As you know if you read my blog, I'm not exactly an avid feminist; still, I believe true feminism means advocating for a woman's right to make choices that are important to her, without being pressured by the culture around her. In that sense, I AM a feminist - though perhaps many feminists would disown me because I believe that in many cases conservative values are better for women than "progressive" values. I think women ought to be able to make their own choices, based on what is really important - if that means they choose to work, fine; if it means they choose to stay at home, that's fine too.
I'm especially interested in Kittywampus' reasoning for why women should work. She says about stay-at-home, homeschooling mothers,
If she works from home for pay, she rarely earns enough to survive financially if her marriage or partnership were to end.
I see lots of female students hoping to be stay-at-home parents without much awareness of the attendant risk of poverty, and I suspect many mothers decide to stay home with the assumption that divorce or widowhood won't strike them personally.
The question that comes to mind is this: are we feminists simply out of fear? My feminism is rooted in the belief that women should have the freedom to make choices in which we find fulfillment and satisfaction, rather than being locked into something we don't want to do just because men want us to do it. But it sounds to me like she's saying the opposite: women shouldn't have the freedom to do what we find fulfillment in, if it means we might be dependent on the men in our lives, because if those men should fail, we will be in serious trouble. We should follow the current cultural pattern and go to work so we will have a "safety net" in case our husbands should walk out on us.
Do we really want to make our choices based fear that the men in our lives might not follow through on their commitments? That's not the kind of life I choose. Instead, I married someone I was pretty sure I could trust, and we each made a willing commitment to the other. If he chooses not to follow through on his commitment to me, then certainly, there will be consequences in my life - just as there would be in his life if I chose not to follow through on my commitment to him.
All relationships are like that. Even in working relationships, there are costs if people don't follow through (suppose my boss should suddenly decide to stop paying me!). But if we choose to live our lives in fear, rather than in trust, we'll never find real contentment or satisfaction - whether we are working or staying at home.
My own feminism pushes me to make choices I believe are right for me as a woman - choices that bring me fulfillment and satisfaction. In my case, those choices include staying home with my children and homeschooling. I'm well aware there would be serious consequences if my husband chose to flake out (with life insurance, there would be fewer economic consequences if he died - in fact, we would probably be better off financially than we are now). But I'm not going to let my fear force me into getting a job I don't want, so I can live a pressured, harried lifestyle while someone else who cares less about them than I do raises and educates my kids.
That said, I do work part-time, one day a week, in the homeschooling enrichment program my kids are also enrolled in. Over the 12 years I've been home with my kids, I've worked a variety of work-from-home or part-time jobs, just to keep up my skills, and figuring that someday when the kids are gone I will work again to pay college bills and provide for our retirement.
And I'm pretty happy with my life. I have adult interaction in my work, at church, at homeschooling events, online, and in other social situations. I love interacting with my kids and being there to see the sparkle in their eyes when they "get it"! I love the way we've gone from the conflict of the preschool and early elementary years to true enjoyment in being together (and how many parents of a middle-schooler can say that?!). I love the way my kids have had to learn to get along, because they are each other's only playmates. I love sitting on the couch together reading a good story, going to the museum as a family rather than with 30 other kids, and taking a day off to go swimming or do something special "just because." I love sharing my excitement over a given time in history or a science concept or a great book. I love seeing my junior higher begin to adopt the values that are important to me, and to ask questions that show she's thinking about significant issues in her life.
I refuse to allow fear to rob me of that kind of fulfillment. I choose to trust, with full awareness of the possible consequences. And if my husband should choose not to follow through, I will then make the choices I believe are right for me as a woman under those circumstances. My belief in a woman's freedom - my feminism, if you will - demands nothing less.