A while ago I promised to write a response to King Shamus and No One’s post about feminism and motherhood. Their proposition is that the Left would be far more dangerous if feminists would not insist that women work instead of raising children because the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. I love both blogs, but I don’t think either one of them had the data when it comes to contemporary feminism or left-leaning women.
I’m surrounded by liberal Bay Area mothers. Most of them are middle class middle age white women born in the United States. Almost everyone is married, and their husbands are usually middle-class and middle age, white and born in this country. Men and women spent their twenties and typically a part of their thirties in school, pursuing white-collar careers and/or being an artiste. Not every mother around here chooses feminist as her primary identity marker, but if asked if they are feminist, most would say yes. I don’t think any of them would have anything negative to say about NOW.
I’d say that a little more then half of women in my neighborhood are stay at home moms, and the ones who work wish they didn’t have to. The cost of living around here is high, so many women have to return to work full time after maternity leave runs out. Women with relatively wealthy husbands and/or trust funds, as many liberals are, stay home. Unless they have truly illustrious careers, which, by definition, few do, there is no point. Who wants to go back to that associate position, putting in 80 hours a week, while pumping and freezing and worrying herself silly about that diaper rash?
In the 1970s feminism took a certain mothering-friendly turn. The 70s “visionaries” encouraged women to go to the woods and have painless, erotic childbirth without the evil male doctor and his evil male science. Hippie and now yuppie women breastfeed their babies, sleep with them, wear them in slings (preferably over one shoulder, Bjorns are dad carriers, apparently) and in some cases homeschool, although I don’t think the last one is any longer hip, for obvious reasons. This kind of motherhood is considered “natural”. Because they all worship Dr. Sears, sometimes, if I’m in a feisty mood, I’d say something like “Do you know that Dr. Sears is a big Christian?”
"Natural" childbirth gets feminist stamp of approval.
One reason this is happening is because Marx trumps Friedan and Drerida trumps all. Instead of being a cog in the capitalist system, mother gets to stay home, do something crafty on her spare time, and maybe sell it on Etsy. She can take up a new hobby like photography, gardening or blogging. One or more of these hobbies applies to someone you know. Gourmet cooking for her family is another option, and, again, since the 70s, lefties have been very much into gourmet cooking. One of the really nice things about living in the Bay Area (and you won’t catch me saying that often) is food.
This is not to say that those women embrace traditional gender roles. They have cartoonish ideas about traditional gender roles, actually. Many times I have heard it said: “I’m not your typical housewife!!! I read books!!!” as if that is anything new. Bay Area mothers have something to prove. If she’s selling her knits on Etsy, it’s because she’s still an artist. Many remain career-minded overachievers at heart who view their children as projects and always try for extra credit. For instance, when Yelena was born the extra credit was potty training at birth. That particular initiative, although environment-friendly, didn’t square well with Doc Sears theories, though.
Stay at home mom is very much in synch with the environmentalist calls to return to the middle ages. She cooks locally-sourced organic food from natural ingredients. She does her linens in a front-loading washer in cold water. She prefers “natural” parenting (see above). She buys expensive organic cotton onesies. Most importantly, she teaches her kids to recycle and to turn off the lights as well as other received liberal wisdom, such as never using skin color to describe a person’s appearance. This is how she raises a moral child. OK, I’m exaggerating.
Another reason why stay at home liberal motherhood is possible is difference feminism championed by Carol Gilligan that teaches that men and women are different, and that women are better. Difference feminists will say that men should strive to be womanly, and that girls deserve special attention. Therefore our society has to work to accommodate women’s careers while respecting our choice to raise kids.
Around here we no longer attempt to accomplish raising boys and girls the same. That experiment was undertaken in the 70s, and it flopped. From time to time a genderless hold out pops up, and then there is a stray lesbian couple, but there is no movement to raise boys and girls alike because few people want to set themselves up for a disappointment. Now we are merely raising kids who are not too excited about becoming either men or women. A case in point is the insistence on the part of quite a few moms that their sons pee sitting.
What this all amounts to is that women take maybe a half a decade to a decade off, and that our husbands help with housekeeping. Women around here take it for granted that somebody out there lobbies on their behalf, so that when we return to work, our careers take minimal damage. If we don’t quit work, we expect generous maternity leaves and flexibility from our employers. I’m mystified by the number of visibly pregnant women who, in this economy, were able to score lucrative positions.
Me, I consider myself a feminist in Christina Hoff Sommers vein. I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave my child in daycare and head to work. I know my professional life will take a beating, and that’s just the price to pay for having this amazing stage in my life. I don’t ask anyone to lobby for longer maternity leaves on my behalf, and while I will want an understanding employer in the future, I don’t expect to be compensated as generously as single women or fathers. Above all, I want to raise my son to be a gentleman, and my daughter — a lady.