Sunday, April 06, 2008

The exclusive Feminist Club?

I'll be the judge of your "feminist"-ness, damn it!

So in my last post I admitted my disgust at the idea of Heidi Montag as this generation's feminist hero... One of my favorite gals, Adrienne gave me a "finger wag" in the comment sections. And maybe I needed it. She is very right when she asks, who's to say what makes you feminist or not?

So that got me thinking and if I'm being 100% honest I do believe there are some issues that DO kick you out of the feminist club.

#1 Being anti-choice
A real feminist recognizes that women have the right to bodily autonomy and forced childbirth is inhumane.

#2 Being negative toward women who go to work
Not all women want to stay home raising kids 24/7 and an even greater number can't afford to do it.

#3 Judging women who stay home
Feminism is about choices. If you want to be the one raising your children, that's a perfectly reasonable and respectable choice. Hell, if you greet your husband in an apron, that's your choice-- as long as you're doing it for YOU.

#4 Being racist
You can't claim to be progressive and at the same time buy into horrible racist stereotypes. In the Montag post, a commenter said, "I am a feminist and voting for McCain. I believe winning the war against fascist, androcentric Islam is more important than educating children on rubbers."-- First off, anytime you scoff at preventing unplanned pregnancy or stopping the spread of disease, I tend to distrust your intelligence. When you describe an entire religion as "fascist" and "androcentric" I'm thinking you're not progressive at all. Nice try, anonymous.

#5 Being homophobic
Anyone who claims they don't get into gay rights because they find it "icky," well, they might as well surrender their feminist card right now. For me, feminism is a fight to end intolerance. Ending oppression of the GLBT community should be important to a feminist.

#6 Believing that there are some rights inherent only to men
Any time I hear someone make claims that men should lead the household or "man's work" vs. "women's work," I want to scream. Women shouldn't need to "know their place." Every place is a woman's place so STEP OFF!

Part II: Here is a list of issues that in my opinion, shouldn't make or break a feminist.

Following Beauty culture
Whether you wear make-up or not, shave your legs or not, wear a bra or not-- either way -- to me it doesn't matter. Even when it comes to plastic surgery (which I find very sad that so many women feel the need to alter their bodies with painful surgery) -- it still doesn't mean you forfeit your feminist card.

Relationship issues
If you want to get married or not, if you want to take your husband's name after marriage... these are your choices as feminists and as long as your aren't marrying an abusive asshole who believes that a husband has the right to spank you you should be fine!

If you're atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian it shouldn't matter. I think its pretty obvious that any dogma can be bent to marginalize women but spirituality and faith can also be used by feminists to support their cause and give them strength. It shouldn't matter what beliefs you do or do not ascribe to.

Pornography has long been a touchy subject for feminists and I don't like to touch the topic with a ten foot pole. Here's my super-duper condensed opinion: Some women enjoy porn, some women find it offensive and those decisions are pretty personal. I would hope we can all agree that any pornography featuring violence against women or any porn that sexualizes children is pretty damn offensive. When it comes to your regular old, Jenna Jameson stuff.... I think the door is open to discussion. It's no secret that the sex industry is home to a lot of women who've suffered sexual abuse in the past... but I like to think there are outlets for sexual expression that are healthy and fun for adults to enjoy.

Well those are my examples for now. I'd like to know some of your "deal breakers" when it comes to being a feminist. Or what you think shouldn't matter... Please leave comments.

Coming Soon: My review of Obama/Clinton rally in North Dakota!


The Red Queen said...

I am going to respectfully disagree with you on the women who stay home part. Not every choice a woman makes is a feminist choice and should be supported.

But otherwise a good list.

Amelia said...

This is very interesting. My view on the topic, actually, is that there are degrees of feminism. Not every person will be the same amount of "feminist" at all points in their life. Views can very often change as information is presented, but that doesn't mean that someone who as of right now, thinks one thing in opposition to your list, but believes in the rest, doesn't deserve to think themself a feminist. More like a feminist in progress.

I only say this because I only recently began identifying as a feminist, and even within this short period of time, my views on certain issues have expanded and some have changed because I have become better educated. I would say I am MORE of a feminist now, not that I was absolutely not a feminist back then.

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

I think that Amelia's on the right track. The idea for me is that feminism is less about WHAT you do (or don't do) than it is about WHY you do it, and how much you've thought about the implications of that decision and weighed that into it. Making a decision - or choice, as it were - should not in and of itself qualify one as feminist, 'cause really, everything is a choice. Does choosing to not fill my prescription equal feminism? How about choosing to demonstrate in front of abortion providers' homes? Choosing to watch FOX? Choosing not to care? That's gotten us into all sorts of trouble, not least of which is the way conservatives have taken the idea of "choice" - like "privacy" - and used it against us. Abortion should not be legal because of choice or medical privacy - it should be legal because the government should PROTECT reproductive freedom/rights, not stay out of it. Likewise, the government should PROTECT GLBTQ people from harassment, discrimination, and the like - not stay out of their bedrooms and thus only give them privacy as long as they're there - because who is then to say that the gov't should go INTO people's bedrooms to prosecute, say, marital rape? In the same way, I don't like the term "pro-choice," because I'm not just interested in protecting choice - women's choice, States' choice, pharmacists' choice, whatever. I'm interested in feminism, and I'm interested in reproductive RIGHTS. And you're not a feminist if you don't think about the implications of your decisions - which should probably include the question of whether or not we can even make free choices without being impacted by the racist, sexist, nationalist, homophobic, etc. society in which we live.



Anne Onne said...

I think being a feminist is about supporting other women's choices, whether they are 'feminist' or not, This means that critiquing a choice itself is good, but criticising a person for not living up to your standards of feminism is not. As women under the patriarchy, we all make choices which work with teh grain, rather than against from time to time

So I'll have to respectfully disagree with the red queen's respectful disagreement, since I don't believe that support should only be given to feminist women, or those who follow a feminist life choice, and I don't believe we can know the reasons behind every woman choosing to make a non-feminist decision, and whether it would have been right for her. Plus I don't believe every woman has to jump through hoops I choose in order to qualify herself in my eyes, especially since she's not harming anybody.

I'll agree not bieng racist or homophobic is absolutely essential (although many feminists don't grapple with their provilege in these areas as much as they perhaps should, making a start and realising you HAVE privilege is necessary. You can't fight for equality unless you want it for everyone.

Likewise I, too think they *must* be pro-choice. That's not to say they should be comfortable with abortions, or ever decide they'd have one, but I don't feel that someone who believes it should be illegal can be feminist, if they use their beliefs to take other people's rights away. I especially think that although feminism has a difficult relationship with trans rights, we need to address their needs, too, and a feminist who treats trans people as traitors for their supposed conformation to gender binary, and help oppress an already oppresed, vulnerable group, don't look feminist to me.

#6 is a big one for me, too. I don't mind anyone discussing biological differences (as long as cultural/envrionmental factors are seen as a real force, and not ignored), but I can't see anyone as a feminist if they believe in limiting women's (or men's) choices by suggesting that, inherently, they always want certain things, or should have certain roles. I don't believe in 'different but equal' or chivalry. Different expectations and treatment has always resulted in women getting the harsh end, and if you can't realise that, and believe we have certain expectations to follow, how exactly would you be a feminist?

Porn is divisive. I believe that porn does not theoretically have to be anti-feminist. Theoretically, you could have porn in which both partners' pleasure is actively encouraged, where women are not demeaned and the beauty standard isn't ridiculous. Unfortunately, most porn is not, and some of it is vile. But since so much of what is around us is misogynist, I can't say that a feminist who consumes relatively non-degrading porn is automatically non-feminist. It's not a feminist choice in itself, and I'd be very surprised if somebody who identifies as a feminist admitted to liking the hard stuff that is all about degrading women, I feel that is slightly different to liking porn that is less degrading. I'm not comfortable with it myself, but at the same time since we don't have an abundance of truly feminist porn (and the industry is currently definitely not feminist!) I don't know that I can expect feminists to forgo all forms of visual sexual titilation. But I hope to be able to think this issue through a lot, and come to a better conclusion eventually.

Amelia, I agree. It's a journey during which we are always evolving as we learn new things. I have identified as feminist for as long as I can remember, and although I was sometimes very misguided when younger, I won't say that I wasn't a feminist, even though I can't say I'd meet all the criteria I set for a 'feminist' these days. It's ironic. So I guess these criteria are for what I consider a feminist has to be to really be useful to the movement, and that many people may be working to be a more feminist thinker, and haven't fully reached that point.

So I guess I mostly agree.

I'm trying to think of other things that might be deal-breakers, so hopefully I'll think of a few:

Blames rape victims. I can't see somebody as feminist if they think women are always to be held respoinsible for other people's mistakes. In fact, believing that ANYBODY (god, the devil, women, your friends, whoever) is responsible for something you have done, or a specific person has done is unfeminist in my book. A central tenet of feminism as I see it, is that people have individual responsibility for their actions, and must face the consequences thereof. I see too many people trying to place blame on other people (I saw a debate program on TV this morning, where people were insisting there must be a devil, because otherwise, 'who could be responsible for Hitler, Stalin or teenage stabbings?' (how about Hitler, Stalin and the stabbers? are people not capable of evil?!?) and it really made me irate. If we can't acknowledge that every human has the potential for evil, that every human is responsible for controlling themselves, then we can't hope to make any headway, or prevent terrible things. So I guess this includes the whole 'men are animals' thing. You can't be a feminist if you give men a free pass to to whatever they want, whether it is illegal or unethical.

I think it is unfeminist if someone ignores the experiences of somebody with more personal experience of a problem, or talks over them. This applies to feminist men, but also to all of us to an extent. We all have privilege in different ways, and if we judge as opposed to listen, or insist on advancing our opinions over their truth.

I swear I had one more, but I've forgotten it...

Tobes said...

Okay these comments are awesome. I am learning so much from you guys.

Anonymous said...

Re: Porn.

I don't think porn portraying violence against women is bad. I am a feminist woman and I have some submissive tendencies. Porn that is degrading to women turns me on.

I think the feminist community really needs to accept that sexuality and reality are very much divorced from each other. People are turned on by what they're turned on by, and it has nothing to do with their actual opinions or personality. I am living proof of this.

Katya said...

To The Red Queen:
I'm curious as to why you think that. It seems like quite a generalization...

The Red Queen said...

Anne- stay at home mothers devalue their own work and the same work that is done by women who NEED to be paid for it. There is a reason why daycare workers, home health aids, etc are paid pennies. It is because we have a cultural ideal that women should be handling all of this work without benefit to themselves. When a woman with other options chooses to stay home and do that work for free- she devalues the work of everyone else in a kind of race to the bottom minimum wage war.

Zula said...

These are pretty right-on with me. One deal-breaker of mine, however, is male-bashing and misandrony. Saying all men are rapists, all men are emotionally retarded, and so on is counterproductive and hypocritical.

Jeff said...

I don't pretend to any supremely knowledgeable feminist, and here's my two cents:

Every feminist should be able to agree with: "Women are people."

I think everything else devolves into what everyone thinks people are. Do people have control over their own bodies? Yes. Do people have a right not to be judged on their choices regarding work/child-rearing? Yes. Do all people need to be married, or have children? No. Do some people have different rights than other kinds of people? No. Does that mean that certain kinds of people who are/have been disadvantaged need help, both materially and in educating the "other"? Yes.

Feminism isn't just about women, it's about what you think about people.

Tobes said...

I agree spot-on with Zula and Jeff!

Red Queen, I agree with you completely that day care providers etc need more $$ I don't think that blame falls on stay at home moms. It's like blaming people who cook meals at home for the poor pay of McDonalds workers....

Poor wages will only be fixed by lobbying the powers who can fix that.

But I get your point.

katya said...

TRQ: "It is because we have a cultural ideal that women should be handling all of this work without benefit to themselves. When a woman with other options chooses to stay home and do that work for free- she devalues the work of everyone else in a kind of race to the bottom minimum wage war."

So what if a *man* stays home and does that work for free? Or are they judged by a different set of standards?

Also, because I read on your (red queen's) blog your example of your son hypothetically choosing not to pursue a career, and you brought up the problem (or error) of making oneself dependent: My father decided to quit his job to raise my brother and me, because my parents were able to subsist on one income and they wanted to have someone home with their kids. He thus made himself "dependent," as would a woman who made the same choice. (Are men who try to reenter the workforce after years without work experience going to face the same obstacles as women? No, probably not, but they still sacrifice a lot of their options in doing this.) But it was important and feasible for my parents to have one of them be home full-time for their children. And, yeah, it's a gamble for anyone to become financially dependent on someone else, but that doesn't make it inherently any antifeminist action.

So, of course the fact that there are women (and men) who are underpaid for working in sectors belittled as merely women's traditional responsibilites IS a feminist issue. But that doesn't mean it's solely, if even significantly, the *fault* of women not working outside the home, or that they're *not* concerned with this problem. And how is attacking women who make this choice -- especially without knowing their individual and probably complex reasons for doing so -- going to help those workers at all? (Or anyone else, for that matter... Like I said before, it's a REALLY broad statement to say that choosing to stay home, in itself, is not a feminist choice.)

tinfoil hattie said...

Okay, Red Queen. Raising my own children is not anti-feminist. I don't agree with your implicit argument that I owe more of a debt to poorly paid child care workers than I do to my own children, or that the only way I can raise child care workers' low wages is to send my children to daycare to be taken care of by underpaid workers.

I want to be with my children. I like them. I love them. They enrich my life. They are awesome people.

My husband makes about 70% of what he could make if he didn't work at home, on one or two clients at a time, because he wants to be with the kids too.

That is not anti-feminist. It is giving up many, many monetary advantages so we could raise our children together, and build a close-knit family.

I'm really tired of being told I "owe" it to feminism to let someone else be the primary caretaker of my kids. It's quite tedious, and very ignorant and ill-informed.

Vodalus said...

TRQ, your argument about low wages for people in traditional "women's work" presupposes that every woman should try to get the highest paying job that she can acquire. This would in turn cause all women to filter into categories of "can afford household support" and "is household support".

What if the distinction between those two categories is a measly $20 a month? How about $500? I think that if I only brought home enough to save $500 after paying for household support, I would rather spend my time maintaining my own home than dealing with a job. But that's still quite a lot of money; I've had apartments with lower rent. So where do you draw the line between women who can and cannot afford to hire household support? Does that line have any correlation between a woman's desire to spend more time with her children, dog, library, World of Warcraft account, etc?

To me, this is where your argument falls apart. There is inherent value in maintaining your own "stuff"--it's satisfying to people. That's why people garden, build toy trains, or keep fish. Its why a lot of women decide to stay home. It's also why there's a growing subset of men who choose to remain at home and resent the social pressure against their decision.

I also want to point out that your argument can be reversed against women working outside of the home. What if your family can afford to live on a single salary? What if a woman in that situation would only be qualified to work in a low-wage job traditionally reserved for women? Since she could easily get by without doing this work, shouldn't she refrain and allow other women who need the money to work? This is not idle speculation as it is a pretty common trend for highly educated men to marry women with significantly less education. And a decent number of stay-at-home wives to pick up a part-time job as something to do during the day.

Rebecca said...

I do believe I've never before seen a self-identified feminist arguing that - rather than, as privileged white women, splitting our housework with our partners, we should instead pay some economically marginalised woman of colour to do our dirty work for us.

That isn't a "feminist choice". It's a racist choice.

shiftercat said...

(Came here from Feministing)

One problem with your deal-breaker list is that it would discount some historical feminists. Nellie McClung was certainly a feminist, and a kick-ass woman in many ways... but she supported eugenics, which is, in execution if not ideal, racist and contrary to reproductive freedom. However, we in the modern time have to bear in mind that her views were formed well before the Holocaust took place.

I'd say that the only criterion for being a feminist is belief in the equality of women and men. That said, I think you're right that there are some issues, such as reproductive rights, which are inherently feminist, and others such as racial equality and GLBT rights which intersect with feminism to such an extent that a feminist would have to be willfully ignorant not to realize their importance.

Adrienne said...

Oh jeez.

Here's a fun fact about me: I teach 2 year olds. I have a class of 12, and I love them dearly, even though I am paid just over minimum wage to do so. I have parent-teacher conferences next week, and if one of my parents were to say that he/she is going to stay home with their children, I would say, "That is freaking awesome." It does not devalue the work I do to have a stay at home parent. IMHO, having a stay at home parent is often the BEST educational, emotional, and social environment for a young child. No matter how good I am at my job, I cannot replace a parent, and I can't give as much one on one attention as I would like to. Even if it is anti-feminist, you have to look at the best interests of the child.


I am having qualms about this list (even though I appreciate that you went through all this work because of me) :) I feel like it is more of a list for 'the ideal feminist.'

Human beings are constantly developing and changing-- I think that if a woman stands up for herself and demands equal pay at her job, whether or not she is racist or homophobic, that is the beginnings of feminism.

Think of your feminist heros, whoever they may be. One of mine is Amelia Earhart--- I have no idea what her thoughts on racism, homophobia, or stay at home mothers was. No clue. It doesn't matter to me, because the reason I admire her is because she took a patriarcal system and tore it down. If she were racist or homophobic, that would be sad and wrong, but it would also have been in line with the cultural thinkings of the time.

In this way, we cannot say, 'that woman is not a feminist' because she is or is not anything. The only thing someone has to do to be a feminist is to believe that they are the equal to every man they know and that they personally deserve to have equal footing in the world.

When we start saying someone isn't a feminist because they don't believe in abortion, that means that we've become an exclusive club, like a sorority, where sisterhood is only offered to those who meet certain qualifications and are willing to do certain things. That is certainly not what I signed up for.

That being said, I DO believe that if a woman is a feminist and does decide that she is the equal to any man, eventually her thoughts will begin to include that all people are equal, regardless of color or creed or sexual orientation. But it's wrong of us to shun them while they are sorting themselves out. That's just discrimination by another name.

Tobes said...

All of what you said is really true, Adrienne. Really true actually because a lot of historical feminist heroes were very racist-- as someone here pointed out earlier. But that was a different time -- either way...

The bigger point I've come to realize in this AWESOME discussion is-- who am I to say what a feminist is? NO ONE. Just a random blogger! But still, let's just say I did start my own feminist club... (heh, that would rock—we could be in a treehouse) I would so NOT want to deal with the "pro-life feminist" faction.

I think inevitably they’d have to find their own group until they figured it all out. Cause I’m just not patient enough to deal with that type of feminist… call me an idealist :)

Adrienne, you rock as always.

The Red Queen said...

Wow- first I didn't say all childcare work should be down by minorities. So thanks for ascribing racism where it does not exist. I Love it when people put words in my mouth. Such a fun way of diverting an argument from THE ACTUAL POINT.

Second- if we stop treating womens work as something that requires no skill or education, then wages will go up. And I don't think the brunt of the cost for those services should fall on the parents. Raising children is a service vital to society- without it society would literally cease to exist. In that case, more educated and skilled workers should be doing the job.

Raising children is vital to societies continuance. It is more vital to society than it is to even the individual parents. But we put all of the labor, all of the cost, and none of the benefits on the unpaid workers doing the job of raising those children. We give those workers neither the education or the skill set to raise children (if we did would there be quite as much child abuse?)

Instead we continue with this ideal that sacrificing yourself for the good of the kiddies is the ultimate in female ascendancy. We make women who have to or who want to work feel bad because they aren't willing to subvert themselves for their kids. We do not do that with dads- ever. Because we need the free labor that women provide in order for society to continue on the way that it has for the last couple thousand years.

So yes- women who stay home (and men, though they have a much easier time going back to work after kids than women do) devalue a valuable job. If raising children is as difficult as you all say it is- then demand that mothers get paid for it. Or demand government subsidies of childcare and higher education levels for childcare workers. But don't feed me a line a of patriarchal crap about how it's better for the kids. Stay at home moms make it CHEAP for society to continue in it's patriarchal ways.

akeeyu said...

Well, I've always considered the big feminist litmus test to be "Do you consider women to be human beings with rights?" If so, hey, you're in the club.

Red Queen...Jeez, there's a lot going on there. I'll agree with you that 'not every choice is a feminist choice'. Women who giggle and say "Oh, I just do whatever my husband says--it's so much easier than thinking!"? Clearly, that's not a feminist choice, there, BUT as a feminist, I certainly support her right to make it. Everyone's got a right to be an idiot if they so desire, you know?

I do think you're kind of out there on stay at home moms, though. By your logic, I shouldn't sew if I happen to enjoy it, because it's devaluing the work of those who work in the textile industry. I shouldn't grow a garden, because it devalues the work of migrant workers. I shouldn't apply a bandaid or perform basic first aid, because it devalues the work of nurses.

The funny thing is that under most circumstances, if you find an industry or the condition of workers morally repulsive, you DO NOT support that industry, so if you find the pay of people in paid child care to be too low, the ethical thing would be NOT to support that industry, wouldn't it? Generally, people boycott companies/industries, not patronise them further, right? Under that argument, hell, we should all be staying at home, right?

The thing is, not everybody can afford to stay home, and one of the reasons for that is the pathetic state of maternity leave in this country. Other countries are completely kicking our ass on this. Other countries VALUE the work of women who raise children, so they actually give women the option to stay home by paying them, sometimes for YEARS, to stay home. This country? Not so much. It's a bummer.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest distinction to notice between 'degrading' porn and 'non degrading porn' is the circumstance. as another anonymous commenter noted, she is turned on by submissive porn. however, she also refers to it as degrading. I think that if you are into a submissive/dominative lifestyle, that type of porn is not degrading, and therefore okay. As long as both parties involved are okay with the circumstances, that's really all feminism is.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any criteria to being a feminist. There is no litmus test. If a woman identifies as a feminist, she is one. No woman believing herself to being subordinate to men would say "oh, I'm a feminist." Think of the stigma that word causes nowadays. It's not something you can just say lightly, not if you are unprepared to defend your beliefs.

Also, leave porn out of this. The anonymous poster was correct--fantasy and reality are totally different things, and if I like submissive, degrading porn but otherwise I'm out making my own way as a feminist, it is no one's place--not any organization's, not any group's, not yours--to tell me that I'm not a feminist.

Anonymous said...

After posting an exclusive list on the nature of a feminist, Tobes discovered she's a "nobody" and all views on feminism are relative. Wow, blogging can certainly be a waste of time if this is all you learn. She has also discovered that she's an idealist. This is the wrong label for Tobes. She's more like a rigid, intolerant, close-minded, fundamentalist who simply discriminates against pro-life feminists because she can't tolerate our point of view. It's too bad the amazing progressive Tobes hasn't learned to be more open-minded and stategic. Much can be gained from partnering with pro-life feminists.

katya said...

"We make women who have to or who want to work feel bad because they aren't willing to subvert themselves for their kids."

And your response is to try to make women who are able and choose to stay home feel bad because they don't view that decision as "subverting themselves for their kids"? Compounding the shaming doesn't seem like a great solution.

Besides, that's a separate issue from people who CHOOSE to stay home, rather than women who do so against their own desires because they're guilt-tripped into it. One woman's choice to stay home with her kids may be twisted by some (probably antifeminist) people to shame a woman who doesn't or can't stay home, but that's hardly the fault of the former.

Tobes said...

At anonymous anti-choice feminist:

I might be willing to work with you but it depends...

Are you willing to help me reduce the rate of abortions through correct sex ed information and contraception?

Or do you just want to tell other women how to live their lives?

ouyangdan said...

Oh! Tobes! I agree this is a great list!

I don't think feminism needs to be an "exclusive club", but you are so right on. Feminism stopped being about just plain women's rights a long time ago. It is about human rights and equality for all humans, to be treated w/ decency and respect. This includes dealing w/ racism and homophobia. You are spot on, for me, you can not truly claim to be a feminist if you aren't willing to fight for the rights of POC and the LGBT community as well. Saying women are equal to men isn't enough, b/c there is a whole cross section of women out there who, even if women are equal (which we are by far, not), they are still WOC who will be treated second class b/c of that. Or we will see hate crimes against the LGBT community still acceptable b/c they think that they are lesser than human (want an example, go look at the trolling going on at the "Gayest Look" website...the hate is astounding).

I am all about a woman choosing her type of feminism, but the pro-choice thing is my deal breaker. I just don't see how someone can claim to be feminist and that they want humans to be equal, but then demand that women be forced to turn themselves into human incubators, risking life and well being. it just doesn't add up, no matter how not progressive brave ol' anonymous so and so thinks that makes us sound, a woman's right to do w/ her body as she sees fit is not up for negotiation.

RQ and I have never seen fully eye to eye on the SAHM issue. I think she is extreme on it, being that I think we need to support a woman's right to choose (I am reading The Mommy Myth right now, and this concept of SAHM vs WOOtHM is only meant to pit us against each other, the Media's way of Keeping Us in Our Place) even if she is choosing to be a feminist from her own home w/ her non-school aged children. I don't believe in shaming a woman for wanting to be at home w/ the children, as long as it's her choice, but also, as long as she is not trying to play the "I'm a better mommy than you" game. That being said, I am not going to give her a fucking cookie for doing what I do, while still holding down a full time job w/o the help of the Kid's father (my home sitch is non traditional, but her father is very much absent). I don't buy the "it's in the kids' best interest" line. I am just as good of a mother as any SAHM. I am involved, and I manage to spend quality time w/ my Kid too. At the end of the day, we are mothers, a fucking thankless job, unless you count hugs and macaroni cards and one day a year as a benefits package. Instead of blaming SAHMs or WOOtHMs, we should be blaming Nixon for vetoing legislation that would help provide good daycare, and wag our fingers at the "murderous nanny" phenomena that was meant to scare women into staying out of the workplace (ala The Hand that Rocks the Cradle). Feminism, historically, began as a way to help housewives and SAHMs get the rights and attention they deserve.

anyhow, this isn't my blog, so I will stop taking up space, but ROCK ON TOBES! Awesome fucking post.

and RQ, you are still the coolest cat in the sandbox, even if we don't always agree completely on everything, b/c I soooooo know where you are coming from on this. said...

I should add, Tobes, that I hope I am not coming off as "my feminism is better than your feminism". There just isn't any room for anti-humanism in it, not if we are going to beat the patriarchy. I hate the "my feminism is better than your feminism", but if my not negotiating w/ hate means i am a bad feminist, then I can sleep w/ that at night. we aren't going to win any fights drawing lines and pissing in our own sandboxes.

Vodalus said...

I'm going to complain about TRQ ignoring my comment and not addressing any of the points I brought up. Because I still don't really get where she's coming from at all--or at least, I don't understand the qualifiers that she used to get there.

Adrienne said...

Just an FYI:

In all federally funded child care centers, workers must have proof that they either possess a degree in child care or that they are working towards one. The goal in the industry was to have all child care workers with an associates degree or working towards one by the end of this year, and a bachelor's or working towards one by the end of 2011.

Also, NAEYC (which grants accredidation to preschools and child care centers nation-wide) requires that 80% of centers employ teachers with a CDA (which is less than an associates but more than a high school diploma) and that we follow the federal guidelines.

I do consider it to be a feminist issue that myself and my counterparts are paid criminally low wages for raising the next generation of law makers, doctors, and voters, but it is important work and I feel lucky to do it. If out of this discussion feminists decided to rally against the low wages paid to child care workers, I would gladly take my place among the protesters.

However, I do not consider it to be de-valuing to my work to have some parents choose to stay at home. The whole POINT of my work is to educate children in the best way possible and to create loving and safe environments for them-- what better than their own home?

Plus, I don't think that a need for child care is ever going to dry up. Child care centers often have waiting lists that are several pages long. Johnny Bystander deciding to take his infant home to be with him for a few years is not going to hurt my paycheck one bit, and will most likely insure that Johnny Jr is a more well-adjusted child who knows that his parents love him. said...

Adrienne, well said on all points, except one, that I take exception to. Why is it that everyone is so determined to say that children are more "well adjusted" staying at home exclusively w/ a parent than if they are in a child care facility, learning to socialize w/ other children, peers if you will? Not that my Kid is the only example (I know plenty more), but being an only child, and that I had to work, it was not a choice for me, she was able to stay w/ my grandparents, or any other adult at home, w/ only adults for playmates while I worked. Later, when she entered pre-school/daycare (after I moved away from my family), and later school, she has a difficult time playing w/ other children her own age. adults? She can chat up a very grown up conversation all day, as well as w/ older kids (high school), but she is painfully socially stunted w/ children her own age. If she had spent more time w/ children her own age, wouldn't she be better prepared to interact w/ her peers? Is this not also developmentally important?

by 1955 there were more mothers in the work force than ever in our history before, that slackened off until around 1970, and spiked again around 1984, w/ 46.8 percent of mothers w/ a child under the age of one working (the numbers spike for WOC), and single parent households (90 percent of them headed by single mothers) boomed by almost 80 percent. These children all had to be cared for somewhere. Are we implying here that a majority of the country isn't "well adjusted" b/c during that generational span countless children were not staying home w/ a parent? I am not sure I am buying it, no matter what the studies say. Daycare and preschool are important to social development.

This claim of "it's better for the Kid to be at home" is exactly the kind of thing that was meant to divide mothers into opposing sides, and get them to cast stones at one another. It isn't doing anyone good to play into this "mommy war".

keshmeshi said...

I think the number one component of a feminist is self-respect. Most feminist issues and feminist way-of-life extends from there.

Anne Onne said...

I still disagree with the red queen, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

When I live alone in a house, I have to clean it, right? It won't clean itself, and I may npot have the money or inclination to pay some poor worker peanuts to do it. Yes, it's undervalued work, and associated with women. I don't think it's fair that only women are expected to do it - I think everybody has to be responsible for themselves up to a point. We cook and clean for ourselves, because menial work as it is often seen as, we can't expect it all to be done for us.

Childcare is an extension of that, for me. If you have kids, you and your partner (unless you are a single parent) have a responsibility to care for that child. For you, that may mean you decide he(since we're talking about women's work being devalued, let's address the stereotypical absentee man) staying home, or working part time. It may mean you ( a woman) doing the same. It could be that your family would benefit mroe from his income, or that you prefer spending time with children more than he does. These are definitely as a result of the patriarchy, but all the same, you're living your life, and if you feel something, even if it is the patriachical I-give-in choice is the one best for you, what are we supposed to say? Do something that makes you miserable to advance somebody else's agenda?

Now, if you can afford childcare you feel comfortable with, and manage to find time to see your kids, that's also great. I understand the economic importance of independence and not being left with no career options and at the mercy of your friendly family patriarch. I'm not suggesting that women who get no kind of career and go straight into making babies and staying at home from the age of 19 are making some sort of big feminist choice. But I know that because of this choice (which wasn't really that much of a choice seeing as the inherent pressure makes it easier to take than the less acceptable, harder choice of raising your kids and working), but they will be punished enough by the patriarchy for being women every day of their lives, they don't need our judgement. If they break up with hubby, their ecomomic situation will be terrible, and their career options bleak. We need to help women post-divorce, and encourage more women to be independent, but not judge.

But I don't think feminists denigrating women for choosing the route they've been pressured to chosoe from birth will make it less devalued. I think it devalues the work more, because it seeks to guilt women for trying to do what they feel best for their kids. It pits women against women (just like the patriarchy always wanted awwww!), and redirects the focus, when we should be worrying about why men aren't doing their fair share, why domestic work is only for women, why those we employ to do it get a pittance. Criticising individual women for raising their kids won't helps change any of these things.

I don't think that any one type of parent is better than the other, and I don't think that working mothers are any worse for their children than stay-at-home mothers. Just like I think having one parent, or two single-sex parents, or a non-parent guardian is also no indication of their fitness to raise a child. Whatever works best for a family is best for them.

But naturally, if a woman stays at home, not because she wants to, but because her husband, family or community pressure her to, I don't think it's good, because the choice should be made by her (though partners in a relationship should talk, the one who has to bear the brunt should ahve the deciding vote, naturally.), but in that case she should be pitied, for not having a real choice, not devalued herself.

I also think an important part of feminism for me is being able to agreee to disagree with other feminists, realise we both want equality, and have much we agree on. I think we need to work together to make equality a reality, and whilst I think it's great to have debates (yes, even really heated ones), I like ot hope at the end of the day that we can pull together against the patriarchy. It makes me very sad when I come accross some slinging match between feminists where each side brands those who disagree with them as being as bad as the patriarchical misogynists and refuses to have anything to do with them, when we are both fighting for the same thing.

Feminists as people aren't perfect, we're as proud and stubborn a bunch of people (it's probably a requirement ;) ) as ever existed, and we get things wrong and misplace our anger and hold grudges. I think there needs to be a place in feminism for all sorts, from the diplomatic types who want to network feminism, to the more reserved types who prefer to keep to their own ideologies.

I just hope that as a movement we can still try to learn things from each other, or at least not hate each other when we disagree.

Midge said...


your point is totally valid. What i meant is that no child care, no matter how awesome they are (and there are some awesome ones!) can provide the kind of one-on-one attention that most children really need.

It is true that having playmates their own age is vital. My little sister is staying home with her step-daughter and I recommended to her that she get involved with the Sunday school, or the library reading program, or another community group, where they could make friends with another family such that they could hang out together.

A lot of people I know either a part-day daycare, from say, 9-12, or they have their kids stay at home with them until pre-k and then they send them to daycare.

I kind of derailed your post, Tobes. :)

Anne Onne said...

I also *still* can't see how you can be pro-life and truly feminist.

Anti having an abortion yourself? yes. Your beliefs about what you should do with your body beling to you.

Not wanting an abortion yourself doesn't mean you are automatically pro-life. A lot of people I know struggle to realise that being pro-choice doesn't mean you want to have an abortion, or even believe they are morally right.

It simply means you believe they should be legal, and respect that other people

Anti other people doing something with their bodies that has nothing to do with you? How can that possibly be feminist? Is it feminist to demand nobody get piercings because I might not like them? What about demanding eating meat be made illegal if I'm vegetarian? Making Christianity the compulsory religion for all the people in this country, if that's my moral view?

Anonymous, For all your coming over here to insult Tobes for trying to have a discussion on what feminist values are, you haven't given any good reason to suggest that a 'feminist' who doesn't believe women should control their own bodies has an opinion worth listening to on anything. You haven't even given any justification that such a position can be feminist, and how it helps women.

Also, if you think it's a waste of time, feel free to save yourself the bother of telling us what we're missing. It sounds too much like sour grapes.

(Sorry, Tobes. But this is too interesting a discussion not to snap back at somebody for being dismissive of it. Though I might not agree with all the comments, I think it's important to have the discussion, and that we can find a lot to agree on as feminists, and learn from each other. Mindlessly insulting people just isn't a part of this. )

Kim@Religiarchy said...

I've gotta say (as I duck under a table), I agree with TRQ and RB.

I lived in Norway for two years and though in a lot of respects it was like traveling back in time to the 1950s and extremely family-friendly, it's rare for a mom to stay at home full time. They do however get 9 months to a year of PAID parental leave. (Fathers also get that benefit if they choose to be the one to stay home.) And 90% of mothers are still breastfeeding their babies four months after birth (vs. 42% in the US)

Norway has among the very highest literacy rates, the highest education rates, the highest GDPs per capita; it also has one of the lowest crime rates and lowest poverty rates in the world. It made national news when there was a young girl was sexually harassed by a stranger; kidnapping is virtually non-existent. And 72% of mothers work outside the home.

The government gives a cash benefit to parents who stay at home with their children (so they are still PAID workers). Or, they pay part of childcare costs for those who want to work outside the home. Caregivers are also guaranteed healthcare, and a pension -- and they've very likely gone to trade school or university, as most Norwegians have. They are skilled workers.

Now that's giving a real choice that empowers women (and men) who decide to stay home with their kids. Not treating them as if they don't matter, as if they are invisible, as if our system of government doesn't value their contributions to society.

Can you imagine if our tax dollars went toward the women and men we've made invisible in our nation--the unpaid caregivers?? Instead, we're subsidizing huge, profitable oil companies and giving tax breaks to the rich.

There is a way to have the best of both worlds. But apparently you need gender parity in the legislative bodies to do it...

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

Adrienne, your information is skewed drastically toward high-end child care, which the parents of children who really need it can rarely afford. Who can wait for months or years for child care? Who can afford NAEYC-accredited care (which is rare, if not entirely absent, in some areas of the country)? You have to be middle-class or better at least.

I had to smile at some of the comments made today. I had coffee with a new friend tonight who was insisting that it's the kids who stay at home with their moms who are smarter. I smiled and explained to her that my son has been in child care, full-time, year-round, since he was six weeks old, and now he's the ONLY kindergartner in the gifted program in his school. She was understandably surprised. I pointed out to her that studies have actually shown that the primary caregiver's education tends to be the best determinant of a child's own apparent aptitude (read: knowledge). That's the main thing, in my opinion, that makes success appear genetic.

Hey awesome feminists: Go read stories to some poor local preschoolers today.

Best -


Sarah said...

RE: The Red Queen...

I know I'm skipping over a lot of posts and perhaps you even answered it, but I would have to disagree with you about saying women who stay at home are not feminists. If a woman chooses to stay at home, how does that not make her a feminist? I would love to be able to stay at home and take care of my children at least up until the point where they start school. I can't imagine wanting to be apart from them and working during those first couple of years, I wantot be the one seeing them take their first steps, hear their first words, etc. I would consider myself a feminist nonetheless and I don't think wanting to be a stay at home mom for a while makes me any less of one than anyone else.

Adrienne said...


it is true that accredited daycares are typically more expensive than those that aren't, but that isn't all I was talking about. Federally funded daycares are moving towards having a lot of the same requirements (like staff education and low-child ratios), and by 'federally funded' I am talking about Head Start, Early Head Start, Migrant Head Start, etc, in which 90% of the children enrolled must be economically disadvantaged (the other 10% must have special needs).

There is also a program called Title 20, which is when the state sponsors you or reimburses you for child care. The program that I work for (which is NAEYC accredited) is 85% Title 20 students.

That is wonderful that things worked out that way for your child, and along with parental support he must have been very lucky to have attentive care at the child care he was attending. But that isn't always the case for every child who attends, in my opinion, because gifted people doing work at child care because the pay is so lousy.

I may have misunderstood your statistic. But if I do understand it correctly, I don't buy it quite yet. Not to belittle your experience, since it is awesome that your child is doing so well, but neither of my parents have college degrees (my dad didn't even finish high school), and my three siblings and I were all in the gifted program at our school, we all went on to do very well in college, and my older sister now has a Ph.D. I've mentioned here before that I don't really like statistics because it skews a point of view. For example, if I had an economist philosophy on life (which I don't) I might say that the reason your statistic is true is because people with higher levels education typically break the poverty cycle and have nice homes, nutritious meals, and outside support (which can be as basic as a family doctor, which some of the mothers I serve don't know how to find). Or I might point out that being able to complete an advanced degree would mean that you are able to read and process information better than someone who only completed high school, and therefore it's easier for you to research the best child cares, or child-rearing practices, or nutritional guidelines, whereas other women can't.

When it comes to kids, obviously everyone is different and develops differently, and there is no cure-all. But I don't think I am being anti-feminist by saying that in my experience when a child stays home (with EITHER parent) they typically get more attention and more one on one care, which is never a bad thing.

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

You did misunderstand me. I was not suggesting that my son has done well because of attention from his child care providers. I was suggesting that he has done well because of me - whatever he's gotten from me, although I think that my point was well made since you assumed that it must've been from his child care providers instead. What, a mom who works full-time from when a child is six weeks old can no longer have any greater impact on his development than getting him into good day care? Please. Maybe the red queen is right. At least then you all might think twice before pathologizing every child whose mother has to work for his or her whole life in this country.

Secondly, while I am aware of Head Start, those programs, where they do exist, are never large enough to serve even 1% of the population eligible for and in need of their services. Thus while I was receiving government assistance with child care costs for a few years while my son was young, I was never able to get him into a Head Start program. There just weren't enough spots.

Which is again evidence that it wasn't a good child care facility like that that is responsible for what success my son has achieved so far.

And I don't recall including a single "statistic" in my comment either. In fact, I was quite vague. But here's what I meant: Studies have shown that the size of a child's vocabulary, at 3 years old, when it is already a major predictor of the child's future academic success, is directly correlated to that of his or her mother. I called that "education," but I didn't stipulate "higher education" or even "school education."

Adrienne said...

I'm not sure how you got that I think that your child's success was due to his child care. I don't at all, and don't think that I implied that. Not knowing you or your son I can't assume anything. All I've been trying to do, from the beginning of Tobes' entry, is discuss what I know from MY personal and professional experience.

The 'statistic' that you quoted that confused me was: "studies have actually shown that the primary caregiver's education tends to be the best determinant of a child's own apparent aptitude (read: knowledge)" Which is, first of all, VASTLY different from what you are now saying, which relates only to vocabulary, which is only one part of a child's cognitive development. Again, NOT to belittle your experience, but as a professional, that is only one of the myriad of skills that I would use to determine, say, kindergarten readiness or a similar assessment.

I've said it about a thousand times. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG with putting your child in child care. Obviously-- if no one did, I would be out of a job. My entire career is about assisting working families (the majority of my experience is with working single moms), but the point I was trying to make here is that there is nothing anti-feminist about choosing to stay home with your child, and in fact, I feel that saying that it is anti-feminist is an anti-feminist statement.

ALSO I still stand by my original assertion: in my experience, having one on one attention at home with a parent is MOST of the time better than being in child care. There are always exceptions to the rule and of course, there are children who have special needs that a parent cannot fulfill, but in general, my experience has shown me that the children who stayed home even for one year with a parent, or for half the day, or with both parents taking turns, etc, are much more prepared for pre-school and do better in a child care or school setting. MOST of the time.

But I repeat. there is NOTHING wrong with sending your child to child care, AND there is nothing anti-feminist about staying home.

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

Why are you conflating data with "my experience"? Seems to me that it is EXACTLY to belittle it. Whatever impression I got of what you were saying came from what you were saying. And you are continuing to say it: "having one on one attention at home with a parent is MOST of the time better than being in child care." How do you see that as "nothing wrong with putting your child in child care"? Only if there's nothing wrong with not doing what's best for your child. Are you a parent? Do you know what the guilt feels like, when no decision that you make, when nothing that you do for your child, is good enough to free you, even for a moment, from criticism, from second thoughts, from worries about screwing up, with every slight little thing, the rest of your child's life and the world around him/her? If not, back off. And that IS my experience talking now.

Jessica B. Burstrem said...

Second response, less upset: It makes no sense at all to respond to a problematic argument with the opposite (i.e., not only is it not bad to stay home with your kids, but it's better to do that than anything else). I think that the original point was that, these days, every woman staying home is logged as a point against feminism (and it is, in every newspaper article that discusses such "statistics"), so, in support of feminism - and in pursuit of a world in which staying home isn't the "best" choice because we actually support families - feminists shouldn't make that choice. How typical that such a debate would verge so far from what we should do in accordance with our feminist ideology to, omigod, what's good for the children? That perspective is well represented, I assure you. Why can't mothers too enact their ideology in their lives without being bad mothers as a result? Why do we have to qualify it with whether or not it's good for the children?

Adrienne said...

It has been suggested that I have a hard time letting arguments go. That may be a personality flaw. :)

However, I keep thinking about this discussion.

No, I'm not a parent, so, no, I don't know firsthand the worry and guilt that comes along with every parenting decision you make(although I have been witness to gads of those decisions with the families I serve, as well as experience my own worries/guilt as the teacher of toddlers).

However, child care is my area of expertise and, frankly, I am very good at it. The reason that I would come at this debate from the point of view of 'what is best for the child' is because that's usually the point of view that I take with MOST debates. That's my job. IF a debate is waffling on the side of either feminism or child 'advocacy' (which I don't think this one does), I WILL choose child advocacy every time. If you think that means I'm not a feminist or that I am putting back the movement, I would urge you to read other posts that I have offered on subjects that DON'T involve children.

All research and statistics aside, I still don't understand how it can be construed as anti-feminist for a woman to CHOOSE to stay at home with her child. If that is the case, is it anti-feminist for a woman to decide to stay home/not work because she wants to write poetry or paint landscapes? Is it anti-feminist for a woman to choose to stay home because she doesn't like to work and would just rather not? Does the qualification for being a feminist mean that you have to be 100% self reliant and self sufficient, and not take any support from your partner? Where do we draw the line on how MUCH support is too much to be considered a feminist? (And, btw, THAT is actually what this debate started as-- feminists drawing lines in the sand against other women for their choices).

If YOUR ideology is one that supports going to work and having your child in child care, that is fantastic for you, and I'm so happy that you have had a good experience. Obviously I think there are awesome child care providers out there, and I could recommend a lot of them in my area.

But don't get all over Jane Doe's ideology that supports that she stay home with her children. It certainly does NOT make her anti-feminist to do so, and it certainly does not make you a bad mother to not do so. Feminism is about a woman's right to CHOOSE, to make her OWN priorities and decisions and base her life around them. Frankly I'm offended, and I think a lot of women would be, that its considered a feminist faux pas for me to decide that the one thing that I would like to do more than anything is to stay home with my child-- maybe for no other reason than that I'm greedy for their time-- and if my partner and I can figure out a way to make that work, then what's the problem? It isn't setting back any movement and it isn't anti-feminist. ANTI-feminism is telling a woman what she can and can't do with her own life.