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Women at War

If women really want to fight for a better world for women, first they need to stop being at war with each other. This war consists of attacking other women’s choices when defending your own. This behaviour is not only anti-feminism, though it is that. It is also taking us backwards, into unproductive trenches where we waste precious time and energy defending ourselves rather than working together to move forward.

A perfect example of such attack is this piece in the Fairfax papers by a stay at home mother, Catherine Williams. Williams is angry that a recent OECD report highlighting the lost productivity from parents staying at home makes it sound like, by staying home, she is a drain on society. Her argument, that she is involved in productive work through caring for children, is actually a good one. I agree that all the work parents do to care for children is valuable to society, as is any unpaid work, such as caring for older relatives, which goes largely unnoticed and unrewarded.

However, Williams apparently isn’t capable of explaining why she made the decision to stay home and care for her child, without attacking women who chose paid childcare instead.

Williams claims that her child cared for at home will be more prepared for school than a child at childcare, presumably because she is determined to teach her child to read and assumes children at childcare don’t learn anything. Offensive and wrong. She also claims children at childcare go to the doctor more often and are therefore a larger drain on the healthcare system than the sniffle-free child she cares for at home, a claim which ignores the fact that her child will get all the bugs my child gets from childcare, but just when the child is older and starts kindergarten and school. And, the third giant crack at childcare choosing-parents, is the question Williams asks about the impact of spending ‘early years with loving relatives able to give them one-on-one attention every day rather than carers in a childcare centre’. In other words, children who stay at home will be better for society than those snotty little freaks in childcare.

Patronisingly, Williams accompanied this last crack with a bracketed apology to those poor unfortunate families who have to use childcare through choice or necessity. You know, something like: ‘I know it’s not nice to be told you’re screwing up your child by using childcare, but it’s really important to my argument that I call you a bad parent so I’m going to do it anyway’.

You might be thinking Williams is an unfortunate example of a woman un-supporting of other women’s choices, but is this behaviour really that widespread? As a relatively new mother to an almost-two-year-old, I’m sorry to have to report that yes, this behaviour is widespread and it makes parenting choices really difficult. It seems that many women like Williams find it is impossible to defend their parenting choices without entering the war of attacking the opposite choice. Same thing happens with how baby sleeps are managed, whether you breastfeed or not, what school or kindergarten you choose, and it no doubt continues on well into parenthood-old-age. What do you think is implied in the words I’ve heard many times: ‘I gave up work to put my children first’? That women who don’t give up work aren’t making their children their number one priority? Offensive!

I’m also sorry to report, by vast majority, this is the behaviour of women judging other women. It gets to the point where it often feels that there are mothers out there engaged in a constant competition to prove they love their child more than everyone else, and if you would just make the same decisions as them, your child would be a more-loved better version of themselves. So offensive!

I could quite easily write a whole article about how I am thrilled with my decision to put my child in childcare, and how well she is doing, without once comparing her to children who stay at home with a parent. I could defend my choices by describing how much I love my child, but of course I love her and of course there’s no need to have to describe this. But that’s not the point. The point is, feminism should not just be about defending an individual woman’s right to choose how they parent. Feminism should be about all of us women being a sisterhood and supporting each other in our choices, no matter what choice we made our self. And if you can’t defend your choice without attacking someone else’s, then you’re not helping the movement. It is as simple as that.

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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Hear, hear Victoria.

    This is all the more reason to support the universal basic wage for everyone, including stay at home mothers and fathers, so that women and men can have the freedom to make their own choices that are correct for their home-work balance, and gives them the freedom to share in the special milestones of their children’s lives.

  2. Denis

    I agree with what you are saying Victoria. My observations are that women are far more critical of other woman than men are. In my work life, I cannot remember any male being critical of their partners body, looks or anything much else about their partner. The vast majority of men value and care about their partner. I think that every woman I have been out with (I am 75) have had an almost obsession about their body image and it’s mostly negative despite the fact that they have been very attractive to me and other males have commented on their attractiveness and their qualities.

  3. Victoria Rollison

    I know you didn’t mean it to sound like it did Jennifer, but just confirming that I still see the special milestones in my daughter’s life even though I work and she is in childcare. Language needs to be carefully used!

  4. wam

    good one denis the average man doesn’t notice much about their partner.
    Better one victoria women are critical about themselves, in being critical of other women.
    Where does positive discrimination and the ‘kate ellis’ decision fit into the fight or the green purple and white???
    To me the underlying division is gender roles and the decision of god to give women the inequality physiological and psychological defects.
    Resolve that and you will break the power of men.

  5. win jeavons

    Jennifer MS ; I totally agree .There are many carers in many categories, and they are all great, and deserve the UBI!

  6. Deanna Jones

    The ‘takes a village’ approach to raising children would make them so much less vulnerable that they are in this neoliberal individualist society we have now. From a child protection pov, kids being in child care is considered a protective factor because they are visible, unlike the kids who are with the same one carer away behind closed doors all the time. Williams has not thought this through.

    Having said that I find these ‘mommy wars’ a bore and also informed by neoliberal thinking.

    As far as women criticising each other, it’s hardly the driving factor of women’s oppression and absolutely not the root cause, it’s a very handy symptom of it, and one that male hegemonic forces culturally groom women into. This divide and conquer approach works well in the interests of male power and it’s important to remember that.

  7. Karl Young

    It seems some women want to be chauvinist’s instead of being enlightened. Education and culture are the signpost’s to all the issues.
    We all must be a lover of all mankind.Australia is being destroyed by American style society. People should watch Michael Moore’s new Documentary.
    “Where to invade Next?” Very Enlightening Viewing.

  8. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Good for you, Victoria. A universal basic wage combined with better measures to form a home-work balance would allow everyone the same privilege to see their kids growing up.

  9. Trish Corry

    My era – the liberal feminists and some radical feminists fought to make this a choice for women. They fought for women to participate in male dominated industries, they fought for the equal rights to pay, they fought to smash the glass ceiling and have women in management, they fought to have women respected in the workplace and fought against sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace.By fighting for more women to enter into the workforce, we copped a lot as the main first generation to leave children in the care of someone else. Instead of being seen as intelligent women with skills to offer, we were cast as ‘bad mothers’ too lazy to look after our own. The judgements about time off for the kids within the workplace were equally as hard, especially from other older women. The world has come a long way in 25 years and mothers are much more accepted in the workplace and childcare is available in many forms. If you had a non-understanding Mother in Law – your life was sheer hell. and I say Hell with demons, and fire spewing forth Hell.

    When we fought for these rights, we did not fight for judgement. We fought because we are more than our bodies to nurture and care for others. We fought because we were intelligent and could contribute to changing the world! The mothers who went to work did not force judgement on women who stayed at home. However, many women who stayed at home judged the mothers who did go back to work. Any normal 2 year old outburst would be met with a scornful ‘what do you expect, he needs your attention and he gets it from someone else.’

    My main focus is not about whether women participate in employment by choice or if they stay at home by choice, but the Government intervention in that choice. The Government intervention that dictates to single mothers that they MUST leave the their choice of child rearing 100% in the home and force them into the workforce. The Govt intervention that says to single mothers, we are telling you, you do not have the choice to mother at home 100% once your child is five years old. The fact that these women do not have ‘A man looking after them” are forced into something the choose not to do, makes me angry – wild angry. Partnered mothers have much more privilege than a single mother when it comes to this decision.

    The government forces single mothers to leave their child with another against their wishes. Partnered mothers have a range of choices, to participate or stay at home. Albeit this decision could be made much easier with more affordable childcare OR higher rates of family payment for partnered stay at home mothers. Single mothers do not have this luxury. If they choose to fight for this luxury, the Govt will starve them until ‘they see sense.” Single Mothers who choose to return to work, must not have this as a choice of living in poverty because of child care costs either.

    I do not believe it is our role as women to judge each other. It is our role as feminists to question and fight against the Government – the law makers who make any of these choices for women – stay at home, go to work, bit of both, partnered or single – difficult, burdensome or completely out of reach. Many of our decisions as mothers and as women are not in our total control. The Liberal Feminists of my era would fight the Govt to ensure women had much more control or total autonomy of choice about mothering and employment. That fight is no where from over. Tear yourselves away from the click bait style judgemental crap I read online that has the sole purpose of fuelling fights in the comments, pick up a pen and write a letter insisting upon breaking down these barriers and giving women autonomy of choice – to your local member and Michaelia Cash the Minister for Women and Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for women.

  10. roma guerin

    Thanks to Victoria and Trish, I can see that there is still the fighting spirit for equal rights. As I was having babies in 1961,63 and 64, and an army wife to boot, I wasn’t silly enough to think I led the perfect life or that I would raise perfect kids. I was totally up with Eva Cox, Anne Summer et al and I knew quite well that what they were fighting for was for me too. I don’t ever remember an “us and them” viewpoint. To me, it all started up in the greedy 80s, when we were all brainwashed into believing that our individual rights were far more important. I was shocked then, and I still am. When someone as fabulous as Susan Carlin gets blasted all over Facebook, I grieve for what my generation thought they would achieve. Even so, I am proud of my granddaughters, because they have not been sucked into this present day practice of attacking ‘the other’.

  11. Kevin Arnold

    I cannot take issue with most of the sentiments in this article or comments above. I would just like to add something from our recent past. Julia Gillard, after her emasculation of Abbott, should have been the idol of every female in the land. She was not. Last week a female CEO was bemoaning the lack of women in top positions. She may be doing so, but not once did she mention equal pay for her women employees. In a week where the Government was cutting women’s wages. Inequality comes in many forms and will not go away until we all realise that we are all in the same boat and start paddling in the same direction.

  12. PK

    @Kevin Arnold… there are some very good reasons why Julia Gillard is not the idol of every female and it is because the same day she made her famous speech in parliament she lead the move of 100,000 sole parents the majority of whom are woman from PPS to Newstart… a report commissioned by the ALP highlighted the growing child poverty and homelessness among sole parents on Newstart and the Gillard Government had an opportunity to lead the way in exactly the womens rights Trish Corry indicated in her response… AND SHE BLEW it for that group of women.

  13. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I agree with PK.

    Gillard did good, true. She made her misogyny speech, true.

    Also true is Gillard did not turn back neoliberalism in Labor and she did not protect the most vulnerable on unemployment welfare.

    I don’t like saying this but Gillard was not a feminist forerunner just like Clinton was not. They only protected the well connected and well resourced.

    We need women of integrity who are prepared to live like the most vulnerable to make their point that that level of life is no good for anyone.

  14. @RosemaryJ36

    I was fortunate to be able to be out of full-time work for 19 years while my 3 children were growing up. I worked part-time for much of that period. Teaching in a specialist subject area at secondary level, particularly when some of it was at a school with a creche, was a useful profession as the work schedule coincides with the children’s school attendance. After 5 years home full-time I nearly went insane – this was in England more than 50 years ago when child-minding had to be done by family – if you had any living nearby. I am glad I was able to be there for my children and hearing tales now from my youngest about what he experienced when with a child-minder here in Australia in the early 70s leaves me glad that it only was necessary for a fairly short time. I understand that the situation for child-care now is approached much more professionally but I think any woman who is able and chooses to spend more time with her children in their early years is to be supported in that decision. People matter more than money and a home-based parent makes a massive contribution to the GDP, even if it cannot be so readily assessed in monetary terms.
    Conversely, I feel admiration for those woman who have a family and choose to continue working while putting their children into child care. I just worry sometimes that they might, sometimes, through guilt at not being there, over-indulge their children with possessions to compensate for limited contact.

  15. Deanna Jones

    Rosemary, in western society we generally tend to over-indulge ourselves with possessions. Given the number of children living in abusive homes in this country, and/or in poverty, not to mention the children we have incarcerated on abusive island hell holes, that we generally seem to be fine with, I’d say over-indulgence is the least of our worries when it comes to children.

    Trish, your commentary is passionate, but would be enhanced by some fact-checking and/or reading of history. Radical feminists were the power force driving the second wave. In this country, they were breaking into government buildings and setting up refuges for women and children who were escaping violent men (not from ‘non-understanding mothers in law’). They developed language to talk about women’s oppression that did not previously exist (or had been buried by male gatekeepers of knowledge pools – Dale Spender). They mobilised and marched and got women together in consciousness raising groups. They researched and disseminated parts of women’s history that had been concealed from us. They created the political bedrock for liberal feminists to build on with all the various government departments and committees, reports etc. pretty much all of which were later dismantled by Howard. This is all well-documented and you should know it before making public comments about the movement.

    How many more centuries are we going to write polite letters to local members? It has to be pointed out that all the things that have been raised here regarding the exclusion, exploitation, discrimination and brutal violence, that women experience in patriarchy, are not an accident. They are not some unintentional oversight. Voting rights were not granted after one polite letter. Men did not say “oh you want to vote, how terrible of us, of course you must vote”. It took about seven decades of violent, unapologetic activism for that one simple human rights achievement, and if you look closely at all the photos of the suffragists’ activism, you will see all around in the background there are men watching and death-staring those women. Male power structures and institutions actively and deliberately keep us oppressed. It suits most men just fine, even the nice ones that we love, are complicit with, and benefit from, the current arrangements. Given that time for the planet is running out, because of the male-dominated system that is destroying it and us along with it, the time for writing letters has long passed, for all types of feminists.

  16. Matt

    Thanks Victoria,

    I too believe that we should not judge each other, and furthermore that we should help each other overcome, or at least cope with, whatever human weaknesses we are suffering from.

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