have employed servants since time immemorial, I argued–and I still argue. If you think your child’s nanny is underpaid and exploited, give her a raise and shorten her hours. And shut up and count your blessings that you can afford to make more efficient use of your time. (See My Servant Problem: I Don’t Have Any, Feb. 23).

A couple of weeks later, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert weighed in on the working-mom problem–and she said exactly the same thing as Flanigan! Her article was in the form of a lengthy book review, and one of the books under her consideration was The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels. Kolbert also laments the plight of housekeepers in her article:

“These same underpaid women are still largely missing from the literature today. Meanwhile, the more fortunate remain just that. Choosing between work and home is, in the end, a problem only for those who have a choice. In this sense, it is, like so many ‘problems’ of twenty-first-century life, a problem of not having enough problems.”

Whenever I see two journalists in succession writing about exactly the same supposed social problem in quick succession, I start looking for a meme. The meme is usually some vast federal program that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. So what was the meme here? Mandatory 30-hour workweeks for nannies?

I scratched my head for a while, until I came across this Washington Post feature story about the two authors of “The Mommy Myth.” Douglas and Michaels cast themselves as plain ol’ moms, although they are actually college professors. Like Flanigan and Kolbert, they have a valid gripe: at the overly intensitive parenting style that seems to be in vogue today. Parents are expected to devote themselves to, and worse, be with their children 24/7, which typically bores the hell out of Mom and Dad and leaves the kids yearning for breathing space. (It all makes me nostalgic for my own childhood; my mother was a stay-at-home mom of the 1950s who chased us out of the house every day, expecting us to learn how to entertain ourselves while she enjoyed a little free time.)

But then I finally realized what the meme was. It was–no, not again!–federally subsidized day-care. WaPo writer Jennifer Frey summarizes Douglas’s and Michaels’ views:

“‘[H]ello, Earth to Congress, some reliable form of childcare is also an absolute necessity,’ the authors write. They go on to compare the United States to several Western European countries — all of which provide more in terms of child care and paid parental leave time.’

“In keeping with their irreverent approach, that chapter of the book is titled ‘Dumb Men, Stupid Choices — or Why We Have No Childcare.'”

So this is the federal program that’s supposed to benefit the servant class and make guilty upper-class women feel better! (I’m proud to report that Frey interviewed the IWF’s own Carrie Lucas for the article, and Carrie expressed our opposition.)

We went through all of this about 10 years ago. Article after article appeared in the media month after month after drum-beating month about inadequate child-care in America and the wonders of Europe (where, I can’t resist pointing out, hardly anyone has any children). It all led up to a vastly expensive bill in Congress that would have put an elaborately licensed, extraordinarily costly, and if our nation’s public schools are any example, conspicuously lousy day-care center on every block. Our congress-people had the sense to turn it down.

But the idea’s obviously back. Expect many more such articles in the media. This is a meme with legs