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opting out April 29, 2007

Posted by sindhub in class, college, feminism, in the news, motherhood, new york times, opting out, stay-at-home moms.

There was yet another op-ed in the NY Times last week about the recent ‘phenomenon’ of college-educated women with bright career prospects who instead choose to ‘opt out’ and become full-time mothers.  What I thought the author was basically saying was that we need to inspect the current socioeconomic system and why it makes it so hard for motherhood to be compatible with many careers as they’re set up now, as well as why women are still expected to be ‘superwomen’ who go above and beyond what their husbands do.

So I was surprised by the Letters to the Editor in response to this article.  All of them came from women, many from women who opted out of the workforce and chose to stay at home with their children.  I thought some of their letters were just positively dripping with hostility… one of them basically accused the author of being a bad mother because she didn’t stay at home with her kids.  I found it really frustrating that none of them questioned why it was them, the wives and mothers, who stayed at home, and not their husbands.  One letter tried to legitimize the right to ‘choose.’  But I think the idea of choice brings us back to one of the central questions of cultural studies (and of feminist debate): Can you really choose when your options are limited (e.g. their husbands most likely wouldn’t have chosen to stay at home, and also the recent news about the pay gap), even if you don’t realize it?


1. kelly - April 29, 2007

This debate has always been tough for me. Theoretically, any feminist would say that a woman should be able to do whatever she wants with her life and not be judged for it. But I remember that in the very beginning of this course Priyanka made a comment that really struck me. She said that yes, in a perfect world women should be able to be stay-at-home mothers without being criticized, but, unfortunately this is not that perfect world or society. People will use these women as examples to oppress other women (hell, even the women themselves use it to criticize us, according to the Letters to the Editor). People will judge these women and they will make many inferences which they will then try to apply to all women.

I’m perfectly fine with women who choose to stay at home, but I have a serious problem with those that attribute it to some universal maternal instinct that all women have, and then suggest that all women are meant to be stay at home mothers. It seems that many of these women forget how many people had to fight to get us where we are now and are simply doing their best to negate all the struggles we have gone through. They don’t realize that many of the freedoms they have and take for granted would not exist if women remained confined to the home.

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