Are Motherhood and Feminist Womanhood Mutually Exclusive?

Yes, I argued in a recent paper, both in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening and today. It was more the case in Chopin’s New Orleans, where proper motherhood involved complete idolization of one’s children. But even now, I would argue, feminists who are trying to advance the cause don’t much like women who stop working, care for their children, and ultimately cede financial independence (and therefore emotional independence) to their husband. Stay at home mothers would argue that properly raising children is an enormous challenge and a noble contribution to the next generation. True. But the feminist spirit as articulated by the leaders means that women should be independent when they’re supposed to be dependent, and challenge the status quo when they’re supposed to conform to a subservient standard.

There are a number of associated questions, such as whether there is merit to correlational studies which show higher competence and confidence in children raised by stay at home moms.

I pose the question back to the reader – can one be a stay at home mother and also advance the feminist spirit? Is stay at home motherhood mutually exclusive with feminism?

7 comments on “Are Motherhood and Feminist Womanhood Mutually Exclusive?
  • I don’t have an answer to this question, but I for one am already worrying about how I’ll balance my career with family, as are most of my girl friends. My guy friends couldn’t care less, which I am assuming is because it’s unlikely that they’ll be the one raising the kids and they know it. Seems unfair.

  • Hmmm, not sure if this post is going to help your dating life….

    If feminism is about choice, then the choice to stay home and take care of one’s children should be as valid a choice as any other.

    If feminism is about a certain set of positions (abortion rights, no breast implants), then it is possible to argue that a woman who stays home is playing into the hands of the patriarchal bias of society.

    One guess what I think of the matter!

    People should be free to choose what they want to do, regardless of race, religion, sex, and creed. If women aren’t allowed to stay home, one might as well argue that young African-American shouldn’t be allowed to play basketball because it reinforces stereotypes.

  • If I had a dating life to protect, believe me, I’d be more careful!

    I don’t think feminist is just about choice. It’s about making the “right” choices as the feminist movement defines it.

    I agree women should be able to do whatever they want to do. The question is why do staunch feminists look down upon women who choose to stay at home, and should that mindset be changed.

  • I’m all about mandatory paternity leave. There are loads of things that can be done to encourage men & women to share equally in child rearing; unfortunately, society is still not overly interested in making child-rearing easier for folks, men or women. Family-friendly policies, when they exist, ought not be female-oriented.

    There’s been a shift to being pro-daddy in the UK:
    …sort of an odd turn, but in my view, positive–one of the reason women end up doing the child care is expectation & assumption. Mom gets the kids, dad pays child support. Bleah–talk about a broken system. Women should have a choice, but real ‘choice’ will be much more attainable when societal presumptions are not quite so prevalent. I always inwardly cheer when I see dads out and about with the kids–but I’m on the west coast–I imagine it’s more acceptable here than elsewhere to be a dad first.

  • I think you’re only scratching the surface of the real issues in that area. As a female of the age where most of my friends have made a decision (either they already have children, or they’re not planning any); this topic comes up rather often.

    The line most of my cirlce of female friends actually toe (females, both with and without children), is that you can still be advancing the acknowledgement of feminine value and equality regardless of if you work at home or in an office. Where we get stroppy about women with children are those who make it clear that they feel the mere existence of their children removes their abilities and rights as an independent organism.

    I’ve heard women with children use those children as an excuse for everything from being morbidly obese to not performing at their job level. Usually the line that comes with the excuse being handed to me (a married female with no children) is that I “just wouldn’t understand” and that “it’s not fair that I’m holding them to the same standards” as their childless female or male co-workers. Humorously enough this typically happens right around review time when a year of not performing to the expectations they themselves set comes home to roost. Oddly, these self same paragons of motherhood appear to be oblivious to the irony of their stated position, and immune to wondering what kind of lessons their child will learn from watching them.

    So, my answer is YES, you can still be “feminist” (if we stick with feminism as advancing the actual equality of women in the world) and be a mother. Many of the most outspoken and compelling reasons for female equality I know either are or have been mothers. However, like any other role one accepts, it needs to be about something one actually believes in, not just pays lip service to.

  • Somehow the response didn’t strike me until the second time I read this: Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    Of course she didn’t stay at home in the sense that she went around being an activist, but she lived in an era where she wasn’t allowed to work outside the home anyway, and she had twelve kids. And was pretty much one of the iconic feminists of all time.

  • When I look at good mothers and bad mothers that I know, there’s an undefinable factor X that makes a difference – and it’s not whether you stayed at home or whether you worked.

    All the good mothers I know with mentally healthy, well-adjusted kids had this sort of pragmatic, unneurotic sensibility about them. They were all capable women with a strong sense of self who did what had to be done without too much fuss or second guessing or complaints.

    I think all this attention on whether a mother stays at home or not is a distraction and a fallacy. Kids are not hothouse flowers, if we’ve managed to survive as a species till this day and age, then I’m pretty sure our kids can survive daycare.

    If we’re genuinely concerned about being good mothers as opposed to trying to whip up fear & insecurity in women considering motherhood, then I think it’s more important to focus on ensuring women have enough of a sense of self and enough self-confidence to be a good role model for the future generation. Instead of wasting our time with all these ridiculous, reductive arguments.

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