Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Third Wave Feminist Mother on Modern Work-Life Possibilities

While looking for essays on Third Wave Feminism, I found this article by Martha Rampton, a professor of history and director of the Center for Gender Equity at Pacific University. She states:
...the third-wave's ... refusal to think in terms of "us-them" or in some cases their refusal to identify themselves as "feminists" at all.
This supports what I feel is going on with mothers choosing to call themselves feminists (or not) these days. According to Rampton, the third wave of feminism began in the mid-90s. The 90s were my teen (class of '95) and college years ('99). I agree that I do not think in an "us-them" way and Rampton's description above is the feminism I feel to be contemporary feminism. We women deserve respect. We make different choices based on different life experiences. And yes, I do respect women who make dramatically different choices than I do.

My MIL describes a time when she was treated like an outcast when she told women she stayed home with her children. How could have these women done this to her? Or was it mostly in her head given the media focus of Second Wave feminism? Women today are joining groups like MomsRising, The Mothers' Movement, Activistas, and the Holistic Moms Network to name a few. NOW has a Mothers Matter, Caregivers Count campaign that I believe needs much more media attention. Recently on Facebook I was invited into a "Circle of Moms" and Yahoo has a Parenting section within its recently launched Shine hub-for-women site. Needless to say, becoming a mother does not mean you drop out of society. Actually, there is even more "society" available once baby comes.

Third Wave feminists are not arguing the merits of working vs. homemaking. The question I struggle with is how we work when children are also a huge part of our lives. This goes for men too, no doubt about it. But since women face pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, how can we get them the information they need before they face important decisions for themselves and their families? I began volunteering in the childbirth and breastfeeding communities because I see women from all demographics making less-than-informed choices in a world seemingly overflowing with information. I think the same lack-of-information problem applies to women trying to make smart work-life decisions.

Recently I started reading books like Creating a Life and Off-Ramps and On-Ramps because I think about re-entering the labor force.* I am thrilled to see huge corporations adjusting their policies to retain top talent. I see women (and men) challenging workplace norms here in Charlottesville too.

Is this message being received by the women a decade younger than I am? I am not so sure. I think many women think they will enter a work environment that is not subject to negotiation. Many may wonder if the issues of the Second Wave are what they should roll up their sleeves and get ready to fight. They may not witness negotiations during their first years on the job and this may color their perspective of what is feasible.

Know negotiating a balance that works for you is possible--men and women are adjusting their schedules all the time. When the time comes for you to switch things up, just ask! And if you don't know what to ask for, write up your perfect schedule and ask to discuss it with your personnel officer. Now remember, the HR executives may not be products of third wave feminism as much as you are; they may not see all the shades of grey between the in-office 40+ hour work week and staying home with your child. If you are good at your work, I am hopeful HR will be receptive to negotiations. Once you figure things out, talk about what worked and what didn't. This will help women looking up to you pave their own way in a few years.

I want women to brainstorm what could be part of a desired dream schedule or work environment that could include babies and toddlers. You never know until you get there what will work but it doesn't hurt to think of the options. Could your 3 month old baby come to work with you until he crawls? Could you telecommute some until preschool begins? Maybe hire some care on the side for the weekly staff meeting? Or better yet, can you swap care with a friend who is in a similar position? There are many people just like you out there. Find each other and work it out.

A study published by the Pew Research Center shows part-time work to be the ideal for many women. I think feminists get this, at least in the Third Wave. I think it is time for women to feel confident in their negotiating power. They shouldn't wait for it to happen to them through public or corporate policy. Only you know how you will be at your most efficient. It is in your employer's best interest to listen to you. They are at risk of losing your talent and their resources in finding and training your replacement. It is win-win. You have the tools and the support to create the perfect balance in your life during each chapter.

Yes, I chose to stay home with my children but that doesn't mean I think all mothers should or can do as I did. I simply want future mothers to know of a newer work-life choice: it is possible to stay physically close to your children and earn an income at the same time. The role models are few, but they are out there. Make it happen and become a role model yourself.

*Note that I may not re-enter the labor force. We shall see what the future brings. The two sides of my brain are still in negotiations regarding "5-and 10-year plan" thinking.

Hungry for more Third Wave feminism? Here is a fantastic description of what feminism IS today from another Third Wave mother, Kim Wells.


Vijay Owens said...

From the Kim Wells article:

In her famous feminist essay on women and writing, Virginia Woolf argued that for a woman writer to even exist she must have the also famous quote of “500 pounds and a room of one’s own, with a door, and a lock.” What that quotation really means is that women writers must have what many men writers have had all along—financial independence and freedom to close away the distractions of the world.


But how many stay at home moms, even those who work part time, have that? And shouldn't this apply to all women, not just female writers?

kim wells said...

Vijay: Yes, it should apply to all women to have those things. Woolf was writing in a very particular time about a particular thing, as was I in that essay. But women who will write can write in many ways-- some of them (Toni Morrison, for example) have written with their kids on their laps. For me, I usually can't do it. I have to have quiet and peace. Thus, usually, I don't write much "serious work" when my kids are around. And I have a supportive husband. It's still a struggle, for sure. I, for one, have never claimed it's one that has been solved, but it's one in flux, in negotiation. 40 years ago, very few moms would have had a choice at all. When my twins were infants, I had the choice to hire a friend for two hours a day so I could finish my dissertation. If she hadn't been there, it wouldn't have happened.

I'm not exactly sure what your question is, though. Yes, it would be awesome for all moms to have that time & that privacy. I think it's still a work in progress.

Oh, and what I came here for: I wrote a thank you note on my own blog for your email yesterday. Pop by to see it.

Now, this comment has been interrupted three times by my domestic hubby and I need to cook dinner, too. So. Feminism: Still a work in progress.

Lisa Colton said...

This is great -- really useful stuff for me. In addition to being a great source of info, your blog helps me be more reflective, which is so valuable. One thing I'd like to add is about models. Though we can define the waves of feminism by the average perspective of society at that time, I think it may be much harder for any particular woman to really evolve from the model of her own mother. And perhaps I'll add for husbands/fathers to evolve from what their mothers did and the attitude of their fathers growing up. If you have any articles or references on that topic, I'd welcome it!!!

Joannie said...

Hello cynthia,

just a note to say hi, and link up across the waves. Do you know about the Association for research on mothering (a google search will find them) at York university. They have publish a journal and host conferences. I've been to a number and found them inspiring. it is great that women are grappling with topics related to motherhood and mothering, the divide brought attention to by Adrienne Rich, in Of Woman Born. In May there will be a conference on philosophy, pregnancy, birth and mothering and the number and breadth of papers is awesome. A search Philosophical inquiry into pregnancy childbirth and mothering should find it.

best for now, Joannie