Ask (Gloria Steinem) and Ye Shall Receive

The conversation continues.

When I was told after participating in a conference call with Gloria Steinem a few weeks back that I was welcome to send a follow-up question to her, I was at a loss. Fortunately, nearly forty of you saved my butt with the most amazing, thoughtful questions. It was nearly impossible to choose just one and so I didn't. Well, not exactly.

I asked a question that was an amalgam of questions inspired by Laurie, Overwhelmed, Blog Antagonist, Christina/aka Kitty, and what's her name...oh right, Linda Hirshman, who got me about as mad as anyone this year with her assertion that "overeducated" stay-at-home moms were betraying the feminist cause by leaving the workforce.

My feeling? College is not trade school. I was raised to believe that you educate yourself for its own sake, to be more productive citizen of the world. Therefore there is nothing wrong with people--male or female--who don't "use" their degrees in the ways they intended while obtaining them. Surely there are more philosophy majors than philosophers in the world. And I can't tell you the number of my high school peers who went to law school simply as an expensive way to buy time and figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up. Answer: not lawyers. However I suppose that becoming actors or writers or rubber stamp store owners with a law degree is fine in some people's minds. Just as long as they don't become mothers.

There's a bigger issue with the attack on stay-at-home moms, however, which is that I don 't think we really want the task of raising children solely in the hands of the "undereducated."

This is just my opinion, of course. I was interested in Ms. Steinem's.

And so I asked her (in a far more rambly, long-winded way than this): How does a stay-at-home mother espouse feminist values to her own children without diminishing the legitimacy of her own decision?

Her answer, verbatim:
The goal of feminism is to honor and value all productive human work and open it up to everyone -- including work that has been devalued because women, the de-valued half of the species, do it. To say that homemakers “don’t work” is a form of semantic slavery. Actually, homemakers work longer hours, for less pay, under worse conditions (more violence, depression, drug and alcohol addiction etc.) -- and less security (more probability of being replaced by a younger worker!) -- than any other class of workers in the country. So we can help a lot if 1) we never say “I don’t work,” but rather “I work at home;” 2) never put “just” in front of homemaker; 3) expect and require men to be homemakers and nurturers, too, whether that means husbands who cook, or sons who do their own laundry, or single moms who find male baby sitters and “mannies” so their kids grow up knowing that males can be as loving and nurturing as females -- just as women can be as accomplished outside the home as men. If you decide to go back or into the paid labor force after your kids are more on their own, you could turn your homemaking life into a business-style resume: for example, you contracted for services, ran a budget, socialized new humans, did volunteer work that was a job in itself – whatever. We can do all that as individuals.

As a movement, we can also pass legislation to attribute an economic value to care giving at replacement level (whether care giving is raising children, talking care of elderly parents, AIDS patients; whatever), make this amount tax deductible in a household that pays taxes, or tax refundable in households too poor to pay taxes (thus substituting for the disaster of welfare reform). This Caregivers Tax Credit unifies the so-called soccer mom and the welfare mom because both benefit. You can find out more about this legislation, which just expands the refundability principle we won in the Child Tax Credit – though a lot of people don’t know they’re eligible; you should publicize that – to care giving. The website for the tax-credit campaign is caregivercredit.org.

For the global and economic implications of valuing what women do – a third of the productive work in developed countries and 2/3 in agricultural countries where women also grow much of the food their families eat – plus attributing economic value to the environment, you can see “Revaluing Economics,” an essay I wrote in Moving Beyond Words. Or you can find still more in If Women Counted by Marilyn Waring.

Does Gloria Steinem speak for all women, all feminists? No, of course not. But as someone who has about as much knowledge and insight on the topic as pretty much anyone, I think that her endorsement goes a long way.


If you'd like to hear what she has to say about healthy relationships, bloggers of color, pursuing causes, reclaiming the term feminism, and standing up to the boys, you can visit the bloggers who asked those questions; I'm sure their own posts will be up shortly:

*Jen Satterwhite of Mommy Needs Coffee
*Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother (who has a fantastic question about embracing our sexuality while protecting our daughters from the abundance of provocative images in the media, something that has been discussed with great passion at Girls Gone Child and IzzyMom.)
*Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation
*Leah Peterson of Leah Peah
*Kristen Chase of Motherhood Uncensored
*Ingrid Wiese of Three New York Women
*Sarah Brown of Que Sera Sera
*Stolie of Funky Brown Chick


Blogger Beck's Mommy said...

As a feminist, I have often thought how my decision to leave the paid work force to raise my son would resonate with the pioneers. I am inspired by her words. Thank you for asking the question and sharing her answer.

10/4/06, 10:56 AM  
Blogger MrsFortune said...

I think I'm gonna print this out and put it on my fridge. And on my door. Like a mezzuzah. Haha. Wow, love, love, love this. Thank you for posting it.

10/4/06, 11:03 AM  
Blogger Stu said...

As a fan of Gloria Steinem, I read her response and took heart in it. I am not just a homemaker, I am a homemaker. Thanks so much for this!

Also, I wonder what she would say if, upon someone asking me what I do for a living, hearing me reply, "I'm a housewife." I know, some people don't get the irony, but it's worth it for the people who do.

10/4/06, 11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to boil down to not minimizing ourselves. Before we can expect others to see the value in what we do, wherever we do it, we have to recognize that value ourselves.

And I do love what you said about how college is not trade school. Love it so much that I will stand on my chair and cheer. Learning and education should not be limited to school, nor should it be undertaken solely for the purpose of making a living.

10/4/06, 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel so humbled in your collective presence. I will direct them here. I feel unworthy but inspired. If anyone ever tells me (again) how mindless blogs are, how selfserving and vane, I will direct them here.

10/4/06, 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cut and paste disaster above. Sorry.

10/4/06, 11:43 AM  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

That is a great topic - for stay at home, work at home, go to work parents there is a stigma associated with unpaid labor. I know I felt that stigma, while also valuing what I was doing at home.

10/4/06, 11:45 AM  
Blogger metro mama said...

Great question. This is something that's been on my mind a lot of late.

10/4/06, 12:01 PM  
Blogger Kara said...

DUDE. A conference call with Ms. Steinem. Holy cow. I hate it when people plug their own blogs on other blogs... BUT... I just wrote about this. She says all of it much more eloquently than I could ever hope to. Whuch is why she's Gloria and I'm not.

So very very very covetous of your opportunity. Thanks for sharing this with us!

10/4/06, 12:04 PM  
Blogger B said...

Stay At Home Motherhood, Daycare/Work Motherhood, Work From Home With Kids Motherhood. It seems like no matter which way we swing it someone else thinks their way one way is better or you are offending some political movement with your decision. In my early stuggles with SAHM I read a great book called Maternal Desire by Daphne de Marneffe. It's not so polical but it does address just about every aspect of thinking about and raising babies. People have to do what works for them and be proud of it, which is exactly what your entry reinforced.

10/4/06, 12:28 PM  
Blogger MamaChristy said...

God bless Gloria Steinem.

10/4/06, 12:33 PM  
Blogger Alisyn said...

Yet another reason to love Gloria!

Also at the forefront of this movement is Naomi Wolfe and the folks over at M.O.T.H.E.R.S. (mothers ought to have equal rights), advocating for the value of stay at home parents and caregivers, through legislation.

10/4/06, 12:41 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

I adore Gloria. Thanks for another fantastic post, Liz. I'm going to reread this more slowly so I can savor every word.

10/4/06, 1:25 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

Wow. I have to be honest. I never expected an answer to my question, because I have always felt that stay at home Moms were regarded as the ugly stepchildren of the feminist movement. As such, I thought that feminists didn't really consider the issues faced by stay at home Moms worthy of examination or discussion when "real" women are discussing "real" issues. And because, truthfully, I didn't really think there was an answer.

And while Gloria's reply didn't really "solve" the problem for me, it did lend some clarity. And it was incredibly gratifying to hear that she, a feminist icon, finds value in what stay at home Moms do.

Thanks for being our mouthpiece Liz. I've really enjoyed following your interaction with Gloria.

10/4/06, 1:26 PM  
Blogger mod*mom said...

great interview mom-101!
i remember when gloria steinem went "undercover" as a playboy bunny at the chicago playboy club.
i say i'm a full-time mother (+ wife) +
i hate it when i'm labeled "unemployed"

10/4/06, 1:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A great question and an inspiring answer (not that I'm shocked, of course it would be inspiring considering who we are talking about!). I agree with you totally when you say having an education should not be for the purpose of having a career. An education is for the purpose of an education, damnit! As a philosophy major myself, I am not talking fluff here! So, I honestly applaud you for brilliantly making such a valid point. That means a lot to me. I have had to defend my education since the day I enrolled in university and chose my major. So, I guess on some level I understand how it feels to have to defend the decision to be a SAHM with an education. Also, as a working mom, I have had my fair share of defending my decision to work and not stay home. It is always helpful to have added insight regarding any aspects of motherhood and feminism from someone like Gloria Steinem. Thanks for sharing this!

10/4/06, 3:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

thank CHRIST! I know many of us have been combatting the Hirscham stance for a while now--and I say this as someone who is Hirscham's ideal "feminist." Having Steinem so articulately voice this position is a great point of consolidation--and a great place to move from collectively.

I also very much appreciate how Steinem places this debate in an international context. I think the more we can push ourselves to do this, the more effective our feminism.

All this is very inspiring, as Toyfoto says--I am looking forward to reading the other conversations.

10/4/06, 5:04 PM  
Blogger KatBliss said...

Thanks for asking the question, Thanks for passing on the answer.

10/4/06, 5:22 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

What a great question and a great answer! I agree that an education is important no matter what you do later. I always wanted a degree and I always wanted to stay home with my children, and I have been lucky enough to do both.
Last month, someone asked my husband if we were off for Labor Day, and his reply was, "I am, but Ginger isn't." And it really touched me that he was so aware that while he is the one that "works," he realizes that his job has an ending and mine is truly full-time. It's nice that not only do I never tell people that I "just" stay-at-home, my husband never does either. (And I just wanted to brag on him a little, hope you guys don't mind!)

10/4/06, 5:47 PM  
Blogger Kelly Wolfe said...

That really lifted my spirits. As a stay at home mom, I often feel like I've let down the cause of feminism. But I completely agree with you, Liz, and GS. I also think when we leave childcare to less privelaged, undereducated women, in what way are we helping to free "women" from domestic roles? Just the rich ones. Sigh.

Stay at home mom-hood is so different than it once was. I actually work from home as a consultant. I also plan to return to the workforce when my son gets older. So preserving and celebrating the choice that feminists won is important to me. Linda Hirshman pisses me off bigtime because she is against choice feminism. WTF?

I wish this next generation of feminists like Linda Hirshman weren't just trying to polarize women. I wish we could focus on finding ways to help women and men move in and out of the workforce as their family lives dictate. A big gap on a resume could be a career killer. But maybe we need affirmative action programs for stay at home moms or dads returning to work.

Thanks for this inspiring message today.


10/4/06, 6:07 PM  
Blogger Mocha said...

That reminds me of my favorite post of yours on how your husband isn't just a babysitter for your daughter (I'm on Sudafed right now - not too lucid. Sorry.) and I seriously stood out of my chair and clapped for you that day.

Know the one of which I speak? (Yes, on Sudafed, but not willing to risk ending a sentence in a preposition: Know the one I'm talking about?)

So, you have to quit making me love you so much. Slow down a bit. This Love Mom-101 is a bit out of hand right now. Incredible question and answer from you both. I especially like that "the work of feminism" isn't limited to feminists or women. It's a job we ALL have to comply with.

Damn preposition. Snuck in when I was drowsy.

10/4/06, 6:10 PM  
Blogger josetteplank.com said...

"semantic slavery"

omg...I am in love

in fact, i think i just had an orgasm over that one.

"semantic slavery"...

damn, I'm a sucker for a pretty phrase

good choice on the question. thank you!

10/4/06, 7:07 PM  
Blogger J said...

I can't afford to stay home with my child, need the cash from my job, but I would hate to think anyone thought my education was a "waste" because I don't use it. I have a BA in International Relations and an MA in Comparitive Literature...and I work in IT, on payroll software. Hey, it pays the bills. And if I could have afforded to stay home, esp. when Maya was young, you bet I would have done it in a heartbeat. My education was for me, paid for by ME (and tax dollars, it was a public school), not something I needed to do for society to give me approval.

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

10/4/06, 7:12 PM  
Blogger Bobita said...

I have not commented on your blog for some time, but I must be heard on this point: the interview that you and the nine other wonderful women bloggers (many of whom are particularly articulate and beloved, and whose blogs I visit regularly) did with Gloria Steinem...INCREDIBLE. I have told every woman that I know about it. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Because the interview was JUST THAT IMPORTANT.

And your follow up question with her...again, not only the question, but Gloria's response...INCREDIBLE.

Thank you for publishing it for us. (Read: HUGE thank you!)

10/4/06, 8:47 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Like the rest. THANK YOU, Liz, for sharing your Gloria Steinem experiences with the rest of us.

10/4/06, 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a keeper. It's the best thing I've read/heard all day.

10/4/06, 10:27 PM  
Blogger Overwhelmed! said...

I'm so excited that you posted the response of Gloria Steinem. I absolutely love what she has to say!

A couple of things I'd like to comment on:

1) While in college I did fundraising. This involved calling alumni and asking for donations. We were given stats on these alumni members before we even called them and, I kid you not, 90% of them were in careers that had NOTHING to do with their college degrees. I have now joined their ranks. I graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism, and now I'm a Systems Analyst in the IT field. I see absolutely no problem with college degreed women choosing to make staying at home to care for their children their career.

2) I love the 3 points that Gloria makes in her response to your question. #3 in particular caught my attention. I'm sure I've mentioned that I work FT outside of the home and my husband works from home and cares for our son. He, himself, has set the expectation to be a homemaker and a nurturer. I work hard at respecting his choices and his parenting skills, even when they differ from mine. I try to remember that even the subtlest comments can disrespect him and undermine his accomplishments (unfortunately he gets enough of that outside of our home from perfect strangers quick to pass judgment). For example, I work hard not to say, "Will you watch Snuggle Bug while I go do this?" He's not a babysitter, he's Snuggle Bug's father. Instead I say, "I'm going to do this and I'm leaving Snuggle Bug in your capable hands." I'm so proud of the role model that Oronzo is setting for our son.

Liz, thanks so much for speaking with Ms. Steinem and sharing her responses.

10/4/06, 11:53 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Great stuff. When things are so busy, it's easy to become complacent about things that were once at the forefront of my mind. This whole series of posts about discussions with Gloria has been great, Liz! Very thought-provoking and inspiring.

10/5/06, 2:18 AM  
Blogger Karyn said...

Can ah get an "AMEN"?

10/5/06, 9:41 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Guess I won't be doing that chocolate cupcake post...

10/5/06, 10:30 AM  
Blogger Ms. Kathleen said...

In 1976 I started a NOW group at my college. I was the president for several years. I am not proud of it really. In fact, now that I look back I just don't get it.

I am a member of Feminist for Life. Yeah, that wonderful group who believe that if you are pregnant you are actually carrying a real human being.

I became very wrapped up in the Feminist Movement. I began to hate men "pigs" who treated me as half-human. Amazing how I ever married one?

When I had my first child I was strongly berated for wanting to stay at home. I could not understand this anger from my feminist women friends. What were they angry about. This was MY CHOICE.

Than I began to get it. I really didn't have a choice. I was to live by the Feminist rules...their rules. I was being oppressed, berated, ignored,...by those women who claim that all women should have a choice and a voice.

It took me years to learn that true freedom, true womanhood begins with the God who made me in His image. Not Gloria Steinem's image. I even began to feel sorry for her because I realized she really couldn't make a lot of choices for herself either. She had set a standard for herself and she had to live by the rules of that standard.

I personally think she is a wonderful woman, I truly do, but like many, she sold her soul to a cause that went to far.

I am more free now than I ever have been in my life. I make my own choices, I don't live a life dictated by anyone's conscience but my own. I am now 50 years old, a wife, a mom, a grandma, a writer, a poet and am so happy that I am free from all the chains that use to bind me.

I hope you find that freedom someday as well. Trust me, you won't find it in a worldly cause.

10/5/06, 12:29 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Now wait, when I was pregnant I was SURE I was carrying a Chuckie doll. It was a human being? Are you sure?


10/5/06, 1:46 PM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

i heart gloria. and i heart these ongoing dialogues about what it means to be us in this world.

10/5/06, 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was wonderful. Truly. I tend to get so enraged at Hirshman and her ilk that I descend into inchoherent sputtering, but you (and Gloria) said it all so well. I am new to your blog, and I will definitely be back.
Oh, and I second the recommendation of the deMarneffe book "Maternal Desire." I think you'd like it.

10/5/06, 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel a big sigh of happiness after reading that - I guess becuase I like to see my own opinions expressed succinctly (a skill I'm far from having mastered). Like a big comforting cup of hot choclate (perhaps even one spiked with raspberry liqueur). Thanks for posting and asking such a fantastic question.

10/5/06, 5:59 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Thanks for the quotes from Gloria. I, too feel that the vaule of feminism is to a)Help provide "value" to work performed by all womes b) make it easier for Women of different temperments and personalities to find the vocation that fits them best.

As a Mom who works outside the home, I want to provide support for other women na matter whether they work inside or outside the home. We all contribute value to society.

10/6/06, 8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent question and thanks so much for the full ms. steinem answer. i love what she had to say, and i love the way she addressed the "mommy war" issue by empowering rather than dismissing those moms who choose to "home-make." we should all be so kind to ourselves.

10/6/06, 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/6/06, 10:33 PM  
Blogger the mystic said...

Thank you, I already adored Gloria, now I guess I'll have to start stalking her or something...

10/7/06, 12:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit that I have been very angry and frustrated by the feminist movement lately, sometimes to the point where i have not participated in some of these great blog conversations. Not because the term "feminist" denotes a negative image (to me), or I was afraid to live by their "rules". I always have, and still do, consider myself a feminist. What pisses me off is that if you look at the history of womens movements they've done the following: raised public awareness about slavery until eventually the Civil War occurred, gained women the right to vote and that fight took a LONG time, made countless advances and progress in the arena of civil rights and quality of life issues. And what do so many "feminists" do today? They pick fights with other women based on whether they work or stay at home. Are you kidding me?! How LAME is that?!

Women could be such a force in this country if we only banded together and respected each other's choices. Thank you for posting these conversations with Gloria Steinem! None of us are "just" anything. And as well as seeing a caregiver credit passed, I'd also love to see tax incentives given to private companies who offer childcare for their employees (for moms and dads!).

I'll stop ranting now.

10/7/06, 2:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But if we are all only as valuable as our monetary value in the capitalist marketplace have we really made progress?

"caretaker credit"? I don't get it.


10/7/06, 11:48 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

Great question, Liz. And I loved reading her response. Actually, I've loved reading all the discussion about these important topics. Thanks for sharing.

10/8/06, 10:15 AM  
Blogger bernalgirl said...

What a great, inspiring discussion. Thanks so much for asking the question, and as you said before, G-L-O-R-I-A!!!!

10/9/06, 6:10 PM  
Blogger Lauri said...

Whoa! How cool is this?

I myself am a college educated stay at home mom. Funny thing is...I graduated with a BA in Psychology, and was a social worker until I had my first child. Eventually, my son came along...severe ADHD, anxiety disorder, Bipolar disorder and some learning disabilities. If ANYONE thinks I am not using my degree, they are full of shit! *pardon the French.*

Now, I know it doesn't always work out like that for all stay at home moms, but...oh well, lost my train of thought. My 5 year old daughter is yelling at my 8 year old son for being a "Channel changer!" lol! Too bad I didn't take a course in Refereeing!

Anyway, I LOVE the quote about being a housewife/homemaker is equal to "semantic slavery"! I'm writing that one down...it'll probably end up in some piece of art.

One of my biggest gripes, though, is how society sees the role of fathers, who are married to SAHMs. Apparently, as a SAHM, the children should be with me 24/7, and be my whole focus and identity. However, I am very often out and about alone, without my children, who are in the very good care of their father. I am constantly being questioned, "Where are the kids?", buy someone with their eyes wide open, looking all around and not seeing them. When I say, "They're at home.", I always get the "Oh! Daddy is babysitting! How nice!", response. And THAT is what pisses me off. My response to that is always, "Noooo, he's parenting. You know? Like a father should.".

Anyway, the point I really want to make is why can't society just let people be who they are? Why do people care so much about who works and who stays at home? I couldn't care less if my neighbor or cousin or brother chooses to work or stay home. We live in America and we have that choice! Take advantage of it, and let people do what is right for THEM.

I'll hop down off my soap box now...I'm very new to your blog and I'm really liking it so far. I hope my comment came out sounding like what I meant to say. lol! And that I didn't make an enemy of you! It's kind of hard to concentrate when one of your kids is screaming, "Channel changer!", and the other is yelling, "TV watcher!". Oy!

10/10/06, 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that is some good stuff. thanks for asking a great question and posting this!

10/11/06, 9:17 PM  
Blogger Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz said...

Woah, am I glad I found you! Are we living parallel lives here?

(well, I don't actually know that yet, we've only just met, but we do share this incredible experience.)

Looking forward to more. My email is maggieschutz@gmail.com.

10/31/07, 5:00 PM  

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