The argument goes that staying at home with our children isn’t anti-feminist. It doesn’t undo the decades of fighting and marching and bra-burning. The argument continues that what feminism grants us is choice. The movement gives us the CHOICE whether to stay-at-home or work versus before second wave feminism, we HAD to stay home.
I don’t buy it.
I want to buy it. Because then I feel more comfortable staying at home. I am empowered. I can say that any mom can do what she wants, but I CHOSE to stay home back in 2006 because I just happened to think that staying at home is what I needed to do. I don’t have to feel like I’ve let down the thousands of women who fought not only to attend college and medical school but to be taken seriously in these endeavors.
The problem is that I don’t believe staying home is often a choice. I agree that working is now a very viable option for women, but it’s often not a very GOOD one
Let’s take ME for example.
My choice was to go to pediatric residency with 6-8 weeks off for maternity leave and then an easy rotation tacked on the end as I shifted back into 60-80-hour work weeks with 30-hour shifts peppered throughout. And let’s not forget timing my breast pump schedule around medical rounds and children coding.
Granted, not every month is this intense. But most are. For 3 years. The first 3 years of my son’s life. And then I join a practice most likely with nights and weekend hours.
However, in my case, I wanted to specialize so that’s another 2-3 years of working long hours.
Therefore, in order to pursue my career choice, that my feminist fore-mamas paved for me, I would’ve worked the equivalent of 2 full-time jobs for the first 5 years of my son’s life. Or not had my first baby (who was a surprise so that would’ve been a whole new set of choices) until I was 33 years old, which means I would currently go from 2 children to none.
If I could’ve worked a 40 hours a week job for 5 years in order to practice the medicine that I wanted to practice, I would’ve said yes. I worked hard for those years in medical school. I liked medicine. It wasn’t enough of a passion to work as much as residency asked and to sacrifice as much as residency demanded. But I liked it. And I would’ve made a good doctor.
Maybe medicine isn’t a great example. Except it’s not that different from being a lawyer. In fact, in order to become partner in a law firm, you have to keep up that pace LONGER. And becoming a partner doesn’t mean 40 hours a week job either.
And let’s not forget jobs that don’t pay enough to cover childcare. Or have hours that don’t coincide with the average childcare.
So why aren’t there more female senators, CEOs, chiefs of medicine?
Because we all chose to stay home?
Even if the idea, that children are more important than working, is a feminist concept (and I think either way can be argued), therefore, we, as a society, should be more focused and supportive of families, does staying at home actually accomplish this? Or does it continue to isolate the work world and home world? Making them separate. Perhaps even setting them in opposition to each other.
Of course, there are women who only want to stay at home (which includes women who are staying at home and women who are forced to work because they can’t afford to stay home) and women who only want to work. However, I know no woman on either side who does not have pangs of guilt. I wonder if those pangs of guilt are truthsayers exposing a barrier to living the lives that our feminist fore-mamas believed we deserve.
I think that the feminist movement wanted REAL choices for us. Today, I see improvements and forced sacrifices. And I believe that it’s dangerous to view those sacrifices as choices.
What if we fought for longer maternity leaves? Paid maternity leaves? More breastfeeding support? More flexible hours and work spaces? If these existed to a greater extent, would more of us make a choice rather than an acquiesce? Would we need to chose at all?
A study came out a few years ago, and if I could remember who ran it, I would link to it, but it found that moms, who work part time, are the happiest. I wondered why since usually people, who work part time, are paid less to do more with no benefits.
I wonder if it’s because once we can afford the basics of food, clothing and shelter, we really need to feel whole. Loved. Ourselves. And I don’t mean that work fulfills one part of us and staying at home fulfills the other. I believe that many of us need the opportunity to overlap our worlds. To have a single experience of work and family and friends and life.
In a feminist utopia, we wouldn’t need to make a choice at all, but in today’s world, perhaps part time is our closest scenario, which means we, as feminist and as women, have far to go.