Did my foresisters forget something??
Since dropping out of mainstream, earn-a-paycheck life my hamster, against common thought, has not gotten a break. In fact, I think I've been working him even harder.
Before motherhood I considered myself a staunch feminist, and after being pregnant, giving birth, and nurturing a child for more than a year I feel more like a post-modern feminist. And maybe I have the term wrong, but it's what I think fits. I now see the world through they eyes of a mothering woman and feminist, and it surprises me immensely that these shifts have occurred. I didn't know this would happen.
The most defining difference between the feminist I was and the mothering feminist I am now is I really think my foremothers forgot to fight for something crucial in the struggle to gain equality with men in the eyes of the law and our society: the idea that the work involved in being a mother, and all things associated with it, are as equal to the things a man does in his job and therefore should gain as much status in our society.
It's great that they fought for the right to do the same jobs outside of the house, but who was fighting for the status of the woman who was staying at home to raise her children? She was considered a non-feminist. A feminist, almost by definition, was a woman who "broke the chains of childbearing" and, essentially, behaved like a man could: free. Of course she always came home to her second shift, but during the day, she had earned the right do what men did: work outside of the home.
I'm not so sure that was such a boon. I really wish they had fought equally as hard to raise the status of woman, in general, that is to say that women are inherently equal to men, no matter what they were doing and that "women's work," namely child rearing and house management are truly noble pursuits and require incredible intelligence, ambition, determination, poise, and a plethora of social skills. Sounds a lot like what you need to climb any ol' corporate ladder, wouldn't you say?
I break my own heart every time I feel guilty for not earning a paycheck. It's the world I live in that has me, as a stay at home mother, in a strata below that of all money-earning people. No one would ever say it to my face, but it's in the socially awkward question, "Do you work?" Hell yes I work. And I torture myself every day over every little decision that is 1000x more important than that invoice you're working on because I affect a human being's life and development. You affect someone's bottom line. Yet, your question is implicit in supporting the cultural idea that working outside of the home is the standard by which to be measured.
I am not in any way attacking working mothers or fathers, I am attacking the utter lack of status my position holds. Working moms are above me. They garner respect. They "do it all." And truly, they do. They work as hard as any man, get paid $.78 to a man's $1, and then they come home and do what I do all day long. I can't even begin to wrap my head around how difficult that must be.
Almost all of my friends have worked out of necessity, a couple by choice. I think it's fantastic that we have the choice to work (whereas a few decades ago our choices were much less), but why can't we have a generation of women who both see themselves, and are seen by others, as contributing members of society, just like their middle management male partners are?
It's confounding. And sad. Really, really sad.
Look at the state of maternity leave here in the States. A woman gets roughly 8 weeks to birth a child and get back to her desk, ready or not. Fathers get zero (which is also deplorable). It's almost as if the 8 weeks off is grudgingly given; a man never takes paternity leave, after all. If she gets her doctor to write a note she might be able to squeeze out another two weeks. If she's "lucky" enough to get a C-section, she gets an automatic 12 weeks to recover. Of course she can also use the Family and Medical Leave Act, but it only guarantees her position, not a continued monthly income during her absence. Who can afford that??
My foresisters really did get (at least partly) what they asked for: to be given the same opportunities as men in the workplace. Too bad we're not men and our babies are babies and need more than 8 weeks with a mother. I cringe inside whenever I listen to a new mom talk about her maternity leave. She is at once wistful, sad, scared, and determined to do what she has to to help her family survive financially. Other moms I know go back to work because of invested work prior to the baby: schooling, position, etc. She's no less wistful or scared. I want to hug her. I can't relate to her dilemma; I am able to stay home and truly want to stay home, $45k education be damned.
If mothering itself was in a higher position in our society a working mom could get 6 months to a year to mother her infant with no penalties whatsoever regarding her job. Maybe she'd come back at the six month mark, maybe the 12, but at least she could manage that decision herself and not some company looking at employee #346-8.
It's just all so confusing. I'm not a journalist. I'm not much of a debater because I can never remember sources or dates or pages. I haven't linked to anything in this post because I want it to be truly just from my heart and gut. I wrote papers on this in grad school, I read blogs and articles about working moms, breastfeeding vs. formula (which affects most greatly working, breastfeeding mothers), daycare vs. staying at home, and a myriad of other mother- and woman-related issues. I feel the feminist movement forgot something and I'd like to change that. I'd like to exalt the position of mothers, be they stay at home or working, to that of any other wage-earning person in this country. With that kind of basic, intrinsic equality, everything else would fall into position. On a theoretical level, if we are handed equal status before we ever earn a dollar, then why wouldn't we be given equal pay once we decide to work for someone else?
Update 4/28/09: PhD in Parenting wrote two (I think) related articles about these same issues. She's far more eloquent and diligent in her research. I felt I couldn't even bring up Hanna Rosin's inflammatory articles in my post. She knocks them out of the park. PiP also addresses maternity leave in Canada. Check them out here and here.