Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not quite getting there

Over at blue milk the interviews with feminist mothers continue. The following is from Chantelle:

What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

I think, for a long time, feminist notions for me were bound up in a specific contemporary form which defines feminist ideals along traditionally male roles in society – being career orientated, being independent, being a leader. Being a mother didn’t fit easily into this paradigm, and that has caused me to take another look at what feminism could/should mean for me. I feel that what often passes as equality actually forces women into certain roles either at the expense of motherhood or in addition to motherhood

This is an intelligent framing of the situation. Feminism follows modern liberalism in thinking of autonomy as the proper organising principle of society. Left-wing feminists commonly assert that men have arranged society so that they gain the privilege of autonomy at the expense of oppressed women. Therefore, the traditionally male career role is held to be the superior one which represents liberation and equality for women.

Chantelle tells us that when she became a mother she began to question whether the aims of autonomy (independence, careers, power) should be the feminist ideal.

This is the moment at which a traditionalist like myself would take the simple step of putting autonomy in its right place. Rather than being the sole organising principle of society, autonomy should be thought of as one good amongst many. The point of politics would then become (in part) to find the just balance between a range of goods.

Chantelle, though, doesn't take this step. Instead, she wants society reorganised to maximise female autonomy and careerism:

I feel that what often passes as equality actually forces women into certain roles either at the expense of motherhood or in addition to motherhood, without any changes being made societally. In other words, women were encouraged to change, with relatively few negotiations being made on the system level. So, although it is now acceptable for a woman to have a career and a family, maternity leave (at least in the US) is almost non-existent, few fathers choose to stay at home or reduce their workload to take part caring for children, and for these reasons women with children are still viewed unfavorably by employers in ways that men with children are not. Studies of academic professionals, at least, show that there is a strong discrepancy between the effect of having children on female and male professionals and that to me signifies a bias that needs to be addressed.

The important thing for Chantelle is still the aim of women following the traditionally masculine career path. She still holds to this view despite her own apparent lack of career enthusiasm:

I have a PhD in the humanities, which basically means I can no longer keep hiding in higher education and should really figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Or maybe I will just get another degree. In the meanwhile, I am spending most of my time taking care of the little guy whose picture is posted all over this blog, and I am doing a lot of reading and writing, just because I want to and not because I have to.

Chantelle's rethinking of the feminist paradigm didn't really go that far. The emphasis is still on how to make motherhood less of a hindrance to careers, rather than asserting motherhood as a good in itself.

No comments:

Post a Comment