Ever since I shared my post-baby career trajectory, I've always secretly felt like I needed to explain and, essentially, qualify the choice I made to temporarily leave the work force after I became a mom. It's not because anyone is standing over me with crossed arms and judgmental eyes, demanding answers. It's mostly because there are certain conclusions people draw by and for themselves, when they learn I left my job after my son was born. To be honest, some of those assumptions are true of my (and many other mothers' ) situation. However, there is so much more to the decision than simply had baby = go home.
And, while on the outside it may seem like pausing one's career to stay at home is embracing an antiquated and out-dated definition of womanhood and shrugging off the professional opportunities that have been afforded to me and my fellow (American) women, I've actually found the opposite to be true. Spending time at home with my son gave me the chance to hone in on what's most important to me, and to my family, and to consider my career aspirations with a laser-like focus. My time started to feel like one of my most precious commodities, and I could only see myself splitting it between family and career if said career was fulfilling me in ways that my role as "mom" couldn't. So, for this reason, and a few more, I'm humbled to share just why taking time away from your career can in fact be a feminist move:
Where Does It Say That Having A Career Is The Only Way To Be Feminist?
While pursuing a career can be a very feminist move, especially when it involves creeping on traditionally male-dominated spaces (shout-out to my college bestie who wears hard hats all day, every day), it's not the only way to pursue equality. Like, an obvious example could be a woman who's taking time off while also campaigning for candidates who support women's issues. In fact, I know some women who are doing just that and, in my book, that's awesome. The truth is, there are plenty of ways a woman can be feminist outside of the workplace, some obvious and some not so much. I'm not here to police it, only to encourage it.
And Where Is It Written That Raising Kids CAN'T Be Feminist?
Part of being a feminist is displaying and sharing your values however you see fit. You can create and manage a household that's feminist as hell, and you don't have to work outside the home to do so. That's still a step in the right direction.
Having and Exercising A Choice Is Feminist
If taking time off or leaving your job to stay at home and raise your children is what you want to do, and you're choosing your own path while simultaneously refusing to apologize for your choice, then you're a feminist. It's honestly that simple. Shackling yourself to the choices of others out of a sense of obligation to uphold an easily digestable, narrow view of feminism, is (or shouldn't be) the intention of feminism. Feminism is all about giving women the same opportunities as men, which essentially means giving women the ability to choose what they want for themselves. Basically, you do you.
The Implication That Taking Time Away Is A Lesser Choice Is Not Cool
Full disclosure: to my knowledge, there have been no feminist movements fighting for a woman's right to stay home. But that doesn't mean that we should give someone any less respect because she chose to do so. Because, in my opinion, fighting for the right to work, or vote, or whatever other fight we want to hold up as the example, is simply about choices and equality, and not specific, prescribed paths.
Setting The Tone And Displaying Feminist Qualities Within Your Household Is Indeed Feminist
There are countless ways to set a feminist example within the walls of your own home. I mean, my son was outside helping me burn my bras before he could even light a match himself. (Kidding! I'm so just kidding.) But my point is, you can still introduce the concept of equality and share it with your kids however you see fit. Staying home essentially gives you even more opportunities (or at least time) to do so.
It's Very Possible That Outside Work Does Support Feminist Values...But It's Also Possible That It Doesn't
I hope this one does not apply to many people, but just in case it does, I wanted to still mention it (and offer some very necessary internet hugs). Unfortunately, not all work environments are welcoming and comfortable for women, so leaving those places can be the liberating, brave, feminist thing to do.
Owning Traditionally Female Spaces Is Perfectly Acceptable
I mean, I'm a former sorority girl, so I have room to talk here. I learned more about womanhood, femininity, and feminism from my sorority sisters than anyone else on my whole college campus (sorry, professors). Spaces that are traditionally occupied by women can still be places where said women can be comfortable, autonomous, and independent.
Making Decisions For Your Family And Your Children Is Awesome
Sometimes, the decision to stay home isn't about what a mom does or doesn't want to do with her career. Sometimes, it has to do with logistics and finances and childcare costs and numbers. And that's okay, too. Doing what needs to be done for one's family doesn't negate any personal beliefs, and making necessary sacrifices certainly doesn't make you less of a feminist.
Your Partner's Involvement Also Reflects Beliefs
As I type this very sentence, my (male) partner is tending to our fussing toddler, and just this morning they went to the grocery store together, giving me some spare time at home. I know these are a small, anecdotal examples, but what I hope this teaches my son is that both parents can be involved and they can both contribute to their household, regardless of who works inside or outside of the home.
Some Women Simply Want To Be With Their Kids. That's FINE. They Can Still Call Themselves A Feminist.
Last I heard, feminism and child-rearing are not mutually exclusive.
One Decision Does Not Always Represent Your Entire Belief System
It's simply not as cut and dry as "working=feminist" and "staying home=not feminist." Although, wouldn't it be nice if it was? It would sure make explaining things easier. Actually, wait, I don't mean that. I wouldn't trade the challenges for simplicity and I kinda like it this way. I like having flexibility and choices and the ability to discuss decisions, share opinions, and learn about this issue with my partner and my friends and my community. Isn't that the whole point?