Feminism has so far done very well in allowing and encouraging women to do things that were traditionally in the male sphere, e.g. earning money, not having babies, wearing trousers (pants) and so on. There’s a problem now, though, in that there has been almost no reciprocal movement, allowing or encouraging men to be stay at home parents, to wear skirts, and so on.
Julia Serano would point out that this is to with a subtle kind of sexism; one which encourages women to imitate men but not vice versa, because what men do is still seen as more legitimate, more valuable, and so on. We’ve broken down one sort of sexism while mostly missing another type of sexism.
I guess part of it is simply that it’s easier to remove a prohibition than to non-violently encourage someone to act a certain way. For example, we can remove a female prohibition on getting jobs but we can’t force men to be stay-at-home parents, and simply encouraging them to become stay at home parents isn’t such a vivid and actionable political goal.
However, I believe that the next stage of feminism must indeed do this. If women are still socially encouraged to take care of children, but men are not, then it doesn’t matter what the laws are – women will still overwhelmingly take care of children, which will include making sacrifices in their career, in power, and in their health.
The US-American “supermom” archetype is complete bullshit. It is very, very hard to have a full time job and take care of kids at the same time, and even if you succeed in doing so, you WILL make sacrifices. Your kids will certainly have less time with you than they would otherwise. They will be raised by nannies, school, and the internet. They will lose on quality of life and so will you.
I believe that if we’re going to go with the traditional one-man-one-woman family structure, one of the parents really should stay at home or work only part time, at least for the first years. The one who does that should not – must not – be by default the woman here.
Of course men are still earning more on average so often it makes more sense for the woman in the couple to quit her job. But while we’re still working on closing the wage gap, we should also be encouraging men to be stay at home parents by changing how them doing so is perceived by society. We should also change how stay at home parents in general are perceived by society: the work should be respected more, seen as real work, given more glory, perhaps even renumerated somehow. Then men will do it more, and the women who do it will be given the respect they deserve.
I believe that as it is, women are seeing that they won’t be respected or honoured for their work bringing up kids, and they are seeing that they can have more power by not having children. They see that if they have children the largest part of the work will fall automatically to them, and they rightly question whether this is actually a good deal. I believe this is the main reason for the low birth rate in rich nations.
In some way this may be inadvertently a good thing, as Earth’s population currently needs to decline or at least not expand further. We have hope: as poorer countries become richer, and their middle class expands, more people will have a chance to educate themselves and engage in activism, feminism will grow in power, and as a strange little side effect, fewer people will have babies. But ultimately, perhaps in a few hundred years, it will be nice for the human race not to keep shrinking forever, and then I hope we might move onto the next stage of feminism, one which provides a good environment for people to have children if they would like to.
A problem I see is that we used to have a system that worked – a violent, horrible system, yes, but it produced stable families. We broke down that system but now we don’t know exactly what to replace it with.
I imagine a world with more same-sex couples, more polyamorous constellations, and more platonic-friends-joining-together-to-have-children arrangements. I imagine a world where commitment to each other becomes an important value to people, even without traditional marriage as the arbitrator. For now it seems like people find it hard to stick together, find it hard to commit, and can’t create communities.
I’m not saying we go back to the old way. That was horrible. But now let’s find a new way. New ways. Ones which honour our new understandings but also honour our desires and instincts. This will mean families can happen without causing the subjugation of women.