As you stand surrounded by the debris of domesticity, up to your armpits in washing, cradling a sick child and wondering what’s for dinner can I ask what are your thoughts on feminism? I know probably not your most pressing issue at the moment but bear with me.
Hands up if you identify as being a feminist? On what criteria do you make that call?
I’m just wondering because once upon a time I would have definitely have labelled myself a feminist – I was going to have a career, one I had every right to have, I expected I would get paid the same as my male counterparts, I retained my surname when I married, I assumed equality was a given, I knew I was going to have it all.
Then I had a child.
Suddenly the cosmos shifted dramatically.
I still remember having to bath my newborn in the nursery in front of staff and other parents – I had no idea what I was doing but wasn’t given the option of not doing the task. My husband elected to bath our daughter for the first time in the privacy of our home.
I distinctly remember that feeling hitting home that I was a little more tied to this child than he was (physically I mean – pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding you kinda got be around when you are the mother). My expectation of a 50/50 partnership began to disintegrate before I even left the hospital.
Six months later I offered my husband the opportunity to be a stay at home dad – he said no thanks.
Then I had to reassess my priorities, figure out how to make this parenting/work thing happen.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a committed dad who has always done more than his fair share of parenting, housework and cooking. But essentially the organising of our life, the career sacrifices have had to come down to me.
There was a brief period of time when we moved to Brisbane where both my husband and I were looking for work. There were tears one evening when I realised it was all different now. I came with baggage. It may have been illegal but I was asked “What are your childcare arrangements?” “How will you manage organising a breakfast function and an evening function in the one day if you have a child at home?” While for my husband having a family was seen as a sign of stability and security. He was less likely to leave a job when other people relied on him for income.
So I opted out, I worked from home, around the kids, bringing in varied amounts depending on, the health of the kids/the amount of sleep I’d managed to get/my husband’s shifts. On another tearful occasion I remember asking my husband if he would be doing his job if he didn’t have children – the answer was yes – he was doing a job he loved, that he had trained for and couldn’t see any reason he would want to change. I, however, would not have elected for my job if I had not had children. In hindsight in that time period I learnt more than I ever had before, I developed a ton of new skills, became more flexible and discovered a whole host of new things about myself, it was an opportunity to completely reinvent myself which, although painful was very valuable.
However, did my decision to be predominantly a stay-at-home mum for 10 years mean I handed in my feminist beliefs? I’ve always felt even if I did identify as being a feminist I don’t think other more public feminists would agree.
What is it to be a feminist in 2012? Is it still effective to have an identifiable force called feminism or does the strategy need to change?
Speaking from the suburbs of a regional area, and having spent a number of hours recently trawling through the blogosphere, I think women are tired, overwhelmed and struggling. I’m not sure our most active feminists are getting that fact.
I’m rapidly gaining the opinion we can’t do it on our own. Today’s dads and husbands are far more involved in “women’s issues” than our fathers where. They are at school drop-off/pick-up, they attend all the kid’s activities, they cook as many meals as their wives, they want us to be happy but they have no idea how to make that happen.
Sexism and inequality are still prevalent and while some important battles were won the war still rages, particularly in the workforce.
Do we need a more inclusive model to deal with the issues? Do we need to look at making life better for everyone and selling the benefits to men, people without children, those in charge of our worlds?
What does feminism mean to you?