Did You Know You Need to Earn Money to Be Feminist?

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I'm lost. There are rich, one-percent fat cats and then 99% financial-necessity working moms? What about the SAHMs who aren't rich and don't have nannies or even at-home manicure kits? They are also making Wurtzel feel "betrayed" because they aren't working at paid jobs, even if the paid jobs would net them less than the cost of daycare? All the working mothers are feminists because they earn money, and the SAHMs aren't because they don't?

I can buy parts of her argument -- that women haven't made near the strides we should in terms of financial and political equality -- but then the parts about the rich people and the feeling betrayed because someone who can read chose not to work completely lost me. She's assuming working outside the home can actually net you money, which in many cases for those of us with kids, it doesn't. My daughter's daycare cost more than our mortgage when she was a baby. And I only have ONE KID. And my husband and I earned about the same, so there was no obvious person to quit, which would have made any decision to have someone stay home a tremendous financial burden that didn't make sense. Depending on the career trajectory of women when they become mothers, they could be breadwinners or not, and all those factors -- I'm sure -- go into the serious decision for one of the adults in the house to completely forgo earning money. It's not a decision to be taken lightly and may have absolutely nothing to do with gender roles and everything to do with salaries.

I don't have a huge stake in what she's writing about, because Wurtzel would be very happy with me -- I self-financed my maternity leave (I was a freelancer at the time) and have worked since my daughter was three months old out of financial necessity, at times earning more than my husband. She's not bagging on my life, which made it easier to try to pull apart the threads of her argument. In the end, I decided the headline was provocative but the tagline was what really pissed me off, and I don't know who wrote that. Wurtzel's a lawyer and an extremely direct writer, so it's possible her writing style is like this no matter the topic. I decided what I really want to talk about is feminism and how to get from where we are now to an America where power is shared equally between men and women. Women shaming other women isn't a good path for that.

Inflammatory taglines aside, the dictionary definition of feminism is:

fem·i·nism   [fem-uh-niz-uhm] noun 1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. 2.( sometimes initial capital letter ) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women. 3.feminine character.

As long as SAHMs are raising their boys and girls to understand whoever works or stays home with the kids is doing so because it's what's best for the family and not because of his or her plumbing, they're feminists in my book. They're advocating social, political and other rights of women equal to those of men. And working mothers who don't, aren't. We may measure feminism's success in society with dollars and cents and the number of females running companies and countries, but feminism in action is women and men changing the way the next generation thinks, one little mind at a time.

When I asked one of my fellow feminists, author of Sisterhood, Interrupted Deborah Siegel, what she thought, Deborah replied, "I agree that equality is not a state of mind. But Wurtzel's characterization of feminism, as those in the trenches fighting for parity on a daily basis well know, is diminishing and demeaning. It's also painfully off base. Feminism never has been - nor is it now - merely about individualism. In mistaking a popular notion perpetuated by a few for a social movement for justice and change, Wurtzel tremendously misleads."

In another Atlantic article, former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote this after leaving the position in Washington, D.C., to be back in Princeton with her sons:

Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.

That's not really the gist of Slaughter's article, though -- it's about how we can and should change the structure of business and society to make school schedules line up with work schedules and incorporate geographic and time-related flexibility into all jobs so childcare situations aren't such a you're-fined-$10-for-every-minute-after-six-you-arrive (true story) living nightmare when traffic is backed up on the freeway and your boss wanted "just five minutes" at the elevator door. I love everything Slaughter wrote so much please consider this my online fan letter to the woman. That article is hella long, but you should all read every word of it: Seriously, it's that good.

What did you think of Wurtzel's article?

Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy and is the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep is for the Weak. She is the senior editor for BlogHer.com.


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