Right now I'm reading Half the Sky for the second time, for book club. I read it before, two years ago, and found it incredibly compelling. It is an in depth look at the plight of women around the world, focusing on sex trafficking and modern slavery, gender based violence, and maternal mortality.
"In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world (intro, xvii)."
I love this book with my mind, heart, and soul. It is devastating and overwhelming in scope, but ultimately shows the power and strength of women when they are educated, determined, and equipped to participate in all realms of society. There are so many devastating problems out there and there is so much work to be done, but there is also so much hope. Women are talented and strong and courageous and of course lucky and unlucky, good and evil, strong and weak, just like everyone else on earth (all the males, I guess, since there are just the two of us around here. Generally speaking).
I was raised by strong women. I just did a silent head count and yes, every single woman in my extended family worked outside the home. Both grandmothers, all my aunts on both sides, and my mother (one aunt on my mom's side took several years off when her kids were little). This next generation so far is following suit. Save for me.
My paternal grandmother was a secretary.
My maternal grandmother taught English at community college.
My aunts are a mixture of teachers, social workers, an office assistant, an early childhood education adviser and former Montessori teacher, a university professor, and a children's liason for the BC justice system.
My mom is a nurse.
My cousins are teachers and students.
My sister is a nurse.
I am nothing.
Except that I'm a mom with four kids, a small (small) business owner, an artist, a retired paramedic, and a women's advocate. I do occasional doula-ing for my friends. But there's not really a paid profession for which I can answer I am________ when people ask me the inevitable "What do you do?"
I don't really mind much, because the actual functioning of my life now that I have subtracted work outside the home from it is so much calmer and easier to manage. I like my kids and find them fun to be with, and although I don't find parenting all that intellectually stimulating, I manage to get that need filled with advocacy work and art, and talking with other adults in my life about issues I am passionate about. And educating myself on things various and interesting. And reading. Oh my gosh, I love reading. If there were a profession like "Lifeguard" for book nerds, I'd be all over that like a waterbaby is on lifeguarding. Anyways, I like the balance that leaving BC Ambulance behind has given me, particularly now that I have a handful of kids.
When asked by the school psychologist during testing what his parents do, Matthew started with me:
"She used to be a paramedic but now she has too many children."
As a parent herself the psychologist knew I would appreciate that one. =) SO HILARIOUS.
But you know, I'm not generally a fan of staying at home as a theoretical concept. If women want to (and I do) I think it is awesome that, if they are privileged enough to be able to afford it, women CAN stay home and contribute to society by raising their kids. I think this is becoming a profession in and of itself that is gaining more recognition and respect in society generally speaking, although there are certainly lots of assumptions and stereotypes out there still that irk me (and you, I'm sure) about SAHMs. But I think that the world misses out something essential when its women stay at home. Especially in large numbers. I don't want that for Amarys. She's fiesty! She's miraculous! She's smart! I want her to change the world! I don't want it for me, either. I'm fiesty and miraculous, too! I want to change the world, too! I want to be more than just a stay at home parent. (Don't we all). I actually have this secret dream to work for the United Nations as some sort of advocate or translator or speech writer or researcher or breastfeeding expert or champion of women's rights. Do you think "Stayed home with my kids for five years" will look good on my resume for the U.N? =P Actually the answer to that is probably yes. My point is there is so much in the world that is changing and needs attention or focus, and so much to advocate for, and I want to be right in the middle of all of it. I wish I could live a million lives, because there isn't time in one life to do all the things I would love to do.
There's been some rumbling lately about "Mommy wars" and mudslinging and partisan rhetoric between democrat and republican in the U.S. and I guess it nudged me to write this all out: that and Half the Sky, because the book opens with the story of a girl kidnapped from her Cambodian village and trafficked in Malaysia and Thailand, who eventually escaped and is now married, has a baby, and runs her own successful business that supports her nuclear family and some extended family, and I just think GOOD FOR YOU YOU AMAZING, TALENTED WOMAN!! And the whole concept of her potentially staying at home sequestered in her house just because she has a child just seems asshat to me. She's earning a living. (So is her husband, he's not a leech). She loves her kid. She makes it work. Period.
Now, I want to share with you a story that changed my life about 8 years ago. We went to a wedding in Santa Barbara (so gorgeous, and SO FUN). The woman who was getting married (we were friends with both her and the groom) has a pastor for a dad, so he married them, and in his sermon he talked about his family and how wonderful they were, and how they were his calling in life. He described how God had driven home to him that as a man he was called into ministry as a dad. For a pastor to say that is pretty rare, and it shook me and changed my world. I started to see that for all of us, our family is our primary calling in life and that nurturing them is the best, most honorable, most important work we could ever do. If at the end of my life my children know I love them, my life's work will be done. I will be fulfilled. It will all be worthwhile. Period. This is true for men, too.
This story emphasized for me that one's work is always secondary to one's family, no matter who you are and whether you sport a penis or a vagina. But it also emphasized that one can work and value family, simultaneously. No one ever said a dad cannot do attachment based parenting and work: so why the hell can't a woman? How much does the world miss of our talent and spark and unique gifts when we encourage each other to stay at home exclusively? How much does it devalue that woman in Cambodia who is likely overwhelmingly empowered and happy to find herself a small business owner with a husband and a child after years of abuse as a slave in a brothel? If she can do it, why can't we?
"Women hold up half the sky" ~chinese proverb
"What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce" ~Mark Twain
Some other people's thoughts on this topic:
PhD in Parenting
Confessions of a High Heel Wearing Hippie Mommy
(can I just second The Bloggess in stating that unless you came out of my vagina (or my heart, adopted love), my name is not "Mommy" and you may not call me that as such?? I go to GREAT lengths to refer to women as women rather than mothers as often as I can on mothers of change, and to refer to my doula clients by their names rather than diminuitively referencing them as "mommies." This is so important to me, because it drives me crazy to be referred to as "Mom" by people who are not my children).