Just kidding! There’s no such thing.*
At the Lady Economist Headquarters today, we’ve been talking a lot about the New York Magazine article on “feminist housewives” who are “leaning out” of the workforce and staying home. Dorothy has already penned a brilliant response based on bargaining theory. But we’re still uneasy with even more fundamental questions: Can a Stay-at-Home-Mom be a Feminist? Is choosing to forgo paid employment and focus on child-rearing/home-making ever a feminist act? The knee-jerk reaction (“oh hell no!”) seems too judgmental, even for the blogosphere. We’re still uncomfortable with women appropriating feminist language to justify every decision they make.
A woman can choose to stay at home and still believe in feminism. Being a feminist isn’t a club you have to get voted into. If you say you are one, we’ll gladly accept you, unless of course, your way of thinking is anti-feminist. (Lisa Miller, the author, and Kelly Makino, a women featured in the article, tread dangerously close to anti-feminist sentiment when they suggest that women and men have different “natural” abilities when it comes to taking care of children.) For those of us who are aggressively pursuing our professional goals, it seems odd. It’s honestly never occurred to me that I wouldn’t work and that I wouldn’t work hard. Ms. Makino’s story made me feel a little sad, like I was the witness to a woman who had let the air out of her ambitions, and was seeking approval or validation. But those are my judgements based on my values. I would way rather be engaged in international humanitarian work than baking cakes.
For some women, being a feminist is a full-time job. For others, it’s part of their belief system but not necessarily how they spend their working hours. Even for women who are not employed in the women’s movement or other social justice causes, there are a lot of ways to walk the walk and live out their feminist values. They could potentially go through the day making many micro-decisions that I’d consider feminist: taking an intern out to lunch to coach her on her career, smiling at (or giving money to) the Planned Parenthood canvassers on the street, talking to a little girl without mentioning her cute clothing. But some of the things she’ll do, like enjoying a delicious frozen yogurt, getting an oil change or a manicure, won’t be feminist, and that’s okay. Women who don’t work outside the home have opportunities to engage in feminist activities too, although maybe less often if their sphere of influence is smaller. Or maybe they’ll have more opportunities if they spend time volunteering or engaging in other civic activities. But the bottom line is, even though it’s sweet and loving to find new recipes for your husband’s favorite dish, it is not a feminist act.
*Although if there ever were a feminist salad, it would probably be a photographed on this incredible new food blog. For more pictures of women not engaging in a feminist act, check out the Hairpin’s classic post Women Laughing Alone With Salad.