Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Neo-Feminism: Housewife Edition

I have issues with the term "feminist." If any are against racism, they don't get a special name. They are just considered to be moral individuals. Why shouldn't it be the same for sexism?

Ethically, women should be treated exactly the same way as men when it comes to rights. They should be paid the same, they should have the same opportunities to advance, and if a high-placed businesswoman makes a decision, there shouldn't be echoes of "Since she is a woman, I am surprised she . . .

However, it does not follow that all women are the same as men, even though they should be entitled to the same treatment as men (if not better).

Sheryl Sandberg has excited some comment because of her book, "Lean In," as she holds women responsible if they have not achieved their professional goals. Mind you, she does blame societal expectations as well. 
She's married to a fellow Jewish nerd who is also quite successful, and is a mother as well; she and her husband share the child-rearing and household chores equally. Sandberg is driven, brilliant, and ambitious, qualities that are most definitely admirable. But it doesn't follow that all women are like her, or want to be her. 

I have, at times, felt as though I was being judged that I did not pursue a "higher" career track. I was begged by my parents to become a doctor, a lawyer, a zoologist. But, for me, I have no desire, no drive, no "oomph" for a business profession.

Stay at home mothers (a.k.a. STAHMs) are often under feminist scrutiny, as though being a children's caretaker is menial role, that no sense of satisfaction could possibly result from kissing boo-boos. That's why New York Magazine's article, "The Retro Housewife," has caused such an uproar; it dares to say that there can be women out there who, despite their feminist beliefs, find joy and gratification in the seemingly "outmoded" '50s setup: Dad works, and Mom, well, moms.
Kelly Makino, who is featured in the article, is a feminist who chose to leave her job to devote herself full-time to her children, and she has never been happier. Women are programmed, she says, for childcare, which is seen in their ability to multitask; there is a reason why little girls are obsessed with dolls, she says.

The idea that men and women are not the same was described divinely by Kate Sample, in a guest post on Lady Mama. Women are not the same as men, nor do they have to be; that is why Judaism has conditions on how men treat their wives, Sample writes. 

The New York Magazine article expresses quite well what I believe, yet was unable to accurately articulate when under attack. I have been an aunt since I was barely two-digits old; I have spent time caring for the little rotters and anyone who does it full-time knows it has the same, if not more, stresses and aggravations than a crisp office setting. Usually there are two extremes: horrendous boredom or frantic hyperdrive as three kids shriek simultaneously.
But what if all the fighting is just too much? That is, what if a woman isn’t earning Facebook money but the salary of a social worker? Or what if her husband works 80 hours a week, and her kid is acting out at school, and she’s sick of the perpetual disarray in the closets and the endless battles over who’s going to buy the milk and oversee the homework? Maybe most important, what if a woman doesn’t have Sandberg-Slaughter-Mayer-level ambition but a more modest amount that neither drives nor defines her?
Reading The Feminine Mystique now, one is struck by the white-hot flame of Betty Friedan’s professional hunger, which made her into a prophet and a pioneer. But it blinded her as well: She presumed that all her suburban-housewife sisters felt as imprisoned as she did and that the gratification she found in her work was attainable for all.
Knowing what it takes to raise children, and I mean raise, not just keeping them clean, fed, and well-rested, but teaching self-control, religion, and respect, I know that I would be stretched to pieces between full-time employment and home life. 
Patricia Ireland, who lives on the Upper West Side, left her job as a wealth adviser in 2010 after her third child was born. Now, even though her husband, also in finance, has seen his income drop since the recession, she has no plans to go back to work. She feels it’s a privilege to manage her children’s lives—“not just what they do, but what they believe, how they talk to other children, what kind of story we read together. That’s all dictated by me. Not by my nanny or my babysitter.” Her husband’s part of the arrangement is to go to work and deposit his paycheck in the joint account. “I’m really grateful that my husband and I have fallen into traditional gender roles without conflict,” says Ireland. “I’m not bitter that I’m the one home and he goes to work. And he’s very happy that he goes to work.”
I am certainly not assuming that all STAHMs are necessarily doing a bang-up job; nor do I claim that I will be a paragon of motherhood, God willing. But if I am able to achieve my desire, which is to be the one to discipline, as well as adore, (please God) my child, day in, day out, I will have done what I want to with my life. I, myself, need nothing more. In the name of feminism, am I not entitled to my own personal choice?
For some women, the solution to resolving the long-running tensions between work and life is not more parent-friendly offices or savvier career moves but the full embrace of domesticity. “The feminist revolution started in the workplace, and now it’s happening at home,” says Makino. “I feel like in today’s society, women who don’t work are bucking the convention we were raised with … Why can’t we just be girls? Why do we have to be boys and girls at the same time?” 
Now, hear this: 
Predictors of marital happiness were couples who shared a commitment to the institutional idea of marriage and couples who went to religious services together. “Our findings suggest,” he wrote, “that increased departures from a male-breadwinning-female-homemaking model may also account for declines in marital quality, insofar as men and women continue to tacitly value gendered patterns of behavior in marriage.” It’s an idea that thrives especially in conservative religious circles: The things that specific men and women may selfishly want for themselves (sex, money, status, notoriety) must for the good of the family be put aside.
Religious couples tend to have gender roles firmly in place, and since they acknowledge the fact that there are different qualities and abilities specific to men and women, there is actually better marriages, whereas those who claim to be egalitarian don't concede to differences in gender, while their behavior is still based on those assumptions. 

Then we get mentioned in passing. 
Two of the fastest-growing religious movements in America are Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism, which clearly define gender roles along traditional lines. It’s difficult not to see the appeal—if only as a fleeting fantasy. How delicious might our weeknight dinners be, how straight the part in our daughter’s hair, how much more carefree my marriage, if only I spent a fraction of the time cultivating our domestic landscape that I do at work. 
The funny thing is that more of our women are in the workforce than the rest of the world realizes. While some of these women are blessed with a husband who actually know how to boil water, there is still that need amongst frum womankind to concoct a potato kugel to die for. 

Domesticity is certainly not the same as it used to be. Washing machines, supermarkets, and department stores have eased the burden sufficiently that being a mommy does not mean being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen; it is simply a career choice.

Even those who are determined to have egalitarian households find that the ancient model just works. An NY Times article in 2008 reported the new trend of mothers and fathers equally splitting household and childcare tasks, but it cannot always be achieved.
They agreed to share chores at home too, but their varying definitions of “done” soon made things unequal. “He would do the laundry,” Jo says, “but he was so slow about it that I took it back. His level of alertness to mess is quite different than mine. I see dirt two or three days before he does.” So she took back a lot of the cleaning too.
. . . She calculated that her take-home salary, which was substantially lower than her husband’s, would barely pay for child care. She took a hard look at the satisfaction she got from her office job, which was nil compared with the joy she had found while planting crops in Chad . . . 
Jo left the work force completely. Now she is home full time, doing nearly all the cooking, child care and cleaning — exactly the life she feared a few years ago when she returned from Africa and married Tim. While there are “a lot of days” that she thinks “this isn’t what I signed on for,” for the most part she is far more content with her choice than she could have predicted before the children were born. 
The concept of being a STAHM has been so demonized that many women shun the idea without knowing what it is about.

On the other side, "methods" of mommyhood can also become a near contact sport, like so-called "attachment" parenting; but it's not about extremes, or over-inflating the role of mother or corporate lawyer. 

Working mothers are certainly "mom" enough; if someone possesses all those amazing qualities that she can take care of both aspects of her life without exhaustion or recrimination, kudos. A STAHM's choice does not belittle a working mother's preference; it should simply be regarded as a an actual choice, as opposed to subjugation as a regressed '50s housewife.
By making domesticity her career, she and the other stay-at-home mothers she knows are standing up for values, such as patience, and kindness, and respectful attention to the needs of others, that have little currency in the world of work. Professional status is not the only sign of importance, she says, and financial independence is not the only measure of success.
I am faced by an occasional pursing of lips or wrinkling of the nose when I describe my job (as opposed to a career). I wave aside the bachelors who say they are seeking an "ambitious" woman. I no longer feel a need to apologize. 
I am woman. Hear me roar at a three-year-old.            


Elisheva said...

What a perfect ending to a great post.

I am a working mother, although my work is part-time and done from home - most of my days are spent washing dishes and changing diapers with small computer breaks. For me, balancing my work and family life is difficult, I could not even imagine working full-time out of the house.

I don't know how any woman does it.

And I have something to say on this:

"I am faced by an occasional pursing of lips or wrinkling of the nose when I describe my job (as opposed to a career). I wave aside the bachelors who say they are seeking an "ambitious" woman. I no longer feel a need to apologize."

Trust me, if you enjoy domestic activities, you do not want a guy who is going to push you to be "ambitious" in other areas. I would guess that those guys would who want a professionally uber-successful woman probably expect a lot in general, like a wife who works 40+ hours a week and somehow manages the household as well as a SAHM.

tesyaa said...

You can't be a SAHM forever. The kids grow up. True, at that point you can take care of your grandchildren while your daughters and DILs go out to work.

Pretzel said...

Sorry for the random comment but I saw an article, thought of you and didn't see an email listed on the blog. It's about ways Orthodox women keep their makeup looking great all through shabbos ;) -


Princess Lea said...

Elisheva: I don't think those guys are being very real. Maybe they think that only a woman on a career-track will be intelligent enough for them, but household has to be run, and it takes a superwoman to handle it all with aplomb.

But no matter how much I love comics, I am not Superwoman.

Tesyaa: Yeeeeees, but not having any desire for a "career" kinda stays. So if I am so inclined, I can get a job then, too.

Pretzel: That was AWESOME! I'm a little insulted considering how I have an entire Shabbos Face series and no one from the Post contacted me for comment. Maybe it's because my email isn't available? :p