I grew up in the seventies. The feminist movement was very much a part of the social context I was living in, even way out in the sticks of the Great Plains. All in The Family was forever making patriarchal men look like the joke they actually are. One Day at a Time and Alice gave us a realistic view of what being a single working woman was like at the time, while Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda presented to us the ideal of all life could be for a single working woman. Betty Friedan and Erica Jong were on our book shelf. I was reading "Diary of a Mad Housewife" and Redbook magazine in middle school. Helen Reddy was belting out "I am woman, hear me roar..." from the radio and record player.
Many of the messages were mixed. It's great to be a woman, but it really sucks to be a mother. It's great to have sex, but it really sucks to be pregnant. You can do anything you want, but if you choose to stay home and love on your kids you will go insane. You can do anything you want, but if you WANT to stay home and love on your kids you are a cowardly, dependent, woman-child. Look at Edith Bunker- your husband won't respect you, society won't respect you, and you'll get all vaque and clouded in your thinking. Smart women do not stay home and raise children. If the man is keeping women down, then children are the tools he uses.
Feminists will often deny what I'm about to write, but then the movement can't learn from it and move on toward it's higher objectives of equal power for women in society. So here's the big scoop, the reason for the backlash that brought on home schooling and patriarchy among other things. You ready?
We who were daughters, children during the seventies, got the message. The message we got was this: we were hated. Children are an obstacle to get around. Children suck. Caring for children is low, low, low on the feminist's list of things she might want to do with her time. There is nothing lower than child care, except maybe house keeping. We were a hindrance to our mothers' "higher" aspirations.
(This could even account for why so many view abortion solely in terms of cruel, selfish women "getting rid of unwanted children". My generation feels this acutely in our inmost being. In my experience, this is rarely the reason a woman chooses abortion. Women who choose abortion rarely do so flippantly, and it is often a heart-breaking decision based on compassion, for those who bother to research it IRL. Still, to a generation who grew up knowing we were considered an unwanted inconvenience to our mother's aspirations, it is easy to believe that this is the only reason women seek abortion. "Pro-life" propaganda exploits this to the hilt.)
Now my own problematic situation was further complicated by my mom's personality disorder. She would have been a mess to live with no matter what philosophy had been popular during my childhood. I have written on the blog that the only way my own childhood could have been worse was if my mom had been a home-schooling SAHM. That's because she would still have been completely self-focused and uninterested in meeting the needs of anyone's heart but her own. NPDs are just that way.
But the feminist movement is culpable in that they agreed with her that children were a pain in the butt and caring for them, both physically and emotionally, was beneath her and a waste of her time and life.
That is the fatal flaw in feminism, the way I see it. The idea that childcare is lowly and demeaning and not for smart woman is the real reason for the backlash against feminism that has filled churches across America and actually resonated with the hearts of both men and women.
We were those children.
We were those children, the ones considered unworthy of our mothers' time and talents. We were those children, the ones despised and looked down on as mere hindrances to our mothers' "true ambitions". We read it, heard it when our mothers' talked to other adults over our heads, and certainly felt it in the way our mothers' treated us. For some of us it was mere disdain at having to meet our needs. For others it extended to real rejection, persecution, neglect and abandonment- all in the name of a woman's "liberation".
Liberation from what? To a child growing up in the seventies it was clear to me that the liberation women wanted was liberation from the obligations of mothering. Feminists hated children, and hated mothering. Right along with the male workforce, women stated that child care was meaningless drudge for the lesser capable among us. There's a reason child care is still one of the lowest paid and lowest respected occupations among us.
And so I became a very different (and in my mind) more authentic kind of feminist- one who embraced her body and it's amazing capacity to create and nourish new life. I determined that not only would I use my incredible ability to bring forth life and nourish it from my body, MY children would be worth all of my time and talents. I determined to make an art and skill out of raising my children, in defiance of the way my mother and her generation had continually said we children were worthless crap.
Much of the rest of the feminist message I did and still do embrace. Equal rights? Yes. Equal pay for equal work? Yes. The right to control her own body? Yes. But every time I start to think I can actually call myself a feminist, I run across disdain for my chosen career of SAHM and I think to myself,"Damn, they still think I am a worthless piece of crap. Eff you, feminism!"
How I wish it wasn't that way. I wish feminism could have room for those who embrace their reproductive capabilities. I wish feminism loved children, and were demanding honor and commensurate financial recompense for those who nurture, teach and mentor them- i.e. parenting and child care. I keep waiting for feminism to grow up to the point that they see that children and caring for children are intrinsically honorable and worthy, but I keep getting disappointed.
I always run into the feminist who loudly proclaims her disdain for SAHMs and children. It never fails. The woman on stilettos at my husband's office who looked down her nose at my children like they stank when we came up to see where Daddy spent his days? I would loved to have beat the holy sh** out of her skinny ass that day and I could have easily. His coworker who lived in our neighborhood and asked what I did, who responded to my proud declaration that I home schooled with a malicious "Oh, that's right. You don't DO anything."? I hope your husband leaves you, your kids grow up hating you, and you die alone and unloved like you deserve. (Yes, that falls short of loving your enemies, I know. So sue me.)
Last year, I picked up an awesome feminist magazine, Skirt, and I was really getting into the articles. They even featured a woman who was starting her career at fifty after staying home to raise her children, and they portrayed this in a positive light! I was so excited. Had feminism finally stopped hating children and denigrating those who loved them? My heart started to race with hope.
But alas, it was not to be. Shortly thereafter,in the same magazine, came the article from a woman complaining about how children are always demanding something (how dare they?), always have some sort of noxious substance oozing from their bodies somewhere, and how that particular author could never understand why someone would willingly carry a parasitic creature in her womb for nine months and then get stuck caring for it for the rest of her life?!? YUCK!
When I hear these ugly sentiments about children and mothering expressed, there is no way I cannot take it personal. I was that child!
Feminism that truly embraces the female body and ALL of its capabilities? Count me in! Equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, the right to control what happens to your own body? Hellz to the yeah! I would love to see a feminism that elevates the status of pregnancy and child care to the valued status it should be, as women who choose this are shaping the attitudes and ethics of the next generation. What could possibly be more important than that?
The feminism I see, though, still resents the functions of the female form. Rather than elevating the status of children and those who care for them, the feminism I see disdains these traditionally female roles and only honors social roles traditionally open to men. Any function in society that is clearly woman only- pregnancy or nursing- is considered icky and disgusting by feminist women in solidarity with the men they really wish they had been born.
Every time a feminist puts down pregnancy, child birth, child care and child mentoring (i.e. parenting) she is not only saying that she doesn't believe her children or potential children are worth her time, she is saying that all of us born to feminists are/were undeserving of our mothers' time and talents. If child care is so lame and icky, then those women who choose to care for children are losers. That message is undeniable.
And THAT is the weakness in feminism the patriarchy exploits! The prey on the hurt and resentment of the generation brought up hearing that they were a waste of a woman's time. The also honor the parts of our lives that we women embrace that traditional feminism mocks- pregnancy, nursing and raising children. It should not be this way.
When will feminism open her arms and embrace children? When will she stop despising women who understand that raising the next generation IS a noble and worthy pursuit? If feminism was our champion, the patriarchal religious establishment would be worthless to women.
Wouldn't it be awesome if feminists valued SAHMs and home schooling moms? It would totally rock if feminism was demanding that society value these traditionally womanly roles with the same value society ascribes to traditionally manly roles, like hard physical labor. Surely raising the next generation is more important in the long run than constructing new houses?
Alas, on another forum I frequent, I have recently heard the same old, same old feminist drivel from younger voices. Caring for children isn't rewarding, and people who say it is are lying! (No, we're not. Some of us actually do like it. Sorry to disappoint- again. But then since I started out one of those children myself, I guess I have always been a disappointment to feminism. Sigh.) Truly smart woman avoid pregnancy and parenting. Sucks to read that this is still the feminist party line.
The other part of feminism- you can be and do whatever you want- still nurtures my own heart as I set out to start a career midlife. I do believe, as Helen sang, "if I have to, I can do anything. I am strong. I am invincible. I am woman." If only feminism would open their hearts to include children and caring for children, and give traditional women's roles the honor they deserve, patriarchy would dry up and blow away in a generation. I hope to help build that kind of world myself.
Peace and good will, SS