I think your last sentence says it all. I am at home with our kids now because I know I can return to a decent job in my field even if I do this for a while -- my husband doesn`t have that confidence. Men he knows who took paternity leave were joked about, laughed at, and not promoted, so guess what my husband will never do.


It's interesting looking at the choices that were open to our mothers - and to me, choice is what being a feminist is about. Having the right to choose. My mother is seventy this year and is adamant that she is NOT a feminist. However, because in the mid-1950's she had supportive (and quite well-off) parents, she could go to college, learn to farm and then go on to run her own horticultural business.

When I try to explain what feminism means to me - ie, largely being about having choices - she can't see it. I think it's because, because of her personal circumstances, she always DID have the right to choose. So she can't imagine that there might be women out there, who don't.

Just thinking aloud, really. Good post.


Great post. Now why do I get the feeling that this isn't the last time you'll have to explain all of this?

Last night, I saw Kate O'Beirne on CSPAN, pushing her evolutionary psychology bullshit, and after having enough and flipping the channel, I couldn't help but think that it's too late for her anyway. Women are in the workforce, and we're not giving it up any time soon. I agree that there still are some attitudes that could use adjusting, and that women are unfairly assumed to be primary caregivers, but I at least take satisfaction that we've made what appears to be permanent progress.


Good post. I have been all over the map with career and parenting. 90% by choice. I am a midwife (a very traditional feminine role, however another time I can go on about midwifery and nursing as a feminist career.) With my first child I chose to go to college,loved it and hated it. I refused to slip into a forced role. I started out with plans to get an MBA and be a CEO then moved to pre-med. With my second I stayed home for 18 mos, loved it and hated it. I chose to go back to work part time. With my 3rd child I managed to balance working enough to fulfill myself and being with the kids enough to fulfill myself and them. What I really learned with my second child was how much choice we have and how much we do not. I can choose to do anything I want so long as I have enough money to pay rent. I chose to go to medical school and drop out to be a midwife (had a financially supportive partner to pay my rent while I went to school and apprenticed). I was raised to be a doctor (my father was a doctor and I was the smart one so it was expected that I do something respectable). No boundaries, perhaps. I was fortunate.

However there is a financial aspect to all of this. My partner worked full time, made good money and financially supported the family. I was financially dependent on him at that time. I could never go out at that point and get a job that paid that much unless I went back to school.I was also not willing to give up my comfortable lifestyle.

While I was home full time with my daughter, I read Adrienne Rich's book, Of Woman Born. I love her. For those of you who haven't read it and are in the throws of motherhood it's empowering. I give this book to my friends. Other books that address some of this are: Redefining Motherhood:Changing Identities and Patterns by Abbey & O'Reilly and for fun, The Mother Trip by Ariel Gore.


The Happy Feminist

Oh, I think being a midwife has to be a terrific profession. I don't know much about it or about having babies but I got a real sense of the feminist aspect of the profession when I read the novel, Midwives by Chris Bohjalian, which I highly recommend.

Chris T.

I would add that while feminists as you point out should try to be sensitive in affirming the life choices of all women, a little guilt is not inappropriate when it comes to the life choices of men.

I've always considered myself a feminist, but I also used to be quite pushy with my partner in terms of our shared plans, career choices, etc. And I wasn't pulling my weight with things around the house, either, which de facto limits choices. It took some tough love to recognize that.

Men need to be aware of how their own perceived freedom in making career and life plans impacts their family and loved ones. There are definitely significant benefits--when both of you are working, picking up your share of the chores means a more comfortable home, more frequent home-cooked meals, more choices for your partner, and you get to share in both the joys and frustrations of domestic life. Opening those choices up, and having everyone shoulder the difficult burdens, have very positive consequences.

Nicole Black

See, here's the thing, HF. I take issue with your assertion that to leave a career in the law is a "sacrifice." The relevant definition of "sacrifice" is (from the Webster Merriam online dictionary): destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else b : something given up or lost .

I didn't "sacrifice" my career. I didn't give up or destroy my career for my family. I chose to opt out of a lifestyle that I once viewed as desireable, but ultimately decided was just the opposite of what I wanted. I left because it wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My priorites changed, even before I had my kids.

I am empowered. I have an education, extensive and varied legal experience, and I can do whatever I want to do. What I chose to do 2 years ago was to take a brief hiatus from the legal field. It wasn't a sacrifice--it was a well thought out choice. My career is not over. I'm already back into it.

I made a *choice*. And I made that choice because it was what was best for *me*--not feminism, not our country, not a cause, but for me. My decision was just that--my decision. It was a personal decision. *I* made it for me.

I do agree wholeheartedly with this language from the end of your post: "If anything, the fact that staying at home is now much more a choice than it was 50 years ago confers a good deal of value onto it — women who are staying home are doing it because they want to, not because they’re mandated to do so."

Had I been forced by society to stay at home and have kids at an early age, I truly think I'd have gone crazy by now. But, since I made that decision after obtaining an advanced degree, traveling, and pursuing jobs that I thought were my "dream" jobs, I am far more comfortable with my choice and am far more content with my life as a whole.

Staircase Witch

I actually kind of like housework. In reasonable doses. It gives me a chance to rest my brain.

But what mostly appears to have happened in the last forty or so years is that women now have the career AND the children AND the house to take care of. Some of us have husbands who are good about dividing the labor--without simply "helping out now and then" while patting themselves on the back for being such sports--but I don't think we've reached a point where that's the norm. So I can certainly understand why some women who are not Martha Stewart fans or natural kindergarten teachers (my mother wasn't!) might opt out of trying to juggle all that, and I'm not going to fault them for it, although there is a definite downside.

I think the infighting is where we trip up. It's the men, stupid! Why, instead of searching our souls about whether Maureen Dowd or Sylvia Ann Hewlett is right, aren't we turning outward and demanding to know why they can't meet us halfway, why *their* vocations are so important that we're the ones stuck being the household managers and secretaries and cooks and caregivers? Blaming men doesn't help, but letting them sit back and watch the catfight--that's the mistake we're making. People like Kate O'Beirne simply need to be ignored.


Nicole, here's a definition from the Oxford English Dictionary that is much more in align with what I think HF is getting at: the act of giving up something values for the sake of something else more important or worthy. This may not have describe what you did but I certainly have known a lot of women who put aside careers that they found valuable for something they found more valuable, being at home for their child. To not call their decision a sacrifice is to deny the self-debate and struggle they went through to reach that decision.

The Happy Feminist

Right, AndiF's definition is definitely closer to what I'm getting at. I can understand Nicole viewing the word "sacrifice" as having a negative connotation, but I don't think I said leaving a career is ALWAYS a sacrifice for everyone. I know tons of people of both sexes who would LOVE to stop practicing law, for example.

The ideas presented in this blog are not meant to be a commentary on anyone's life. The whole point of my post is that feminists are NOT telling you that you have to make career/parenting choices because they are best for feminism or some other cause. The fact that I say "Gee, it's too bad that women are less likely to pursue a law firm partnership than men," doesn't mean that I am saying "It's too bad that Nicole Black isn't currently pursuing a law firm partnership." What I am saying is that there are many women out there (not necesarily Nicole Black) who would want to pursue law firm partnerships but for societal mores, socialization and other constraints that prevent them from doing so. I want to be able to talk in broader terms about what's going on in society at large without people taking it personally.

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