Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Feminism and Homeschooling

There's an interesting blog entry this morning over at Kittywampus entitled, "Feminist Homeschooling - Why I Don't." I've heard a lot of arguments against homeschooling, but this one is new to me, and I find her thought process interesting.

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.


Anonymous said...

It doesn't make much sense does it, to enter into a marriage planning for it to fail? And especially, putting the time and energy that work outside the home requires into the contingency of failure, rather than into things which will feed success (and yes, I think clean socks, good meals, and cared-for children go a long way toward marital success). By the same logic, I could argue that I don't work outside the home because I might get laid off or downsized or become handicapped, and we would suddenly be out half our income.

Some people look at homeschooling mothers and say, "Wow, I don't know how you do it!" But honestly, I look at women who work at a job eight hours a day, then come home to do most of what I do all day -- I don't know how *they* do it!

I've never had any trouble finding work when I need to; even in the years I've been home with kids, I've turned down a couple of nice part time opportunities. Not having anything juicy to add to my resume over the past few years doesn't matter a snit; I've found that running a household and managing children and homeschooling to be far more challenging and complex than any paying job I've ever done. I figure if I can do that, I can do anything, and I've no doubt in my ability to "sell" those skills to any employer in town, or to use them to start and run a business. So to me, working "just in case" seems to lack confidence, imagination, and flexibility.

None of us has any guarantee about tomorrow; having a job today doesn't change that.

Marcy Muser said...


Great points! It seems to me that planning to fail, living in constant fear, is not going to make success and trust likely.

And I totally agree - I don't know how a person works all day and then comes home to try to manage a household. The one day of the week I do work all day, I come home exhausted - and we usually eat out and then watch a movie or something because I'm too tired to do housework or really interact much with the kids. I enjoy my work, but I know I wouldn't be as satisfied with my home life if I were working every day.

Your point about finding work is excellent. It seems to me that if we see our work at home as household management and education (rather than just doing housework), we will have no trouble getting a full-time job when the time comes for that. And you're right - what I do now demands much more from me than any job I ever had.

Thanks for the feedback! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post--did you put something on the other blog? I think your ideas are right-on! (But then, I should, since we are sisters. :) )

Marcy Muser said...


I did in fact put pretty much this post on the other blog. They've been fairly courteous over there, considering they disagree with me, and I added another comment this morning trying to help them see where I'm coming from in homeschooling. I didn't tell them I had blogged about them here, though. :)