The Mommy Wars, Feminist Housewives And Other Figments Of My Imagination
Women, work, feminism, family -- these are all topics that keep cropping up lately. It started last year with articles by Anne-Marie Slaughter and Elisabeth Badinter, but it has jumped forward with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and her suggestion that women should be more ambitious. The discussion (for the most part) has been nuanced and intelligent and has not pitted woman against woman.
But we wouldn't want that.
The media would much prefer to pit woman against woman and make up some dramatic stories about the mommy wars.
Now I have no problem with the idea of a feminist housewife. I guess I am kind of a feminist housewife. Except for the housewife part -- I'm really a crappy housewife. (And little wave to Jezebel who thinks there may only be two of us out there).
I do take issue with the idea that choosing to stay home makes me a "retro wife". We chose to have an egalitarian relationship, with me primarily at home in the face of crazy work and travel schedules. And that does not feel June Cleaver-ish to me. It isn't a cultural phenomenon, it's just what works for us. (And what the hell is having it all, anyways?)
I'm not a big fan of gender essentialism (the belief that men and women are good at certain things because of their biology) unlike the woman profiled in the story. I don't think that I am the primary caregiver of my kids because I am a woman. His chosen career is better-paying, and I get to be with my kids and also write. I am ridiculously lucky, and I know it.
I am glad that the women in the article are so happy with their choices. Good for them. I'm even glad that they call themselves feminists. Feminism has made the world better for men and women, and I wish more people would acknowledge it. But feminists don't judge other women for making other choices. And there seems to be an undercurrent to the article that does just that. (Mom 101 has a good analysis.)
The author of the NY article has pitted herself against Sheryl Sandberg by saying that there are hordes of women "leaning out". But women who lean in and women who lean out (or opt out, as Lisa Belkin puts it), are not on opposite sides. These decisions are not as cut and dry as they seem.
Women (and men) go to work, stay home, mix it up and do a little of this and that, according to their finances, their childcare situations, and their desires. I have yet to be part of a schoolyard discussion that pits WAHMs agains the SAHMs. Everyone I know questions their decisions, their ability to balance and if "having it all" even exists.
We need better daycare, more flexible work schedules and we need to ban people from asking dads if they are babysitting their own kids. We need to stop asking if there is such a thing as a feminist housewife and if working moms and at-home moms are at war, and really figure out how can we all work together to make the workplace and the home more flexible for men and women -- housewife or not, feminist or not.
Want more chaos? Last year, I did judge a mother for putting her 7-year-old on a diet. She then wrote a book, called The Heavy.