Every girl contemplates their own motherhood.
At a young age, it’s forced onto us. We’re given baby dolls to care for; dream houses to fill with Barbie’s; kitchens to cook plastic meals.
We’re told to act ladylike, which means no burping, no karate kicks in our dresses, and no playing in dirt. We’re bestowed pink wardrobes at birth along with the expectation to, one day, find a good man from a good family with a good job so we can raise a good family.
As a child, I unknowingly challenged those norms. I rejected pink for blue. I adored Spider-man, so much so that I was the web slinger for Halloween for four years until I outgrew the costume. I played in mud with action figures. I watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings. My parents fully embraced these tiny acts of rebellion—others, not so much. When I reached high school, family gatherings turned into interrogations about my future, but not as a professional—as a wife and mother. Truthfully, it wore on me. I was a writer. I played tennis and softball. I loved camping. I aspired to be like Jane Goodall.
“I thought I was so much more than a future wife and mother.”
As I ventured into college, I embraced my own individuality and independence, and firmly cemented myself in my identity as a feminist. I wanted to be a successful, career-oriented woman and see where life takes me. If I never ended up being a mother, so be it—at least I would be happy. And yet, I became aware of a certain sect of feminists who perplexed me: stay-at-home mothers. So I decided to research this issue further. Could this be true?
Online posts proclaim stay-at-home moms cannot align themselves with feminism. This year, a columnist, Sarrah Le Marquand, even promoted outlawing stay-at-home mothers. “Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that ‘feminism is about choice’ is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history,” Marquand wrote.
The stay-at-home mothers I talked to couldn’t disagree more.
“I did this by choice,” said Ashley Basile from New Jersey about her role as a stay-at-home mom. “I wasn’t pushed into this role. When I had my first child, I wanted to devote my life to raising my children until they were adults.”
Despite Marquand’s accusation that feminism isn’t about choice—the mothers I spoke with actively chose to stay at home. “My husband and I knew we wanted to have children close in age, and daycare costs were extremely prohibitive,” said Renee Torres, a mother of two from New Jersey. “We also viewed it as a temporary situation. So, we decided we could accept the financial hardship of being a one-income family until our daughters were older.”
With a rise in child care costs, many mothers are more inclined to raise their children at home. Still, it isn’t the sole reason—they enjoy raising their children. Despite this, they don’t see their household role conflicting with their self-proclaimed identities as feminists.
“Feminism is all about choice,” Torres continued. “It should empower us and enable women everywhere to choose how their life is defined. There’s no script to follow to be a ‘real’ feminist.”
Deena O’Neill, a mother of two from Pennsylvania, also shares this sentiment.
“I wasn’t in a career I loved and my paycheck would’ve paid for daycare,” O’Neill said. “It didn’t make sense to continue that way. I may not bring in money, but I run an entire household!”
As I learned more about their hectic lives, it dawned on me that they were correct; although they’re fitting into what some consider a conventional gender role, it doesn’t exclude them from feminism. By definition, feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.”
One of the mothers advocates for those rights while caring for their children at home! “I want people to embrace compassion and care for each other,” Basile said about her passion for political issues. “I’ve called my representatives. I support the Women’s March; any woman who doesn’t support it is misinformed or misguided. Feminism includes equality for all women, not just white, suburban, soccer moms; it includes women of color, LGBTQ+ women, Muslim women—women from all walks of life.”
Torres also takes part in political activism for women’s rights. Along with Basile, she’s part of online activism groups and contacts her representatives as well. O’Neill stays involved in her community by attending township council meetings, school board meetings, and informing locals about the dangers of a pipeline expected to be constructed near their homes. These women stay active; they stay engaged; they use their time wisely to raise their children while remaining vocal and aware of today’s issues.
Soon, it became abundantly clear that the stay-at-home mom label is riddled with unfair stigmas and false assumptions. “The only misconception I’ve experienced frequently is that I do nothing all day,” Torres commented. “While I may not go to a paid job, I definitely stay busy with volunteer work.” As I discovered through my talks with Basile, Torres, and O’Neill, the whole goal of feminism is not only equality for all, but also having the choice to pursue what kind of life one wants. If a woman doesn’t wish to be married, so be it. If a woman enjoys staying at home, so be it.
Excluding women based on employment status, race, sexual orientation, religion, or any other label is wholly against feminism.
“Little girls shouldn’t grow up questioning themselves,” Basile remarked. Gender roles are too ingrained in our society. If a woman works in a male-dominated field, her professional ability shouldn’t be questioned. “A woman who doesn’t support feminism doesn’t understand what it means. So, why wouldn’t you choose to be a mother and a feminist?” I’d love to hear your stories!