Traditional feminism has failed mothers. We tell them they can have it all – a career and a family – but offer very little credit for all that mothering requires.
In a recent New York Magazine article by Lisa Miller, The Retro Wife, Miller says, “Feminism has fizzled, its promise only half-fulfilled.” Fifty years after Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, many career women are bucking the idea of the “imprisoned housewife” and are opting to leave their careers to raise a family. Can you blame them?
Historically, the “working world” has been set up to favour men. Martha Ward and Monica Edelstein explain it as such in A World of Women, Sixth Edition:
“The premise is that a male worker (as head of the household) is hired and paid enough to support his wife and children. Females (e.g. young, single women) who work the same jobs are not paid the same as males. Presumably, they do not have to support families.”
The wage gap remains today, and women in the prime of their careers often step away to have children – further depleting their earning power. If she returns to the workforce, the burden of staying home when a child is sick often falls to the mother, stalling her career even more.
In addition, women tend to take on the majority of “administrative household tasks.” According to Miller, “In 2011, only 19 per cent (of husbands) spent any time during the average day cleaning or doing laundry; among couples with kids younger than six, men spent just 26 minutes a day doing what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls ‘physical care,’ which is to say bathing, feeding or dressing children. (Women did more than twice as much).”
Sociologist Arlie Hochschild estimates on average, women worked roughly fifteen hours longer each week than men do.
This unequal balance creates a leisure gap between genders as women have less time for themselves – and to make up for it, a working mother’s “spare time” is often hurried. Interactions with children often feel rushed, leading many to fear they are bad mothers. Former secretary of state Madeline Albright said it exactly right, “Every woman’s middle name is guilt.”
The “blame” for this doesn’t clearly fall to one gender. “Feminism has never fully relieved women from feeling that the domestic domain is theirs to manage, no matter what else they’re juggling,” Miller writes. This is a common theme among many women; “It will be faster if I do it,” or, “He never cleans it the way I like. I’ll just do it.”
The idea that a “working mother” can have it all has left us overworked, under appreciated and frustrated.
Though the allure of staying home to raise the kids is not one that appeals to me, I applaud the women who make this choice. Feminism, if it is to survive, needs to evolve to appreciate what is right for one woman, may not be right for another.