If you were reading this blog a couple of years ago, you’ll know that my feminism is all about proper equality, by which I mean it’s about everyone, men as well as women. I think it’s just as important that men are not stigmatised for displaying behaviours that are socially coded feminine, as it is for women to do stuff that is coded masculine. I keep banging on about it because I feel that not nearly enough attention is paid to the former. And nowhere is this more apparent than in discussions of motherhood.
I started seeking out feminist blogs about pregnancy and children early on in my pregnancy, but sadly I never really found anything that properly worked for me. A huge theme on all these blogs is that unpaid caring work needs to be valued as much as paid work in the formal economy. And I could not agree more, absolutely. But what I found hugely problematic (and this was the case on almost every blog I came across) is that this unpaid work is consistently and uncritically referred to as mothering. It’s all about recognising the worth of women and how ‘we don’t have to be “like men”‘, as if that was an objective description. Of course the majority of caring work is still done by women, and carers need support, but it doesn’t have to be just women, that’s the whole point.
I actually left a few comments in various places suggesting that it might be helpful to refer to the gender neutral parenting rather than mothering, and that arguments for revaluing unpaid caring work could only benefit from being more inclusive, rather than making it purely a women’s issue. I was shot down by other commenters like you would not believe, in places purporting to be feminist. It wasn’t even that people disagreed with me, but that they seemed to genuinely not get what I was trying to say. No one else was saying anything similar either, it was just not part of the conversation. So after one particular exchange in which I left a series of increasingly defensive sounding explanations, I decided for my own sanity to stop commenting, stop following all but a couple of blogs, and stop reading the comments sections even on those.
I do wonder whether partly this is a US – Europe thing. When it comes to parenthood in industrialised, the USA does seem to hold a special position, and not in a good way.* Maybe if I lived in a country where 8 weeks unpaid maternity leave was considered generous, and employers are mostly refusing flexible working, I’d consider leaving work too, but honestly, it’s never crossed my mind. Even ignoring the long term financial impact, I find it difficult to imagine how anyone with a half decent job, given a genuine choice, would not chose to combine paid work and childcare in some way.** I find all the shouty arguments about whether intellectual or emotional work is more valuable and satisfying baffling, frankly. Who’s saying it’s an either or scenario? But maybe if I was forced to choose between two shitty options (full time or more, non-flexible work or completely withdrawing from the labour market), I’d get a bit defensive about whatever choice I’d made and would try to convert everyone to my side too. I kind of understand where the extreme polarisation of people’s views comes from, but at the end of the day it was too much for me.
I’ll talk a bit next week about our own decisions re parenting equality, which are not as consistent as I was expecting. In the meantime, thoughts, anyone?
* I don’t want to talk about this now, but I’m reading ‘Why have kids?’ at the moment, and I am truly shocked by a lot of it. Chapter 8 is particularly horrifying.
** With unskilled minimum wage jobs paying less than childcare would costs I get why you would just leave.