When people see me running around with no makeup, unshaved legs, no bra and a tee-shirt that proudly declares “This is What a Feminist Looks Like”, they often comment on what seems like a blaring contradiction: my outfit also includes a happy-looking baby attached to my hip. They are even more surprised to hear that I am not only a mother, but also involved in this “career” full-time, as a stay-at-home-mom.
Our feminist foremothers founded their movement based on the principles that all women deserve an opportunity to have an identity above and beyond motherhood and marriage. No woman should submit to the rule of her husband, forced into a life of endless childbearing, cooking, and cleaning. No woman should base her own existence only on the care and support of other people.
At long last, as feminism gained success, women were given a choice: stay at home or go back to work. Unfortunately, however, the fruits of modern feminism did not end with liberation. The ended in an alternate form of slavery: mandatory 40-hour work weeks, in an economy where families struggle to make ends meet on two incomes, when one was wholly sufficient only a few generations ago. In turn, our children, raised by institutions rather than parents, became an entire generation afflicted by mental illness, bonding difficulties, and learning disorders.
I believe entirely that mothers have a duty to our children: they need our devotion, our presence, and our commitment. Their emotional wellbeing utterly depends on our commitment to them. Mothers– to be good mothers– must put their children first: ahead of their nights out, their travel plans, and their romantic lives. Women who are unwilling to put themselves second, in my opinion, simply should not have children, and this is a perfectly respectable choice for them to make.
So how on Earth can I call myself a feminist, if this is my attitude? The fact of the matter is that I don’t view fatherhood any differently. I am no less forgiving of a father who hides out at the office all day, ignoring his children’s needs, and then picks them up from after-school daycare only to feed them cereal for dinner. Parents of all kinds have an obligation to care for their children at the expense of any other commitments: your child needs you much more than your office does.
However, childcare falls by default on the shoulders of women, who in most cultures are viewed as primary caregivers. Liberation from this at times tedious work does not have to mean running to the office or university instead of caring for our children: instead of declaring that mothers should do the exact same work as fathers, we should acknowledge motherhood as the difficult career that it is, and celebrate women who are able to commit to it fully. Equality doesn’t necessarily mean that we must pursue traditionally male careers: it can just as easily mean that we demand respect for the traditionally female careers that we maintain.
Many stay-at-home-moms state that they are feminists because motherhood was a choice for them. While this may ring true, I believe that stay-at-home feminism goes beyond choice: after all, there are feminist choices to make, and non-feminist choices to make. Pursuing absolutely no interests outside of your husband and children may indeed be a not-so-feminist choice. However, being a stay-at-home-mom and demanding respect and fulfillment in this career can absolutely be a feminist choice.
This is certainly not to say that women who work outside the home are bad mothers– or, for that matter, bad feminists. I am not saying that no mother should have a job outside the home or that all children are irrevocably scarred by daycare: rather, I am saying that feminism should celebrate, rather than scrutinize, women who choose to prioritize their children.
The anti-abortion organization Feminists for Life operates under the slogan “Women Deserve Better”. While I disagree with the main premises of the organization itself, I whole-heartedly agree with their stance that feminism need not mean the abandonment of motherhood. Women deserve better than wage-slavery. Women deserve to care for our own children, rather than working to pay others to do the same. Women deserve the opportunity to celebrate life where life begins: in our own homes.
I know that I get glares and sneers from other feminists, who think that I am failing myself or my daughter by not aspiring to be “more”. But I have always firmly believed that the most I can possibly be is the creator, caregiver, and teacher to a human being who wholly depends upon me. And the fact is that I’m happy spending the day playing patty-cake with a tiny, perfect little person– and I would not be happy dropping her off at daycare while I frantically try to make ends meet. If feminism does not grant women the choice to pursue the careers that make us happiest, then it has failed womankind deeply.