Motherhood is one of the most debated subjects in the world. It is debated among many groups, feminism (and womanism) included. As feminist/womanist, I would love to be able to say women’s rights proponents are more progressive than the average person on this issue but that definitely is not the case.
This week, the blogosphere was abuzz about the pregnancy of Terrance Howard’s 18-year-old daughter Aubrey. Aubrey got married in June and is expecting her first child in a couple of months. As expected, people had something to say about her marriage and pregnancy. Aubrey, who plans to be a stay-at-home mother, logged onto her Twitter page to blast her criticizers.
“I can’t stand when people tell me or my husband I should be working. If we decide that I’m going to stay home and raise our children then that shouldn’t be up for discussion. I grew up with my mom in the house always there for us and I wouldn’t have it any other way for my children”
While I don’t see myself ever becoming a stay-at-home mother and I don’t necessarily agree with Aubrey’ choices, I believe she is well within her right to make them. She seems like she knows what she wants and is doing what she thinks is best for her family. I think with the right support system and hard work, Aubrey and her family have a good chance at having a nice life. But, there are others that think she is setting herself up for the opposite.
Renee Martin of Womanist Musings seems to be one of those people and wrote Aubrey a sternly worded letter for Clutch Magazine. Although Martin presented the letter as if she was speaking from a place of concern, it came off condescending and reeked of judgement. She went in on everything from saying Aubrey “cannot even use birth control properly” to saying Aubrey got pregnant because she got pregnant. There were many parts of that article that irked me to my core but one of Martin’s points stood out to me.
Aubrey is right that it is her decision to be a stay home mom, but such a decision would be a mistake. Before you lose your mind and lecture me about how women should have a choice, keep in mind that Aubrey has not finished college yet. Unless she plans to live the rest of her life on daddy’s money or dependent upon her spouse, not having a college degree will greatly impact her future earning potential, should she desire or have a need for gainful employment. Yes, staying home to cook, clean, and raise your kids is a legitimate choice, but it also comes with many consequences.
Relationships like these are extremely cemented in gender roles and for women; this means there is never a separation between work and leisure. It means being expected to work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week because as the old adage says, “housework is never done.” It also introduces an uneven power dynamic into the relationship. Despite the fact that the public sphere is very much subsidized and maintained by the private sphere, work in the home is not counted and it most certainly is not valued.
Martin makes valid points. Stay-at-home parenthood is not valued in this country. The United States has one of the worst track records in the Western World when it comes to maternity and paternity leave and the treatment of mothers in the work force.
Instead of trying to convince stay-at-home mothers that doing what they think is best for their kids is wrong, the treatment of mothers in and out of the workforce and the gender roles need to be addressed.
The picture above shows how the United States stacks up against other countries’ paid maternity leave policies. The other countries in this chart 12-50 weeks of leave. The United States gives zero. Many mothers in this country are lucky if they get six weeks off and I know mothers that had a baby and went back to work in less than a week. There should be articles written about that. Instead we get articles like Martin’s and Elizabeth Wurtzel’s 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War on Women Possible that demonize and scrutinize stay-at-home moms. Yes, Aubrey and the women described in Wurtzel’s article have privilege and financial cushion that allows them to stay at home with their babies but they are not to blame for other women not being able to make that choice. The laws of this country and those that uphold them are. My beef isn’t with Ann Romney. She isn’t running for president. Her husband is and he is the one trying to cut access to social programs that help the mothers that are not able to stay at home. I want to see more articles about that. But, I guess that doesn’t get page views.
Another valid point, or at least an attempt at one, is the structure of gender roles. Traditionally, stay-at-home mothers were expected to adhere to a certain image and role in their homes. Still, Martin was wrong in assuming that stay-at-home motherhood itself causes those gender roles. The inception and adherence to gender roles depends on the people in the relationship. Every husband with a stay-at-home wife isn’t a control freak and every stay-at-home mother isn’t a timid haphazard woman being bossed around. Discussions of gender roles need to be nuanced and projecting expectations on a relationship that you have minimal knowledge about isn’t productive. She also mentioned the possibility of abuse.
Yes, there are stay-at-home moms that are in controlling relationships but to use that as an argument against stay-at-home motherhood overall is irresponsible. Let’s focus on making abuse services for women better so that stay-at-home moms or any moms presented with an abusive relationship have a way out.
Bottom line is, it is up to Aubrey to make this decision. There is no right or wrong answer. As Martin said, stay-at-home motherhood does have consequences but so does working motherhood. Neither is better or worse than the other. We need to work on having a society that allows women to be able to make whatever choice they want instead of condemning them.
Best of luck to Aubrey and her family.
What do you think? Am I wrong? Is Renee Martin wrong? Leave a comment!