I’m going to let you in on a little secret, Kirsten: this whole notion that women should stay home, nurture, mother, prepare meals? Your mom didn’t create that. She was playing a role, not writing a script. The people who did write the script, who cast your mom as Mother, who shouted stage directions at her from the director’s chair? They were men. All men.
“Motherhood” isn’t even their only play, but it’s one of the most popular. From the looks of it, you’ve had a front-row seat to a few of their other greatest hits. There’s “Breadwinner,” starring a man as the hardy, entrepreneurial go-getter and his wife as a distant, silent, far-away presence, locked away in the home. There’s “Damsel in Distress,” which features a helpless, hopeless woman in desperate need of rescue by a big, burly man. My least favorite is “Heterosexuality,” where every man needs a woman and every woman needs a man. I tried to perform it once, but I was, frankly, terrible. I could never remember my lines.
Kirsten, femininity is not undervalued. Women are undervalued.
Maybe our taste in theater is a little disparate, Kirsten, but that’s not the point. “Motherhood” has been on Broadway for thousands of years, and “Women in the Workplace” has only been running for the last fifty. By all accounts, it’s a better play. It was written by women, after all – women who were tired of being restricted, tired of lives lived making beds and shopping for groceries and picking kids up from Cub Scouts and Brownies. This script allows actresses to earn degrees, to climb ladders, to shatter glass ceilings and even, if they so choose, to raise families.
What does “Women in the Workplace” have that “Motherhood” doesn’t?
God, Kirsten, you’re an actress. You should understand this. How boring, how oppressive, would it be if you could only ever play one role? Imagine an entire lifetime spent playing Mary Jane Watson. She’s a great character. An undervalued one, even. But could you seriously spend the next six decades making Spider-Man sequels? Wouldn’t you get bored? Wouldn’t you be anxious to prove that you could be more than Mary Jane?
See, when you get all nostalgic for the hallmarks of 1950s suburbia, I don’t think you really realize what you’re arguing for. Femininity wasn’t valuable in Eisenhower’s America; it was, constantly and consistently, privileged below masculinity. It existed to limit women’s possibilities.
The point, Kirsten, is that we’ve learned a thing or two in the past fifty years. Women can be knights in shining armor. Fathers can stay at home, nurture, and cook. I don’t need to marry a man in order to be a proper woman. This is good. This is a good thing for all of us. When we toss out old scripts, we move closer to equality.
Look, there is a lot to criticize about the feminist movement. It focuses too much on white, straight, cisgender, middle-class, and able-bodied women. It excludes too many women who don’t fit into these narrow categories. White, Western feminism is incomplete and ineffective for many reasons. Its advancement of the idea that women can be more than just mothers and housewives is not one of those reasons.
You’ve heard of Phyllis Schlafly, right? From the sound of it, you two have a lot in common. She wrote an article in the Christian Post recently, dispelling the “tiresome slogan that women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.” The 77-cent figure is based on the average median income of all adults, regardless of their occupations, she argues – and technically, she’s right about that part. She’s dead wrong when she argues that women earn less – on the whole, regardless of occupation – because they choose to do so.
“In colleges,” she writes, “there are no gender separations in courses of study, and students can freely choose their majors… But women generally choose college courses that pay less in the labour market.”
But the fact is that, even when women do choose male-dominated fields, they are at a disadvantage. According to the American Bar Association, law school enrollment and completion rates are essentially even between men and women. And yet, research shows that men are more likely than women to actually become lawyers. Since 2003, women have been the majority in American medical schools, and yet men are more likely to become doctors. Gender segregation, argue economists Natalia Kolesnikova and Yang Liu, is likely a primary factor behind the wage gap.
The idea that women choose lower incomes – because they’re just naturally disinterested in high-paying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) jobs, because they prefer the comforts of motherhood and homemaking to the dog-eat-dog mentality of the workforce, because they’d rather marry rich than make their own livings – is ludicrous. We’re dealing with nonsensical talking points in yet another script written by men to keep women out of territory that, historically, has been the exclusive property of men.
Kirsten, femininity is not undervalued. Women are undervalued. Femininity – at least, the way you define it – was created to devalue women. It’s a set of expectations that men created – a script, a fantasy, a means of limiting opportunities for women. Women can make valuable contributions in the home and in family life, it’s true, but they can also make valuable contributions in medicine, in law, in business, in literature, in government.
Every time you say that women belong in the kitchen, you’re just reinforcing the same old, tired script.