I have been, along with the rest of the country, enchanted by the new Duchess of Sussex. In my quest to be more Meghan I have parted my hair in the centre, which sadly had the effect of making me look like an over grown school girl, renewed my subscription to Netflix so I can devour the Suits boxsets and complained considerably less about the ginger bits in my husband’s beard.
In the run up to her wedding to Dear Old Harry, she removed her digital footprint, or as much as she could with her family vying for media attention. I believe they are currently being held in the gallows at the tower of London. On Monday the Duchess of Sussex page of the official Royal website was launched which was greeted with the same level of scrutiny, at least it was in by me, as her arrival at the church. Centre stage on the page was a single quote from a speech she delivered at the UN on International Women’s Day 2015. Rather tellingly the year before her secret blind date with Harry.
“I am proud to be a woman and a feminist”
This statement is a refreshing take on two traditionally contradictory terms, feminism and femininity: they do not have to be mutually exclusive. The idea that you can believe in equality of the sexes without denying the strengths of your gender is empowering and an excellent message to share in her duties as a member of the Royal family. However, it has left me questioning my own life.
Can a stay at home mum be a feminist?
According to the Fawcett Society, the team behind the ongoing t-shirt campaign ‘This is what a feminist looks like’
When I put this question to social media’s queen mother Vicky Psarias, founder of the hugely successful parenting and lifestyle website Honest Mum and author of Bestselling MumBoss in an Instagram message, she replied instantly with her signature enthusiasm:
“Yes, absolutely! It’s called choice and some don’t have that choice but feminism is the belief in equality.”
I believe in these ideals too but can I say with any real conviction that I embody them? Am I proud to be a stay at home mum and a feminist and does this sound less credible coming from me rather than a financially independent, member of the social elite or a working mum?
After canvassing everyone I came into contact with on the school run, which given that it was 3pm was admittedly stay at home mum biased aside from the odd dad who happened to have a dentist appointment, the resounding response was.
“Yes, absolutely (Pause for thought) I think so.”
Within the confines of our marriage I feel I have equal rights. I see myself as an equal in our marriage in terms of decision making and contribution. I had no understanding of what went into looking after children, the relentless contribution to the family unit. It didn’t register because I hadn’t experienced it and it wasn’t earning any money. So much of the value we place on an individual is based on their earning potential. Equality becomes synonymous with pay so it is little wonder that stay at home mums struggle to identify as equal to their “bread winning” partner.
“Equality of choices for all genders” does not mean complete free will. I am restricted by my choice to be a stay at home mum, I am dependent on my husband’s income and with my role as principal care giver there are certain tedious and unpleasant jobs I have to do. I sacrifice personal independence to come and go as my children are dependent on me when they are awake and even when they are asleep, unless we get a babysitter or my husband can be home at a reasonable time to let me go out. At the same time, my husband, as a responsible father, is no less free. The choice we made for me to be the stay at home parent puts limitations on my husband’s free will. He is bound to his job as we need his steady income to support our family and he is unable to spend the amount of time he wants to with our children.
Choice is the deciding factor, if I am a stay at home mum by choice, then I am a feminist. However, freedom of choice has to be considered in context. When I was pregnant, I took maternity leave. It wasn’t a conscious choice, I had the milk he didn’t. Later, when our eldest was 1 I didn’t return to work and became pregnant with our 2nd. The choice was made because my earning potential was lower than his. It wasn’t a conscious feminist choice. However, when people talk about feminists the example always seems to be of a high powered friend who out earned their other half and yet still decided to be a stay at home parent. Conversely, if a woman chooses to return to work because they do not want to sacrifice their career or salary, are they being any more of a feminist or are they conforming to the current society that if you have a successful career you must return to it as soon as possible after having children. Is this freedom of choice?
Since becoming a mum I have struggled with my new identity. Throughout my academic and professional career I was moulded to climb the career ladder shoulder to should with my male peers. It wasn’t ever discussed, at least not openly, that one day I would choose not to be part of the climb. Presentation after presentation from prospective employers at the graduate career fairs boasted how many women made Partner, and even more importantly, that not all of them were because of a quota. To a wide eyed law graduate, whose only concern for her own eggs were that her house mates wouldn’t eat her hidden stash of Cadbury’s Mini Eggs after a night out, this was inspiring stuff. Mother Nature had other ideas. Fast forward a decade and I am sat totally consumed with a new born baby girl, unable to think and unwilling to even care about anything other than her well being. When my husband and I decided that it would be the right thing for our personal situation, the reasons we gave were the my salary barely covered the cost of child care, we didn’t have family close by, I wanted to start my own business etc but what I was ashamed to admit was that I actually wanted to look after my children full time, not because I didn’t trust other people to do it or because I thought it was my duty, selfishly it was because I wanted to and because I could. I was prepared to risk career success and standard of living to do it. It was a choice but not the socially acceptable one. I found myself using the phrase “just a stay at home mum,” discussing what I used to do pre kids or my plans for the future when they start school. The only stay at home mum role model I could identify with was the hapless mother from The Tiger That Came to Tea. If it is really a choice then we should be able to describe it with confidence and feel like at that moment it is enough.
When it comes to feminism and parenting I feel I can be a feminist and a stay at home mum provided that in addition to equality of opportunity and choice is equality of compromise.
If a Princess on her fairytale wedding day to her Prince, which has traditionally has been criticised for sending the wrong message to young girls about their aspirations in life, can be heralded as a feminist then so can a stay at home mum provided they lead by example. As Meghan so eloquently said, “It’s really important that women be reminded that their involvement matters and that their voice is heard. Even if it feels like it’s small, it really can make an impact.”
What do you think? Can a stay at home mum be a feminist?