Friday, 1 March 2013

Decisions, Freedom and Choice

The other day I spoke to a girl called Jess, who told me she wasn't a feminist. When I asked her why she said: “Because I just want to have kids and be a stay-at-home mum”.

Now these things are not by any stretch of the imagination mutually exclusive. Just because feminism fights for women's right to work and earn their own money does not mean that those things are also enforced. It doesn't mean that if a woman doesn't aim for these things, or doesn't end up achieving them, that she is any less of an awesome human being. It doesn't mean she's 'let the side down'. In fact, I always kind of thought that feminism was about not telling women what they should be doing with their lives. If there's a misconception that women who want to devote their lives to raising children aren't being 'good enough feminists' then that is wrong, and it should be addressed.

The whole awesome, feminist thing about what Jess said (although she possibly didn't realise it) was the 'want' part. When she stays at home with her kids it's going to be a decision, not a default setting and that certainly wasn't a freedom that women had 60 odd years ago.

That's what all our lives should be like: decisions, not assumptions, and that goes for men as well as women. There is absolutely no need for the expectation that exists at the moment that if a couple decide to have kids, it's mum who's going to give up work for the next six years and 'set up house'. (If anyone wants to deny this happens, take a look at Asda's most recent Christmas offering. It's like being smacked repeatedly around the face with a fucking Cath Kidston rolling pin with 'Know Your Place' carved into it).

Gender-enforced expectations trap people, both male and female. That's why I'd stand up for Jess' right to want to be a stay at home mum, but I'd also equally stand up for my friend Joe's right to be a stay-at-home dad, because I can almost guarantee that if he said that in front of a room full of people they'd look at him like he'd just announced his upcoming breast-enhancement operation.

If every couple made a decision, rather than an assumption of which way the breadwinner/child-rearer split was going to go, if there was no stigma or expectation attached to that decision, I think we would have the best generation of parents the world has ever seen. And they in turn would raise kids who didn't feel those expectations, those limitations of gender. The world needs people who want to be themselves, and the sooner we stop hearing what we should be, the closer we might get to who we really are. Feminism is about choice: and when Jess makes that choice, I don't want anyone to think they have the right to say 'it's just because she's a woman'.

(DISCLAIMER when I talk about the breadwinner/child-rearer split I realise that's not the only option. There are lots of couples who effectively split both responsibilities and that is also beautiful and lovely.)

EDIT: Should have made this clearer, but as has just been pointed out, there is also the option to not have kids. This post is just a theoretical exploration of the decisions of those who do.

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