Bugger Off, Feminist Movement.

dadYesterday I read on Daily Life a transcript of an interview between regular contributor Clementine Ford and feminist stalwart Anne Summers. During this interview, Summers laments the fact that only 38 per cent of educated Gen X women are in full-time jobs compared to 90 per cent of educated Gen X men.
Why aren’t more women working full-time, she and Ford wonder? Part of the reason, they conclude, is that men aren’t pulling their weight with the kids. And this needs fixing, says Ford, who has decided that ‘one of the most important things we can do in Australia is to make it a shameful thing for fathers to not be equally involved in parenting.’

Really? I’m not sure that characterising parenting as this god-awful job that one must be shamed into doing is the right way to go.

Firstly, it gives motherhood a bad rap and assumes that women who devote their time (even temporarily) to raising their children do so under duress; that they’d all rather be in full-time, paid employment than stuck at home with the kids.

Secondly, employing a ‘this job sucks and you’d better do your share’ attitude only serves to further devalue the role of parenting and make those mothers and fathers who relinquish or downscale their paid jobs to take on the task feel like losers. No one in our society wants to be left holding the baby anymore, it seems.

But if Ford is advocating that parent teams should work and look after the kids in equal measure, does this mean that men and women will end up emulating each other’s lives in every aspect? Sure, equality is the goal, and naturally it should be sought, but must men’s and women’s career trajectories be identical to be considered of equal worth? Is full-time, paid employment the only credible gig these days—for all of us?

Well I say ‘bugger off,’ Ford. And, while I’m at it, ‘stop making me feel like an idiot for not pursuing a full-time career, feminist movement!’ I’m not an idiot. I’ve got a university degree and a very full life, thanks very much, and my choosing to take on more parenting duties than my husband should not reflect negatively on me or my gender.

Because surely where fathers are equally involved in parenting, mothers must necessarily be equally involved in bread winning. Sounds good in theory, but in real life, things don’t always work out that evenly. In fact, sometimes they work better when the two people involved are on different, but complimentary, paths.

And it’s true that many men and women thrive on work, but others (particularly once they have children to care for) don’t enjoy or find being constrained by a permanent, workplace commitment easy. They do much better with a more fluid lifestyle. This may involve a mixture of child minding, part-time or freelance work and even a creative outlet, such as writing. These people are no doubt grateful to have a partner who is happy to work full-time at bringing home the bacon. And though one partner may be earning more money and doing less child-minding, it works well as a partnership. It is a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

Some say, too, that women often seek a more balanced lifestyle than men; that they pursue a wider range of interests over a lifetime and, as such, may not be as committed to forging a life-long career as men. American author Suzanne Venker believes that ‘women need men’s linear career goals—they need men to pick up the slack at the office—in order to live the balanced life they seek.’

Yet the feminist movement seems quite happy to make Stay At Home Mums (SAHMs) feel ashamed of their choice. There is nothing to stop women working and utilising childcare, so why would anyone choose to stay at home with young children? This attitude has become pervasive in our society and is one that has led to an acceptance of paid work as the greatest defining feature of an individual’s worth—and a simultaneous devaluing of mothering. It seems that we are unable to value a person’s contribution unless we can put in a tax return for it.

Indeed, society no longer endorses a woman’s choice to forego her career and look after family. US Lawyer and feminist Linda Hirshman says* that if women stay at home they end up ‘bearing most of the burdens of the work always associated with the lowest caste: sweeping and cleaning bodily waste’ and they will be ‘leading lesser lives,’ she said.
What sort of a message is this for SAHMs? Does it have the effect of relegating some women to a lower class? Are women who stay at home to make family their first priority judged as less equal than others, particularly by those women who do manage to juggle high-flying careers and family?

Hanna Rosin—author of The End of Men and The Rise of Women—says she would never not work, ‘because that decision is loaded with feminist betrayal’.
As for myself, then, I am not only a slacker bringing in too little money and letting her partner ‘get away with’ not doing his fair share of parenting, but I am also betraying the feminist movement.

Again I say ‘bugger off’.

* in Manne, A, 2008, ‘Love & Money – The Family and the Free Market,’ Quarterly Essay, Issue 29, 2008, Black Inc., Melbourne, Vic
Rosin, H, 2012, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, Riverhead Books, Penguin Group, New York

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

2 Responses to “Bugger Off, Feminist Movement.”

  1. Hi Sonia.

    Here I was, thinking I was the only one getting sick of all the “You’re not a feminist if you’re a SAHM” propaganda. Like you, I’m tertiary educated and currently a big fan of the more fluid lifestyle that comes with combining parenting with casual/freelance work. I used to pull in a great income (more than hubby, who is well paid as it is), but I came to the realisation that work and money aren’t everything. In the long run, we may be behind financially by only having one main breadwinner, but I think our kids will be the big winners. Instead of spending 5 days a week within the same small, regimented, daycare building; we are out riding bikes, visiting the library/museums/galleries, counting fruit at the shops, trying out new parks, making playdough/cookies/muffins and inedible potions, drawing on the driveway with chalk, and taking the dog for a run in the bush. Many days we even just hang out in the backyard making a big mess.

    My eldest is old enough now to have mature conversations with me, and he tells me that his greatest memories of early childhood are all those little things that we did together. He doesn’t remember the house being a mess, or the belt-tightening required for one income, or even me being a bit frazzled some days. He certainly doesn’t remember being bored either, even though there were days when we didn’t do much at all apart from hanging out together.

    My philosophy is that kids are only 0-5 once. We can’t get those years back again, ever, no matter how much money we have or how hard we climbed the corporate ladder throughout our career. I don’t feel like I’ve let anyone down (not myself, not my husband, not the feminist sisterhood, and certainly not my kids), by stepping away from the corporate world for quite a while.

    I say “Bugger off” as well.

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