I used to think that feminism was about women being like men. The image I had in my head of ‘a feminist’ was a woman in a business suit, smashing through the glass ceiling and taking no prisoners. To me, feminism was all about women in the workplace, proving that they are at least as good as men. I felt it was my duty as an intelligent woman to have a ‘career’ and progress through it as fast as possible.
Then I had children.
Childcare is a role that has been traditionally undertaken by women, and like all ‘women’s work’, it is completely undervalued in our society. Women are allowed 6-12 months to look after their babies but are then expected to get back on the work treadmill and stick the kids into nursery. The domestic work that mothers (and fathers) at home do may not have economic value, but that does not mean that it is worthless. In fact I now feel that it is the most valuable work that I could be doing at this point in my life.
Having said that, at first I did sometimes have the nagging feeling that I was somehow ‘letting the side down’ because I was not doing paid work, I mean I went to university and now I’m just staying at home changing nappies and doing finger painting? Is that right? Is that *allowed*? But then I realised that actually, life is not all about making an economic contribution to society, and that other types of contribution are equally valid.
My idea of feminism has evolved now. The key idea is CHOICE and EQUALITY for all. Men and women are different, but still equal. Now that women are ‘allowed’ to do everything that men do (thank you feminists of history), does that mean we have to do those things all of the time? Or can we also recognise that the things that women do, or are expected to do (traditionally speaking) are just as worthwhile. Things like looking after young children, caring for elderly relatives, volunteering and domestic housework.
In my (inexpert and very personal) opinion, children do best in a family environment, with one or two familiar, loving caregivers, ideally a parent or close family member. I’m not saying that nurseries are bad or that they will harm children, but I think they are not ideal. Since I didn’t love my old job, and I do love my children, and we could afford for me to stay at home, it was an easy choice.
I’m not saying that every mother should stay at home with their children. I am definitely not advocating a return to the days of women being chained to the kitchen sink. Feminism and equality is about respecting one another’s choices, even if they are different to your own.