Monday, June 19, 2006

"Wasting" my education

I just read Linda Hirshman's response to the outrage her previous article telling women they should go back to work and not stay at home with their children. There were 2 comments she made that I found particuarly vexing. Although, a part of me wonders if she might not just be writing to be vexing.

First: "Worse, I said that the tasks of housekeeping and child rearing were not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings."

The second was basically the entire second half of the article where she classifies her critics as being from one of three camps. First, a particuarly dismissive reference to "mommy bloggers" because, if we're *just* blogging about our lives, it's obviously not important. (I have to wonder how she would view the feminist diatribe I am gearing up for.) Second, religious fundamentalists and conservatives. And, third, people who only think that they are liberal feminists (me, apparently).

Might I start by saying that I am not active in the SAHM vs. Work outside the home mom debates. I truly feel that the heart of feminism is that women get to make choices about their lives. Women should have the choice as to which child rearing decisions work for them and their families. It is societies responsibility to support and enable that choice through providing adequate family leave, helping provide affordable, quality (and that is key) day care, reproductive choice (and that is sooo not limited to abortion rights) so that women can control when they actually have these children, quality pre-natal care, and helping families be aware and able to access the services which are already being provided, among other things. It is perfectly possible for a woman to choose to work outside the home and not be neglecting her child. That decision is very valid. I thank my stars that I get a choice. I want to stay home. This does not make me a superior mother. At the same time, I don't think that I am failing to define feminism as Ms Hirshman asserts. I define feminism as allowing women choice and control over their lives. Not, that we must all make the same choices for the sake of "the cause." Men are applauded for making a decision to stay home. Why should women not be afforded the same attitude? It seems like feminism rather missed the mark if girls are locked into becoming athletes, doctors, or lawyers, even if they wanted to be housewives, teachers, or nurses simply to prove the point that they can do anything the boys do. I thought the point of it all is that we can, not that we have to.

To address the rest of her apparent assumptions about me, since I'm not bowing at her feet. I am not conservative. A friend of mine put it best, my life choices have been fairly conventional but my thinking and attitudes are far from it. I got married young. I decided to wait to have sex until marriage. I do attend church. I am heterosexual. I do enjoy traditional female roles. I like cooking. I like sewing. I like being a domestic goddess. I'm also a supporter of full acceptance of homosexuality in the church. I support choice. I was pissed when our lesbian neighbors moved to Wisconsin. I want to leave this area, in large part, because I want my children to see hispanic and black children in their daily lives. And, I think the previous statements pretty soundly count me out of the fundamentalist fold.

The first quote I cited brings to mind a comment that I have heard somewhat often. "Why are you wasting your education by staying at home." I have to say that first, I was not aware that one could waste an education. Second, my degrees all revolve around children. I have never understood how one could not waste an education by helping to raise other people's children but could waste it raising one's own. In addition to using my education whenever I interact with children, it also did a marvelous job of teaching me how to be a clandestine, counter-culture expert. I spent a good part of my career being an advocate for children who were very difficult to advocate for. I learned to soften edges, bargin, barter, and flatter, all in pursuit of my goal. I learned about protective coloring and blending in. I learned how to be a steel magnolia. I learned to plant seeds and find subtle, small victories, that lead to much larger change. I now delight in fitting right into the little old ladies at women's club and sneaking in a suggestion that we offer child care for our events or that, if we're having trouble finding a speaker, we invite one of the leading women from the Virginia legislature. When, at book club, I hear it suggested that all the kids with behavior problems belong in a special class, I can counter with asking how much French you actually learned in high school as that would be commensurate with how many social skills the kids would learn, far from their peers, with no one to model or practice with. At church council, I offer the perspective that not everyone actually has the books of the bible memorized. When college students in Sunday School argue that sex shouldn't be touched on with high schoolers at church events, even when they bring it up themselves, I ask how Christian it is to let them wander into the danger of unprotected sex. When I am at Bunko, I share that Canada is not quite as wacko as one might think with their socialized medicine and better family leave. And, when it is implied that I am a conservative fundamentalist because I happen to make some of the same choices, with no inspection of the motivation, I say something. My education is what gave me the ability to look at her statements critically, to rebut them in an organized fashion, to access the internet, and to make up my own mind. My education allows me to understand how the media can distort perception, how to learn on my own, how to look at parenting advice books critically and take what I need from them while not being paralyzed with fear from some of the more alarmist statements or become an adherent to some of the more extremist advice. My education taught me how to not get "squirted" when changing a little boy. I would say that all of these are valuable. If I am "just" a "mommy blogger," so be it. But, I am also a thinking, impassioned feminist for choice of all kind, not simply reproductive. I can't help but think that she would be better serving the cause by adding to the recognized value of "women's work" and leaving the marginalization to the other misogynists.


chicagowench said...

Sing it. you were so much more erudite about this than I managed to be in about 6 different drafts.

Becky said...

Oh, you make me blush!