Friday, 22 June 2012

The feminist housewife...

I didn't think that "Bog Off, Cherie Blair" would work too well as a title, but please do feel free to take that as the subtext of this post. As a brief background, the former PM's wife has well and truly stuck her foot in it again by criticising stay at home mothers, calling their choice "dangerous" and claiming that they lack ambition. I've read a few different newspapers' coverage of this, trying to find some representation of it that wouldn't have me spitting feathers, but the Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Mail articles each brought me out in a rash of rage and frustration.

In essence, the claims made against housewives/homemakers/stay at home mothers - whatever you want to call us - are that we set a bad example to our children by not having a professional career, we set ourselves up for trial and tribulation in the future by being dependent on our husbands, and we are throwing all the achievements of our feminist mothers' generation in their faces. 

Pardon me one moment while I let out a howl of frustration and bang my head against the wall...

Ok, I have composed myself, and so to continue.

Don't get me wrong; I completely agree that it is beyond unfortunate when relationships break down and women are left in difficult positions trying to reassess their living arrangements and work out how to raise their children without the father living in the same home. I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It sucks. Nothing about being a single mother is easy - financially, emotionally, socially. I only survived because we have a fairly comprehensive welfare system designed to help people from all walks of life who need a foot-up when something goes wrong in their lives. Without that, well... I don't like to think about how I would have coped 50 years ago if I'd been in the same situation. 

The amazing, wonderful thing is that things HAVE changed in the last 50 years - for the better! Women do have more rights, better security, fewer oppressions. Some of that has come from changes to the law, giving us the vote, the right to divorce our husbands, the right to own property, the right to earn the same salary as a male counterpart and so on. Some of it has been social change, altering the way we talk about and think of women's roles, although that element appears to be lagging behind. 

Whichever way you look at it, it is much less dangerous now to be a single mother than it used to be. There are things in place designed to keep you afloat and help you get back on your feet. Still, it's sad to think that this is the preoccupying element when it comes to discussing women who choose to stay home to look after their children rather than return to paid employment outside the home. Why oh why do we need to focus so heavily on the "what if" and worst case scenario when planning our families? I know it pays to have contingency plans in the event of falling on hard times, but if fears of relationships breaking down or partners dying governed all our lifestyle choices, very few of us would take the step of having children at all. 

And so to the point about stay at home mothers lacking ambition and throwing feminism back in our forebear's faces. I called this piece "The feminist housewife" because that is how I see myself. I do not work outside the home, and yet I consider many of my principles and philosophies to have strong feminist foundations. The two are not mutually exclusive, despite what Cherie Blair may think. 

Feminism and the whole concept of the women's rights movements is all about giving women CHOICES, giving us the power to decide for ourselves how to live our lives. Where life for a woman previously revolved around her reproductive functions, the revolution of the 1960s and onwards opened the doors for women to do what they wanted, and not to have life set out for them based purely on their gender. 

It is my right to decide for myself to stay at home with my children while they are young. Society does not have the right to dictate to me that this is what I must do because I am a woman, neither does society have the right to dictate that I must have a professional career AND take care of my family because I am a woman. Yet that is what Cherie Blair and similar critics of stay at home mums suggest. Because we are women, we must achieve a balance between being the perfect partner, mother AND employee. Heaven forbid we neglect any one of those! Look to Gina Ford's latest drivel book for a stark warning on neglecting your husband's sexual needs; look to Cherie Blair for a warning about not maintaining paid employment outside your home, away from your children; and pick up any newspaper from the last ten years for plenty of right-wing lamentations about parenting failures leading to the downfall of modern society.

The message from all that is clear - WOMEN! You wanted it all - well fine! Have it all, but you'd better do it all perfectly or we'll come down on you like a tonne of bricks.

What utter claptrap. Why oh why must I tick all these boxes in order to be a successful woman? How is this any less oppressive than being told that I cannot choose a career because I happen to have been born with two X chromosomes? 

I'll say it again - feminism is about CHOICES. Cherie Blair urging women to set better examples to their children by working outside the home, ensuring that they won't be left high and dry should their husbands leave them or meet an untimely death, is the least empowering, most denigrating comment on modern womanhood that I have heard in a while. Why instead does she not urge men to take a more active role in the home and share the work of parenting? Why is she not attacking the government's latest round of welfare cuts that will actually force parents out of work because of the soaring cost of childcare and diminishing availability of subsidies? Why not support a woman's right to decide IF she wants to stay at home with her children or go out to work rather than lay the ills of the world at her doorstep?

As a feminist, I am proud to say that I have chosen to set aside my career until my children are older; I have chosen to stay at home each day to care for them, keep the house in a liveable condition and take care of the menial day-to-day tasks. When my children are older and at school, when my constant company and attention is no longer required, then I will choose to seek paid employment outside the home. I made my decisions because it was what worked best for our family dynamic. I know plenty of women for whom this life would be an utter nightmare, and for them going out to work is their best decision too. I also know plenty of women who find the whole concept of parenthood absolutely awful and do not want to have children at all. We all deserve to be supported in these choices and not told that we're wrong and that we must marry, bear children and have a career because we're women and that's what women do.


  1. Absolutely agree it is about choice, and all credit to mums that are both financially able, and more importantly, mentally capable of staying at home. However, as much as I agree with choice, I don't believe this should extend as far as parents who choose to stay at home but only by virtue of a benefits system that allows them to. To me this does not set the right example to children. As a mum - and not exclusively a single mum, if financial needs demand you work, then work you should. Its about getting a balance between making a parenting choice and doing as needs must - both economically and mentally. What Ms Blair fails to realise is that what works for one family will not necessarily work for another.

  2. Dear Samantha,

    My name is Kristen Meinzer and I’m a producer with the Takeaway on Public Radio International. I’m writing because we would love to interview you tomorrow morning by skype at 9:15am eastern time.

    The interview will focus on the idea of what it means to be a “feminist housewife,” why so many women who choose to stay home with their children are criticized, and the day-to-day struggles you face as a feminist who’s a stay-at-home mom.

    This interview would last under ten minutes and be hosted by John Hockenberry. It would be live and national.

    Please let us know as soon as you can if this will work for you.

    We really hope it does!

    Thank you!!!


    Kristen Meinzer
    Associate Producer, The Takeaway
    Co-host, The Takeaway Movie Date podcast
    A production of WNYC / Public Radio International
    160 Varick Street, 8th Floor
    New York, NY 10013
    Desk: 646.829.4060
    Cell: 347.401.0203 / /