I am (mostly) a stay-at-home mama, hear me ROAR!
I keep mulling over the phrase “disadvantaged woman,” referenced by Mary Ann Clawson in our reading. She writes, “If students can see the element of social critique implicit in the New Right elevation of family and motherhood to a central place in the preservation of a tolerable society, if they can sense the ways in which women’s disadvantaged position leads them to defend notions of masculine responsibility, then they will understand some very basic things about American family life as well as about the New Right.”
According to the New Right, the woman, central to the function of the home but controlled by the patriarch, must keep herself at home, in order yet quiet and meek. She is disadvantaged because her place is made for her, set up with expectations to keep things running smoothly and without complaint. I couldn’t hate it more. And yet, I’m home – keeping it real.
Back to the phrase, “disadvantaged woman.” I may not be addressing this phrase as Clawson wishes it to be addressed in her class. But I am following her premise of addressing an historical norm in order to denaturalize it. And my gut reaction was this; I actually consider myself in a position of advantage over my husband, and he often does too. In our house we often say I “get” to stay home with our daughter and my husband “has to” go to work. I do NOT do most of the housework. We leave it for the weekends and share the burden. I do all of the cooking, but rarely anything more than surface cleaning. I do the laundry but my husband generally manages the cat’s litter box, the bigger projects around the house, and he typically vacuums. As Rebecca Traister pointed out, out situation is a common one. My husband and I both had careers, lived independently and supported ourselves successfully before marrying. So, the ground is a bit more even on our turf.
Furthermore, I am an empowered woman! Women give birth to new life! Women are responsible for the prosperity of our species with frankly, a minuscule contribution from men. We can be empowered by this, but generally society treats pregnancy and labor as conditions and ailments worthy of hospitalization. We are often shunned for breastfeeding in public and receive raised eyebrows when we speak of our careers outside of motherhood or motherhood outside of our careers. “How can you do both, effectively!?” I can. I have. I’m not right now. But I will again.
I am currently a stay-at-home mom. I love it, it’s difficult, frustrating, slow, repetitive, rewarding, sweet… this series of acronyms and synonyms could go on forever to appease either an attraction or repulsion to my situation. We determined in class that my family, consisting of my 40 year old husband, 32 year old self and nearly 1 year old daughter, probably represents an “idealized traditional family of the dominant culture.” I recognize this but I am wary to claim it. As I mentioned in class, our situation is one of circumstance and does not reflect the ideal of my husband nor myself. However, in saying that, I realize we do have the luxury of choice.m and have likely been influenced by social norms. What I mean is, had our circumstances been different when our daughter was born, I may have sought a full time job and he may have stayed home with her. I could go into more detail, but the point is, we are conscious and open to alternative home scenarios. And ours may change, in fact I hope it will.
As I see it, my advantaged position is one of primary caregiver and educator to our daughter. I am in charge of her development as I am nursing, feeding, playing, cleaning her and putting her to sleep almost all of the time. I have a biological advantage in the nurturance of our daughter as a breastfeeding mother. Nursing is sustenance and comfort. It is security. It was an immediate and lasting bond that my husband cannot offer but works hard to establish in his own way. He is at a disadvantage with child bonding because he’s not as present.
So, in writing this, I realize that for us – our family IS one of emotional security and we benefit from our traditional setup. But we strive to avoid holding others to any expectation based on what works for us.
But does participating in the institution of marriage as an “idealized” family unit mean that we believe it is the “right” way to construct a relationship with society? Both my husband and I would say no. And we would further say we hope to expose our daughter to a multitude of family variations in order to preempt any notion she might develop that our triad is the norm.