As the Mommy Wars are heating up again for the umpteenth time this week with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In movement, Marissa Mayer’s ridiculous telecommuniting policies and the NY Magazine article on the “retro feminist wife,” I know only one thing.
I do not judge or blame Kelly Makino, the young woman profiled in this article as a complacent stay-at-home mom who is being compared to Phyllis Schlafly for setting the woman’s movement back. Schlafly is known for her opposition to modern feminism and for her campaign against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. Makino is a 33-year-old former social worker who chose to become a stay at home mom because she “believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young…were not being looked after the right way.” Also she argues that because girls typically grow up playing dolls, “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Makino was used as a tool by the magazine to make a point, and if I were her, I wouldn’t be bragging about my inclusion in this grossly written article to my friends. I wouldn’t call it a pleasant portrayal for someone who is hopefully more interesting than she is made out to be.
I wouldn’t exactly call her values “feminist”, but I’m not saying that a housewife can’t be a feminist either. I certainly did not give back that title when I chose to stay home. But like Betty Freidan wrote in The Feminine Mystique, I knew I had a problem. I longingly watched my friends get on the train in the morning and leave our suburb for the city, knowing that they had something other than formula and breastfeeding to put their minds to. My choice to leave the work force was not only economic, but it was also so I could enjoy my child without the chaos of dealing with a 3 hours a day commute. I knew that eventually I would return to work and I was fortunate to have a choice. I don’t think that most men have to worry about juggling the two worlds quite as much as women, which is part of the problem that Friedan described and still one that we face.
Why must women continue to judge other women? We all know how tough these choices are. None of us ever expected to “throw away” our graduate degrees and flourishing careers when we had children, but some of us didn’t quite understand the extent of the changes that we were about to experience. I know I didn’t.
The New York Magazine article finishes by using Makino as bait: “By making domesticity her career, she and the other stay-at-home mothers she knows are standing up for values, such as patience, and kindness, and respectful attention to the needs of others, that have little currency in the world of work. Professional status is not the only sign of importance, she says, and financial independence is not the only measure of success.”
After ten years of doing this thing they call motherhood, these are MY decisions. I know not to judge any mother for the ones they have made. Being a stay-at-home is a very honorable job. So is going to work. Just because a woman decides to do one thing doesn’t mean that she won’t change her mind later. Even with the addition of flex-time and part-time jobs in the last decade, it doesn’t mean that these types of jobs are always available. Even though men are more helpful than during the time The Feminine Mystique was written, it doesn’t mean that they are as helpful as Sandberg’s husband who apparently does 50% of the work. It doesn’t help that maternity leave policies are less desirable in the U.S. than other countries where women are given more time to be with their newborns and jobs are held for longer periods of time and then turned into part-time jobs for the first few years of their children’s lives. We have to work with the policies that we have in place and push for better ones.
It’s all about choice. Let’s stop judging each other for the ones we make and do this thing called Motherhood together.