Thursday, August 29, 2013

Feminists were wrong, part 2

A couple of years ago I wrote a post on this blog entitled "Feminists were wrong," and I have recently had some new thoughts on the issue and I'd like to amend what I wrote earlier. In that post I argued that the reason women felt dissatisfied with their roles as housewives and mothers in the post-WWII era was that so much of their meaning was meant to be obtained through their role as consumer. So many of what would be their daily activities of running a household were being subcontracted to corporations (i.e. no more cooking, now there are TV dinners) and so the only decision they had to make was what to buy. They lost a lot of the efficacy you feel from actually cooking a meal or tending a garden or nursing a baby and felt the solution to this is to go into the workforce.

I think that this is where they went wrong. The solution was not to be away from their homes and then further subcontract their roles as mother to lower-paid women. I think in this recessionary economy women are beginning to realize this and are re-embracing their role as mother or wife in a way that really makes them feel good.

Okay, so that's what I argued in that earlier post, and I still believe it. What I have learned in becoming a mother myself has changed this a little bit. Being alone in the home with this baby can be frustrating at times, and not simply because my role as mother has been subcontracted out to corporations. I nurse my baby, cook dinners myself, bake bread, tend a garden, among other things. Yet, I long for conversations with other adults, for jamming out to music, for time to tend to the garden or go to the store or type a paper. My day is so baby-centered, I am not able to be a part of the world I once inhabited -- the world of normal social and economic activities.

So, I started to look into what other societies have done with child-rearing and found that among hunter-gather societies. I found that not only is child-rearing a shared activity among many adults, but most women resume normal adult social and economic activity very soon after a baby is born. That is, they continue spending time with other adults, many of whom cared for their child for them, and resume activities such as gardening, weaving, et cetera right away. It is only a phenomenon of sedentary societies, especially those societies that have private households (rather than living in a tribal, communal setting), that experience what might be called "professional mothering" (a term I stole from Morris Berman's book Wandering God). Professional mothering has an isolating effect.

All of a sudden, once you are a mother you are banned from some adults-only activities (think: going to the movies, work) and are banished to "mommy-and-me" type activities, the thought of which make me want to gag. Not only are stay-at-home mothers isolated, but the children of working mothers are isolated to daycare centers and schools. This is why so many women lack experience with children before becoming mothers themselves -- children are allowed only in child-friendly settings.

What would be better? A world where children and parents are welcome and tolerated at work and at play -- any place adults are welcome. I'd also like to see other non-parent adults feeling free to care for a child when it is in these settings, without some explicit paid babysitting arrangement. I'm going to try to implement this myself, but as usual I am swimming against the tide in this society and will be met with resistance (as I was when I went to the movies with Isa when she was only a few weeks old and making some very small cooing noises as she slept).

So, in reference to my previous post, I want to give a little more credit to these post-WWII women. They lost the usefulness they felt in keeping a house because corporations were doing many of these things for them. But, maybe more importantly, they were isolated from other adults and left alone with this intense focus on their kids. Being isolated in that way can be very difficult. Again, I don't think the solution was to go to work and leave kids in their own isolated institutional settings (daycare and state-run education), but instead to incorporate their kids into a world that contains adults. 

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