Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Radical Homemaker

I was tipped off to this Salon.com article about one woman's failed attempt at becoming a radical homemaker. I've become recently obsessed with reading books and zines about radical motherhood (some of my recommended favorites are "My Mother Wears Combat Boots" by Less Than Jake horn player Jessica Mills and The Future Generation, a collection of zines, by China Martens).

I think that radical motherhood is an important concept: if you do choose to reproduce, you should raise your kids in a social justice minded environment. This means being conscious of your baby's impact on the environment (diapers made up 3.4 million tons of waste, or 2.1 percent of U.S. garbage, in landfills in 1998) and the social environment in which you live's impact on your child's development (according to "Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria", many of childrens' first acknowledgment of race and racial prejudice happens before they enter school).

If you take into consideration what a massive responsibility radical motherhood can be, it seems only logical that many women are now deciding to "opt-out" of the benefits in the career world that they have received from the second wave of feminism, instead choosing to stay home and raise their kids. This has caused quite a stir in the feminist community and in the mainstream media, but I have some arguements I want to include.

First, I think that an important, if not blatant, emphasis of this Salon article is that these women chose to opt-out. This was not a choice a couple of decades ago and that's why these women are still benefiting from feminism. At any time they can choose to go back into the workforce, and they have feminism to thank for that. And, if they had decided to remain in their jobs, they would have received maternity leave. Yeah, that's also thanks to feminism.

Secondly, I think that a valid point that people are leaving out of this argument is that popular narratives about the intensity of motherhood really emphasizes the need for women's reproductive rights. If we keep saying women can do it all (which they can) without acknowledging the hardships that they will face, we're ceding to arguments that women are naturally capable of mothering, of child-rearing, of everything, and should have no choice but to do it. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the fact that these women are acknowledging that the hardships of motherhood require sacrifice. And when you have the ambition to become a lawyer or a doctor, you do not have the time to raise a child in the best way possible. Therefore, you should have the right to choose not to (and still be sexually active)!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Please note that this is just my opinion on the topic.


Anonymous said...

I think you've made some valid points, however when women do leave the workforce, they can't just re-enter when they please. It's already hard for women to get jobs as it is, and when that woman has reached middle age, she has an even harder time. A middle aged mom may think that she can re-enter the workforce whenever she's ready, but she may be unpleasantly surprised that it will be hard to get hired.

wende said...

I think that "feminism" is a half finished revolution. Thanks to the feminist movement women got the right to be just like men, to work, to earn the same money, even to join the army and have a combat post in Iray (thanks for that one girls!). But the overall value system remains masculine, career is good, earning money, fame prestige are admirable and important. Mothering, and creating a home for children and adults is not viewed as worthwhile work. But the truth is that only a certain percentage (half? a quarter?) of women can have really interesting exciting jobs. Most jobs are probably less interesting in and of themselves than being a homemaker. And of course, the college educated working women need the lower class women who watch their kids, clean their house, make the food at the catering section of Whole Foods!
Wouldn't real feminism be recognizing that raising children is the most important job in the world? And that yes, homemaking is also very meaningful and valuable?