Why Feminism Hurts Women
By Misty Dawn Mealey
August 23, 2000
A couple I know recently had a baby. Before the woman got pregnant, she and her husband had decided that it was a priority for them for at least one parent to stay at home with their child full-time. Since the father's salary was greater, they decided that the mother would stay home.
My husband and I recently saw this couple at a wedding. I asked the mother about their son, Jack, and how she was enjoying being home with him. "Oh, I love it," she gushed. Then her face clouded. "But you wouldn't believe the things people say to me because I'm a stay-at-home mom."
She went on to say that in addition to the "pitying looks" she regularly gets, some women have even gone so far as to call her decision "selfish" because she "sits at home all day." Another chided her on denying her son the "social opportunities" available through daycare.
"They just don't get it," the mother told me. "They act as if I'm doing this for me. I'm not. It ceased to be about me the moment he was born."
And thus we stumble onto one of the most divisive issues in the feminist movement today: motherhood. The mother I've discussed here is a college graduate, highly intelligent, and married to a man who openly calls her his "best friend." Which begs the inevitable question: why in her right mind would she CHOOSE to be a stay-at-home mother?
I pose a related but much different question: Why do we ask this question at all? The answer to both lies in the root of the feminist movement itself. Feminists, like most groups, chose to define themselves against something. Instead of demanding the respect and opportunities that belong to women because they are human beings and equal citizens of this country, they denigrated being a wife and mother. To justify their movement into the workplace and up through the ranks of society, they held up the institutions of marriage and motherhood and said, "See how awful these are? It's unfair to make us stay in these roles when they're so awful." As a result, our biological privilege has been relegated to a "last resort" that women only fall into if they fail to achieve those other goals. The stay-at-home mother is to be pitied, not envied.
Women like my friend, then, are simultaneously an embarrassment and a puzzle to hardcore feminists. They simply cannot understand why a highly educated, intelligent woman would choose to be a mother above all else. After all, why would any woman choose to take care of her children when she could put her own needs first?
Which brings us to the second problem feminists have with traditional motherhood: it dares suggests that we put the needs of someone else above our own. Women have traditionally sacrificed their own needs to fulfill those of their family members. Although excessive self-sacrifice is undeniably unhealthy for anyone, feminists once again took the extreme position. Now, a woman who makes personal sacrifices of any kind is most certainly not a feminist. Because feminists must fulfill their own needs first and those of their husbands and children second.
The results of this type of thinking? Bottle-feeding: "Breastfeeding would interfere with my lifestyle." Daycare: "I have to work-for me." Divorce: "I'm just not happy, and I deserve to be happy." In other words, women deserve more consideration than their husbands or children. We are equal because we are more important.
What the feminists didn't (and don't) realize is that motherhood, like having a career, is a perfectly valid choice. It can be a noble and honorable choice because it honors our families and pays tribute to our own unique roles in those families. Instead, women are directly and indirectly chastised for choosing to be a traditional mother. They are condescended to and pitied. Why? Because they make feminists who have swallowed the rhetoric whole uncomfortable.
Women do deserve equal treatment, but modern feminism is wholly misguided. It leaves women today confused about their own role in society and family, and has perpetuated the myth that motherhood equals serfdom. Women are now torn between the guilt of being self-centered and the shame of being selfless. Perhaps a more successful and less damaging tactic would have been to honor motherhood as one of many choices, and to push more men to consider someone other than themselves.
This article copyright
© 2000 by Misty Dawn Mealey and may
not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its
author. All rights reserved.