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Has feminism failed mothers?


I was always under the impression that feminism was about creating choices for women and giving women the opportunity to be anything or do anything they wanted; at least, that is how it was sold to me when i was a young woman. However, two separate statements by prominent Australian female politicians in the last fortnight have me seriously asking whether feminism has failed mothers.

The first was the response from Pru Goward, NSW Families Minister, towards radio announcer Jackie O’s much publicised bottle feeding of her baby while crossing a street. She started by comparing Jackie O’s feeding to Michael Jackson dangling his baby out of a window, saying “We all were horrified when Michael Jackson dangled his baby out the window and this woman is crossing the road not just holding a baby but feeding a baby and I think it was unnecessarily cavalier”. She then went on to say “There would be no mother, no parent probably, or even a hardened feminist, in the country who would think that was a good way of feeding a baby, particularly a little tiny baby,” and “There is such a thing as coming back to work too soon and that is what the whole paid maternity campaign was and is about.” This is despite the fact that Jackie O’s husband is the stay at home Dad. What I found most ironic is that Pru Goward used to be the Executive Director of the Office of the Status of Women as well the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

While all of this has been swirling around the media, the fuss made over Jackie O returning to work “early” contrasted sharply with Julia Gillard’s comments yesterday about the upcoming budget in May. Apparently the Federal Government is looking at overhauling the family welfare system to encourage more women between the ages of 24 and 55 back to work. Treasury Department has concerns that Family Tax Benefit A & B (most often available to families with a SAHM) encourages women to stay out of the workforce, which was followed up by Prime Minister Julia Gillard stating that it was important for those who were fit for work to be gainfully employed.

I’m sorry, but while I may not be in paid employment, I certainly believe that I am “gainfully employed.” Is raising our next generation not important or necessary? Now, I don’t want to turn this into a debate on whether a mother should work outside of the home or not. I think there are numerous variables that will affect the decision that a mother (and indeed, the family as a whole) will make about whether they should return to work.

I know that I often feel attacked by women who criticise my choice to stay home and raise my children. And if they don’t criticise me for staying home with my young children, then they almost certainly do when they ask me when (not if, mind you!) I am planning to return to work. The looks I have received in the past when i have said that I have no plans to go back mean that mostly I now make some vague, non-committal reply. Similarly, I know working mothers who receive the exact same treatment for choosing to go back to work. I know the “mommy wars” are alive and well; I just never expected to see them played out on the public political stage, and by female politicians, no less.

Surely feminism is about giving us choices and then respecting us regardless of whether we agree with those choices. How can we expect our daughters to grow up and believe in feminism when we have one public female government minister criticising a mother’s choice to return to work too soon, and then our female Prime Minister basically equating those mothers who choose to stay home as being unemployed.

So what do you think? Has feminism failed mothers?

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