Posted by Prymface on Tuesday, April 24, 2012
My review of 'Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality' by Rebecca Asher
Modern Motherhood is something I feel I can kinda relate to. I'm a mother and I'm pretty modern by my own standards. I don't live by traditional gender roles. If I had to be relied on to cook, we would never eat anything that wasn't out of the freezer with a simple 'put in oven for 25-30 mins' instruction. If my partner had to be relied on to 'provide', we simply wouldn't eat. I do not wash or iron my partners clothes or make him a packed lunch every morning because he is a capable adult, not a baby, and I have better things to do with my time. So I read this book with interest....
This book helpfully points out to the child-free women out there who think they've got this equality thing cracked and are now considering motherhood that, basically, they are in for a shock. You think that in getting your high status well paid job you've fought sexism and won? I'm afraid not. In fact, there wasn't even a battle. You've simply followed the 'male' route to success and found that the pathway so far is actually pretty clear. This book's suggestions around mothers and father sharing work and parenting roles equally are great for women who loved their jobs, had babies (in the thirties, naturally), have realised that the day in day out treadmill of parenting chores that always fall to them are actually rather tedious, and want some of their old life (read career) back so they can keep on track with their peers (read men and childless women) and get back the status they once had. There is also an assumption that these women conveniently have supportive husbands (also with jobs) who, if the policies were there, would reduce their hours and share the parenting equally. To avoid falling into these traditional gender roles in the first place the book advocates for this equality (read sameness in roles) to be in place from the start, with double beds on maternity wards and an equally split paternity leave package. If this is your life then, yes, I totally agree, go for it, share all you like, but is this really a revolution? What about the rest of us who haven't had such a straight forward history that brought us to motherhood? For those who have been battling inequalities and balancing conflicting demands way before we got to our thirties!
Having a child at 17 and leaving the father at 19 has meant that for the last 16 years I have taken 'primary responsibility' for parenting (in that I've always been the only person who would be able to recite his date of birth, teacher's name and location of socks) and trying to support us both financially. When this book talks about splitting roles equally between the mother and father, so that mothers can also continue in their careers I get what she's saying, but personally, I can't relate to this solution. This would have been no use to me when my son was born, because I had no career to get back to, and my then partner was a ****. I had to work out my own way of sorting things out. Just as young mothers are still having to do now. Maybe its because our problems have never been about the 'burden' of parenting, but rather the judgement and lack of respect from others for choosing parenting when we should have just been thinking about getting a job.
I've always taken feminism as being about having a voice and creating your own values. Therefore feminism is surely more important for those who are marginalised, who aren't supported by society, who are judged and have little power or opportunity to express themselves. If you're a middle-class middle-aged educated white women with a supportive husband and your only issue is balancing roles, I actually don't think feminism should spend too much time with you. You can probably sort out your own relationship issues by drawing up a rota. I'm a true believer in the importance of choice, but there's only so much value in helping those with the most choice to have more choice. For those that didn't get caught up in the wave of feminism that said you find your identity through having a successful career, the choices they are making can be quite different and they often go unrecognised. For many mothers who live with day to day family issues of unemployment, disability, illness, domestic abuse, discrimination, cuts in services, additional caring responsibilities, etc, having equally shared roles with a partner (if you have one) often isn't even an option (even with policies in place). But there are some strong kick ass mothers out there who have overcome huge barriers. And there are some strong kick ass mothers who are still struggling to be listened to.
When we talk about inequality we need to look at where we are placing our values and whose values we are adopting. If the main aim of the 'parenting revolution' is to strive towards equal earnings between men and women I think we risk focusing on the wrong things. We need to listen to those who care for others (not just young children, but also elderly relatives, partners, siblings, grown up children, etc) and we need to listen to those who do not have the same privileges or assets to fall back on as others. Maybe then we can adapt the revolution slightly so that more people can benefit from it....
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