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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Motherhood, Feminism, and Culture

Jeff Clinton at The Dawn Treader wrote a post recently on Teresa Heinz Kerry’s comments. He used her words to illustrate the cultural tendency to devalue motherhood in favor of careerism and other more glamorous, ostensible displays of achievement. I got to thinking about that, and left a comment to the effect that at the root of such a view could be a legitimate concern, i.e., the value of a woman’s intellect, gifts, and education. Jeff challenged me to answer that concern, which I did, though I admitted the question was still open. Jeff responded with thoughtful comments about identity and role as they should apply to the Christian.

The problem is, as much as I try to figure it out on an individual level, I keep coming back to the structure of society as a whole. Worse, I find much of the problem within the Christian community, i.e., acceptance of things like divorce, day care, and lifestyle idols such as nice homes, cars, clothes, and other “stuff,” including opportunities we buy for our kids. Yes, I do understand that sometimes divorce is necessary, as is daycare. BUT not as an enabler of selfish pursuit. I fear that many Christian women have bought into feminism and accompanying ideals.

Even homeschooling is suspicious among many Christians. Not that I think everyone has to or should homeschool, but I believe that many anti-homeschooling views have elements of feminism underlying them. (Although, ironically, many mothers homeschool for feminist reasons.)

I often hear comments from mothers like, “Oh, I could never homeschool {Johnny}...we are like oil and water.” Or, “I’m not organized enough,” or, “It’s such a responsibility,” or, “How would I know what to teach?” etc. etc. Well, that last question is a good one, but, any mom with access to the Internet, a library, or a homeschooling friend can easily find that there are a myriad of materials to choose from and plenty of sources for advice. Indeed, if you’re smart enough to raise your kids, you are smart enough to figure out how to homeschool them. These reasons are really just covers for other reasons, for the most part. They are especially hard to understand coming from women who need a job to feel competent. What, you’re too competent to stay at home, yet not competent enough to homeschool? No...there must be other reasons.

Maybe one of them is that mothers don’t get commended enough for their work as mothers. Perhaps some of them don’t feel competent because they are “only mothers.” (My mom gave me a bumper sticker: “Every Mother is a Working Mother.” Thanks, Mom :-) )

Our society, even the Christian portion of it, is more supportive of “mainstream” family values and career fulfillment than it is of the woman who decides to devote herself to her family first and foremost. Not that the working woman* can’t be devoted to her family; I have working, Christian friends who truly love their families. Yet they send their babies to daycare. I can’t figure out how they can truly build their families when they see their kids for so few hours during the week. But that’s their business :-) I am not judging.

Have I been tempted by feminist ideas? Sure. Many of them are subtle. I never bought into the demanding, on-the-warpath aspects, but did think about “fulfilling my potential,” “opportunity,” and “using my talents” for my own and society’s benefit, not necessarily in service to God. I could easily have become an outright feminist if I wanted to, as many of my female professional trumpet-playing colleagues have.

At the other end of the spectrum are the large homeschooling families in which the mother has made family her entire focus. Many of these mothers are very resourceful and have home-based businesses in which the entire family can participate. Within communities of these families, there certainly is support for “traditional” motherhood, and I applaud this, as I wholeheartedly applaud these women. I feel kindred with them.

But I have not given up my “outside” profession entirely...

Back to my point about society: It is hard to be sold-out to your children in a society that does not provide help for the mother of very young children especially. Maternity/paternity leave in this country is a disgrace; it’s far too short. Breastfeeding, while clearly superior to bottlefeeding, is still not supported as it should be. It’s definitely more demanding on the mother. It is easy for the sleep-deprived, house-bound mother of a challenging baby to feel totally out of the loop. Some of this goes with the territory, but couldn’t it be helped if some small portions of society slowed down with and came alongside the mother? How about a whole group of teenaged doulas, like babysitters, who could come and do laundry, clean, play with siblings, do the dishes, shop, cook supper, etc.? They could get training and certification at the Y like babysitters do.

And how about an overall slowing down of life, and toning down of luxury? Living more simply, as many homeschooling families do because they are living on one income instead of two? Mothers would be more available to help each other because they wouldn’t be committed to so many other things.

And here’s another idea: more part-time employment, for both spouses. Turn dad into Mr. Mom for awhile (or Mrs. Dad?) I’m not sure how that would work for things like health insurance, but at least household responsibility could be more equally shared. Dad could get a feel for what mom does all day long, get a closer appreciation of his children, and, in the homeschooling family, help more directly with his children’s education. Mom could get a chance to exercise some of the other aspects of her person besides mothering and housekeeping.

Anyone have more ideas?

*I'm referring to those who work full-time outside the home


  • I think her comments have been misconstrued somewhat, and I think they highlight something that she didn't mean, but I think is central to your argument (and that I hold dear). She said:

    "But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up. So her experience and her validation comes from important things, but different things."

    That's true - I don't think motherhood is a 'real job'. On the one hand it doesn't have most of the characteristics of a job that we would recognize (salary, benefits, vacation, set hours, contracts, an employer). But more importantly for me, the vast majority of people wouldn't do their job if it weren't for those benefits because it is inherently a chore, although individual hours can be kinda fun. Parenthood (to broaden it out slightly) is I hope the exact opposite - individual hours can be a terrible chore (I'm thinking of 8-9pm last night as just one example!), but overall I would choose to do it without hesitation.

    That reflects something that is common in adult society generally, and particularly in the US. 'Real' jobs take up so much time in our lives that we use them as a definition of ourselves; you meet somebody at a party or wherever, and you ask what they do. They tell you, you tell them what you do, and you've established a common ground.

    Contrast that to the questions that perhaps ought to be most important, and the response I'd expect now
    "Do you have kids?" - What?
    "What are your hobbies?" - Is this a dating service?
    "Do you believe in God?" - get off me you religious freak.
    (Notice that last one is a toss-up - in the right setting I imagine it would be welcomed, and of course I don't consider it an important question at all!)

    So it's not that parenthood should be considered a 'real' job that's the problem. It's that we somehow think being a 'real' job is a measure of an activity's worth. I think many of the changes you are looking for would come out of such a change, as unlikely as it is.

    By Blogger Paul, at 11:05 AM  

  • I read an interesting article on it I would like to share with you...

    By Anonymous Noble Safley, at 10:42 AM  

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