Stay-At-Home Moms Are Feminists Too

Remember Elizabeth Wurtzel? Quick recap: she wrote a book about depression and addiction called Prozac Nation (maybe you saw the movie), got famous, then posed naked on the cover of her next book, Bitch, flipping us all off. She’s now a lawyer and one would assume has a slightly more settled life than the memoir-making chaos that led to her early publishing success.

But she wants you to remember that middle finger. She’s flipping it again, and this time it’s directed at women. Namely, those who choose domestic responsibilities over career ones. In a new essay in The Nation, Wurtzel blames who she calls “1% moms” for the failure of feminism and the reason the war on women exists.

Yeah, wow.

The bulk of her argument is directed at the Desperate Housewife set—the moms with expense accounts (provided by their husbands), nannies and acrylic fingernails that eschew the dirty work of motherhood. Some of them have Ivy League degrees. Others just lucked out marrying a rich guy.

These women exist and, yes, I agree that their “work” as stay-at-home mothers is far different than nearly every other mom in the country. But the problem with Wurtzel’s argument is that her finger pointing drifts. In one paragraph she calls out the 1% women, and in the next, she makes a grand assumption that women who choose to stay home to raise their children and take care of the household are betraying their potential, and have the unique luxury to do so only because they’re wealthy.

“To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income.”

Staying home to raise children is, indeed, a privilege, especially in today’s economy. But non-millionaire moms do it all the time. Perhaps the reason she’s never met a truly middle-class stay-at-home mom is because she only operates in the worlds of New York and Los Angeles. This is a typical problem of national journalists, especially those with any type of link to the entertainment industry. I, myself, lived in the NY-LA void most of my career, covering entertainment, working for multinational companies, and critiquing culture with tunnel vision. I recently moved to a Northern California suburb to follow my husband to an amazing career opportunity and raise my son around his family. I’m such a shitty feminist, right?

I can now be classified as a “stay-at-home mom,” despite running a website, writing books and essays, and teaching writing online—all done during baby sleep hours and the few hours of family childcare I am privileged to enjoy each week.

My household went from two middle-class incomes to one. We are fortunate that my husband’s job offers him a generous income. It supports us without me working full-time but we are hardly 1%-ers. I do yoga in my bedroom while my son naps, not in a fancy studio. A trip to Whole Foods is made with caution, and vacations are of the “stay” variety for the foreseeable future. We get by comfortably but every day I don’t work means less in savings, college and emergency accounts. And this was a conscious, deliberate, important decision for my family. I could go back to full-time work at any point, spend most of that income on childcare, and stop being such a bad, betraying feminist. But the time I am able to spend with my son during his first years of life is far more important than putting my fancy college degree to “good use.”

My household is hardly unique. There are approximately 5 million stay-at-home moms in the country. Many still work part-time from home, be it for financial necessity or emotional fulfillment (for me, it’s a little bit of both). These women aren’t kicking back and watching daytime TV and eating Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches. They are on a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week shift of cooking, cleaning, teaching, calming, nurturing, preventing, protecting and innovating that never stops. They are sacrificing income that they probably desperately need, and they’re doing it on purpose. Living on a shoestring budget or even struggling for a few years is worth it to many moms if it means giving their children the best they have to offer them. Or even if it means not missing that first step, first word, and other daily joys of watching your child grow before your eyes. Men need feminism (the answer to ever having reasonable family-leave policies) so that they have more opportunities to enjoy this too.

Women who choose to go back to work after baby, or those who don’t have any choice but to, are not better feminists than I am. And this is why feminism needs to be—and is—a flexible ideology. It’s inclusive because we all need it. Wurtzel’s picture of a perfect feminist is this: A woman who gets an advanced degree, works in a prestigious field, never marries and certainly doesn’t stay home with children, if she decides to have them, which she probably won’t. This antiquated vision of feminism is the real problem with the movement today, insofar as the more people who think this, the less informed participants feminism has.

When second-wave feminists prescribed similar me-first scenarios for themselves and other women in the 1960s and 1970s, the drama was necessary. Social movements must shake up the status quo in order to take root and awaken a collective consciousness. See: civil rights, anti-war protests, suffrage, etc. Today we’re fortunate to have made enough progress that we can live our feminism as individuals. Every woman gets to decide what her feminist life looks like. Social responsibility is still important. Not kicking other women down to get ahead is critical. Continuing to push through gender barriers and glass ceilings is a fight that remains fierce and necessary. And perhaps most importantly, we need to stop attacking feminism for causing the very problems and inequalities that it alone can fix.

Read more about motherhood and feminism on our sister blog, FeministMommy.com


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Author: Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.
About Heather Wood Rudulph

Heather Wood Rudúlph is the co-founder of SexyFeminist.com and recently FeministMommy.com. She's a seasoned editor and writer, most recently for The Huffington Post, AOL, DAYSPA magazine and Movies.com. She’s written and edited stories about entertainment, beauty, healthcare, fashion, travel, teens, spirituality, women's rights, civil rights and environmental practices. Her work has also appeared in Seventeen, Elle, Details.com and The Los Angeles Daily News. She teaches nonfiction writing for Gotham Writers Workshop and is co-author of the book, SEXY FEMINISM, to be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March, 2013. She has a journalism degree with a sociology minor from Syracuse University and lives in California with her husband and son.

Comments

  1. bunniRidge says:

    Thank you for saying that stay-at-home moms are feminists too. I have not yet read (or had even seen) Wurtzel’s article, but the close minded-ness of it ticks me off. I’m a stay at home mom because originally child care for my daughter would have cost more than what I would have been able to bring in by going back to work (since I was still in college, and therefore didn’t have a degree to get a higher paying job), my husband is a tow truck driver, and we’ve managed to live on a very small income for 6 years now. We make it with only 1 car, that we bought used from his parents, we buy groceries on a tight budget, and we don’t have any room for extras in our life beyond Netflix, the occasional trip to the drive in, and once in a while being able to go get Taco Bell. Now that we’ve been doing this for awhile, I can’t imagine going back to the working world, and I love that I am able to be here to help my daughter learn that feminism really means that we have the choice to do anything. I could have put her in day care, and relied on county aid to help supplement that, but I didn’t want to to be dependent on the government when I could just as easily (actually more easily) stay home and spend the best part of her day with her.

    • Heather Wood Rudulph says:

      Thanks for writing, Bunni. Moms who choose children over their careers are often disregarded as failures. And yet, we’re doing the most important job in the world! I’m glad this resonated with you, and thank you for reading. You can find more feminist/mommy fodder on my other website, feministmommy.com, or join me @femimommy

  2. Katya says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard an unemployed feminist with advanced degrees make derogatory comments about stay-at-home mothers. The irony is just overwhelming.

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