Chris and I went to dinner with one of his best friends and her husband tonight, and she announced to us (by not drinking) that she is eight weeks pregnant. She said that ideally, once the baby comes, she would no longer work and would be a stay-at-home mother and wife. “I just think that it’s better to have one parent home to keep an eye on the kids to see what they are doing and thinking every day,” she said. She also said she had no attachment to her job and industry, anyway.
For the longest time, because I came from a family where both parents worked, and my mother has rammed into my head that no matter how much money my future husband makes and no matter how secure his job is that I absolutely need to work and not depend on him for money (in the event he either leaves me, or tries to “control” the money in the house), I was very resistant to the idea of women continuing to stay at home and be full-time mothers and wives. It wasn’t just about my own upbringing; it’s about how hard women before me have worked to gain gender equalities in today’s society – the fact that it still hasn’t been a century since women gained the right to vote in the United States (and similar timelines in other developed, westernized nations), the fact that women on average still earn only 75-80 cents for every dollar men earn in the same professions, the fact that after getting married, women for the most part are still expected to relinquish their family names in favor of their husband’s family names and become a “Mr.’s.”
There have been moments where I have been frustrated because of my gender, particularly at work, when I have been called “difficult” or “bossy” by both men and women, in situations where I know that if I were a man doing the exact same action or using a similar tone of voice that no one would ever pass the same judgment. In these moments, I’ve thought occasionally, it would be so much easier if I just “gave up” – left the industry to take on a more traditional gender role because in that realm, I wouldn’t have any glass ceiling to try to break.
But then I think of my mother and how hard she has worked despite her lack of education to make sure that our household income included money that she made. My mother never even had proper primary school education, yet I’ve completed tertiary education at arguably one of the best colleges in the world. Despite her lack of formal education, she still found a full-time white-collar job in San Francisco and stayed there for over 26 years, while others in similar situations went to work in sewing factories or doing minimum wage jobs. I think of the freedom I have in earning my own money and never having to ask or get advice from anyone on how to use it for the things I want. I also think of my future daughter and the message I’d be sending to her if I didn’t work. I’m not trying to do anything revolutionary by wanting to continue to work, but I want to have an identity that is outside of just the labels “mother” and “wife.” I want to be seen as an intelligent woman and human being outside of domesticated duties, and I want to make sure that my daughter sees that she has every opportunity in the world available to her through my own life examples.
Once I reached college, I did think more about how the “women’s revolution” was about having choices – the choice to work or not work, and I became more and more accepting of highly educated women deciding to leave the workforce to become full time stay-at-home mothers because I can see why women would want that. In this friend’s case, she has no attachment to her job. Parents may want one parent to be fully aware of what’s going on at every millisecond of their children’s lives. Not everyone can afford hired help or have the luxury of having healthy, physically capable grandparents nearby. But I have realized in myself that I don’t think I can ever shake the initial invisible “slap” I feel every time I hear someone around my age say that she wants to be a stay-at-home mother. As hard as I try, I’ll always have to force myself to bite my tongue to not question it or say anything remotely judgmental. Women will always judge other women and oftentimes be the reasons other women fail. But I guess this is how one feels when she has very strong opinions about certain issues when she knows that gender stereotypes regarding societal roles are nowhere near dying in this lifetime.. or even in the next four.