People are complex. At least we all like to think we are, anyway. I suspect most people have seemingly contradictory elements in their personalities and lives to a greater or lesser extent. Not many people actually fall into a stereotype completely, as much as we like to try and hammer them into those cliched shapes.
I am a vegetarian all for recycling and foreign aid…who is also completely for vaccines and GM crops.
I am a pro-breastfeeding, ‘baby wearing’, previously co-sleeping mummy. In many ways I fit the ‘attachment parenting’ mold…but I use disposable nappies and – shock, horror – did controlled crying with both cubs.
I have been an atheist since I was abut eight, I love Richard Dawkins and still get upset thinking about the death of Christopher Hitchens…and I’m pretty close to my fundamentalist Christian aunt (hi! – she kindly reads my blog, too).
I have a degree in English Literature, love Shakespeare and Blake and Charlotte Bronte and T.S. Eliot…but I can’t stand Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
I drink five or six cups of tea a day…but enjoy the odd cup of cof- Ha! I couldn’t finish that. Of course I don’t drink coffee – it’s disgusting.
And then there’s the fact I’m a feminist…who is a stay at home mum and who took her husband’s name once married.
There are many stereotypes when it comes to feminism. According to the less intelligent members of various comment sections on the internet a feminist is an ugly, probably ‘butch’, man-hating bitch. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by explaining why that’s a moronic assumption. I refuse to believe any of the clearly superior beings who read my blog would hold such a cliched and idiotic view. Whilst we’re on the subject, is the whole bra burning thing still a feminist cliche? Or is it a bit outdated now? Because after having two kids and stopping breastfeeding I’m struggling to find any bras that fit me and between backs riding up on some bras, my nipples trying to peek over the tops of others and the rest crushing the life out of me, I’m about ready to burn the whole damn lot of them!!
Anyway, as insidious as the ugly man-hater stereotype is, it is less hurtful than the view often put forth by some feminists that if you choose to stay home with your children instead of work you are somehow letting down the cause or cannot be considered a feminist. I will try to tread carefully because I am not looking for a SAHM vs working mum argument.
When we talked about having children, the Wolf and I discussed our expectations and priorities. We both preferred the idea of having one of us stay at home with the children rather than work, at least whilst they were young. It was important to both of us. The Wolf offered to be the one to stay at home (incidentally, he also offered to take my surname when we married but after conducting a highly specialised survey of my Facebook friends to find out which name sounded better for a writer, I decided to take his name) but it wasn’t very practical. We wanted the cubs to be breastfed for a year or so and his career had a higher earning potential (I’ll come back to that). Plus, I wanted to stay at home with the kids.
I don’t think I should feel ashamed to admit that but part of me does. I have read enough times that I am failing as a woman and a feminist if I don’t have a job because my kids will grow up thinking a woman’s place is in the home, because I shouldn’t rely on a man to support me, because after the cubs are grown up and have left home (assuming they can but that’s a whole other blog post) I will be left without a career or anything of my own, because I’m perpetuating the misogynistic cycle by being an ineffective little housewife instead of a productive member of society.
Well, bollocks to that.
Feminism is about equality. You know the best way to ensure equality? Choice. Give people choice. How is pressuring women into work any better than pressuring them to stay at home?? And, yes, I know women who do go back to work also have certain judgements and assumptions levelled at them (and according to all research done recently are also still expected to do the majority of housework and organising childcare even when working the same hours as their partner). I’m not saying they have it ‘easier’; in fact, it’s all part of the same problem (as is the taboo surrounding stay at home dads and I won’t even start with the problems single parents face because that could spiral into paragraphs and I should really think about wrapping this post up soon). I am also aware that the pay inequality in this country – and most other countries – means even when there is the illusion of ‘choice’, a couple is basically forced into choosing for the woman staying at home because of a low salary. As I said earlier, the Wolf’s earning potential was higher than mine. He works in a fairly typically male-dominated line of work, which pays better than the sort of work I was likely to get.
We still have a very patriarchal system set up, which both steers girls and boys towards certain careers and then rewards the ones for boys more highly. This, in turn, gives everyone less choice and I would love to see that change. I already wrote about some of my thoughts on gender stereotyping in my post Yes, I bought My Son a Dress. However, when people – like me – are lucky enough to have a choice I don’t think it’s helpful or very helpful to the cause of feminism to try to limit that. The way to equality is to strive towards everyone having opportunities.
The way I have chosen to use my intelligence and education is by spending most of my time with the cubs and teaching and nurturing them. You know what, not just my intelligence and education but also my compassion, humour, dedication and all manner of other characteristics because actually intelligence and qualifications in Maths and English aren’t the only attributes worth having regardless of what our current government (who very much encourage the notion that making money is the only worthwhile expenditure of time) might think. One of the most important things I’ll be teaching the cubs is that men and women are equal and both are deserving of respect and kindness. And I won’t stop there because when you believe in equality and choice and opportunity for everyone, this is the case regardless of other arbitrary qualities like race or sexual orientation or – importantly for the cubs – regardless of whether someone has a disorder like ASD. I think the best thing for both me and my cubs is for me to stay at home with them. That is my choice based on my situation and values and children and experience. As a feminist, I would love to live in a world where every parent has the equal opportunity to make those sorts of choices.
Except for the coffee drinking Wuthering Heights fans. Frack those guys.