I have been, along with the rest of the country, enchanted by the new Duchess of Sussex. In my quest to be more Meghan I have parted my hair in the centre (which sadly had the effect of making me look like an overgrown school girl), renewed my subscription to Netflix (so I can devour the Suits boxsets) and complained considerably less about the ginger bits in my husband’s beard.
The day after Meghan married Dear Old Harry, the Duchess of Sussex page of the official royal website was launched. Centre stage was a single quote from a speech she delivered at the UN on International Women’s Day 2015. Rather tellingly, the year before her secret blind date with Harry.
“I am proud to be a woman and a feminist”
An empowering take on two traditionally mutually exclusive terms: feminism and femininity. However, it left me questioning my own life choices.
Can a stay at home mum (SAHM) be a feminist?
According to the Fawcett Society, “Feminism is a commitment to equal rights, opportunities and choices for people of all genders.”
I want to be proud to be a SAHM and a feminist, but does this sound less credible coming from me rather than a financially independent member of the social elite or a working mum?
Pre-kids I didn’t think a SAHM contributed equally to her working husband because I had no understanding of what went into looking after children, or the relentless contribution to the family unit. So much of the value we place on an individual is based on their earning potential. Equality becomes synonymous with pay, so it is little wonder that stay at home mums struggle to identify as equal to their “bread winning” partner.
“Equality of choices for all genders” does not mean complete free will. I am restricted by my choice to be a stay at home mum, I am dependent on my husband’s income, and with my role as principal care giver there are certain tedious and unpleasant jobs I have to do. I sacrifice personal independence to come and go as I please. My husband, a responsible father, is no less free. He is bound to his job, as we need his steady income to support our family, and he is unable to spend the amount of time he wants to with our children.
Choice is the deciding factor: if I am a stay at home mum by choice, then I am a feminist. However, freedom of choice has to be considered in context. When I was pregnant, I took maternity leave. It wasn’t a conscious choice, I had the milk, he didn’t. Later, when our eldest was one, I didn’t return to work and became pregnant with our second. The choice was made because my earning potential was lower than his. It wasn’t a conscious feminist choice. However, when people talk about feminists, the example always seems to be of a high powered friend who out-earned their other half and yet still decided to be a stay at home parent. Conversely, if a woman chooses to return to work because they do not want to sacrifice their career or salary, are they being any more of a feminist or are they conforming to the current societal norms that dictate if you have a successful career you must return to it as soon as possible after having children. Is this freedom of choice?
Throughout my academic career I was moulded to climb the career ladder alongside my male peers. It wasn’t ever discussed, at least not openly, that one day I would choose not to be part of the climb. Presentations at the graduate career fairs boasted how many women made partner. To a wide eyed law graduate, whose only concern for eggs were Cadbury’s Mini Eggs, this was inspiring stuff. Fast forward a decade and I am sat totally consumed with a newborn baby, unable to think and unwilling to even care about anything other than her wellbeing. When we decided that it would be the right thing for our personal situation, the reasons we gave were that my salary barely covered the cost of child care, we didn’t have family close by, etc. But what I was ashamed to admit was that I actually wanted to look after my children full time – not because I didn’t trust other people to do it, or because I thought it was my duty – selfishly, it was because I wanted to and because I could. I was prepared to risk career success and standard of living to do it. It was a choice, but not the socially acceptable one. I described myself as “just a mum.” If it is really a choice then we should be able to describe it with confidence and feel at that moment it is enough.
When it comes to feminism and parenting, it is about equality of opportunity and choice, plus equality of compromise.
As Meghan said, “It’s really important that women be reminded that their involvement matters and that their voice is heard. Even if it feels like it’s small, it really can make an impact.”
What do you think? Can a stay at home mum be a feminist?