Tuesday, June 19, 2012

There's no such thing as a Stay-at-Home Feminist

Feminism is about giving women choices, a promise to every little girl that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be. Well, anything except one: a stay-at-home mom. This isn’t surprising in any way, but I have to give Elizabeth Wurtzel credit for being so forthright about it in her recent article in The Atlantic. She very directly refutes the idea that women can make any choice they desire and still be called feminists.

"Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?" she asks after comparing feminism—perhaps too aptly—to an "easy lay." And from there she very squarely pits feminism against wife and motherhood for the umpteenth time. Wurtzel repeats—even makes a subtitle of—the old canard that being a stay-at-home mother isn’t "a real job." She meanders through well over a thousand words loosely related to this idea before finally putting an underline to it: "something becomes a job when you are paid for it—and until then, it's just a part of life."

If the biggest problem with that ill-considered remark isn’t screaming in your face then let me spell it out to you. Having a job, so you can get paid, is itself a part of life!

Maybe my reaction comes from some deep-seated chauvinistic part of my upbringing which informed me from a very early age that it was my inevitable fate to one day put my shoulder to the grindstone and work for a living. My only advantage over this chore was the opportunity to choose its form, to select a career or vocation that I found personally appealing. Still, this was to be my lot in life if only to support myself, though ideally I would one day support children and perhaps even afford a wife the choice of whether to work outside the home. In other words, it was to be my job to give my spouse more options than I could afford myself. A real chauvinistic attitude, that.

Credit where it is due, Wurtzel correctly notes that many dual-income households operate that way out of necessity. However, she fails to achieve the realization that these couples are pooling their resources, not "living feminist lives" where either partner could tear off on a whim. Wurtzel would likely be deaf and blind to my experience and that of others where one parent staying at home not only saved daycare costs equivalent to a decent wage, but also provided countless hours of free time in the evenings and weekends that would have otherwise been spent laboring at home. She assumes the extra time and money enjoyed by stay-at-home moms can only be the effect of a higher standard of living, not fathoming it could be the cause.

To be fair, she is considering exclusively the stay-at-home mommies of NYC and LA. But her jealous observations convey a sense that she would gladly join their ranks if her feminist sense of integrity and independence didn’t hinge on remaining single and childless. She give the impression that a feminist man is expected to support a woman in every way except financially. And, as an aside, I have to wonder at the left’s ability to identify a man supporting a woman as subjugating her while seeing the state supporting a woman as her emancipation.

Wurtzel couches her position in a misguided sense of "earning her keep," a notion she obviously only understands in terms of a paycheck. Verily, in the same article—in true Occupier fashion—she declares that the only kind of equality is economic equality. She even brings up the old trope that women are paid less than men, which is easily refuted with the fact that income is directly tied to occupation which is in turn affected by self-selection bias. In other words (and I say this tounge-in-cheek) it's women's fault for not pursuing the high-paying jobs. Besides, it's not as though the numbers are abysmal. The Department of Labor statistics that she cites show that overall women earn 81% of what men do, and among young people, the ratio is 95%. Throw in the fact that women are just as degreed as men and are more employed and, short of any apples-to-apples comparisons, I’d say feminism has hit its mark.

Still, the success of feminism has jeopardized its very relevance. Unlike the early feminists who were defined by their demands for basic rights to work, property and even their own children, the modern feminist can only define herself against something else. Having no real battles left to fight, she denigrates wives and mothers. So much for the nice girl who just wants to be liked. However, I suspect there is something more to it than just picking enemies.

Stay-at-home motherhood threatens the feminist ideals of fulfillment and independence because it dares to suggest that a woman might put the needs of someone else above her own. (You know, the way men are expected to?) A feminist must fulfill her own needs first and those of their husbands and children second. She takes priority over husbands or children. She is equal because she is more important.


BevfromNYC said...

Tryan this is exactly why I have refused to ever call myself a feminist even though i hsve fought for equal access for women all my life. I will read her article, but i suspect that she is not old enough to remember when women really were only allowed three choices - teacher, nurse, or housewife. And a teacher only until they married.

tryanmax said...

Bev, you've done better than I have. I am a recovered feminist myself, being late to realize just how disasterous modern feminism is for women. In any case, Wurtzel is certainly too young to know a time where she would merely be patted on her head for her "bold ideas" and chuckled out of the room. Though I'm sure she would interpret my rebuttal as just that.

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