Monday, February 28, 2011

The Differences Between Betty Friedan and Today's SAHM

 

I read a very interesting piece by Charlotte Latvala recently entitled "Meet the New At-Home Mom."[1] According to the article, today's stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) is starting her own home business, sharing her life experiences on the World Wide Web, and makes no apologies for not entering the workforce outside the home. She cites several statistics supporting these assumptions, many of which show a positive trend toward a more balanced home life for mothers with children. For instance,
  • 5.6 million women stay home to care for children and family.
  • 44 percent of SAHMs are under 35, younger than their working-mom counterparts.
  • A 2007 Pew Research Center survey shows that more at-home moms today (48 percent) consider being home full time the ideal situation than they did 10 years ago (39 percent). Inversely, just 21 percent of working moms say working full time is ideal, down from 32 percent in 1997.
These are all good signs of a growing, healthy movement to have Mom in the home where she was created to be. It's as though women today are saying to their feminist forerunners, We tried it your way, and it didn't work! She quotes Susan Shapiro Barash, author of You're Grounded Forever...But First, Let's Go Shopping, who said, "...there seems to be a backlash among the millennial generation; in a sense, they're modeling themselves after their grandmothers, not their mothers."

Yet, the irony is that Betty Friedan, the woman credited with starting the second-wave feminist movement in America, was a SAHM! So, what is the difference between the generation of mothers who joined the workforce after reading her Feminine Mystique and the at-home mother of this generation who sells her copy of it from her home computer on Half.com?

Expectations

Before FM (Feminine Mystique):
  • Women as house drudges: Women were generally defined by the expectation that they would marry early, have children, and primarily be the keepers of their homes while Dad and the children went to work or school and pursued other interests outside the home. Once the heavy load of housework was done, many women were left exhausted, bored, and lonely.
Today:
  • Women as home managers: While cleaning toilets, doing laundry, and making sure everyone is fed are all still parts of the everyday life of most women, few people expect a wife and mother to do it all while everyone else pursues interests outside the home or sits on the couch watching television. Sharing household responsibilities as a family team fosters good character building for children and gives Mom a chance to expand her gifts and talents.
How Women Are Valued

Before FM:
  • Women at home were valued by society primarily as consumers: for how she decorated her home and kept it clean with "new and improved" products, for how she looked and what she wore, for how well her children were educated and entertained, even for her part in how well her husband succeeded in his career.
Today:
  • A woman is generally valued today for what makes her unique: her gifts, talents, hobbies, and interests. Keeping a home may be the main responsibility of the woman of the house, but a woman is no more defined by keeping a clean home than a man is defined by doing the landscaping on the weekend.

Opportunities

Before FM:
  •  A woman at home spent a lot of time alone. Taking time out of a busy household schedule to meet with friends or work a part-time job on the side usually wasn't worth the hassle. Except for the occasional sewing circle or ladies' club, most women kept to themselves at home.
Today:
  • The Internet has created a whole new world for at-home mothers. They can chat with friends and family while baby takes a nap or invest their brief spare moments in building an online business. Some just find their joy in blogging about or reading about the day-in and day-out goings on in their everyday at-home worlds, gleaning and sharing tips and hints for nurturing their marriages, rearing their children, and running their households. 

    More and more young women today are determined to stay at home with their children and are being creative in finding ways to make it happen. While within earshot of their sleeping infants, today's at-home mothers are developing their God-given gifts and abilities and sharing them, not only with their families, but also with their world. It's never been a better time in history to be a SAHM.

    [1] Latvala, Charlotte. 2011. "Meet the New At-Home Mom." Baby Talk March 2011: 54-57.