One of the other recurring themes in that Feministing thread I referenced in my last post was the point that housewives can’t be feminists. One commenter on this theme went so far as to say
If its about choice then I choose that women cant be housewives and feminists at the same time.
…at which point you sort of know you’re not really talking to someone who is actually going to listen, because of that whole “complete misrepresentation of what the choices in question might actually be, and who gets to make them on what topics (hint: you get to make them on your life, and not mine).
I lost the comment now, but at some point, someone else came in and said, essentially, “I can’t believe that you feminists are all ganging up on the woman who said that you can’t be a feminist and a housewife at the same time. Housewifery is a patriarchy supporting activity! Hello! Read The Feminine Mystique!”
Yeah. Okay. First of all, there is an obvious point that many feminists make, which is that we all make compromises with the patriarchy in order to function in this world, and we all choose which battles we’re just not up for fighting. That point is worth making, but it’s one that tends to get made in any conversation about beauty standards, from lipstick to leg hair, and it’s not the one I’m making here.
“Housewife” (or “Stay-at-home-Mom”) and “Feminist” are two entirely separate planes of comparison. Feminist is an ideological position. SAHM is an economic/professional choice. What one does on one plane does not inherently affect what one does on the other. I’m not saying feminism doesn’t involve living out beliefs in day-to-day life. I’m saying that regardless of what one chooses to do on plane one (economics), one has not committed to anything on plane two (ideology).
If they were connected, then we could assume that working outside the home would become an inherently feminist activity, and the women doing it automatically feminists. To give just one of the sexist quotes that flew around my workplace last week, a woman (mother of two girls, who has worked outside the home for their entire lives) said to a new male Supervisor in the department that he “needed a female to arrange his appointments for him, because men can’t keep track of these things”. I could write a long series of posts contrasting this kind of thing with the way our female Supervisor is treated, but the general idea is that this woman’s plane 1 decision to work outside the home clearly hasn’t made a dent in her plane 2 decision to perpetuate sexism.
Teaching is a patriarchy supporting activity and is one of the few roles that women were allowed 100 years ago–women should therefore refuse to become teachers, regardless of their own skills, desires, and opportunities in the field.
Medicine is a patriarchy supporting activity–doctors pathologize the female body, nurses perpetuate gender stereotypes–women should therefore refuse to enter either of these professions.
You see how this works, yes?
If you’re going to be a feminist, be a feminist in what you do. If you’re a feminist doctor, you can listen to and respect your female patients, you can practice a branch of medicine like ob/gyn in a way that supports women rather than trying to make choices for them, you can conduct research on how drugs previously only tested on men affect the bodies of women. If you’re a feminist low-level municipal civil servant, you can become aware of the way you treat your female boss and co-workers, you can listen for the opportunities to criticize their diatribes on the latest development in the Britney Spears case, you can question hiring/staffing practices and promotions that seem fishy. If you’re a feminist SAHM, you can find woman-friendly products to buy for your children, you can educate them outside of the traditional gender role box, you can develop a division of labour with your partner that does not entirely conform to standard expectations.
Oh, and I’ve read the book in question. It was a few years ago, I admit, but I don’t recall the page on which Friedan says “you housewives are oppressing women and you need to get out of the house and frickin’ stop that”.
I know I’m doing a lot of nitpicking feminism, but when this is the level of discussion that’s going on within the movement, I feel like tossing my hands in the air and going back to bed. And really, I’m a more optimistic person than that. Seriously. No, I’m not kidding.