Thursday, February 9, 2012

What you're not supposed to say...or think

I'm a feminist, and proud to claim that title. In fact most of us are feminists, even men. The word has been co-opted by people who want to give it a bad reputation for their own (usually economic) gain. Those are the people who make you visualize some woman claiming that women are superior to men in every way. This is not feminism. Feminism is merely the belief (I would say rather, knowledge) that men and women are equal. Oh, I concede that we have differences. Unless I try really hard to bulk up, I will probably never be as strong as most men. On the flip side, they will never get to feel a child growing inside of them, kicking and squirming and squishing their bladder. We're not equal in the sense that "I must be the same as you to be equal". But men are no smarter than me (except on an individual basis), and no morally better or worse than me. They don't deserve more freedoms and rights than me simply because they have a penis and I have, instead, a vagina.
The dirty little secret that I hold, which I'm not supposed to think or feel or that my greatest dream is actually to be a homemaker. A housewife. A stay-at-home mom. Except that I hate these titles. They imply that a woman who doesn't work outside the home doesn't really work. I think that the work a woman (or a man) who is a homemaker does is some of the hardest and most valuable work that there is. Raising a family, feeding them well, keeping accounts and family budgets, doing all of the shopping, and often mending clothes, gardening, and even keeping is this not valuable to a family? Though I would never want to go back to the days when, in school, girls learned about homemaking and boys took shop, there is a reason the class was called "home economics". The work done at home is severely undervalued in our society. By some estimates, the informal economy makes up 75% of the world economy. It's hidden, though, because it's hard to measure and include it in the GDP.
Sharon Astyk (yes, her again) has a wonderful article in which she argues that the version of feminism that came to dominate our thoughts is the one which was framed to be the most profitable for corporations. Instead of spending time and energy on the home economy, women were now told that to be productive, to be good little feminists, means to Produce and be Productive in Society. Which means getting out of the home, getting a job for a corporation. (As Astyk put it, trading the "slavery and drudgery" of the home for the slavery and drudgery of someone else, who will now be timing your bathroom breaks.) I think that this is an excellent point. Feminism wasn't an idea spurred, necessarily, by the desire to get jobs outside of the home. What was it then? It was the desire to not be looked down upon as the "weaker sex", to want the acknowledgement that we are people too, with valuable thoughts, ideas, and experiences. It was born out of the desire for basic protections for women: protection against predators (rapists and sexual harassers), protection from abusive husbands, protection over our own bodies (the right to say "no", the right to birth control and abortion), the right to equal work from our spouses and partners. More economic opportunity. Not just "money", but the right to own property and to not be dependent on male family members to make decisions for us. That is what feminism is about, not whether we work outside the home or not. Freedom is the underlying principle, and by claiming that the only way we can be "free" is to work outside the home, we're undermining our own cause.
Yes, I think it's a tragedy how few women are CEOs of major corporations, or how few progress from middle management at all. I think it's reprehensible that no matter what job I hold, I will only earn approximately 75% of what a similarly qualified man would make for the same work. I think it's utterly stupid that we even have to have the term "mommy track", and that women are the ones forced to choose between advancing their careers and their families, and that most women don't have paid maternity leave (if they do have it at all). (On the flip side, I also think it's horrible that men don't get paternity leave. They might not be the ones actually carrying the children, but having kids is still a big deal for men and I think that in this regard our society is stuck in the old model of the man as provider. Why would the big strong man need to take any time off just for a kid? That's women's work.)
If we have daughters, I would like to see them one day have even more opportunity in terms of work than I do. I hope that they will grow up in a world where it's actually written into the U.S. Constitution that women have as many rights as men and minorities. (It's not currently in there. Write your legislators and support the Equal Rights Amendment!) But I think that freedom of choice is the most important thing they can have. The freedom to not be looked down upon if they choose to stay at home "rather than work" and the freedom to make the best decision for them and their families. I just don't see that for women right now, and sadly a lot of the judgment comes from other women. Instead of being the strongest force mankind (yep, I meant that word in the patriarchal sense) has ever seen, we've allowed ourselves to be divided into camps. "I'm a good mom because I stay at home/earn money for my family. I'm a better woman because I work. I'm better because I cloth diaper/never spank my kids/discipline them strictly/take them to Disneyland every year." We measure ourselves against each other and rather than supporting each other, or making allowances for differences of beliefs, morals, situation, and temperament, we insist on judging each other harshly. That needs to stop.
So why do I want to be a homemaker? Well, lots of reasons. For one thing, I love babies and children and when we have them, I'd want to be home with them. (This is absolutely not a judgment on working mothers. My own worked almost my entire childhood--and if you count getting a master's degree as work, the whole time I was growing up--and some mothers prefer to work, enjoying the escape from Babyland every day.) The most fun job I've ever had was when I was sort of nannying for four different families. (The moms were all stay-at-home, so they just needed a few hours of help for different reasons. One mom runs marathons and wanted time to exercise. One mom had a five year old and infant twins, and lots of chaos. Stuff like that.) Until that point, I'd always thought that my goal for being a Grownup was getting a job and making money. I realized that the "making money" part wasn't so important to me, and now that I'm at a Real Job I realize how depressing it is when you have memories of playing the days away instead. And no, that job wasn't easy. I was a supplement to those parents so I disciplined and ran them to activities and went grocery shopping and cleaned. But my biggest memories are of playing with and reading to the kids. I want to have those same kinds of memories about my own kids.
The other main reason is because I think that in the future, I can have as big an economic impact on our little family at home as I currently have at work. I have dreams of gardens that produce almost all of our vegetables. Of keeping bees, raising chickens and goats. These are time-consuming things that are not easy to do when both partners work full time. There are already plenty of things that I want to do, but which I find I don't have the time for or the energy for. ("I could go pull those weeds...but it's a weeknight and I don't want to do anything more taxing than read a book and snuggle my pets.") I want to knit socks (I started some, but only one is half-finished) and sweaters and learn to quilt and sew. I really, truly enjoy all of the home economics stuff. I love cooking elaborate meals, baking, and figuring out ways to reduce our grocery bills or to make something stretch just a little bit farther.
Shane is not like me. He sits home all day playing video games, bored to tears by unemployment. Where I see opportunity, he just sees that he's not contributing economically. Yes, he's taken on extra chores to compensate. But where I would throw myself into all sorts of home projects, he withers and is less and less inclined to make work for himself. (This is, apparently, quite common when comparing women's unemployment to men's. Also, it worries me because of impacts to his long-term health and life expectancy.) This role reversal in what we'd like to do is difficult. The one who's more suited to staying home has to work, and the one anxious to work has to stay home. It's hard at times to bite my tongue, to not criticize or suggest new projects for him. (He complimented me the other day--undeservedly, I feel--for not criticizing him while he's unemployed. If he only knew how many times I wanted to bash him over the head and yell, "Do something besides playing your f-ing video games all day!!!") It's also hard not to try to take over all of the home stuff, too, and completely wear myself out. Shane doesn't shop at all the way I do. If he goes when he's hungry, he buys things like Pizza Rolls. He has never yet remembered the reusable bags, even when I've sent him a reminder text. (Is he really that oblivious, or is it just because he doesn't care?) He will occasionally get the organic option, but usually he doesn't bother. And I bite my tongue again. I remind myself that staying home is not something he wants to do so it's hard enough. I remind myself that just because I feel that I've figured out the perfect way to do things doesn't mean that he thinks they're perfect. Nor does it mean that he's any more inclined to take on my projects.
It's very hard to see the other person in the role that we want to take on. But for now, we don't really have a choice in the matter. This is one case where hard work and persistence really haven't paid off, and might not for a long time. We'll just have to keep on keeping on, and look forward to a day when things will be different.

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