Feminism and stay at home women - a debate

The author discusses feminism and how it connects with the freedom to choose. Is a homemaker any less feminist than a woman who has a high-paying job? Feminism is about equality and that includes the right to make decisions. A working woman who leaves her job to be a full-time homemaker is a big feminist because she follows her heart.

I attended a wedding the other day – that of my husband's college mate's son. I had met a few of the men (husband's college mates) on earlier occasions but was meeting many of the spouses for the first time. While making small talk, I asked one of the ladies what she did. And she responded that she was 'just' a housewife.

The way she stressed on the word 'just' stayed with me, even after we had left the reception venue. She appeared apologetic about being a homemaker. She was a smart, educated woman and yet, she appeared to be cowed down.

In stark contrast is this other young woman, a friend's daughter, who just got married. She resigned from her six-figure monthly-salary job, to enjoy wedded bliss. Giving up her job was her choice. Yet, everyone's questioning her decision. She has started packing home-cooked lunches for her hubby and begun blogging about everyday things. She has taken the blogging world by storm with her wit and exceptional writing skill. Not to forget Instagram, where the number of her followers is steadily growing.

Comparing the two scenarios got me thinking. I wondered if women who are made to stay at home and look after everyone's needs, undermine themselves and are made to feel less worthy. I was haunted by questions - Is a stay-at-home wife or mother seen as being insignificant than someone who goes out to work? Does staying at home make her less productive? Is she less of a feminist? Is she less of a person? Is being a feminist and being just a homemaker mutually exclusive?

How feminism comes into all this, you may ask. Well, it is a result of what I witnessed through the evening, at the wedding reception. I wasn't assessing the lady as such, but the things that she said and her actions, made me consider this aspect of the relationship to feminism. And then there is this friend's daughter, who I have seen grow up. I have always known her as an independent and confident young thing. She gave it all up and her decision is being questioned, by all.

So, the question is, can an educated woman don the old-fashioned gender role without conflict? Does she become less of a feminist because she chooses to remain or become a homemaker?

I am not going to discuss whether being a homemaker is fulfilling or not, nor focus much on the home, being solely a woman's responsibility and connect these issues to feminism or the lack of it. I'm taking the discussion away and focussing on 'choice'.

Choice to be who you want to be

I think what a woman chooses to do, in other words, the choices a woman makes plays a significant role in this debate on feminism. Any woman who finds herself trapped in a variance situation, must question herself, whether she chose to do what she is doing – was her decision, a free choice? The fact of the matter is that internalised chauvinism and lack of opportunities, in the past, had kept generations of women in this forced cycle of domestic subjection. However, the scales have slowly begun to tip.

Educated women today are making informed choices to either work or stay at home. Yes, they choose to be homemakers and are not compelled to be one. They do it out of pure choice and for the need to build self-worth without getting ensnared by the monetary fallacy of assigning undue importance to pay packages.

Yes, hitherto, a woman was expected to be a homemaker – it was inescapable and more often than not undervalued.

All the rhetoric about feminism that we hear makes one want to believe that those who build careers and chase dreams fit the bill of a true feminist. However, I am of the opinion that we need to make room for those who make choices – they choose to be a homemaker over a high-paying job. They too are feminists.

So, what are the influences that define whether or not being a homemaker and feminism are mutually exclusive?

A homemaker's job is often understated

A homemaker's job is not viewed as a real job. It is often seen as an unskilled job that requires no passion and generally goes unappreciated. However, today's woman is not content with being just a stay at home wife/mom. She pervades the world with her blog posts and Instagram images. She opens the doors for you to peep into her space so you can catch a glimpse of the subtle expertise required for running a home. Whether it is cooking or gardening or keeping kids engaged – she masters the craft. And she makes you realise that all these things are conducive to her growth. What you see as ordinary, is her passion.

Salaried women are appreciated

There is this tendency in us to equate everything with money; hence we have no qualms about placing women with a salaried-job on a higher pedestal. I believe that women must be financially independent, but that in no way means that personal fulfilment must take a back seat. Every member of a family needs to put in the effort with an aim to create a functional unit, encompassing content members.

It is absolutely fine if the contentment and sense of accomplishment come from something that provides no monetary benefits.

Shared responsibilities

Regardless of whether a woman chooses to stay at home or go to work, what is crucial to feminism is shared responsibilities. I call it a division of work. There are a lot of chores around the house that need to be done repeatedly. Washing, cleaning, laundry, dishes…the list is long.

These tasks should not be seen as only a woman's job. There has to be shared responsibilities – a healthy balance, where the man of the house also willingly takes on some of the jobs. How difficult can it be to do lend a hand at home, doing doable chores?

Holler out to the anti-feminist

All you anti-feminists who think that 'feminism' is a bad word – worse perhaps than all the profanities put together. You need to change your attitude and see things from the perspective of a woman. Make an attempt to appreciate and acknowledge the intricate and at times convoluted world your woman has to tread on and navigate.

There is so much of effort that's put into making a house a home. There is so much love and labour involved in meeting the expectations. Do not disparage the unpaid work that women have customarily done and stop devaluing it because there is no payment or price tag on all that she does.

Each time you look at a homemaker and think of her as a non-entity, think again. She is one accomplished woman who has her hands full – multitasking, so your life is easy. Majority of women give their best to their home and their families. They often have to work with limitations, their own and those that circumstances provide. Yet, they don't put up their hands, they don't give up.

Fighting a cause seems like an endless quest. Feminism is not just about gender equality, it is also about being able to make your own choices and be appreciated for them. I don't expect women who choose family life over money to be forgotten and not be acknowledged for the roles they have chosen.

Many women make a choice to not to stay at home. I applaud them. Others choose to stay at home. I applaud them too. What I applaud is the doing away of the stereotypes. I applaud the ones who make informed choices. Feminism is about freedom and the right to choose. It's not a dirty word you see. If you have the right to live your life the way you choose, so does a woman. So stop typecasting her and fitting her into a mould.

Passing thoughts

I have discussed two homemakers; one was forced to stay at home, while the other opted to be a homemaker. The former is disgruntled with life while the latter is rejoicing in this new role that she has taken on. They highlight two extremes in a similar setup. The latter is clearly a feminist, while the former a victim of circumstances, perhaps surrounded by people who do not support feminism.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 552 articles authored by Juana

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