Caryn: Waaaayyy back in our very first little post (which was just last week), Sue left a comment that touched me. While she cheered on our revolution, she did ask that we cut some slack to the “old timers,” meaning the traditional moms of the 1970s and 80s who pushed back against the radical feminists who tried to devalue an at-home mom’s role (think: Hillary Clinton’s crack about baking cookies, standing by her man….).
So, I think we should just put it out there—for all the Sues—that we more than cut you slack, we HONOR your fight to preserve the integrity of the nitty-gritty, lovey dovey work a mom does.
In fact, I think this “fight” between the feminists and the traditionalist totally shaped today’s Mommy Revolution. I, for one, feel priviliged to have grown up in a time when I could witness women burning bras (actually, they had gotten this out of their systems by the time I got on the scene in 1972. Carla–you may remember this…) and later crashing through ceilings in their big burgandy bows and shoulder pads (still one of my favorite looks) all from the comfort of my home, which was kept so beautifully and made so warm and cozy by my good old-fashioned American mom.
The best of each of those worlds absolutely shaped what I wanted my mom life to look like. How ’bout you?
Carla: I do remember the bra burning! And Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine and watching my mom just go about her business in the midst of it all. My mom is perhaps the strongest feminist I know because she has always just assumed she could do what she wanted to do with her life. Granted, her opportunities were limited–when I went to college she told me she had a little tinge of jealousy because I really could choose any path I wanted while she had four choices: nurse, secretary, teacher, or mother. She worked as a nurse until I was born, then stayed home. But she didn’t really “stay” anywhere. She was the Sunday school superintendent. She was in Ladies Aid and Belle Lettres (that was a “women and the arts” kind of club back in the 70s) and PEO. She worked endlessly for our community arts organization. She volunteered with the community theater and ran the church suppers and did everything but run for mayor (she totally would have won). And my brother and I were hauled along to all of it.
My point is that at the time I didn’t see my mom’s involvement in all of this as feminist. I just saw it as her living life on her terms. Now I think that was indeed very feminist thinking. When I became a mom, it actually seemed like there was more pressure to pick a side of the working/stay-at-home debate than my mom faced. Maybe that’s because when I was young the “working” side was still in its early days and there really was no debate to be had. But by the time I had children, those sides were deeply entrenched–particularly for Christian women. Caryn and I have gotten the very clear message–from other women, from churches, from books and resources–that our primary calling is motherhood and that to seek after anything else is unbiblical. The words “Feminist” and “Christian” have become mutually exclusive terms in some circles.
My sense is that the real battle began in the mid-70s, when the feminist movement had made serious strides and the church felt like it needed to stand up for families lest anyone get the message that the family wasn’t important. James Dobson started Focus on the Family in 1977. Time magazine declared 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical” after Jimmy Carter was elected president. That was when the church really dug in and declared war on the perceived threats to the family. I think the intentions were noble, and like Caryn, I have tremendous respect for women like Sue who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to earn respect for the practice of parenting. But somewhere in the last 30 years, the idea that it’s okay for a woman to choose to be home had turned into a message that it’s not okay for her to choose anything else. I think what we are really “revolting” against are the institutional messages about who women should be and what motherhood should look like.
Caryn: Didn’t know you were so well-versed in you 1970s history, Carla! Impressive. I still feel like taking this in a thousand new directions (like how feminism became all about abortion rights–to the feminists’ DISCREDIT–and how I think the Mommy Revolution is really about getting BACK to the way motherhood had been up until recent history), but that will have to wait till another day. This mommy needs to get dinner going.