The Broadsheet blog at Salon.com comments on a feature in Sunday's SF Chronicle about stay-at-home dads:
"I came away feeling like any article that praised moms who stayed at home in the same terms would get absolutely pilloried for trying to send women back to the kitchen," wrote one Broadsheet reader. "Also, the dads interviewed seemed to feel like they could get away with saying things that I felt would be very controversial coming from a woman's mouth."
Our reader is referring to quotes like this one from Wayne Wilson: "I don't want my babies to be raised by anybody else." The Broadsheet reader continued: "I mean, if a stay-at-home mom suggested that a working mother was not raising her own kids, but having someone else do it, it would be yet another bomb thrown in the 'Mommy Wars.'"
Why, the reader asks, is it "cool when men stay at home since it's opposite their traditional role, but it's lame and antifeminist if a woman does it?" For many people, this is a confusing question. Is Linda Hirshman right? Should we renounce childrearing as unworthy and all get to work?
For a very, very long time, and still in many places around the world, it was/is compulsory for women to stay home with babies, an arrangement enforced by custom and sometimes law. Women, went the theory, ruled the domestic sphere, men the public sphere.
Feminism busted that down, and feminists urged women out of the kitchen and into the public sphere, both in work and political life. The result was a social revolution; by almost every measure, feminism was spectacularly successful.
Good, as far as it goes. Women got more freedom and more power. That was stage one of the revolution. It meant putting a lot of kids in daycare; a whole generation. Many kids were raised that way and they turned out just fine. But the dual-income family also created a lot of contradictions, more for the parents than the kids. Many parents grew dissatisfied. Why should any of us, male or female, be slaves to work? Why should someone else have the satisfaction of raising kids? What's so bad about raising kids anyway? Screw the politics, it comes down to this: I love my kids and I miss them and I want to see them raised by people who love them.
So now we're in stage two of the revolution. Women's economic and political power has grown; many women have more career potential than the men they partner with. When such (relatively privileged) couples have kids, they can make decisions based on what they want instead of what society says they should want. Couples come up with many different arrangements, depending on the circumstances of their lives. It's a hard time, in some ways, without well-defined roles and paths, and sometimes with a lot of economic instability. This describes a condition of freedom.
So for now, a man proclaiming that he doesn't want his babies raised by anybody else, and he's going to be the one to take care of them, is risky and revolutionary in the same way that a woman doing the opposite was once revolutionary.
That a few feminists like Linda Hirschman don't get this is just sad; history is passing them by. They're fighting the battles of the Sixties, but it's the 21st Century. "The biggest problem with American feminism today is its obsession with women," writes my buddy Lisa Jervis, founder of the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and editor of the forthcoming book Bitchfest. She continues:
Yes, you heard me: It’s time for those of us who care deeply about eliminating sexism within the context of social justice struggles to stop caring so damn much about what women, as a group, are doing. Because a useful, idealistic, transformative progressive feminism is not about women. It’s about gender, and all the legal and cultural rules that govern it, and power—who has it and what they do with it.
A transformative progressive feminism envisions a world that is different from the one we currently inhabit in two major and related ways. Most obviously, this world would be one in which gender doesn’t determine social roles or expected behavior. More broadly, it would also be one in which people are not sacrificed on the altar of profit—which would mean universal health care, living wages, drastically reduced consumption, and an end to the voracious marketing machine that fuels it.
Lisa is sketching out the next stage of the revolution. For those of us who have chosen to have children, we need transformative, progressive, feminist values that are consistent with our desires and the realities of our lives - and I don't know about you, but my desire is to be close to my family and take care of my baby.
Horribly, the Right, especially the Religious Right, has gained ground by capitalizing on desires like mine - but they argue that the answer is to go back to the good old days of patriarchy and get women back in the kitchen. According to their ideology, a person with a penis is simply not supposed to have my desire. For many guys of my generation, right-wing "family values" make no sense. For all the noise and their rise to political power, I think it's too late for the Right. History is passing them by, too.
The only way to go is forward, into stage three - when, hopefully, men and women can raise children in a context of equality. We need a 21st Century vision of the family. Many of us are already living it.