Recently, some polls have shown that though the vast majority of people who took the poll think that men and women should be equal, far fewer consider themselves feminists. When asked why they answer that feminists seem too aggressive, divisive and are unnecessary. I don’t believe feminism has to be aggressive nor do I believe it’s unnecessary. I just think it’s lost it’s way a little. We became so involved in the work of proving we could do the same work as men, we didn’t stop to think if that was the most appropriate change for society. This isn’t to say that all women want to have children, nor that if they do they are the one’s automatically responsible for the full-time caring role. None of the this excludes the LBGTQ community, nor women or men who don’t wish to have children. However as cliche and saccharine as it sounds children are literally the future, so how we deal with them as a society is extremely important.
Only 1 in 7 women in the UK consider themselves feminists according to a survey by netmums, mostly because they find it too divisive. Meanwhile in an American poll only 20% said they considered themselves feminists, though 82% believe in equality for the sexes (who are the other 18%!?) Most women in the netmums survey would like to see feminism help reform the growing negative perception of putting motherhood first. Instead, feminism feels aggressive toward motherhood at best; conciliatory maybe but wishing more women would engage in something other than just keeping kids alive (which is a vast misunderstanding of what stay at home mothers are doing each day). What never seems to be acknowledged is that child development is exactly the place where the equality battleground can be won. All of our cultural issues stem from what we teach our children and if we cannot align with parents, feminism will continue to feel marginalized and find it difficult to help shape change. Children learn how to act by how they are treated. So if you want to teach boys not to rape, start by respecting them when they are small (hint: the getalong shirt is not teaching kids body autonomy). If you want girls to know how to negotiate for higher pay in the workplace and feel confident, that can be learned very early too. My three year old is brilliant at negotiation because that’s how we operate in this house. If you want men to do more housework, you must start when they are boys. Let them see their dad doing it (as much as possible) while they are growing up and let them play with kitchen sets, toy cleaning equipment, and even dolls. Do not steer them away from these things. Consider the concepts that gendered clothes and toys promote, namely the idea that gender roles should be adhered to. Further on the housework front, girls have “higher career aspirations” if their dad does housework, rather than if their mother is a career woman. It makes perfect sense to me that a girl would look at her mom doing “the second shift” and say “no thanks.”
We do need to work on equality in the hearts and minds of the general population still, this is clear. Cultural issues of this type, where people still think that “girls get flustered easily” and “boys are more even tempered” take a lot of shaking off. Contrary to wide spread belief however, equality does not have to involve all women taking part in the (patriarchal capitalist) system of paid work while farming the kids out to other people to raise. This does not and will not make a better society for anyone. Of course, neither does it have to mean women staying home with their kids full time. Women have proven they can participate fully in any sector of the workforce, few still believe they can’t. It is my belief that the next stage needs to be convincing men to step back from their careers, in the same way most women do, when they have children. Alternatively in a same sex relationship raising children the expectation should be that both will step back from their careers. We need to create a society where it is accepted and expected that parents first priority is to their family, which means being with them. In a recent Harvard study, they found that 80% of kids think that achievements are more important than caring for others. And who could blame them? Schools are testing more than ever, and we’re scheduling more and more of their time so they can get better and better at specific, prescribed activities. Everyone and everything is goal oriented. There is no “sandbox” playing anymore even though play is what kids these days need most. Everyone is expected to trade their time for money, it is the ultimate unquestioned paradigm that the only worthwhile activity is the paid activity (or the kind of volunteering you can add to a CV!). Its completely acceptable for the government to help with the cost of childcare so a parent can get paid taking care of someone else’s child, but its not acceptable to just help allow a parent to stay home and take care of their own child. Such a scenario, if we could stomach it, would largely result in better outcomes for both children and society. Sadly full time parenting is often looked at with suspicion and even scorn.
There have been numerous articles, memes and blog posts all over the internet by feminists telling women who don’t consider themselves feminists that they are wrong to do so. But 80% of people aren’t just misunderstanding, they’re clearly disagreeing with what seems to be the basic values which emanate from feminist discussion, mainly that family isn’t important. Feminism never meant to become the narcissistic whiny little girl it sometimes looks like. It was meant to inject femininity and maternalism into a masculine patriarchal world. We should be eroding and blurring the lines of masculine and feminine characteristics and ideals rather than trying desperately to eschew one side. Especially when the other side has plenty of issues all it’s own.
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