Can Housewifery Be Feminist?

In this week’s cover story in New York magazine, Lisa Miller profiles women whose decision to leave work and become stay at home moms is seen by them as a fulfillment of the grand feminist desire to “have it all.” Jessica Grose over at Slate’s DoubleX does a great job at explaining why the journalism in the piece is a little unsteady. Miller only has one example of a real life feminist housewife and recent Censes Bureau Statistics tell us that these feminist housewives are rare birds after all.

Even if Miller’s claims are untrue, the story still left me thinking about whether the choice to stay at home can really be interpreted as feminist. It might be the best thing for some families, and even necessary for a few. But feminist? Not sure.

The problem with Miller’s piece lies in the way she defines feminism as the quest for personal happiness. Miller writes:

But when we put feminism back in the context of the struggle for gender equality the “full embrace of domesticity” no longer seems like a solution to the work life issues that haunt us. If anything, it is the result of two different and strong forces working directly against women right now.

One is the fact that women are less likely to choose housewifery, than be forced into it by the lack of support for working parents in their jobs. Over at HuffPo, Lisa Belkin says that she now realizes that the women she wrote about a decade ago who were “opting out” of their jobs were really being pushed out by employers stuck on the notion that we all have a home-bound “better half.”

Belkin writes:

The other force working against women is parenting, which has become a bigger job than ever. Miller acknowledges this in her piece, but doesn’t connect the dots between the pressure to be our children’s personal trainers/ tutors/ drama coaches/ Spanish partners/ best friends and the fact that many of us believe that we simply just can’t be the parents that we should be while holding a job.

I wish, really, that we were at a point where a woman’s choice to stay at home with her kids had nothing to do with her gender. We are so far from that.

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