Zan, I'm a mother with a job (several, in fact). I'm often exhausted and frustrated, trying to balance the demands of my work with the needs of my family, and to squeeze my own fulfillment into the equation. I get angry at the unfairness of the way things are set up--in the workplace to favor some macho ideal of sacrificing everything to get ahead on the job; at the paucity of decent child care options; at the way men, even the decent, heroic ones like my husband who really don't want to be that way, are conditioned to ignore dirty dishes and socks on the floor. Since I work as a therapist, I also get angry at the injustices I hear about every day from my clients. I need to work for economic reasons, but I stayed home for my son's first two years and frankly, I was bored silly (though I adore my son) and if I'd had to stay home longer I would have gone out of my mind, and my kid would have suffered for it.

My best friend is a SAHM. It's her choice; they can afford this choice. She is a brilliant and strong-minded woman who has always wanted to stay home and raise a family, and she is great at it. I do think she is happier than I am. It's not because she is dumb or blinded, but because her desires and needs are consonant with what society dictates that she ought to pursue, so her life is simpler and easier. We are both feminists, and both believe that feminism is in part about being able to make choices like this. There is no competition between us. But it's clear that middle-class life is set up for the working-daddy, SAHM nuclear family, so she doesn't have as much to struggle against.


I'm a long-time reader, first-time commenter. Your posts are normally wonderfully clear and intelligent, but this one is particularly excellent. I only wish I was as articulate as you are during my many discussions on the subject of feminism with people who don't see the point of it... Thanks a lot.


Zan, I'm a sah mother and happy being a feminist, although I might be happier if it seemed like our society was changing in the directions that I would like it to. It's a matter of goals and attainability for me; but that doesn't mean I don't take pleasure in my personal life.

And no, my opinions and beliefs haven't changed a lot since having children. My options, on the other hand....well, let's just say that I am wholeheartedly on board with the letter by Kim Gandy on NOW's website: http://www.now.org/issues/media/mommywars.html -- especially the "How can workplaces, educational institutions, the public service sector and our government make caregiving a more respected and less stressful endeavor? Paid family leave, recognition of the work of caregivers by providing disability and unemployment insurance, Social Security credits, group health insurance, respite care services, public transportation and early childhood education in every community come to mind, but there are many others."


Dr. Sue

I appreciate you, being a mother, responding to me.

I don't believe that men are conditioned to be a certain way and women another way. We are biological different. I never did anything to make my son like cars and right now he is so infatuated with them. It is cars this and cars that. He has never touched a doll even when he was exposed to them at his cousin's house.

I don't see any proof of the idea that we are all conditioned to act a certain way, but I do see a lot of proof that men and women are different. We think differently and excel at different things. This idea that men and women are conditioned by some patriachial conspiracy has not been around very long. I would love to see some actual scientific evidence.

I can't believe you were bored at home. I have never been busier. Of course I am having my second one. I don't know how many little ones you have. Only having one might get less hectic as he matures.

I don't see society dictating that women stay home. If I did maybe we SAHM's would get a tax break or something. The cost of living would be lower, as well, so moms would be able to afford to stay home. Everything seems to be against mommmy staying home.

I understand how you would miss your job. Being a psychologist, you spent about half your life getting your education. You must really love it. I love being a nurse. There is almost nothing better than having a patient tear up because he is so moved by the care you have given him. However, I am a wife first (if you have a bad marriage your children WILL suffer, Dr. Phil is saying this all the time on is show),a mother second, and then a nurse. I strongly believe that I am the best caregiver for my son and that caring for him full time at home is the best choice for him. He has bonded with me and it wouldn't be fair to him or me to break that bond so I could pursue nursing.

I agree that women should not be forced to stay at home but I think that women who work by choice are making the wrong choice. I know that might rub you the wrong way but that's what I believe. I actually believe that feminists are trying to condition women to believe that they should go against what is natural and more and more young mothers today are realizing that they are wrong.

Oh, and it is not society's fault that my husband ignores dirty socks on the floor. He is a guy. Guys notice different things because they are guys. They need to be TOLD that there are dirty socks on the floor. I can't get over how much you need to verbally communicate with men to inform them of their surroundings. This is not because they are dumb but because they are different. We are painting our bedroom and if it were not for me my husband would've picked out the vilest color green in the world. I t looked like the bile I would throw up in the morning when I had my morning sickness. You would have to be on mushrooms to choose that color. He calls it neutral. This was just a prime example of how different men and women are. Of course men can be excellent designers but it is the norm for more women to be designers.

Anyway this is getting long, sorry. Oh, my husband was raised by a marine who fought at Okinawa and ran a really strict household (this guy never did dishes). Yet, I don't need to tell him (my husband)to do dishes. I guess society failed there. He does them because he wants to help me out.


Zan - no one said you weren't happy (yeesh- talk about misreading). Happy's simply making the obvious point that people who "fit in" tend to be happier than people who don't - and that the type of group involved is irrelevant to this basic fact. Therefore, questions about the need for feminism shouldn't center on if it makes certain individuals happy, but if it makes the world a better and more just place.

And not to knock your name Happy (I actually like it because feminists aren't considered to be happy people, and I know that's why you picked it) but "I choose pain!"



Zan, it's great that your life works for you and your family. It's the idea that it's the only way a family can work that I disagree with. You don't know me or my family, so I don't think you can say that I'm cheating them by pursuing my own vocation. I'm glad your kids are thriving. Mine is, too. And, yes, I was bored at home. I'm different from you, because each of us is a unique human being with her own path.

Re conditioning--your son's natural behavior fits society's idea of "normality," so it seems to you that it's natural for all boys to behave that way. My son liked some traditionally "feminine" clothing and behavior, and this was shamed out of him, despite our best efforts, by other children and adult neighbors. I wrote an essay about this which was published in an anthology, and got lots of mail from other moms describing similar experiences. The "aberrant" behavior is ridiculed until it is dropped, and then the "desired" behavior is cited as natural and normal. This is not a scientific study, of course--and it wouldn't be possible to design a truly valid study using children for this purpose--but it is striking to me.


Thanks for responding Dr Sue,

We will just have to agree to disagree. Your definition of thriving is probably different than mine. Not trying to be snobby but just stating a fact. You might think that my son is being conditioned and I just think he is exploring his natural instincts and behaviors. One thing 'feminine' that he does do is play with dishes and pretend to cook. I have no problem with this and he started doing this on his own. I hope he keeps this up as his father is an excellent cook.

What I find hard to believe is that since the beginning of time men have acted one way and women another, not all the time, because there are some exceptions, but usually, because of society. It has only been since the 60s that this whole idea of society dictating the way that men and women act came about.

I don't see why it would be impossible to study this theory. It is just a theory and should be treated as a theory until proven. People are always grasping at theories before they are validated.

Mickle, I disagree that people who fit in are happier. The teenagers who follow there friends into drugs and sex aren't happier. They are usually depressed. Going with the flow does not make you happy. Only "you" can make "you" happy. Being a Christian, I confront subjects all day long that make me unhappy, but I don't let it affect my overall happiness. I ask God to control my mood so that I won't bring negativity on my son. Right now I am not too happy with my husband and my current condition of being very pregnant. I could let it ruin my day but I am going to push that away to be expressed at a better time, if necessary. Probably, by the time my husband does come home I will forget why I was mad at him.

Anyway, I am generally happier now than I was when I worked full time, even though I loved my job. Sure, some things stilll make me mad but overall I am happier.

I am sorry that you choose pain. I definately believe there is a time to be angry or sad, especially if not being so goes against your convictions but I would not delight in it. I think it would be a tragedy. Just my thoughts.


One thing 'feminine' that he does do is play with dishes and pretend to cook. I have no problem with this and he started doing this on his own. I hope he keeps this up as his father is an excellent cook.

Just a quick observation - your husband cooks, and your son picked up on that. If your husband, say, gardened, you might've seen your son to play "garden". Kids try to emulate their parents' behavior. THAT is natural. I've played with trucks and with dolls when I was a little kid. Then I got the trucks and tree-climbing "sorted out" of me - "that's not what girls do, dear."


Regarding studying gender differences in children--the reason I think it would be very hard,if not impossible,to do this well is that we would have to remove the children from all cultural influences and expectations, starting from birth, which could teach us a lot, but it would be child abuse.

Zan, your comment about thriving doesn't sound "snobby," only ignorant. You don't know anything about me. You sound like a loving and caring mom, though, and I wish you well.

Martin Wisse

"married women with traditionalist values are more likely to be happy than married women with feminist values."

Be that as it may, this sort of study/report/news article is ignoring quite a large elephant in the room, the group of women who were not happy when their only choice was the traditional role of bride/mother/comforter, with perhaps a year or two off working as a teacher or librarian.

That is, such articles are (deliberately) ignoring a lot of history to come to the conclusion that being feminist = being unhappy.

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