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Wednesday, March 30

Where Feminism Failed

{Preface: I’m proud to call myself a feminist. If you’re looking for a rant about the evils of feminism you will not find it here. I may criticize what I feel are the shortcomings of the movement, but I will never criticize the ideal of women’s liberation and women’s equality.}

I was reading a book. It was called Staying Home Instead: How to Balance Your Family Life (and Your Checkbook). It was written by a women named Christine Davidson. It wasn’t that great. It wasn’t at all what I hoped it would be. But there was an idea in it that has haunted me since I read it {and here comes a big, long excerpt from the book}:

Suzanne Gordon, author of Prisoners of Men’s Dreams: Striking Out for a New Feminine Future, writes of some sources of the problem in the caring professions:

“When women moved into the marketplace,…we hoped to teach men to value caring, to share in women’s caring work in the home and workplace, and to support truly care-centered programs in the political arena…But, in our society, the very project of human caring has been compromised.

…[M]ore and more American women have been encouraged to embrace the very marketplace values that have always denigrated care. New female images of success, like their masculine counterparts, preclude work in the caring professions…

Some American feminists have also failed to emphasize the value of caring work in their theories and public discussions because they, understandably, fear that any widespread attempt to revalue women’s caring work will be manipulated by conservative forces…No wonder then, that many women who were proud to be in “women’s work” felt that mainstream feminism was—and sometimes still is—hostile to their interests…

[W]omen’s caregiving work has become a negative standard against which we measure our progress. Our progress…is [now] charted in the distance women have traveled away from caregiving work, and toward traditional male activities and preoccupations.”

As columnist Ellen Goodman has pointed out, what we need to do is raise the status and pay for caregivers instead of encouraging them out of these occupations. As it is, “the rise in status for women is associate, for better of for worse, with entry into the male world…We have…done a better job at letting some women into ‘men’s’ jobs than at raising the status of ‘women’s’ jobs.”

…While the working woman is unrealistically glamorized and the single mother (or father) ignored, the married mother at home is too often depicted as a drudge; what’s more…her choice is both catastophized and patronized.

Still with me?


To summarize, I think Christine’s point is that the women’s liberation movement focused so much on access to what were thought of as “men’s jobs” for those women who wanted it, that they unintentionally added to the denigration of traditionally female roles. Having seen fellow feminists look down their noses at stay-at-home mothers, “Mommybloggers,” and hell, even women who choose to reproduce at all, I believe it.

So often, it seems, that being “just” a parent is seen as somehow lazy, somehow less than a “real” job. After all, “working moms are full-time moms too” goes the argument. Of course they are! You don’t cease to be a parent from 9-5 every day, whether you’re a mother or a father. And while there needs to be some real discussion about and recognition of the fact that working moms still take care of the majority of household responsibilities, and how completely and totally unfair that is, that knee-jerk response really has nothing to do with the issue at hand. And here’s why; this isn’t about you. And by “you,” I mean “working moms.” We all know things still suck for you. The workplace still isn’t as equal as some people like to pretend it is. You are doing more than your fair share at home. And life is hard, really hard.

But again, this isn’t about you.

This is about the women who are using their liberation to choose to stay at home…and about the lack of respect they’re getting. I work because, for the time being, I have to. Given the choice, I’d be at home. I see plenty of women in my social circle who seem to get a lot of fulfillment from their work. I’m not one of them. I have a great employer, and a great job, but it doesn’t fulfill me the way being at home does. And that should be OK. I do not feel threatened by the women achieving the traditional idea of success. More power to you, ladies! You’re doing good in the world and for as long as it brings you joy keep doing it!

But why is it that so many working women, parents and non-parents alike, seem so threatened by me?

Is it fear that my choice will fail to forward the feminist movement and create a more fair workplace environment? Would they have me sacrifice that hard-won freedom to choose to ensure their freedom goes unhindered?

Is it simply that so many young women have bought into the meme that stay at home moms define their identity by their role as a caregiver? I don’t know, perhaps we do, at least to the same extent that a lawyer or a doctor identifies by her career. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? To say “I’m a professor,” or “I’m in advertising,” or even “I own a daycare” is seen as respectable…but to say “I’m a mother” is not. Why is that?

Why is it that caring for someone else’s children is seen as more legit than caring for one’s own? Is it simply a matter of pay check? “You spend all day caring for children, eh? Oh, but you’re getting paid money? Well, that’s all right then.” The work is very similar. To deny that women at home don’t have challenging jobs is, as best as I can tell, an opinion that can only be formed from ignorance. Women at home are janitors, taxi drivers, cooks, teachers, referees, and any number of things. It’s hard work. And while we recognize that women working 9-5 have it hard too, let’s not pretend staying at home is easy. The challenges are different. But one is not more than or less than the other.

So stop laughing at us. Stop acting as if we’ve betrayed the feminist movement by choosing a life path that, were we men, you’d say “good for you!” {I’m amazed by the number of women I see on certain feminist sites who seem to think stay at home dads are the cat’s meow but stay at home moms are nothing more than a stereotype or joke.}

And, as for those of us who chose to write what we know via “new media” (aka blogs), stop lumping us together under the patronizing “mommy blogger” title. Just because you can’t relate to what we have to say, because you’re not a mother yourself or whatever reason, does not mean what we have to say is worthless. A certain feminist site I frequent seems inundated with young feminists who seem to think that, because what mothers have to say on their blogs doesn’t interest them, it is of no value. They make snide remarks about “mommies who talk about getting stains out of little Timmy’s shirt” and complain that we should just have a glass of wine as opposed to whining about our kids online…which begs the question, what mommy blogs have you been reading?

The blogs I read are written by women with valuable things to say, whether those things be critical analysis of parenting theories, detailed tutorials on creative projects, or really funny essays on life and parenting.Yet, these young women feel perfectly comfortable dismissing “mommy bloggers” as silly nobodies, rather than embracing them as sisters with thoughts and feelings. Somehow they’ve failed to recognize the hypocrisy of denigrating blogs which sometimes publish what must seem to them very mundane tidbits about the daily realities of parenthood while at the same time frequenting a blog that sometimes publishes what seems to many people frivolous celebrity and fashion news. And while I’m sure these women would be quick to put in his place any man who had the poor sense to write off the entire site as useless nonsense and its audience as silly women, I watch helplessly as they do the same to other women. Yet, amongst the Hollywood gossip and cute puppy pictures, there is content with significant depth. Anyone who failed to see its value would be doing a great injustice to its writers and audience. Just as anyone who fails to see the value of the so-called mommyblogs is doing a great injustice to women who chose to self publish online. Sure, there’s plenty of crap out there. But it takes very little effort to dig past it to the real gems of the mommy blogging world.

What I would say to these women is this:

Just because a woman is doing unpaid work does not mean it is meaningless, insignificant, or undeserving of respect. Just because a woman is at home does not mean she’s there because her husband expects it, or because she can’t cut it in a “real” job. Just because a woman is shaped and changed by her role as a parent does not mean she has no personality or identity besides “Mommy.” Just because a woman chooses to stay home even though, in modern times, other options are available to her, does not mean she is a conservative, right-wing religious fanatic hell bent on crusading for all moms to stay home. Just because a woman chooses to stay home, does not mean she thinks another woman’s choice not to stay home is invalid. Just because a woman insists that her work at home is challenging, and that it requires a lot of mental and physical effort to successfully parent all day, does not mean she thinks working moms are bad moms. Just because a woman, who is a mother, blogs, it does not mean her blog is merely about her children and her role as a mom, and even when it is, it does not mean her writing is without value.



7 Stubborn Stains:

Kimberly Chapman said...

Agreed. My husband is paid well enough that I could be home when our daughter was little, and now that she's in school, I can still be the one to pick her up in the afternoons and engage in meaningful volunteer work during the day.

Well to be honest my volunteer work is taking over my life and I'm doing it days and nights and weekends...but that's all my choice and I'd give some serious stink-eye to anyone who belittled it.

In fact I've noticed some of the moms I know seem to be more respectful toward me now that I'm volunteering for something that happens to be in the television sphere. Heh. Fancy that.

Holly @ Domestic Dork said...

Kimberly, you illustrate another good point: volunteer work. We NEED people in our society with the time and resources to keep charitable organizations going strong. If everyone who was capable of working a "regular" job, chose to, there would be an even bigger shortage of volunteers.

Kimberly Chapman said...

Quite so. That TV-related one was something I was pestering to do certain things for a year until the producer finally sighed, "Look, I'd love to hire you to do this stuff but there's no money for it."

And I was able, as a liberated woman who happens to have a husband with a high-paying job, to say, "Money? I'm not looking for money!" And ever since, a rewarding, fun, thrilling volunteer post that seems to be doing well for everyone involved, including the community, and hopefully one day soon, nationally/internationally.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Holly, I can't tell you how many times peoples opinion regarding being a stay at home mom is seen as like a punishment. You took some of my words right out of my mouth. I feel blessed to see my baby grow each and every second of her life. Like you said though each to their own. I dont look down on moms who cant or choose not to stay at home. I just wish that respect went both ways.

Laila - SignificantlySimple.com said...

Holly, this is such an excellent post and true on every.single.point. This post made me realize that even I have caught myself recently referring to my "job" as a writer first (albeit unpaid at this point) and then a mom. It's funny in a sad way that people will perk up at me saying I'm a writer, a yet to be paid writer, as opposed to being a mom and a homeschooling mom. Being a yet to be paid writer seems to be much more worthy of respect than being a mother to 3 little human beings that have to be prepared to go out into the world independently, as thoughtful contributing citizens in 10+ years, but I digress...

This stood out to me the most though:

"And while I’m sure these women would be quick to put in his place any man who had the poor sense to write off the entire site as useless nonsense and its audience as silly women, I watch helplessly as they do the same to other women."

It's so true. I have never understood that side of many women - the competing, judging, insecure, snarky side that comes out against other women (and especially mothers) who make different choices for themselves, their children and their families. It begs the question, "Can't we all just get along and support each other on this journey?"

Great post as usual Holly! ♥

~Laila :o)

imemary said...

Well said.

Lady Domesticity said...

oh my sweet jeebus. I LURVE you! :) that is all.

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