In our fast-paced, modern society, it isn’t hard to see that women have come a long way in terms of striving for equality. Universities welcome more female undergraduates than ever before, and despite the gender pay gap still being prominent, many women are earning more than their male partners. However, it also isn’t hard to see that gender equality is yet to be reached in many walks of life, and the feminist movement, the key to woman’s liberation, appears to be just as jumbled as our plan of action to reach this fabled equality. It all seems very simple: liberate women from imposed restrictions and empower them to embrace independence, education and work in all sectors and professions, but what if a woman doesn’t want to follow that path? And supposing that very same women actually chooses to follow a life of domesticity and rely on a partner financially, rather than seek her own economic independence? I know that many feminist men and women would be dubious of somebody choosing this life in the modern world, where the opportunities appear to be endless. As a feminist myself, part of me feels pain at the prospect of being completely dependent on a partner, I want to make my own money, that’s my choice, but that is what feminism is to me: choices and opportunities. So surely, these opportunities should also include the right to become a homemaker, and not be lampooned for it.
Surely feminism is allowing those from all walks of life into the movement, and allowing them to do what they wish without fear of being criticised? You would think so. Yet alas, it seems that women still can’t win in the ever-changing world, whether homemakers or professionals, and in a lot of cases, it seems to be other women making these criticisms. Writer and psychologist Rosjke Hasseldine, suggests that in a world run by men, a competitive nature among women is a natural reaction. Fair enough.
However, it is when this competitive nature turns into harsh, unconstructive criticism that the problems begin. The pressure to be a ‘good mother’ (with the traditional ideals of being dedicated to childcare and running a home) and to also provide financially for your family can mean that jealously and misunderstandings among women can take root and fester. It is difficult for me to see why somebody would choose a life as a homemaker, but just because I don’t understand something, doesn’t mean that I should condemn it. A friend of mine recently told me that she wouldn’t mind becoming a housewife, before hastily adding “Sorry Ella, I know you’re very keen on women’s lib and all that…”. She was shocked when I told her that it was her choice, and I’d respect her regardless. I was hurt, initially, that my friend would think me so critical of her, but then I saw that it wasn’t me she feared judgement from, but the confusing ideas of society that women so often encounter.
I was brought up by a mother who, for a decade, did not work in order to care for her two young children. I am eternally grateful for the care I received at her hands, and admire her for making this sacrifice. However, I would admire her equally as much for continuing with her job, and juggling her work and home life. My reason for this? Women with careers still face a difficult choice upon starting a family, and will come under criticism whatever they decide to do. I admire my mother because she took the path she personally wanted to take, and didn’t let anybody make her doubt her decision. My eldest cousin however, chose to continue her career as a GP after having her two children, and likewise, I admire her greatly for the same reason.
Both my mother and my cousin made choices based on their own decisions. Women will always come under fire for their post-natal career choices, and starting a family can be, for many women, the source of incredible trauma and uncertainty. The mother who plays little part in her child’s upbringing will face whispers of being a ‘bad mother’, while the woman who gives up a career to stay at home with her child is branded a ‘bad feminist’. The answer: they are neither bad mothers, nor bad feminists. If we substitute the mothers in question for fathers, then the reactions to their decisions would be very different. If a man chooses, as in a small but increasing number of cases, to become a homemaker, he would be considered a great help to the feminist movement, and applauded for making this choice. However, if he continues with his career and plays a small role in his child’s upbringing, he would not come under as much criticism as a woman making the same decision. It is a traditional mindset, the one which places women in the home, a damaging one. Homemaking is not purely a female pursuit, and the same applies to childcare. Without the traditional mindset, it wouldn’t matter who ‘stays at home’, if anyone, because this role is not exclusive to either gender. Whether you are a heterosexual or homosexual couple, the idea that one partner should be the ‘wife’ and the other the ‘man/breadwinner’ should ideally be replaced with a more balanced share of responsibilities. Sadly, it appears as though this stereotype and mindset will only be phased out through time, and the replacement of traditional views and values, with more liberal and progressive ideas.
Feminism does have a place in the modern world, but as a movement which does not dictate what a woman should do. Instead, it should draw emphasis on what she can do. A young woman choosing to enter a male-dominated profession should not be held back, yet somebody choosing to become a homemaker out of her own free will, at the same time, should not . Despite the obvious sources of inequality stemming from an established, patriarchal society, the many examples of ‘women criticising other women’ are becoming increasingly detrimental to the feminist movement. If somebody wants to bake cakes for their boyfriend, for god’s sake, let them do it! I am a bass player and video game fanatic, yet I don’t consider myself any more feminist than somebody who enjoys more traditional pursuits. Feminism is a belief in equality, and that belief should be rooted inside you, not by your external persona or appearance.
By Eleanor Healing