The USA is misogynist and anti-family, or, I am not a SAHM

I am not one of those feminists who think women must be engaged in paid employment to be fulfilled.

I am not one of those feminists who thinks a woman’s highest calling and only pursuit necessary for fulfillment is mothering.

I do not believe in gender essentialism; I do not believe formula freed women.

I am not a SAHM; I just spend the day taking care of my kid.

This might sound like another one of my contradictions, but — oh wait, it is, because they’re not contradictory at all, just nuanced. Here’s the thing: I believe in attachment theory (in about the same the way as I believe in the theory of gravity). I believe breastmilk is a birthright of every child, barring rare and unfortunate circumstances. I believe daycares are not bad, but villages are better. And given all this, I believe the US of A is a really crappy place to raise a kid.

It’s not that I think having a parent at home full time is the best for children: I don’t. I really don’t, actually, and this is one of the biggest reasons why I am not comfortable with that label. But I think the ideal parenting situations — where children are welcome in the real world, where work and life are not strictly segregated, where there are lots of loving family and friends close-by long-term, where the motherbaby unit is acknowledged as one, where the importance of attachment is recognized — don’t exist in my life. Or anyone’s life that I know of. So we have to make compromises; for me, for our family, this is the best compromise for the time being. The Boychick needs to be close to his parent(s), he needs access to the breast, he needs to be a part of someone’s life, observing and learning from the world, and me being with him during the day is the way we try to best meet the majority of those needs.

But it’s not our ideal.

For all the lip-service (and there is much!) that the USA gives to “family” and “motherhood”, we offer an amazing dearth of real, practical support. There is no guarantee of health care for parents or child; no, not even for pregnant women, for all that we supposedly are so against pregnancy termination because it’s a crime against the unborn. The parental leave, when one has access to any, is laughable (if I didn’t laugh, I’d start crying — as I did when the Boychick’s father went back to work at three weeks postpartum, before I’d even stopped bleeding). Only a tiny minority of companies have any kind of on-site daycare available, and disturbingly few are supportive of pumping at work, much less bringing in a sleepy sling baby to nurse while working.

So given the dearth of options available, along with my partner’s high earning potential and my current lack of any, I take care of the child while my partner works. In a sane society, one that didn’t demand everything of women without offering anything to help, I would have more options for paid employment or meaningful pursuits, either in or near my house or where I could bring my child along. In a sane society, perhaps I would be at home still, but perhaps so would my partner; or, it would be understood that this was a short part of my child’s life, and in 3-5 years I would be engaged in other activities. In a sane society, I would not be defined by my family’s choices in my child’s infancy. In a sane society, I would be a person first, a woman second, and a mother third. In a sane society, my work as a volunteer moderator and my studies as a student would be recognized and honored, instead of ignored because they are unpaid and take place outside of 8-5.

But this is an insane society. So I am home (or out and about, but otherwise unemployed) during the day with my child. But I’m still not a SAHM.

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23 Responses to The USA is misogynist and anti-family, or, I am not a SAHM

  1. Amen.

    That’s all I can think to say. Mercy, that was profound.

  2. Wow, impressive.

  3. Thank you. :)

  4. Perfect. Thanks for linking me over to this post. I’ll join you in dreaming for a sane society.

  5. Hi, I found your blog through a link on Hobo Mama’s blog. What a great post. I can’t tell you the hours I have mourned not being able to live in a tribe-like society. I am very fortunate, though, to have a job where I am my own boss (I’m a photographer) and can bring my child along if I so choose. But there is still a lot that sucks! I wish all my family and friends lived in my neighborhood so we could easily drop in on each other…would be so great!

  6. I am (nearly always) totally late to the party, but I had to comment on this one.

    I received news that I won't have a job to go back to when my maternity leave ends in August. I don't really want to go back to work at all. At least not my traditional, conventional job. But it's left me with an identity crisis. What do I DO? Am I a SAHM? Or just unemployed?

    Anyways, I can totally relate to this, and I totally feel you. Thank you for opening my mind and providing me solace yet again. You totally rock my world.

  7. Amber, that identity thing is hard. There were several years after I had to leave college (again) because of my mental illness, when I didn't (couldn't) have a job, wasn't (couldn't be) a student anymore, didn't have the Boychick yet (and wasn't ready for him)… it was really hard to be able to breathe and accept that ambiguity, that liminal state, when everything in my society was telling me I had to "be" something (student, employee, whatever), or be nothing, be worthless. I think that's part of why so many women DO embrace the SAHM identity — it gives them something to "be", as much as we recognize stay at home parenting to be legitimate (and many segments of our society don't, which is part of why so many others say SAHMing "isn't enough").

    I think part of the societal solution, then, is both to recognize and respect SAHP/domestic work, AND to accept and respect the liminal states, like I was in, like you are in. We don't need to be something; it's enough to just be.

  8. I agree with everything you'd stated.

    But I did find one solution: seek advanced education, choose the right field, and have the professional experience so that when you start having children you can demand the kind of flexibility to take care of your children the way you want to (mostly.)

    Because I concentrated on my education and professional development, I was able to demand the right to work at home when my babies were babies, or bring them into the office with me.

    My oldest son spend every afternoon under my desk at work until he was 4 or 5 months. My younger son spent mornings with me in my office until he was 18 months. I pumped at work, I nursed at work, I left to go home and nurse.

    But all of those were only possible with the right kind of education, career field, and corporate culture.

    I fully recognize that this alchemy is almost impossible for the vast majority of working American mothers.

    My heart BREAKS for women who do not have the power to even make a request for a space to pump. It's UNACCEPTABLE.

    I didn't get paid maternity leave. My husband took three days off with my last baby (he's a school teacher and can't leave his class.) It's all so ludicrous–and I'm one of the lucky ones.

  9. Azucar: Yup, lots of things are easier with privilege. And I think it's great that there are work places offering and highly educated women demanding accommodations, but we can't leave it at that, because never is every woman going to have the privilege of working for salary in a child-friendly office. Even in a sane society, some work situations aren't going to be that kind of accommodating, so we need to have a wide variety of solutions available, and not rest until EVERY woman, regardless of privilege, has real, child- family- and woman-friendly options.

  10. Very insightful post. Thank you.

  11. It’s always bothered me that babies seem unwelcome in so many environments. I kinda wish that having a baby attached to you at work were the norm. Imagine what we could accomplish if new moms weren’t so trapped in their own homes post-birth. Plus young people would get more exposure to infants, which would help make birth/life less of a mystery.

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  16. This just reminded me of when my daughter was an infant. I felt like the world would rather I just stay inside until she was old enough to sit and have pleasant conversations.

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  21. if you can overlook the Islamic bits, my post on the ‘Glass Ceiling’ may be interesting to this discussion

  22. “until EVERY woman, regardless of privilege, has real, child- family- and woman-friendly options.”
    I’m afraid that’s simply not going to happen. and not because of ‘misogyny’ either, but just because the US government is not incentivised to get more women to have children. The ONLY reason why your neighbours in Canada get 2 years maternity leave etc. , is because the government would otherwise be facing an immigration crisis. The fertility rate in the US is nowhere near as dismal as theirs, although mainly fuelled by the lower classes (contraception debate anyone?). Furthermore, the effects of the working mom culture, e.g. obesity, is already costing 12% of the healthcare budget, let alone the predicament of the elderly, which even in Canada is a great fiscal concern.

    • The fact that you put scare quotes around “misogyny” tells me enough about your “argument,” but nevertheless I shall attempt to respond to your utter twaddle (note that there are no scare quotes around twaddle).

      The healthcare budget’s bloated because it goes into inefficient private-public partnerships, where the US government effectively fund private profits in exchange for shitty care. Has nothing to do with obesity, let alone “working mom culture” (sorry, I missed the thing where moms were given sole responsibility for food, is it on the X chromosome or Leave It To Beaver? I always confuse those two). It’s just plain old corruption, greed and inefficiency, soz.

      “Do” come again, though.

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