Tuesday, April 18, 2006

I Am Thoroughly Confused by Feminism these Days

Guest Post by Libby

I think it happened slowly. First, my son was diagnosed with a debilitating life-long disorder which has upended my family. This caused me to reconsider much of what I'd worked on when he was a baby. I'd begun graduate school when he was six months old and finished just six months after his diagnosis. My scholarly interest was in women's studies and my master's focused on women's history. What I'd envisioned for myself was a return to teaching, some sort of career tangent writing about and studying women. Perhaps a PhD too. What I discovered about feminism, I liked. It was also simple: women should be treated equally. Of course, there are lots of shades of meaning in this over time, but the message has remained at least a constant underlying one no matter when mainstream feminism took it.

And then came the disorder, the TSS's, the behavior specialists, the juggling of babysitters. Essentially all of these various nannies with their varied functions. Now, the babysitters also serve as transportation for my other children, taking them to preschool and gymnastics and the library for storytime. Sometimes two are required at the same time. All of this so that I can work. It's very unfeminist (to coin a phrase) to question whether or not all of these extra people are truly necessary, but the question is relevant because for me, these people are necessary. In a rational sense, I understand this. But deep down is the nagging feeling that I should be home and that the sitters are being deprived of their own sense of self and my son is in need of me more than trained experts.

I'm sure what's under all of this is the same engineered guilt that working mothers are taught to have by books like The Mommy Wars and surely by Caitlin Flanagan's new book, To Hell with All That. The New York Times says:

What makes Flanagan's book original and vital is that she is a realist, willing to acknowledge the essential gray areas in too often polarized positions. As it stands, sensitivities are so attuned to the slightest insult of any one of women's myriad work-life choices that Flanagan's simplest observations — for example, when a woman works something is lost — are taken as an indictment of working women. Yet any working mother can see the truth in such a statement: time spent working = less time with children = something lost. What's appalling is that pointing this out raises such ire.

She does raise ire - her articles in the Atlantic Monthly regularly piss me off, in part because she's on to something there. She plays to my fear that my working takes something from my children and that, especially with my youngest's disorder, my working is selfish (and yet this is the same writer who confesses that the only way she could successfully be a stay-at-home mom was with a nanny!).

All of this is to say that I still feel ambivalent about mothers, both those who work and those who stay at home, but more so now than ever before. Are those who are at home subjugating their needs in exchange for the tediousness and drudgery of home? Or are they simply waiting for their children to leave the nest so they can pursue their own lives? Are those who work subjugating the needs of their families in exchange for their own satisfaction? What about women who *must* work?