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Huffington Post - Feminism and motherhood article

(38 Posts)
Bardolino Tue 21-Feb-17 01:34:26

This Huffington Post Australia Article has just popped up on my Facebook feed, shared by one of my friends.

It's annoyed me and I can't quite figure out exactly why. I think it's because it appears to be blaming feminism for society devaluing mothers, especially SAHM. Am I misreading it? Have I simply dismissed it because it's HuffPo, or am I right in thinking that there's something 'off' with the article?

nooka Tue 21-Feb-17 03:28:44

Yes it's pretty annoying. Even the premise is a bit weird 'women grow up to be mothers'. Do they claim that men grow up to be fathers too? Women are grown up. Some are also mothers, some are not. Some girls are mothers too. Being a mother does not equal home making. You can be a father and a home maker. You can be a mother and really not be particularly interested in the home. What do they mean by 'home making' anyway? Why is it assumed to be a default female role that needs to be taught?

Now sure I agree that most young people have parenting somewhere in their future, and should consider how they might make choices that give them flexibility. And I agree that caring as a role is not something that capitalist societies value, and that women predominantly get pushed into caring roles, whether by choice, or through circumstances more or less outside of their control. Sure there is a bit on supporting men to be parents too, but it's a bit tacked on isn't it? Otherwise it would be an article on young people, not a critique of feminism.

Not sure why anyone particularly needs training to take on domestic roles. The writer seems to be advocating that this is something that girls in particular need to be taught. Bring back cookery and sewing classes for the girls maybe? All seems a bit like old fashioned sexism to me. Women you've forgotten to know your place.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 21-Feb-17 06:53:20

Actually, I would support cookery and sewing classes for everyone. I think these are useful skills and some people do need to be taught.

As to the article blaming feminism for devaluing SAHMs, well, I became a feminist as a result of reading a thread on this board that was v supportive of SAHMs so I suppose it depends on the feminist.

StealthPolarBear Tue 21-Feb-17 06:57:52

I'm only part way through that article but already have an issue with it. It may be true that in the middle class bubble the author grew up in (as did i) girls are told theycan be and do anything (as was i) but I feel that for the majority that actually isn't the case. Many families do not assume their daughters (and to a lesser extent sons) will have a good job or career and assume that the girls will become mothers quite early on and that is then how they will be defined.

AlmostStace Tue 21-Feb-17 07:46:00

I don't think the article blames feminism for society devaluing mothers. I think it's saying that society in general undervalues mothers and homemakers and that, whilst feminism rightly calls for equality of opportunity in the workplace, the rush to achieve this combined with a want to get away from the nuclear family model has meant that women have been left underprepared for motherhood, and homemakers of both genders underprepared for that role. It's saying that feminism should fight equally hard to have parenting, homemaking, caring etc recognised as just as worthy and important as paid work since so many of us end up doing it.

Whilst I don't think the article says anything especially wrong, I think it speaks to the author's experience of feminism more than the movement itself. I've never met a feminist that didn't think that home/kid stuff was vital, that didn't think it should be recognised as such, or didn't think it should be shared equally regardless of gender. And groups like the Women's Equality Party ARE fighting for exactly those things.

It's certainly true that our current system of education leaves us unprepared for parenthood and homemaking, but that's not really a feminist issue, that's a shoddy education system issue. Things like household budgets, menu-planning and healthy cooking were never part of my education and it's long been a soapbox issue of mine.

ChocChocPorridge Tue 21-Feb-17 07:49:02

Actually, I would support cookery and sewing classes for everyone. I think these are useful skills and some people do need to be taught

Absolutely - in that long list of little skills every adult human should try to have (and I do mean try.. obviously not everyone can do everything - I remember how these threads get!), being able to sew on a button and perhaps take up trousers/skirt and do an emergency repair should surely be up there.

So should being able to cook a few meals - all the jokes about students at Uni being unable to boil an egg could be solved by some decent Home ec lessons (not the ones I had at school - design a sandwich and packaging for it FFS)

Maybe her feminism taught her that, but mine taught me that when it comes to being a mother, I need to look at the decisions I make, and ensure that the partner I've picked pulls his weight so I can continue to 'have it all'. The only thing my feminism says about SAHM is that it's a dangerous path, and they should be sure to protect themselves if they choose it. I think her problem was with snobby feminism, of the kind that doesn't really support women, but browbeats them for making decisions the groupthink has decided are bad. That is not my feminism.

CantReach Tue 21-Feb-17 13:21:48

I also designed a sandwich at school - what a waste of time!

I see feminism as aiming to liberate women from 'women's work' but also to raise the status of it. These two aims can either be mutually exclusive, or mutually supportive, but I do think it can be tricky achieving that.

Bardolino Tue 21-Feb-17 13:26:27

Thanks everyone, for helping me to clarify my thoughts. I think my first impression was right, the author is blaming feminism for society's failures.

As for girls being told they could 'have it all', I left school/went to uni in the mid-90's and I remember reading about Shirley Conran/Superwoman. Either I was very cynical (very possible!) but even then I really didn't believe it was possible, unless you had a lot of money. I wasn't precisely aware of how children would affect my career but I knew something would have to give and that 'having it all' was practically impossible.

It's interesting, I've been a SAHM (only recently returned to very part-time work) and, if I'm honest, my feminist beliefs were strengthened during that time - having 2 daughters and finding Mumsnet maybe helped!

EBearhug Tue 21-Feb-17 13:49:01

I think part of the problem is that it's focusing on mothers, not parents.

A lot of the things like household budgets, planing healthy meals, cleaning, basic sewing skills - part of the issue is that it's often seen as wife work, but actually, they're things that everyone should have some knowledge of. Many people live by themselves or in house shares before they settle down and start families, so they need knowledge for that, men and women alike.

If everyone had a basic knowledge, it would be less easy for people to abdicate responsibility of running the household when they do set up their own home - which should mean that the overhead of being a parent and running a home alongside having a career shouldn't be shouldered so unevenly. Of course, women will still have to go through pregnancy, childbirth and if chosen, breastfeeding, but it seems to me that it is still overwhelmingly women who end taking the career hit, when men are also parents, and a number of countries now have rights for equal parental leave.

Still won't help single parents, though.

madeleinecreek Tue 21-Feb-17 13:56:17

I read the article a few days ago and felt exactly the same! I do think that parenthood needs to be much more valued by society (Scandinavian model of shared parental leave would be a start).

But it's not just mothers! Expectations of fathers have changed very rapidly and a lot of fathers these days strive to do half the parenting, without having grown up with a dad that got involved at all. So they're making it up as they go along.

Likewise, I told my careers teacher I wanted to be a sahm (partly to annoy her, but also partly true), and the pragmatic answer would have been to tell me (as a bright kid) to look at highly paid career paths that would put me on track to set my own hours while still earning enough to get by.

MrsWonkasEmergencyChocolate Tue 21-Feb-17 14:13:06

I liked the article! I feel that SAHMs are often looked down upon. It is stereotypically seen as the choice of someone who has a wealthy husband and is therefore living a privileged easy life, or someone who is a bit thick and/or lazy and wants to watch TV all day! I am a SAHM and I'd like to think I'm neither of the above- I got a degree, worked for years and am now taking time out to raise my DC because that suits our family. But I often worry about how I will get back into paid work, because raising children isn't seen as a worthwhile way to spend say 5/6 years. If I said I was a childminder, cook, cleaner or whatever then that would fill the gap on my CV, but looking after my child and household full time just has no status. I feel embarrassed telling people that I don't work because I'm at home with my DC and like I have to justify that position.

Feminism fought for women to be able to escape a life of domesticity, if they chose to, but I feel it's consequently now seen as the only choice for an intelligent, independent woman. Whenever there are MN threads on SAHMs somebody comes along to say "I work to set a good example to my daughter". I want my DC to think that there is value in unpaid care work, not just earning a wage, but because society doesn't value it I find myself regularly reassuring myself that what I'm doing isn't a waste of my education, an indication of my laziness or a bad example to set.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 15:57:36

I've suffered serious disadvantage for failing to live up to social expectations of mothers. And I mean really serious. One day I'll get round to creating a blog and set out the whole horrible story. My family say that if they hadn't witnessed it they wouldn't have believed it was possible.

I'm very dyspraxic which makes me almost unbelievably untidy. My home making skills are zero apart from cooking, which I enjoy and am good at. I have always failed external standards of how my home will look and people judged me as a mother because of this. I live in a middle class enclave which my counsellor described as 'the sock pairing capital of England".

Women are very much still judged as home makers. Being creative, gifted and successful at work becomes a slur if you're not performing the expected role of domestic goddess adequately. People say disparagingly "Oh, she's a career woman" as if this was a negative.

When I was at school you only did Domestic Science if you weren't considered bright enough to do Latin. So I have a Latin GCSE which has been useful throughout my life, particularly as language is key to my work. I taught myself to cook as a student, which was a lot easier than teaching myself Latin would have been.

The expectation that women should be home makers is toxic. If you enjoy the role, fair dos, but don't pile it on others.

MrsWonkasEmergencyChocolate Tue 21-Feb-17 16:07:25

Prawn- I'm genuinely sorry to hear you have had such a hard time. Society does kick women whatever they do! I don't believe the author was saying women should be homemakers though, but that it should be a valued choice for those who do that role, rather than looked down upon?

ISaySteadyOn Tue 21-Feb-17 16:07:29

Prawn, I'm dyspraxic too! There's a small thread in chat about it.
And, as someone who does like attempting to be a homemaker, I completely agree with your last sentence.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 17:08:36

Thanks for the tip, ISaySteadyOn. I'll go take a look.

And thanks for the kind words, MrsWonkas. One of the things that kept me going was a little group of other mums. Two were SAHM, two worked part-time and one worked full-time. None of us judged the others, which was refreshing.

I have to admit that I consider SAHM very brave. I have more reason than most to be optimistic about marriage but the idea of putting yourself entirely at the mercy of someone else financially scares me to death. You see it in Relationships all the time. DH announces he's met someone else and all of a sudden a woman has to become self supporting after a decade or more out of the job market. Plenty of other examples.

But that's just the risk element. I make no judgment of women who enjoy being SAHM. I know women who love everything about home making and, from my perspective, that's lovely for them and I can see how rewarding they find it. It's only when they want me to do the same that I have a problem.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 21-Feb-17 17:43:34

Thread is called 'I hate having dyspraxia' or something like that.

Obviously, I'm coming at this from a sahm perspective, but I agree with MrsWonka. I used to think I wasn't ambitious but it wasn't that. It was just that I thought what I wanted to do didn't count and, as a result, spent years trying to force myself to be an academic. Now I am a sahm and so much happier that way. But equally I can completely get that for others, sahming would be hell on earth.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 17:57:28

I've only been able to find people discussing dyspraxia in a thread about autism. Discovered I have a condition I didn't know existed: hyperlexia. I always joked that I had the opposite of dyslexia but I didn't know it was an actual thing.

ISaySteadyOn Tue 21-Feb-17 18:20:50

Here it is. Think I killed it though.

DH and I were both hyperlexic too.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 19:01:24

Thanks so much for the link. I've posted hoping someone may know some treatment or strategies to help, as it's been a blight all my life.

ChocChocPorridge Tue 21-Feb-17 19:43:40

I shall pop over to that thread for a read then - DS is too young to be diagnosed, but an OT says he has all the signs (and I agree - my brother is Dyspraxic, and seeing the similarities to him, and the differences to DS2 was what led me to take DS1 to the OT in the first place)

Hyperlexia interesting as well, because I had totally discounted dyslexia because DS1 is an avid reader, but I could still clearly see that he wasn't the same as other kids so something was up!

I have to agree - on everything said here - SAHM is very brave, and that those of us who just don't derive satisfaction from it shouldn't feel ashamed, and yet I do still feel the need to brazen out the fact that I employ a 3rd adult 3 times a week to make up for DP and I's home-making deficiencies (for which I am the only one society really blames)

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 20:13:25

I get embarrassed about the state of my house. And my garden. Never crossed my mind to apologize for both my DCs having a full-time childminder or for having a cleaner. I think this is partly because my DM was so much in favour of me going back to work. She was the only one of her friendship group who worked after marriage. She always had a cleaner too.

After I had DS1 the community midwife was chatting about my return to work. When I mentioned my DM's support she told me I was the only patient she had whose DM thought their career mattered. Shocking.

Surreyblah Tue 21-Feb-17 20:15:03

My feminism questions SAH because so very few men do it.

I'm uncomfortable with the idea that parenting, caring and domestic work is somehow naturally "womens work" and that "valuing" this could be part of the answer to inequality in earnings/representation of women in senior roles etc. I woud rather see more men doing it, and more women in paid work.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 20:40:02

Do you not think that devaluing women's role in caring is precisely why the work of caring is so poorly paid? Anything women do as part of their domestic role - cleaning, caring, cooking, child care - is badly paid (unless you're a chef). If these skills were given higher status the pay would rise.

The other thing I think deserves consideration is that paid work is seldom interesting, rewarding or done in pleasant circumstances. If you enjoy it - and I don't - home making is far more creative and congenial than unskilled work and the conditions tend to be far more comfortable. And for some women spending all their energy on and for their family is clearly very rewarding and their efforts are appreciated. I don't see getting women out of the domestic sphere and into uncongenial unskilled work as a feminist priority. I think it is more helpful to look at widening options, with easily accessible retraining, for example, and to insist that looking after children and frail relatives are important tasks that deserve recognition.

As for SAHF, they may be few but there are more all the time. My DH, for one. My DS2 plans to marry his GF and they have already worked out that for many reasons it makes sense if he is a SAHF. He can't wait. He's wanted to be a daddy since he was a child.

SomeDyke Tue 21-Feb-17 21:31:59

Back in the ole days of feminism, I recall the Wages for Housework campaign:

Perhaps society would value it more if it was paid for (and computing hoiw much it should be paid, and exactly how much of the economy relies on unpaid work done by was always an eye-opener for me!).

Sometimes I just get depressed that we are still fighting for this, and that although women have progressed in many traditional careers, they still have to do the other stuff as well, and it's still devalued...........What were the last figures? And the gender pay gap and the unpaid domestic labour gap are linked:

Prawnofthepatriarchy Tue 21-Feb-17 22:52:04

Wages for Housework? I remember that, SomeDyke! In fact it's from unconscious regurgitation of that doctrine that my previous post comes.

I had forgotten about the actual label for the movement but I remembered the content and the arguments well enough to reproduce it all these years later.

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