How Feminism Has Left SAHMs Behind – A Response.

This article on ‘How Feminism Has Left SAHMs Behind’ has been doing the rounds on social media the last few days, and I wanted to comment on it pretty heavily since it discusses a few things I have plenty of opinions about. Also, I’m just back off holiday and I haven’t blogged in a while so this is as good a place as any to kick things off again.


Here we go:

Like the rest of the stay-at-home moms I know, feminism has left me behind.

The problem here, as I see it,  is that the author is of the belief that corporate feminism is the only type of feminism. Corporate feminism has its place, and of course it’s important to see women at the top of organisations and governments, but it leaves behind far more women than it pushes forward and is still pursuing a patriarchal, capitalist model. The fact that a feminist Stay At Home Parent feels left out of this kind of feminism, is one of its self-created problems.

( As an aside whilst we’re at it, Stay at Home Parents might be a thing now, we definitely have Stay at Home Dads, right? But we sure as hell don’t have Work Outside the Home Dads. I think I’m going to try and get that off the ground.)

Feminism doesn’t see our child-rearing, much less all that goes with it, as valuable. There is no glory, no glass ceiling in poo-wiping, or mac and cheese cooking, or alphabet-teaching.

Yes, feminism absolutely sees the value in this. A patriarchal, capitalist society does not.

I’m a breastfeeding activist. I spent years teaching women to babywear. I want to become a leader with Attachment Parenting International. I teach the occasional homeschool class to other kids.

Look, she really wants you to know she’s not *just* a Stay at Home Mom , OK? She has a brain. She was doing a PhD you know? Sorry, that’s unnecessarily snarky. I know that feeling. I always want to tell people that I have an MA after I’ve told them I work as a PA. I do it because I want people to know I’m more than my job. I wonder why the author here is doing it? Would she feel the same about her SAHM status if she didn’t have the PhD background? Does she think differently of SAHMs who can barely get themselves dressed in the morning let alone homeschool?

No one could possibly authentically want to do what we’re doing, which is to put our children before ourselves.

Uh – oh. Here comes the old ‘who loves their kids the most?’ debate. SAHM’s put their children before themselves, mothers who work outside the home are selfish harridans.

Because I chose this stay-at-home mom thing for my own self-actualization, and that of my children, it’s as feminist of a choice as any.

The author makes sure to emphasise that we know she chose to stay at home with her children. This line implies that it is the fact of the choice which makes it feminist, rather than the fact of being a SAHM. Are you less of a feminist, then, if you are staying at home out of financial necessity rather than choice?

I work outside the home. I don’t consider it a feminist choice, hell I don’t even consider it a choice. Would I still work outside the home if I didn’t have to? Who knows? I’d be a different person then. Certainly the frantic mornings, the battling with the (lack of) guilt society dictates I should feel, the juggling, the overwhelming tedium of the daily grind – well, none of those feel like particularly feminist things.

That’s why SAHM or WOHM, what needs to change is the system, not the woman.

I was a feminist in grad school. I’m a feminist now. I refuse to jettison the term just because others claim I don’t have the right to it.

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this lately. About who has the right, or otherwise, to call themselves a feminist. I don’t like to tell anyone how to do feminism, for me it’s a place of continued learning, so I don’t like to accuse people of not being feminist enough, or not doing feminism how I want them to. But when Leo Varadkar can call himself a feminist, I think there’s something damaging about the casual appropriation of the term. Anyway, more of that on another day. Suffice to say in this case, I’m pretty sure the author is a feminist, she just needs to stop reading Sheryl Sandberg.

If feminism means making your own choices, the chance to live a fully realized life without outside pressure to do or be something, we are feminists. And while some days may be difficult, while sometimes we may want to sell the children and run away to Vegas, we are happy in our choices. And in the end, that’s what feminism means.

The emphasis on choice in this piece is problematic, as is the privilege which is wafting off it in waves. A woman’s right to make her own choices is vital. However, we must always remember that being able to make a choice is a position of privilege. It’s glib and reductive to say that feminism is about being happy in your choice ; that’s just a satisfying, and elusive, by-product.

All this being said I can empathise with the author. Motherhood can be diminished , I often feel this, and as much by other women as anyone else. But I don’t blame feminism for this, I blame a society that values all the wrong things, and a system that has been constructed to benefit white middle class men.

Let’s end on a positive note though and go back to this quote:

I’m a breastfeeding activist. I spent years teaching women to babywear. I want to become a leader with Attachment Parenting International. I teach the occasional homeschool class to other kids. I have a life of the mind; I have a life of feminist activism.

I think she sounds like an excellent mother and feminist – I hope she finds her tribe.

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6 comments

  1. I agree with you on this and think this is a fair piece. It’s really difficult as a feminist to have empathy for those who aren’t as far along their feminist learning and are doing or saying things that give feminism a bad name. But I think being too aggressive with those women isn’t helpful to the cause. We have to help them along their journey, as hard as that is sometimes. I’m always learning and it’s other more knowledgable feminists who help bring me along too so I try to remember that when dealing with women who identify as feminists but carry a lot of internalised sexism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree – its a process, I’m always learning, as well as always catching myself being sexist, I hate it when people are jumped on for voicing an opinion, when they might just be trying to work things out in their own mind

      Like

  2. I call myself a feminist because I believe in the principles of feminism, but that doesn’t mean I get everything right in my life or my attitudes, and I also struggle with lack of choice in my life, which I do put down to a capitalist society that values money making above people’s lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes this is an important piece ….women are not just economic units…(neither are men) and corporate, neo-liberal infused feminism sadly dominates the agenda. It’s appropriation of feminism should not be mistaken for feminism at its core. Feminism is a world view, social philosophy and set of values where inclusivity is at its heart. Too many think they know feminism by reading how it is expressed in the media….and that’s kind of like thinking you know Islam by listening to the news. My ask of women everywhere….read up and learn about feminism for real. And you will find out it’s not about what life choices you make…it’s a set of social justice values which places equity, equality, and inclusion at the heart of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for that insightful comment.

      Like

  4. I have this conversation A LOT.

    As a working mom WITH a PhD, I’ve gotten it both ways. I had colleagues and friends who were SAHP’s judge me for continuing to work because didn’t I want to raise my child myself? I’ve also had a number of people assume I judged them for being SAHP’s. I would never judge a working parent or a SAHP. That’s because it’s about choice. I don’t like being a SAHP. It is not for me. And my family can’t really afford that as I earn a lot more than my husband. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t for anyone else.

    The reality is that this division and how we play into it *is* patriarchy. Women being the default SAHP is a feminist issue. Women being forced to work would also be a feminist issue. But the worst part is that the division that we see is TOTALLY feminist. This is about division. Plain and simple. If the world can make us bicker rather than see the importance of choice, then they can help combat our ability to overcome that important collective action problem as parents and women.

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