Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Expanding Parenting Expectations Can Guarantee Choices for Women and Partners

The great mothers of feminist thought and political action have advanced women’s lives and possibilities for higher education, socioeconomic independence and equality; they have expanded the opportunities and experiences of women.

But feminist thought has largely left out post-feminist discussions about how women’s relationships with romantic or life partners change or are restrained under existing social and economic expectations and frameworks, especially in the context of childrearing. I argue that we need to critique the very structures that require women to choose between careers and staying at home with children in the first place.

The choice of whether to be a full-time mother or a career-driven woman is a favorite debate among choice feminists. Clearly, this debate ignores class and socioeconomic barriers that would require many women to raise children and work. However, the debate highlights the problems with society’s one-sided and individual expectations of parenting.

Some have argued that by describing childrearing and raising as an assumed or natural gender role rather than comparable with wage “labor” or “work,” mothering has become devalued. Others have argued that those who choose to stay at home with children are subject to and perpetuate stereotypical visions of femininity, thereby bolstering patriarchy. Only by pursuing high-paying and high-status jobs in the market can women expect to even the playing field.

An attitude that is gaining popularity and one heard often from conservative circles is that the push by feminists and “women” activists has not “threatened men,” but rather “pissed them off.” They maintain that feminism has gone too far; in a post-feminist world, women’s choice to stay at home and be full-time mothers and homemakers is the most virtuous feminist choice.

But what all of these arguments seem to miss is the quality of relationships between parents. I take issue with the idea that the choice of whether to raise children or pursue a career is considered by both conservatives and feminists as solely a woman’s choice. Ultimately, women’s freedom isn’t just a matter of liberating women to choose to stay home or follow a career; it must take into account social expectations for men and women, husbands and wives, husbands and husbands or wives and wives.

While I acknowledge that my argument largely ignores that the majority of women give birth to children without the support of life partners, it does concern many of the same groups of women theorized in the debates between Fox News and anti-femininity second-wave feminists––that is, middle-class women in stable relationships.

Regardless of the gender composition of the parental relationship, the role of parenting and childrearing must evolve. Why should we still accept the idea that there must be one breadwinner and one primary caregiver? Isn’t the issue at hand the relationship between parents and their relationship with their children? I believe that restricted conversations and arguments between women are neglecting the dynamics of parenting and the necessity to transform the way we view the separation and specialization of “breadwinner” and “caregiver” roles.

These roles should not be separated and delegated; such specialization gives rise to inequality between partners and parents and serves as a catalyst for some economic and social inequalities. We need to expand the possibilities for men to stay at home and take care of children and for both parents to share child-rearing possibilities. Guaranteeing state-subsidized childcare is a must so that both parents, regardless of gender, are able to realize their dual roles as workers and caregivers.

Our personal choices do matter; they can have a major effect on those closest to us, to our nation and to entire social movements. But childrearing and raising should not be considered a solitary choice or responsibility; rather, childrearing must be taken on by a family, community and the state.

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