A dear friend of mine recently forwarded an article to me, published at Concerned Women for America by Penny Nance. The piece posits that women finding work/family balance is a harmful, "feminist" myth. Nance, along with every evangelical anti-feminist that I've read, makes some fundamental errors in fact and logic.
First, she takes an example of feminism used negatively/out of balance (Betty Friedan in this case) and applies that brand to all who identify as feminist. This mistake is incredibly common, and I don't know why- a cursory examination of feminism and its history tells us nothing if not that we're a diverse group. Whether you recognize distinct waves or not, the likes of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan really shouldn't be held up as examples of feminist behavior when there are Susan B Anthonys, Elizabeth Cady Stantons, Sheryl Sandbergs, and more who came before and after them. There are many, many evangelical Christian feminists of both genders who do not denigrate stay-at-home parenthood, who recognize the beauty of both genders working together, and who do not promote women by belittling men.
Second, Ms. Nance assumes that feminism, as a whole, is about shaming mothers who stay at home with their kids. This is patently false- feminism is not that at all. Feminism is about two things- equality (not to be confused with sameness) and choice. Feminism rejects the idea (apart from childbearing and upper body strength) that men are "better" at some things, or were designed for "leadership roles" where women were not. Feminism is about parents being able to choose their work/family balance, not about forcing any one situation on the society at large.
According to Nance, the question that differentiates feminists from "conservative women" (she has not, apparently, met many politically conservative Christian feminists) is this: “Is professional and financial ultra-success ultimately more important to women than their kids?”
Ms. Nance assumes that conservative women, but not liberal women, would instinctively answer "no" to this question. I can't think why- feminists, many of them, are mothers too. We put our families ahead of our jobs too.
Ms. Nance quotes older women who say that "we can have it all" is a myth. To a degree, modern feminists like myself would agree with her. But unlike Nance and her cohorts, modern women know that we can have careers and motherhood- just not all in, all by ourselves, all the time.
"For as much as they talk of “liberation,” many feminists want to impose their own set of burdensome standards on women as to how they should think and act. They don’t want to admit that stay-at-home moms are fulfilled by devoting their attention to their households. Others, like me, find contentment in sacrificing some family time in order to work toward leaving a sound nation behind for our children.
Whatever mixture women end up choosing, they have the potential of finding satisfaction and contentment in their unique blend of callings. The point is that telling individual mothers what’s best for them based on some preconceived formula will not suit everyone, and will be doomed to limit and ultimately disappoint a huge proportion of women."
Need I point out that it is a fallacy to assume that all women will be fulfilled as stay-at-home moms, or that it contradicts her point in the next paragraph? Need I further point out that, as Nance blasts feminists for imposing their "burdensome standards" on women, she is imposing her own? Why must she justify some time away from her family as a national good?
The second paragraph above I agree with, but I find it odd in context with the rest of the piece. It's actually very good. If this paragraph stood alone, I would've enjoyed reading this article immensely.
The third mistake, and by far the most critical, is the gendering of the home/work balance question. Fathers struggle with this balance too! It is just as bad for a family to have a father that is always working/not present and involved as it is for the mother to be thus absent. Fathers miss their children and feel the tension between wanting to provide well, be personally successful, and have rich family lives too. If you ask my husband what his most important title is, he won't say "Contract Manager" or "Technical Expert"- he'll say "Dad", every time. The solution to the tension between work and home is, I think, for both parents to share those duties. Spouses should have each other's back when it comes to child care, education, and housework. Kids don't need Mommy all the time- they need a parent. And if Mommy and Daddy can both have flexibility in their jobs and responsibility in the home, then everyone can have that rich family life, that personal fulfillment, and that provision. Family will always involve sacrifice, for either gender.
To me, the single most important thing we can do as feminists to maintain a healthy home/work balance (assuming we want a family) is to marry men who want that balance and are willing to partner with us to achieve it. A true partner is a feminist's best friend.