Home Divider About the Author Divider The Book Divider Author Blog Divider Press Room Divider Contact

Disregard for the Stay At Home Mom

by janderson on April 18, 2012

Way back in college, it seems like ancient history, even though it was only fifteen years ago, I registered for every literature class I could take. Lit classes were the only ones I really enjoyed. Fortunately, I was an English major, so it was encouraged.

Inevitably, my pursuit to pack each semester’s syllabus with as much literary matriculation as allowed, led me to classes on women’s literature and feminist studies of novels. I was the only male in the room for one of those classes. I quite enjoyed them, really. Always being a proponent of gender equity, I had no trouble getting along and was always interested in the perspectives of others. But to say that the views of some of the students and professors were a little more radical than mine is an understatement.

Often in those classes, through the studies of a particular novel, or in the readings of feminist essays, the subject of discussion centered on the concept of the “kept woman.” The kept woman was the most tragic figure to feminist readings, utterly powerless and enslaved by the male hierarchy. It never failed that stay at home mothers became part of the conversation. I always perceived a severely ambivalent sentiment toward at home moms from the staunch feminists in the room. The sentiment was one of mixed pity and some underlying disdain. Yet, at the same time, there was the feeling that they were undervalued. We even read and discussed back to back essays; one about how women should be valued and paid for at home work, another about women at home squandering their true potential.

Those were the comments that always surfaced in the classroom debates, as well. The feminist perspective seemed to be that while, at once, feeling that women at home were oppressed and under-appreciated, they were also somehow damaging the feminist cause by not becoming educated professionals. A few students expressed the idea that many women at home didn’t really want to be there. They had been duped (by male society) into believing that homemaking was fulfilling and more important than a career. Stay at home moms had been defrauded of their dreams. They were “kept women.”

I was reminded of those classes and those young women when the Hilary Rosen dust up occurred last week. Rosen remarked that Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life,” setting off a controversy that cable news vultures have been picking at for days. Subsequent comments by Rosen and others have caused me to wonder how much life the college-lit-feminist view of stay at home mothers still has.

To be clear, Rosen’s initial comment seemed, to me, to be little more than a clumsy attempt to make a swipe at Ann Romney’s wealth and station, not her choice as a homemaker. Many of those who initially attacked her seemed to be opportunists, looking to stir controversy. Yet, even though she has now apologized, her initial tweets defending her comments seemed to suggest that real women go to work and raise children.

Rosen’s supporters have done far worse. One of the cable news networks had a debate about the comments last week. A Rosen supporter espoused her respect for stay at home moms, but went on to draw a distinction between stay at home parenting and “the real world.”

And then there is Bill Maher, echoing Rosen’s original jab, in his own, special, coarse way. Maher continued a step further to describe how stay at home parenting is not the same as having a job because a person has to go to an office all day, even when it’s cold, and deal with a boss, whether they want to or not.

I don’t know how prevalent the sentiment is that stay at home parenting is not as difficult or “real” as having a paid job. I don’t know where exactly the sentiment comes from. It certainly doesn’t come from anyone who has ever tried stay at home parenting. Those of us who have done both will tell you that some very successful people in “the real world” would crumble after a few months at home. I have worked very difficult jobs and parenting competes with all of them.

If the belief in the inferiority of stay at home moms is a product of the feminist thinking I encountered so many years ago, it is a sad irony – and a short-sighted one at that. Many of them probably have stay at home mothers to thank for teaching them the values that drive them. Women should support the choices of any other woman who is contributing something valuable to society. I can’t think of anything more valuable than a new generation of good people to run things. The idea of putting a salary value on that is absurd. Do working parents want to know how much they should earn an hour for the parenting they do when they get home? There is no need to put a price on it. It is priceless.

Raising kids and being the support system for a family is as hard and demanding as any paid position. It is challenging. It is fulfilling. There are no set hours. And yes, we have to do it, even when it’s cold.

Leave a Comment

Previous post: