I have been conversing for several weeks with very conservative women on Crystal's blog because I have been struggling to understand why any woman would ever be opposed to the notion of equal rights for women. A couple of women have commented that they feel that feminism belittles their role as homemaker.
It kind of makes sense. When I was growing up, feminism promised to "liberate" women from their destiny as "housewives." Little girls were taught to aspire to something more than being "just" a housewife. It is no wonder that women who had devoted their lives to husband and children and home felt belittled by the movement!
Even my own feminist-thinking homemaker mother had trouble when Gloria Steinem was invited to dinner at our house. (Steinem and my parents had a close mutual friend.) My mother literally made herself sick with dread at the idea of cooking and cleaning and waiting on Gloria Steinem. My mother believed that Steinem would be judging my mother's role and my mother's marriage with a critical eye, and was hugely relieved when Steinem sent her regrets.
Today large numbers of women in the U.S. are still homemakers and stay-at-home mothers -- whether by choice, necessity, socialization or religion. And I bet a great many of them still think that feminism is hostile to them. As a feminist, the last thing I want to do is to make another woman feel "less than" just because she has made different choices than I have. But it is a tough balance to strike. On the one hand, I want to make sure that our society remains one that does not force women to become stay-at-home-mothers. I want equal pay, equal leave provisions, legal protection from discrimination, legal protection from sexual harassment, and access to reliable contraception. I want to see women welcomed into every profession and every position of power from factory foreman to the U.S. presidency. I would like to see little girls socialized to be strong and independent. And I would love it if traditionalist women would also support these feminist goals. The difficulty is that articulating these goals almost comes across as a slam of traditional homemaking. One inevitably is asked why homemaking isn't "good enough."
This is a major PR problem for modern feminism. I suppose the solution is to present it as a matter of freedom and choice: No one will stop you from choosing a traditional role. Please don't put barriers in front of women who aspire to less traditional ambitions. I also think that ensuring a wealth of options for women will help homemaking to be seen as a truly voluntary choice, and thus more worthy of esteem than the forced servitude it is often now perceived as.
This website, The Feminist Homemakers webpage, has some interesting perspectives, including among other things, a description of feminist defenses of homemaking:
Feminists have done a good job of calling attention to the fact that male culture has devalued the work of women in our homes. Feminist economists have pointed out the invisibility of this labor in traditional economic theories. Cultural feminists have chronicled the immense labor and artistic value in many homemaking projects such as quilting. Political feminists have called for men to fully participate in the domestic world just as women have increased our participation in the work world.