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Can You Be a Feminist At-Home Mom?

Feminist has become such a loaded word.  The mental images it conjures are often not pretty.  It’s become an insult in certain circles and even given rise to the ardent anti-feminist movement.  Both terms and sets of believers have moved to further deepen the divide between women as a whole and mothers in particular.  And that is dissapointing.  It is dissapointing because I believe women, and mothers in particular, could be an unstoppable force for good in this world if only they would quit fighting with each other. 

My handy-dandy, old and raggity dictionary defines feminism as the “theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes” and as the “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”  Perhaps I’m delusional, but it seems to me that at both ends of the spectrum, this definition would still fit the actions and philosophy of the “radical feminist” and the “anti-feminist.”  Both ends believe in the importance, value and acknowledgement of women’s chosen work.  Both ends organize to support women in their chosen interests and the rights they wish to protect.  Wait.  Stop.  What word just appeared in both of those sentences?  That word, to me, is the essential beauty and power of what I view as true feminism.  It’s about choice.  And that’s the stumbling block that seperates the radical from the anti.  They make very different choices.  But what they are missing is that it is the act of making the choice that is the most sacred thing.  Not the content of the choice.  Each woman has a different genetic make up and a unique set of life experiences that come together to create the elements leading her to her individual path.  No two are the same.  And they shouldn’t be. 

Women need to begin paying close attention to this concept.  We need to actually choose.  And, pardon the terribly corny cultural reference, choose wisely.  In my opinion, a feminist is a self-aware woman.  A feminist is a woman who has taken the time to be introspective, to examine her core values carefully and make mindful choices that allow her to live her truth on a daily basis and support those who do the same.  What does this woman look like?  She comes in countelss varieties.  She may look like a career woman who has decided that the calling she feels to her work outside the home is the best way to honor her true self and set a powerful example for her children about following their dreams.  She may look like an at-home mother who feels that her true self is found in her devotion to the daily growth and development of her children.  She may be an atheist.  She may be a Biblical Christian.  She may be an ardent liberal.  She may be a staunch conservative.  She may forego politics altogether.  She may cook a four course meal for her family every night.  She may be on a first name basis with the take out delivery person.   She may have no children at all.  She may have twenty.  If she has consciously chosen her path, believes she is honoring her calling in life with all her heart and is striving to mindfully live her truth to the best of her ability every day of her life, then in my book– she’s a feminist.  

Once our choice has been made comes the tough part.  Honoring our fellow feminist’s right to choose differently.  This is where things tend to fall apart.  Tempers flair and potential is lost.  We don’t have to agree with each other’s choices by any means.  That would be impossible.  And quiet frankly, I myself, have absolutely no patience whatsoever for women who make what I perceive as uneducated, unmindful choices.  They frustrate and anger me beyond rationality.  This does occasionally get me into serious trouble.  I’m working on it.  But I am proud to say that I have friends and family who have made dramatically different choices than my own and I like to think I do a decent job of honoring them as they travel their mindfully choosen path of feminism.  I am stronger for having them in my life.  They push me to keep my heart and mind open and for that I am grateful.  They help me to live my truth by living their own.  Imagine the potential power if women as a whole could all strive for this kind of womanhood.  The mere thought of it gives me chills.            

Comments on: "Can You Be a Feminist At-Home Mom?" (23)

  1. I’m old enough to have been at varsity when femiminism was strong, “girls can do anything” was on our lips as we taught.

    For me, the cornerstone ideas of feminism were: 1. valuing the dignity of women, and 2. allowing women choice. Though often what happened in the 70s and 80s is that the choice of staying at home building family life was considered a lesser lower value choice.

    Now, as a stay-at-home-educating mother, I still believe in valuing women and their choices – am I still a feminist? I think so. I also meet very traditional dress-wearing bread-making mothers who struggle living in a patriarchal environment.

    I’m not certain that it’s a continuum, a line that we stand on ranging from radical to ultra-conservative – maybe more a grid.

    I recommend that we all live according to our own beliefs and priorities – and get on with building a satisfying life for ourselves and for our family – the best way we can. Judgement and comparision just brings pride (if we think ourselves better than others) or depression and shame (if we don’t think that we measure up to others).

    Thank you for your article.

  2. 100% agree. It’s not the choice itself, but the fact that we get to make it. I don’t and perhaps never will understand why the media is always trying to pin at-home moms against work out of home moms. I have several friend who work and have zero qualms with them or the way they are raising their children, etc, etc. I know that’s just one small part of what you’re talking about, but it’s the one that comes to my mind instantly.

  3. Great post! As a stay at home mom and a feminist I absolutely think it is about choice and freedom to make choices.

  4. Great post. Someone linked to it on twitter and I just happened to read it.

    As a young woman who identifies as a feminist, I still find it amazing how the term can be so polarizing to people. As you stated, at its base, feminism is striving for equality; how it goes about that depends on the person.

  5. This was so excellent I had to share it. :)

    You know, I’ve been a SAHM for many years – almost 20, I think. And I grew up with a working mom. Both have always been valid choices, because we both picked what was best for us and our families at the time.

    Now I’m a WAHM, which is also a valid choice and *really* interesting. :D

    My main goal is to show my own girls that they really can do whatever they want and “you’re a girl” shouldn’t ever stop them.

  6. banquet- I really appreciate the grid vs. continuum suggestion. I should’ve known it’s better to think in more than just one dimension. Perhaps we could go really crazy and visualize a sphere even!

    My thanks to all of you for sharing. It warms my heart and spirit to read that these concepts aren’t relegated to just my eclectic mind, but are actually shared by others of various backgrounds.

  7. I don’t know. I’ve asked myself this question too. I’m single, never been married, no kids.
    At one point in my life I found myself in an abusive situation and I had no way out money wise. I’m going to say no you can’t be a feminist and be dependant on partner money wise. It’s a trap. Unless you have outside means, you’re just as trapped as anyone else. Of course it’s when you factor in the fact that womens work (eg home making) is devalued and not paid and that the Mens couldn’t build their careers without a stay at home spouse it gets even more complicated. Thoughts? :/

  8. Sharon-

    I don’t consider myself trapped at all. If I wanted to re-enter the paid workforce outside the home, I could at any time I chose to do so. My spouse does not force me to stay home with our children. It has always been my empowered choice to do so and he has always stated that he will support and respect whatever choice I make. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was actually on the fast track with my military career and weighed my options carefully for months. If I had decided to continue to pursue my career as an Army officer, my husband would have supported me. I also think that men build their careers without stay at home mothers all the time. The one spouse at home, one at work model is actually not the majority these days. Many men and women build their careers simultaniously while their children are at school or daycare for most of their waking hours.

    The concept of the fact that the work of a stay at home spouse is devalued is an interesting thing to ponder for me. My spouse and my children do not devalue my work. In fact, they place great value on my work and regularly share sentiments expressing that with me. Monetary reward is not the only way one’s efforts at home or at work are ever valued. Does our culture at large devalue what I do? Maybe. But how much do I really care about that? I’ve chosen a different path than mainstream culture in so many aspects of my life that at this point, I don’t look to that culture to place any value on my own efforts. I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t *feel* devalued in the least. And I don’t really want the government compensating me for what I do because I don’t want the government thinking it can then place any conditions on how I go about doing that work since it is “valuing” me now.

    For me, feminism and monetary income aren’t absolutely inseperable. To me, it is more about attitude. I think that even if a woman feels trapped by her current financial situation, she can set her sights on what her personal goals are for improving her situation one step at a time. By taking that internal action, she is demonstrating self-awareness and making a mindful choice. Even if she doesn’t have a penny to her name, even if it still takes her a great deal of time to manifest those goals into reality, by making that empowered, internal determination (to me) she is a feminist.

  9. Ooo, so many thoughts on this.

    On the one hand, I really dislike the “individual choice” rhetoric, because it ignores or minimizes the numerous and often horrific ways our choices are constrained and constricted by larger society (which is to say, kyriarchal/patriarchal, classist, heterosexist, racist, etc forces). That is (and I’ve written about this before), in a sane, womanist/feminist society I would not be at home with my child fulltime while my partner worked outside of the home in paid employment fourty hours per week, because I wouldn’t have to “choose” between meeting my child’s attachment needs and doing meaningful, paid work in society. Off the top of my head, I can think of a dozen ways society could (and should!) change that would change the “choices” I make in my own life.

    On the other hand, the comment that one can’t be both financially dependent and a feminist pisses me off no end. Not only is it ableist and classist (ableist because a lot of us don’t have the ability to work full time thanks to our disabilities, classist because if one is earning minimum wage and so is everyone else in the family, the idea of being “financially independent” on one’s own is laughable) it’s also placing blame on the individual woman for society’s faults, which last I checked was pretty anti-feminist.

    Both of these arguments fail in the end for the same reason: they ignore the ways patriarchy shapes and limits our ability to choose, and focus on the individual. The personal is political: looking to individuals, either to praise them for having “choice”, or to blame them for making the “wrong” choice, is missing the point. It is society that needs to change; patriarchy that needs to be blamed.

  10. Interesting thoughts, Arwyn. I am interested to learn more about your suggestions for how society should change to change the choices a woman would (or would not, I guess) have to consider. I’ll be sure to visit your blog to learn more about your perspective.

    Ultimately, in my dream of dreams, I would love to exist in a world that is neither patriarchal or feminist actually. Where men and women work to balance each other’s energies with mutual love and respect. That is the sort of environment I strive for in our household full of both males and females. (Notice I said strive for! Doesn’t always happen, but we’re works in progress here. Who isn’t, right?)

    I think, though, that you clearly answered the question that is the title of this particular post. If I may be so bold, you sound like a very strong, highly intelligent example of a feminist at-home mom, yourself.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  11. The personal is political: looking to individuals, either to praise them for having “choice”, or to blame them for making the “wrong” choice, is missing the point. It is society that needs to change; patriarchy that needs to be blamed.

    Oh I like this. I forget this point. I think society in general devalues any type of work labeled “womens work”. Nursing, teaching, social work, cleaning, childcare are all low wage jobs. And that men are able to have a career and family, while women are made to choose between them, and meant to feel guilty for not being superwoman. I’m just rambling now aren’t I? :D Thank you for your thoughts. I can see where I was wrong.

  12. Your article refers to a type of feminism called “choice feminism.” Basically, choice feminism says that anything a woman chooses is feminist simply because she chose it. However, that idea is irrational and completely misguided. Choosing to perpetuate gender roles that have imprisoned women for centuries is NOT a choice that is feminist and advances women’s rights. Noone in society is arguing that women aren’t capable of being stay-at-home moms. In fact, society encourages women to do that.

    As a Ph.D. scientist, I am in a field with very few women. You being a stay-at-home mom does nothing to help me break glass ceilings. What helps is having more women go into science. Women need to be in the trenches fighting for equality where there is a fight going on. You aren’t helping women reach equality by making the choice to stay-at-home. However, if your husband decided to be a stay-at-home dad, then he would be making a “feminist choice” because he would be challenging traditional gender roles.

  13. From my perspective, anyone telling a woman she should reject the path that she sees as her true calling to walk– whatever that path may be (at-home mother or Ph.D. scientist)– is attempting to oppress her.

    I cannot see how this serves to advance the cause of women or the human race for that matter.

  14. When I first found out I was pregnant as a young, single, vocally pro-choice college student, I was freaked out, but knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant that I wanted to parent the baby myself, and that I wanted to be a mother. It was not because I had to, or because I felt obligated to, or because I didn’t realize I had choices. I actually had a small handful of radically pro-choice friends abandon me, criticize, and imply that I was ruining my life because I did not make the choice THEY would have made.

    From that point forward, it has been exceedingly clear to me that ANY philosophy or belief system in which it becomes mandated that you act in full compliance with one side of whatever “freedoms” it has afforded you is not promoting freedom, but rather an agenda. Encouraging choices for both women and men (and I say this as someone who has been a SAHM with a working dad, and also a WOHM with a stay at home dad) is encouraging freedom; Enforcing compliance to a radical feminist norm is just another form of oppression, and one with which I want no part.

  15. It can’t be said better than comment #13. I am a SAHM b/c it was one of my life goals. (I also have a Masters degree.) I am a feminist raising two future feminists. Hell, my husband is a feminist. Mothers shape the future generations. How much more radical can you get than that?

  16. But Jill, here’s another point (from someone else whose husband self-identifies as a feminist). By the definition that a feminist must be a woman taking advantage of opportunity to work out of a home, a man could not be a feminist anyway. By the definition that assumes you have to be from the underprivileged population, taking advantage of freedoms afforded you, in order to consider yourself an advocate/activist, a minority student not taking advantage of efforts for racial equality in college admissions could not be considered a minority rights activist. A gay couple in a state that finally allows gay marriage who chose not to get married are not real gay rights activists.

    That’s why I just don’t buy into the argument that you have to be a woman taking advantage of every freedom earned by the feminist movement to self-identify as a part of that movement, a supporter, and an activist. Some of those freedoms are simply more relevant to me than others.

  17. Kara Joy said:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Crunchy Mama. As a well educated mother who has decided to stay at home with twins for the present time, I can relate with your article and many of the comments.

    Jane, I wonder if you have children? Your comments seem to stem from a very one-sided mind set that does not take a lifestyle with children into account. I was working in the sciences. I might go back to working in the sciences. But for now, I don’t care about glass ceilings and advancing within the confines of the workplace. I care about living a balanced, sane, enjoyable, loving life. For our family, the best way to achieve balance while raising our children as we see fit was for me to work full time in the home.

    You state that society encourages women to stay at home, but I don’t feel this is true. From pressures to go back to work quickly after your baby is born (no national paid maternity leave) to de-valuing stay at home moms (even close friends and family ask me when I am going to go back to work), evidence can be gathered in opposition of your statement.

    Maybe you’d take a moment to ponder my decision to stay at home in a ‘natural’ vs. ‘unnatural’ framework, based on science and human evolution. When you become a mama, it quickly becomes clear how natural it is to be with one’s children, to care for them, to raise them, to protect them, to educate them, and to love them. To me, going to a workplace 40+ hours a week and leaving my children in the care of non-family members is stressful, contrived, and highly unnatural. Much of our society today is highly unnatural, and I don’t feel pressure to play into it in the name of feminism (or any other reason), particularly where the happiness and well-being of both myself and my family is concerned.

  18. Chantel said:

    I couldn’t agree with Kara Joy more.

    I DID go back to work outside the home when my first child was only 6 weeks old. I worked at my beloved job for only 6 more weeks and then could no longer accept how miserable we had all become. My husband and I discussed which one of us should stay home and it was decided that it should be me. Both because my husband had more desire to work outside the home and because I had more desire to work within it and be with my precious baby. And these last seven years raising my son (and his five siblings) have been the most delightful, educational, enlightening, and hardest of my entire life! It’s wasn’t so much a “choice” as a completely consuming DRIVE to be with my children. I think nature demands this of mammalian mothers.

    I believe strongly in equal rights for all humans. I am right there with you Crunchy Mama that I think the best society is one in which we honor both men and women in love and mutual respect. But children are small for such a short time and the window to impress upon them everything we so desire is tiny.

    I am currently working from my home in an art form I simply love. It meets my needs as a creative creature while also being flexible enough to meet the needs of my brood of small children. We are happy. And that really should be enough.

  19. “Mothers shape the future generations. How much more radical can you get than that?”


  20. I read this when you first posted it, and I totally agree that we need to honor other when that have made conscious decisions of what is best for their family.

    I stay at home with my children because that is what my whole being told me I should be doing. My husband needed a lot of convincing before he would even support that drive. I fought hard for it, and he now claims it was the best fight he ever lost. Our family is thriving because of my choice.

    I do believe most families now rely on double incomes, and it has become the societal norm. Women have to quickly return back to their jobs after having a child or else face termination. I think this really forces women to have suppress a lot of their natural instinct as mothers.

    I agree, we need to stop judging women for their choices when they are made with every effort to do what is best for their own unique situation and start supporting one another to make it possible for each of us to acheive all that we desire in life.

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  23. I really enjoyed your post. I am a feminist and a Femimist Pagan/Witch. I agree with you. Personally I think that calling oneself a feminist is a political act itself. I think you’re right, making conscious choices in life and upholding feminist consciousness does make you a feminist. I agree with Crunchy Mama. I will also say that yes, men can be feminists. I have met one.

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