Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Choice Feminism?

Here we are.... back where we belong.... ~C~

In her Salon.com piece, Feminism After Friedan, writer Joan Walsh looks at Friedan's life's work to determine how it fits into what modern feminist, Linda Hirschman calls "choice feminism" -- the current phenomenon of women who work hard to educate themselves, build careers, then completely walk away from their careers in order to raise children.

Hirschman, in her piece Homeward Bound (on American Prospect), says that feminists -- all feminists -- need to reject this trend wholesale, and she uses Friedan's work as her underpinning for the argument. She rebukes the position that anything a woman does is feminist if it's her "choice." Hirschman uses Mark Twain's quote, "A man who chooses not to read is just as ignorant as a man who cannot read." Walsh isn't so sure that Friedan's writings really support that position.

I've always been a "choice" kind of girl. But as I've stated before, that was before I knew what losing four years being unemployed and underemployed was going to do to my Social Security contributions. There is an idea that, once you leave the workforce to raise your children, the workforce will welcome you back when you're ready. I can tell you from personal experience that this simply is not the case. Say what you like about the skills required to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker (which are more extensive and more varied than any workplace position will ever require of one person). Those skills are not recognized outside of a right and proper curriculum vitae that a job recruiter can hold in her hands and look at. Therefore, though character-building, they don't mean diddly. When you've been unemployed on paper for three or four years, and then you return, you will take several major grandaddy steps backwards in your salary and position. That lowers a woman's contribution to her retirement accounts, such as Social Security, IRA accounts and 401Ks. Raising one child cost me what will probably amount to $1,000 per month in terms of retirement benefits. Had I been home long enough to raise two or more, I'd have lost considerably more.

Does this mean that I shouldn't have stayed home with my daughter in those crucial first three years? In truth, knowing what I know now, I think I would not have quit work altogether. I would have attempted to arrange to work part-time, or work at home somehow, so that some money was being contributed to my retirement income, and some kind of work registered on my resume. I didn't do these things because I was ignorant of the consequences. 54% of all marriage (including mine) ends in divorce, leaving a woman without access to her husband's retirement income.

I'd like to know what you think. Those of you who work, those of you who don't. If you are currently a mom, why have you made the "choice" (and I am aware that there may have been no choice at all, but sheer necessity) to work or not work? If you aren't a mom yet, or have finished raising your kids, what was your decision, why, and would you do it differently in retrospect? If you are a man, what do you (or would you, or will you) want your wife to do regarding the raising of your children?

Since I've asked for your opinion, I suppose it's only fair that I fork over mine. In most cases, in our society today, when a couple has a child, a man is expected to keep working. Now, he not only must be a worker, a lover, a partner or husband, but now a father as well. Most times, the option of staying at home with his child for several years is not an option. A woman, in society, is given a "choice." Stay at home or keep working. I "chose" to stay at home. I do not regret it. But I do regret not making sure I understood what I was sacrificing in the long run. And I could kick myself for being so naive as to believe that someone else would take care of any loss I sustained while doing so. That, I believe, is at the heart of Hirschman's point that "choice" feminism isn't really choice at all, but an emotional decision based on a set of archaic ideas that have been spoonfed into women from early childhood -- even today.

To quote one of my favorite movies Death Becomes Her... "Now... a warning... " ("Now, a warning?"). I'm not one of those women who tolerates sisters bashing sisters. I realize that this topic is a heated one, and that both sides (the working moms and stay-at-homes) have been pretty awful to each other in the past. Let me be really clear here. Bashing of the sisters is strictly prohibited! I'd like your opinions, but only if we can keep the rhetoric and histrionics to a minimum. I don't want to hear that stay-at-home moms are too involved in the children's lives, and I don't want to hear how working moms are unloving and unnurturing. And I definitely don't want to hear from men that life is unfair because they don't usually get to be Mr. Mom. We get all that. If you want that kind of idiotic rhetoric, go see a taping of Dr. Phil. I will dump any post that even hints at a tone of judgementalism or vitriol for the other side. I am only interested in your choices and your opinions of that choice, not your opinion about the lady next door who made a different choice.

So, we have the question, we have the ground rules. Let me know what you think.

~C~

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