A fresh view of feminism for 2015

I am a child of the feminist revolution. My mom tells me this story.

She hated being home with kids. She always dreamed she’d be a journalist. She she got a full scholarship to go to college. But when she was graduating, she realized that if she didn’t get married she’d have to go home to her impoverished family.

So she looked around for men to marry, and while my mom dated a lot of really hot men (I am paraphrasing now) my dad was the one who she thought she could for sure get to marry her.

The letters they wrote each other between junior and senior years are great primary sources for understanding the foundation for their relationship. My dad was in Europe touring art museums even though he appreciated art less than a blind man in a snowstorm. His mother told him to go to Europe and he did, because he would go to the moon to get a woman to love him.

My father’s letters to my mom were about how much he loves her. And my mom was in New York City writing him letters about how much she hates him. My mom bequeathed to me a box of letters so large that it is clear both people enjoyed their respective roles as sniveling courtier and cold-hearted strategist.

It will not spoil the story to tell you their divorce papers could also fill a large box because the divorce lasted thirteen years (three judges threw the case out of court citing de minimis no curat lex which is Latin for both of you shut the fuck up). I see now that my parents got warm feelings of fulfillment from the mutual assurance that their needs could never be met.

My mom had a baby because my dad would have had to go to Vietnam if he did not have a baby. My dad studied at Harvard Law School while my mom took care of me. Then they moved to Chicago, where my dad got a job, and my mom had another baby because that was what was expected.

This is, I think, the core of the feminst revolution: that women had to do what was expected.

My mom is a leader in the revolution because not only did she despise staying home with kids, but she despised it enough to stop doing what was expected. She saw an ad in the paper for a job programming in COBOL. They would teach people with a college degree.

She gave me and my brother to the girls across the street who were off school for the summer, and she took the train into the city to learn COBOL.

Interview questions my mom answered in 1970:

1. Do you have children?

2. Who will take care of your children while you’re working?

3. Does your husband know you are going to take a job?

4. Will your husband sign a note that says you can work?

My mom loved working so much that when the neighborhood kids went back to school my mom hired someone to come to the house.

List of babysitters:

1. Vicky. She beat me and my brother with a hairbrush and a belt. My mom found welts on my back.

2. Berneatha. She was too fat to get off the sofa so I did everything for her. My mom found out when dishes were all put away in the bottom cabinets.

3. Ceily. She used the iron to teach me a lesson. On the top inside of my right thigh. I had a third-degree burn.

The era of local daycare centers was 20 years away. The closest one was 90 minutes from our house. So my mom found a job by that daycare center and my mom, my brother and I listened to the radio and sang out loud to songs like Maggie May, Knock Three Times and, Brandy:

Brandy, you’re a fine girl!
What a good wife you would be!
But my life, my lover, my lady is the sea!

The other kids at the day care center were orphans. Their moms died and the dads had not yet had time to replace them. So the kids stayed there all day. The teachers guided us with whistles. My mom took us out for lunch sometimes. We cried about having to go back after lunch, and then she cried, so she stopped coming for lunch.

When I was in first grade my brother was in kindergarten and my mom worked part-time. She hated coming home early for us, which is probably why I have no memory of her having come home early, but she swears she did.

By third grade we went home to an empty house. My dad came home on the 8:35 train. My mom came home shortly after.

She probably didn’t intend to go out drinking with the guys after work every night, but if she came home before my dad, she’d have to do all the child care and all the housework. Before the term second shift emerged, my mom could see it coming. And she dodged it.

In our house, the split was 50/50. My mom kept track. She drove to Hebrew school so my dad drove to Saturday school. When we refused to keep going to Saturday school because the kids were so mean, my mom opened a charge account at the taxi company and told us “call a cab”.

By then, my mom was high up. In the insurance industry. On school forms the line for occupation was never long enough for me to write two, but I always did: dad – lawyer, mom- executive.

My dad kept his money. My mom kept her money. He spent his on racing boats. My mom spent hers on clothes. Her clothes were beautiful. I still remember the burgundy boots. The white leather coat. The Coach purse. Frye boots. Dungarees. My mom was cooler than I’d ever be.

I had a clothing allowance. I bought a lot of costume jewelry because the jewelry store never sneered when I said charge it, and the owner sometimes asked how my school was going.

In December I had forty rings and no winter coat and my parents nodded knowingly that their budget idea was working. I was learning to manage money.

They did not nod together. They were never in the same room. The only memories I have of them in the same room are when they are fighting.

My mom makes dinner because my dad says he’ll get the 6:05. He gets the 8:35. My mom makes us wait until he gets home to serve dinner. Then she throws it at him.

Peas are very bad to clean up. They roll everywhere. With just the right amount of force behind the throw they will even ricochet off walls.

My parents went to couples counseling but they couldn’t find anyone who had experience with working women, so I’m not sure they ever made it past the first session.

For my birthday my dad was supposed to get me a present, and he forgot, so he took me shopping. We bought a dress that would have been good if I had a job at his law firm as a secretary.

It hung in my closet for years, next to my dress that my grandma bought me for my first day of school.  It would have been good for going to school at Buckingham Palace.  As she gave it to me she said, “Your mother never does anything for you!”

I told her, “My mom works as hard as my dad does. Why doesn’t he buy me clothes for school?”

My grandma said, “Men cannot buy a dress for the first day of school. You’ll see this is true when you’re older. You’ll remember I said this and you’ll think your parents were crazy.”

And she’s right.

But she wasn’t right when I was in my 20s and thought I’d never have kids.

She wasn’t right in my 30s when I thought I’d never stay home with kids.

She wasn’t right until I realized there’s positively no way to keep things equal, and everyone suffers from trying to establish equality. People can only give what they are good at giving. And people can’t stop needing what they need. It’s what they need.

Kids need taking care of.

Money needs earning.

Those are two very unequal jobs. You can’t split them equally because they are not half-time jobs. So you might think I’m a throw-back to the ’50s when I say, stay-at-home dads is a bad idea. You might think I am self-hating when I say that women don’t crave power as much as men do. But don’t say I don’t understand how hard women fought for equality. Because I was part of that fight. I gave up my childhood for the fight for women’s equality.

And as a fighter, I want to believe I fought for choice. I fought for women to be anything, but also for women to choose to be a stay-at-home mom. I fought for women to have a choice to cook meals for their husbands and sew buttons for their kids. I fought for women to be bold enough to have a big career and then give it up for kids and be brave enough to suffer the shame of not earning their own money in a world that values money above everything else.

In the history of revolutions, the revolutions turn against the people who fought them. Just look at the US: we have little celebration for the institutions of the Founding Fathers: slavery, elite rule, and libertarianism. But we have the opportunities the Founding Fathers opened up for us, and it’s okay to celebrate that liberty and still have disdain for the principles of the electoral college.

By the same token, women acting like men, and marriages being 50/50 is the road to self-destruction. But I relish the opportunities Feminism gave me, like saying no to full-time work, and I’m proud that I was a child soldier in that war.

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  1. Paris
    Paris says:

    If they ever see this article, heads will be exploding at Jezebel.

    As a female I see women as much more than baby popping machines, at the same time feminism is about the freedom to choose. All women should realize that we need women in the workforce and if they want to, they can be as successful as men but if a woman sees these opportunities yet decides to be a stay at home mom then it is her decision and I think we should respect her decision. Raising a kid right is a very hard job, harder than many other jobs.

  2. Nur Costa
    Nur Costa says:

    I watched The Imitation Game movie yesterday.

    Joan (played by Keira Knightley) says a quote in a scene that pretty much sums up what you’ve written: “I am a woman, people expect me to be nice. You’re going to need all the help you can get and they are not going to help you if they do not like you.” — or something like that. Go watch it, it’s worth the time.

    I’m amazed how the inputs of information are so coordinated lately.
    Thanks for sharing this story, Penelope. Again, a very cool post. But mainly because of this sentence:
    “de minimis no curat lex which is Latin for both of you shut the fuck up”

  3. Madelyn Lang
    Madelyn Lang says:

    This is very sad but I’m awed by the wisdom you’ve been able to glean from your experience.
    However, I do not credit feminism for allowing us the right to be at home or to be fulfilled as wives and mothers. I think that the feminist arbiters are seething that any of us still want to do those things.
    I think we ascribe things, like the power to choose, to feminism when it never intended or accomplished any such thing.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      “I think that the feminist arbiters are seething that any of us still want to do those things.”

      Nope. I don’t really know why women who aren’t feminists think this.

      • Erika Gibson
        Erika Gibson says:

        Agreed. I’m a raging feminist. I want to be a stay at home mom.

        I’m a feminist because I believe women should get to choose what they do with their lives.

        The only thing I disagreed with was the idea that stay at home dads are a worse idea than stay at home moms.

        As a feminist, I want women to choose what they get to do with their lives – but men, too. The stigma that surrounds stay at home fathers is a byproduct of the same society that made working mothers such a taboo subject for so long.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        Thank you Helen! Stop putting words in feminists mouths. The end goal of feminism is that everyone can be what they want, and do what they want regardless of sex.
        Beyond that it can get complicated and divisive, but to say feminists don’t want women to be fulfilled as wives and mothers is extremely mis-informed. Please stop spreading this.

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      I absolutely agree. Remember the Film ” Baby Boom” Diane Keaton, trying to push a baby in an old fashioned carraige up the steep steps of her work place, and realizing it was a farce? I was in High School. Made a huge impression on me. And you know what, it is a picture worth a thousand words, now that I have two kids AND three college degrees. NOBODY can do everything at the same time. I have been told that I am brilliant by many people. I call myself ” an over educated lawn flamingo”! I am both things, actually. THAT should be Feminism. By the way, they do not laugh at themselves. Ever. I have several in my large family of educators. Not funny people.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Presumably you can provide some links to actually demonstrate that these feminist arbiters (who are they?) are “seething”?

  4. Scritch
    Scritch says:

    This was a lovely post to read, and I admire both you and your mom through it.


    “By the same token, women acting like men, and marriages being 50/50 is the road to self-destruction. ”

    I have so many gender problems with this statement (‘women acting like men.’ jeez. come on.) that it feels a bit hopeless to even argue it.

    It feels like you are rationalising some feminist guilt by this post. Yes you have a choice to be a stay at home mom. And if it is truly fulfilling for you thats great, but ceding the fight for even vague equality by using gender tropes is the reason your ‘stay-at-home-dads’ post is so problematic.

    On one hand you build on the age old idea of a hardline with the gender roles, “Men must work because women must breed. Women like to breed. What else is a vagina good for? Their place is in the kitchen.”

    “Look at all these stats I found! Women love the kitchen and bearing the entire burden of maintaining a ‘marriage’ It’s proof! I’m good at finding stats to support my argument. It’s my thing ya’ll”

    Then you cement them with stats to support your argument even though stats may represent the deeply flawed and gender biased status quo, not the desirable future or potential for change.

    Then you rationalise your own choices (clearly you have guilt about staying at home, you have complained previously that it is dull) by arguing against changing it.

    I don’t know, a more articulate academic person would argue this point better but I can’t. Only that I smell a certain amount of BS on this post. (as well written and compelling as it was, and i do love your posts)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I meant, when I wrote that, women wearing clothes like men, in the 70s, or women trying to manage like men, in the 80s, or women trying to parent like men in the 90s. It all seems wrong. Women try it and don’t like it and move on.

      It wasn’t very clear in what I wrote. And I see there are so many ways to read that line.

      (Warning: a literary digression) I had intended to fill this post with links, but I started doing that and they felt distracting. So I took all the links out. The link to “acting like men” was to a fashion history of what women wear at work. Women in the 70s had little ties, they mimicked the suits men wore. It was not flattering. If there were a link, what I wrote would be so clear. Makes me think about how you can write more deeply and precisely with links. But the experience of words slipping through your thoughts as you read, like lines of poetry or at least Proust — you can only get that if there are no links.



      • lindsay
        lindsay says:

        That sounds like a really interesting study—now that we’re in the comments, can you share the link?

        Also, regarding your larger point that 50/50 equality does not make everyone happy. I think you’re right. But I still think that the majority of women are not happy as 100% stay-at-home-moms. That’s not what you’re arguing for, I know; I think you’re saying that women should be able to choose what they want to do, and most of them will not choose high-powered careers. But for the large percentage of women who want to dabble in both work and caretaking, it’s not easy to find a job where that’s accommodated. Even in Europe, where longer maternity leave and flexible work arrangements make it easier for mothers to remain in the workforce, the lack of face time compared to their male peers holds them back (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/upshot/can-family-leave-policies-be-too-generous-it-seems-so.html?_r=0&abt=0002&abg=0). It’s easy for men to be 70% workers and 20% fathers. Similar ratios in reverse are not really available for women.

        Is this the problem, as you see it?

      • AB
        AB says:

        Link or no link conundrum: note that not everybody will click a link. Or they may click later, after reading and registering the wrong impression about a phrase. So my opinion is that the words in the text need to convey the whole meaning. The links can help support the idea, but they shouldn’t be necessary to convey the meaning.

        • Anthony Moffa
          Anthony Moffa says:

          I agree with AB on this. As a usability researcher, I’ve observed that links, while useful, are many times really better for getting more information. You cannot rely on them to be used as intended. They tend to break up your content, and so your content itself must stand alone and make your points. Links are best for getting more detail, more context, more information, not in place of the points you are making.

      • dcline
        dcline says:

        You don’t use underlining that much. Why not make the links black (like the rest of the text) instead of oranginsh and leave them underlined. This might give you the best of both worlds.

  5. Helen
    Helen says:

    Your babysitters being abusive and your dad being inconsiderate towards your mother is not the fault of feminism.

    I used to think my dad was so hard done by, because my mum was upset with him a lot.

    Then I got older and realised that my mum was working full time, studying, doing all the housework, cooking and DIY. My dad just worked full time, but wouldn’t do anything round the house.

    Because he’s a lazy, inconsiderate, selfish person. And she had every right to be upset with him.

    • Help4newmoms
      Help4newmoms says:

      Helen, I had the same thing going on in my house. We have to remember, though, that back then, if a woman wanted to work, she basically had to ask permission of her spouse to do it. It was like asking to pursue a hobby. If your spouse allowed you to work, a woman was grateful…a mother working was THAT strange. The fathers were not raised to think they had to participate in household tasks. It simply wasn’t something that was on their radar. I know that sounds crazy, but think of how reluctant men STILL are to help at home, that second shift Penelope mentions. The Fathers of old attitude was almost, if you want to work, that is up to you, but only if you can still get all your other jobs done too.

      • Helen
        Helen says:

        Absolutely true in my grandma’s era, but as my parents brought me up in the 80s, I don’t think my dad had the excuse!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The abusive babysitters is a necessary evil on the path to women’s rights. Women couldn’t go to work unless someone else took care of their kids.

      We had no system in place for middle class women to pay someone to take care of their kids. For the first wave of women who went to work after having kids, the child care options were so slim as to be dangerous.

      When someone tells me “you take so much for granted that women fought for in the 70s” childcare is something that comes to my mind first. Today President Obama routinely talks about needing childcare so women have an option to work outside the home.


      • help4newmoms
        help4newmoms says:

        You are absolutely right! It boggles my mind that the working women of our Mother’s age were pariahs. And Prez Obama is correct, working mothers need more choices for good, safe childcare if they wish to stay in the workforce. It would be great if all Moms could be supported no matter what their decision…Working Mom or SAHM. My fantasy was always for men and women to both have part-time jobs so they could both work and contribute financially and both help with the kids…that will have remain a fantasy…

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Yeah, let’s talk about this.

        When my mother was working my sitter chased us with knives.

        When my mother was pregnant and working at Merrill Lynch, she got fired for being nauseous at the office a little too often.

        She was forced to be home and hated it.

        No one talks about this. The ridiculous nature of the tide of women’s rights.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          My husband was also a latch key kid and is a survivor of feminism and divorced abusive parents.

          One particularly horrid babysitter was the teenage girl who taught him how to French kiss at 9 years old. Yes, a teenage girl made out with a 9 year old boy.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Abusive babysitters were not a necessary evil at all, and have nothing to do with feminism. You had abusive babysitters because you had abusive and neglectful parents who didn’t give a crap about you. Feminists aren’t to blame for your parents’ behavior. They didn’t give a damn if they hurt you and they didn’t give a damn if someone else did either. Most parents aren’t like that.

        I was a latchkey kid, taken care of by others since the days my mother was finishing her PhD in the sixties, walking myself to and from school once I was old enough. In state after state, I never had an abusive babysitter. Not once. I had abusive schoolteachers, but never an abusive babysitter.

    • Eva
      Eva says:

      I’m 31 and I don’t want to have kids. My husband (among others) think that I’m selfish.

      But, as you wrote, men are selfish. My dad is, my husband, girlfriends’ husbands, brothers-in-law are selfish. I know a woman who weake up early in the morming, prepare their daughters for school, prepare her stuff for job, while her husband just woke up and wait for them at the door thinking “we’ll be late again”.

  6. Help4newmoms
    Help4newmoms says:

    You are starting the new year off with a bang. I think I am going to do a Julie/Julia ripoff of your blog posts. “52 weeks of Penelope Trunk Wisdom.” I know I am going to be thinking about this post all day,

    Your quote,”This is, I think, the core of the feminst revolution: that women had to do what was expected,” is right in huge money. Yes, feminism was the start of women not having to do what was expected.

    Like you, my Mom was not fan of staying at home with kids in that 60’s 70’s time period. She took a bit of a different path…she took a night job one night a week, when my dad would get home from work, when we were babies, for her sanity. (I am sure he hated it, but she insisted) She continued taking college classes at night as well, after my Dad got his night degree, while we were babies too. As soon as my youngest sibling hit first grade, (imagine..waiting for something you want…the irony is that, today, women who stay home until their kids are in grade school to go back to work are considered “lucky” and “lazy” for not working) she went back to work full time. We had after school sitters, yes, but I don’t remember too many of them. At some point, sister was old enough to watch us from 3 to 5 until Mom got home from work. Mom paid my sister for this work.

    Mom had a dinner on the table every night and continued her night school. She finally got her degree after I had married, I remember us taking calculus at the same time! She is my hero. As a mom myself, I do not know how she did it…3 kids, husband, full time job, night school, dinner on the table every night..I know she was disappointed that she did not have a daycare option for us…she worked around it with what she could do. The path of her daughters was WAY easier, the way she wished she could have had it.

  7. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    There are no words…the best piece of writing I have read all year and one of your top 5 definitely. Unforgettable and I will share it with the people I know and care about. Be strong.

  8. Ashley
    Ashley says:


    My instinct is to scream “no!!” against the idea that women belong in the home.

    Unfortunately, you’re right. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the premise of this post is saying: Along with being an “equal” in the workplace, women are expected to keep a perfect house, raise perfect kids, and help my husband achieve his goals.

    Oh, and it’s also my job to make sure that my male partner participates actively, and enthusiastically, in the second shift. 50/50 and all. He has to love cleaning as much as I do!

    That sounds exhausting.

    Screw that. That is not feminism, as was suggested by previous commenters.

    We’ve completely misunderstood what feminism actually meant.

    Feminism is about the power of choice, not the demands of perfection.

    And people will jump up and scream that we don’t expect you to do all of the above, but that’s not really true, is it?

    Because a stay at home mom will criticize a working mom for her messy house (she needs to spend more time with her kids). A working mom will criticize a home mom for her inability to talk about anything other than her kids. A part-time mom won’t have time for either of the others, because she’s too busy trying to be the best of both worlds.

    We (moms) are our own worst enemies.

    And we’re doing something wrong, that’s for sure.

    Great post.

  9. christy
    christy says:

    So Penelope, I have a question. I know you’re straight and that you don’t give a rat’s backside about who sleeps with whom, so long as everyone is happy … but … while I appreciate the thrust of this post, it leaves me wondering where you’d come out on this if you were a lesbian?

    I’m a woman who happens to be married to another woman. My spouse stays home with our daughter. This is a choice we’ve made with a lot of thought.

    Are you saying that because I’m the one who works (though I still do my fair share of stuff at home; “fair” as we’ve defined it for ourselves anyway) that I’m pretending to be a man?

    I’m just curious about how same-sex folks fit into your thesis here.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I don’t think it’s different for same-sex couples in so far as the kids need to be taken care of and money needs to be earned and neither is a part-time job.

      Something I think about: I am close with three lesbian couples with kids and all three couples created very conventional families with one parent staying at home full-time and one parent working full-time.


      • christy
        christy says:

        I’m not so sure that one parent staying at home, and one working is so much “conventional” as it is “the reality of not being super-rich”.

        As you have said, parenting is full-time. Earning enough for a family to exist on, is full-time. We each have a full-time job. Mine happens to be around money, and my partner’s happens to be around our daughter.

        I’d love for both of us to stay home and raise our daughter together, both of us full-time on that job. Unfortunately, unless one of us has a currently-unknown rich uncle who dies and leaves me everything, that’s not realistic.

        So how is that “conventional” as opposed to “reality”?

        • Help4newmoms
          Help4newmoms says:

          A slightly different perspective….I met with hundreds of moms at their moms club groups in the suburban philadelphia and outlying areas while promoting my book. Many were SAHM’s…they were not ultra rich. They could not afford to work. I am going to say that again. They could not afford to work. In other words, the income they could earn would not surpass the amount of money they would have to pay in child care. Many DID prefer being stay at home moms because they felt it was best for their familes. They lived in modest homes or apartments, clipped coupons, shared frugal recipes, and gave up on vacations…you get the idea.

          Now, if a woman needs to work or (gasp) wants to work for a whole host reasons (it is best for HER family, her relationship with her spouse is stronger when they both work, they have financial commitments, she has an actual ambition for her career), she should be able to do it, gosh darn it. Just make sure that the kids are properly cared for. When I lived in CA, many parents were both earners. Guess what? They hired help who drove the kids around to activities, prepared dinner for the family, and got the laundry going. These were smart women. No second shift nonsense. “If we are both going to work,” they felt, “we are going to hired a “wife” to help with all the other duties of running a household.” My point, embrace your decision to work or not to work. If you are not happy with your choice, do something to change it. You have the power.

    • mh
      mh says:

      One same-sex parenting couple I know (men) has a stays-at-home parent and a goes-to-work parent. It’s a recognizable traditional 50’s-type division of labor, except Ward and Darren instead of Ward and June.

      The other same-sex parenting couple I know (women) have two consulting-type work-from-home jobs and work out their schedule so there is a parent always at home. But they have a baby. As the baby gets older, things might change.

  10. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I grew up with a working mom and an empty house, too, so I knew going in about the double shift, which to me is the single biggest problem that today’s feminist’s have inherited from their mothers…we added some nice things to the table: higher education, more work opportunities, a greater voice in many arenas (although not yet enough) but somehow nothing got taken away. Deborah Spar, President of Barnard College, published a book in 2013 in which she notes that women today, on average to 17 hours MORE housework than they did 50 years ago (Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection). We have raised the bar on ourselves (Martha Stewart, anyone?)
    I wholeheartedly endorse the idea that you should be able to stay home and play with leagues with your kids, but I will challenge your belief that there aren’t men out there who aren’t just as happy, capable and fulfilled in that role as you are. Just as gay parents have had to kick doors down, so have fathers who are naturally nurturing, as have mothers like yours who might naturally have been happier as the breadwinner. I think feminism is about letting people play to their strengths. Yes, there needs to be a division of labor, but why does that need to fall along gender lines? It usually does, but why be arbitrary? How well does that work when solving other problems?

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      Agreed. Feminism is about people playing to their strengths. My husband and I have switched off being the breadwinner, being the cook, being the appointment keeper. He’s had to ask me to help out more around the house, at times, because I was slacking. Yet people still hand him the check, even after I’ve put the debit card on the tray and signed the ticket. Guys still address him at the store, when it’s my bike we’ve brought in for a tune-up. I wear the badge of feminist, and so does my husband, and we will continue until the defaults are not set to “man” all the time.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I love this phrase: “Feminism is about people playing to their strengths.”

        It’s a lovely definition. Though now that I’ve coached hundreds of people I realize that understanding one’s own strengths is very complicated. And difficult. I mean, many very smart people can’t even take a simple personality test to find out their strengths because they answer who they wish they were instead of who they are.

        Maybe civil rights and women’s rights and gay rights were revolutions to allow people to be who they are. And the next revolution will be a self-knowledge revolution — where somehow we get a good at knowing who we are.


        • Jim Grey
          Jim Grey says:

          And from your other blog: homeschooling is a way for people to find out who they are faster, rather than being told who they should be or constantly comparing themselves to their peers and feeling like they come up short.

          • mh
            mh says:


            Homeschooling is a way for people to find out who they are faster.

            And that goes for parental roles, too, because once you kick down the traditional time division between family and compulsory state socialization(in which the state comes first), all sorts of opportunities present themselves.

        • Aya
          Aya says:

          Good call on removing the links. This piece turned out so much different than most of your posts. I think it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever read of yours. Thank you for this.

        • Adalya
          Adalya says:

          “I realize that understanding one’s own strengths is very complicated. And difficult. I mean, many very smart people can’t even take a simple personality test to find out their strengths because they answer who they wish they were instead of who they are.”

          Yes! That is a HUGE problem! Do you have a link to fix that one? ;) I sure could use it!

          • Adalya
            Adalya says:

            Please help– the subscription manager link for the comments feed is broken.

            It sends a link to email the article to a friend and not to unsubscribe from comments.


          • Rayne of Terror
            Rayne of Terror says:

            I took a MB test shortly after college graduation at the career center. It said the best job for me was bonsai artist. I told the career center guy I was thinking of going to law school instead and he said, yeah, that’s a good idea. Uh, no. Not really. I answered who I thought I was for many years, until I read the book Do What You Are. It takes you through the MB test more thoughtfully. It made it clear why I struggle with the same certain parts of lawyering all through my career so far.

        • Lisa
          Lisa says:

          Here Here, Penelope. And one way for people to truly know who they are, and ACCEPT who they are, is for parents and educators to allow for and facilitate that knowledge. Actualize it. Make it real. Parents first of course, and then Educators. I think the public school system here in California may be a hopeless cause, myself. Everybody wants to pin some dream on kids. Myself included with my own kids. I am working on that. Wish I could have homeschooled.

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          The next revolution–or maybe just the final revolutoin–will be a mental health and neurodiversity revolution. We’ve made progress with not judging people by appearance and physicality; now it’s time to stop judging people on account of neurodiversity.

        • malaika
          malaika says:

          Penelope, it’s fascinating what you say about the personality tests. I am finding that people are, quite literally, resistant to taking them because they’re afraid of being labelled, afraid of finding that the results are truer than what they expected and not liking what they hear. They prefer to have idealised versions of themselves.

    • Stephanie Q
      Stephanie Q says:

      Maybe the reason why we do 17 times more housework is because we have 17 times more stuff filling larger homes than we really need.

      I currently am very blessed to own and live in a four bedroom home with my husband….but right now (still a few years away from having kids) I want nothing more…but less! Our house is too big for us and just like a big purse….the bigger she is… the more stuff you put in it!

      Now maybe 17 times more stuff is an exaggeration… but it’s still something to consider

      • mh
        mh says:

        17 times too much stuff.

        I agree.

        When we moved last year, we deliberately downsized the house. What a huge difference. We bought a tiny gem with great details. But tiny. And we made sure that we were close enough to parks and trees that the kids could be free.

        And I spent a summer deciding… get a storage unit or get rid of 2/3 of our household decor and wedding gifts? Get a storage unit, or get rid of 3/4 the kitchen stuff? Get a storage unit, or winnow the hobbies down to swim, frisbee, legos, and biking? Get a storage unit, or replace clothes with emergency preps?

        We didn’t get a storage unit.

        We gave a charity enough kitchen, bath, and bedroom stuff to outfit two apartments for refugee families. And the toys! I kept anything my parents personally handmade for my kids, but the rest went to other kids.

        I had to be sneaky about some of it, which I hated doing.

        But now we are free of all that stuff. I bet we could have gone smaller.

        • Kelly
          Kelly says:

          If memory serves, it was 17 HOURS more housework. Another interesting factoid was that men are, in fact, doing significantly more housework than they used to, about that same 17 hours more…it’s just that our overall load, and our overall expectations of what “house beautiful” should look like has changed. My grandmother did not have fresh cut flowers and designer cupcakes…nor did she work full time. The expectation in the back of my head is that I am supposed to be doing both: AND that my house should look like something in REAL SIMPLE. Agree with you all that too much stuff is part of the problem. Downsized a couple of years ago from 3000 sq ft. to 950…cleared the clutter. The difference in time and head space gained was amazing.

          • kelly
            kelly says:

            It’s funny, isn’t it? I still love having a BIG back porch overlooking the woods, but mostly, it’s just a relief, not having all that stuff and space to clean. If there was more than me and the cat, I might feel differently, but mostly it keeps me out of the mall, and my priorities straight.

  11. Chris
    Chris says:

    I think there is a season, a time for everything under heaven, to borrow a phrase.
    I think there is a time to have kids and put your heart and soul into nurturing them and protecting them. I think there is a time to delegate SOME of that responsibility to the kids. I think there is a time to be the wind beneath their wings. I think there is a time to come back to yourself (and to your marriage, if you have gotten too far into your role as parent). You come back to yourself by taking a job, perhaps part-time at first, till you are sure your kids/family can handle the new regime. You may come back to yourself by going back to school.

    What no one has said is that IF both parents haven’t prepared for all this, and knew going in that they were on the same page about their kid-raising values; my flavor of feminism, which I outline above, will lead to becoming a single parent, a single mom. Which puts a whole new spin on what feminism is.

    Further, I believe that feminism has evolved and morphed over the years that Pen is talking about. Yes, it IS about choice. But it is also about rebellion. It is also about mistakes and abandonment of children to unfit substitute child care folks.

    What is your top-rated value? Mine is protecting my kids, keeping neglect and cruelty at bay for as long as I can. I want to be my kids first and best teacher. I want them to have the stamp of my style and my values upon them. I want to be their best blessing. I can delay my own gratification a long time in the service of my kids. And I know that not everyone sees feminism peeking through in this post.

  12. LisaP
    LisaP says:

    Feminism seems to not have gotten past the “what is it?” phase. Probably because everyone just defines it the way they want it to be defined. “No, that’s not feminism because I want it to be THIS!”
    Good grief. No wonder so many women are conflicted.

    Wonderful blog post. Penelope never fails to lay the truth bare. No “ism” ever fully does that.

  13. Jane M.
    Jane M. says:

    Brilliant post, as usual.

    I’d love to see this discussion of choice opened up to women who don’t have children. For example, does a woman without children have just as much right to stay home as a woman who does?

    As it stands, I’m currently trying to have children (2 miscarriages in the last 5 months). I feel pressure to keep working because I know it will only be socially acceptable for me to stop once I actually have kids. But ttc is a huge emotional and physical burden for me– I’d love to quit now (it’s financially feasible) and focus on building my family full-time.

    • Breanna
      Breanna says:

      Do it! You don’t have to ask permission. If you and your partner are on the same page, and can afford it, do it.

      It is highly beneficial to get used to the life of a homemaker before there is a baby to care for. I did it for four years before having my firstborn and it was invaluable. Homemaking skills are real skills that take time and effort to develop and you won’t regret having some extra time to work on them. Nutrition especially benefits from this. If you have been used to working, there is also some mental adjustment to be made. You will do well to come to terms with how our culture {mis}treats non-earners and make your peace with it.

      • mh
        mh says:

        Likewise, a loving, faithful husband willing to work and sacrifice for his family can make a woman’s life so much better.

        It’s always been a two-way street.

    • Zellie
      Zellie says:

      To expand on this, I know a young couple who recently married and the wife stays home. She makes and keeps the home comfortable and welcoming and makes food. They are nice to each other. He feels like he has “hit the jackpot.”

    • Lisa
      Lisa says:

      Your reason is already valid. I am a RN. A mom. An Educator. Not a fertility authority by any means, but my heart ached for you from your little post. PLEASE stop working if you can. Your body is calling out to you. Your needs and reasons are more valid then can be imagined. I hope I can give you a little peace by this small crumb of validation.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      What do you mean do you have a right to stay home? I don’t understand this question. If your partner wants a family as much as you then why not get used to one income now, if you already plan to stay at home? You don’t need permission from anyone to work or not work in this situation.

  14. Rachel G
    Rachel G says:

    Sometimes I think you are the only person who understands what I’ve given up (status, money, social interaction, independence, etc.) My husband doesn’t. He just thinks I’m so lucky.

    • help4newmoms
      help4newmoms says:

      The word “Lucky” needs to be stricken in any conversation involving stay at home moms. Luck is when something happens to you that involved no work. Being a SAHM IS work. Tell your hubby that if you have to pay someone to do what you do if you are not there to do, it is a job! ie. SAHM = Job, not lucky. BTW, I would get a job and have your hubby share in the childcare until he DOES get it.

      • Tanya
        Tanya says:

        Luck is referring to the opportunity to be a SAHM, not the actual day-to-day workload of a SAHM.

        To be a SAHM, one first needs a supportive partner who makes enough to cover all of the financial needs, who doesn’t die/leave/get laid off before the children are all grown. A bit of luck involved, there.

        • help4newmoms
          help4newmoms says:

          I hear what you are saying but I disagree. The word “luck” needs to be expunged from the discussion of SAHM. Society and some partners are not smart enough to understand the nuance of how it is meant as you suggested. Do you think our mothers, who HAD to stay home because they had no choice…no one to watch their kids…sat around saying, “Gosh, I’m so lucky to be at home, to be responsible for other human beings, all day long, cooking, cleaning, laundry with no pay, no pension, and no accruing job experience? Nope, they most certainly did not say that. They simply did their job. Nor did their husbands come from work saying to their wives, “honey, you are so lucky to be able to stay home with our precious little ones.” OUR goofy generation has created this nonsense. Society has shoved the word “luck” in the discussion to belittle what SAHM’s do and to keep working moms and SAHM moms at each other’s throats with the added benefit of adding more tension between husbands and wives. There…I said it.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Are SAHMs and working moms really at each other’s throats? In real life, off the internet? I’m an SAHM and almost all of my friends work. No throat-grabbing or belittling over here.

      • CarolAnne
        CarolAnne says:

        I don’t see it that way. I felt lucky to be able to be at home with my kids. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss their first roll over, or first steps, or words. I knew their friends, and their teachers. It was overwhelming at times, but I wouldn’t change anything.

  15. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    “Kids need taking care of.

    Money needs earning.”

    It’s the source of so much tension and churn in our culture. We seem never to find the right formula for it.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      The Danes give their people high quality free childcare, paternal and maternal leave and encourage both parents to work part time. It sounds blissful.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Not pleased. Watching Europe swirl down the tubes is depressing.

            For seventy years, Europe has provided sky-high social services by letting American taxpayers foot the bill for European continental defense. (NATO) You can buy a lot of social programs that way, but what happens when it ends?

            TANSTAAFL. Someone pays.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            well, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan etc. pp. are really the costly parts of the american military. In addition, a non-communist Europe is a huge market for american goods which is one of the main reasons to be militarily engaged in western Europe. The Marshall plan was not simply a decision to do good and rebuild Europe but was only sustainable (and acceptable) because it opened new markets for a growing US economy. There is a good dose of self-interest in sustaining a by the way diminishing military presence in Western Europe. The social networks are supported by a considerably higher taxrate for everybody.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Please. Our per capita defense spending far outstrips that of any of our NATO allies. Proportionally, we’re footing their bill

            Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s close all US bases in continental Europe, withdraw all our troops and DOD personnel, and stop paying our dues at NATO and the UN.

            Who howls first?

            Strictly speaking, this is not fair , since in response to howls of anti-American European furor in the. 90’s, we proposed closing our bases in Germany and moving operations to Poland.


          • redrock
            redrock says:

            UN budget contributions in % of total UN budget: France 5.5%, Germany 7%, US 22% – directly proportional to population – pretty exactly same contribution per citizen.

            NATO common funded budgets and programs:
            civil budget: Germany 14%, France 11%, US 22%, Military budget: France 11%, Germany 15%, US 22%, Netherlands 3.3%, UK 10%

            official end of allied control in Germany: March 15th 1991.

            There is a significant strategic reason to maintain US army bases in Germany and not only with respect to “we are so nice to protect the Europeans” – don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful for anybody and any country who helped to overthrow the Nazi government. But the geopolitical reasons for continued military presence in Europe are quite complex, and have changed over the last 30 years.

  16. Cathy K.
    Cathy K. says:

    You wrote: “I see now that my parents got warm feelings of fulfillment from the mutual assurance that their needs could never be met.” Best line I’ve read in a long time. It describes my parents marriage perfectly. If I’d read that twenty years ago you could have saved me hours on the therapist’s couch.

  17. Susan
    Susan says:

    I think part of the point here is you can choose, as a feminist, to have a huge career and compete. But not expect to balance raising a family while doing it.

    But I’m a little surprised that you never mention building up skills to freelance from home with a family. You run Quistic while raising kids, I would think this would be a a more central point of your blog. You sometimes mention women want meaningful part-time work. I’d like to see more info about the logistics of how you work with kids.

  18. Anon
    Anon says:

    Wow Penelope, your upbringing tells a lot about why you say the things you do. You know, lots of people have had a difficult time growing up, some more physically abusive and psychologically twisted than what you describe. But they all don’t blame it on feminism. And many people grow up and take responsibility for themselves, whether or not their family relationships are 50/50. We know that there is not a given when raising children as to who gets the bulk of the work, usually more of the burden of household/child rearing is borne by the mother. But not all relationships are fair and never have been. Feminism (once called suffrage) is to blame for women being allowed to vote, own property, have custody of children after a divorce, and so on. As a woman you now can choose to have children by different men, leave their father(s), live with a man who won’t marry you because of your “tax” issues. You claim to spend money that you made yourself flying around the country getting haircuts in LA and visiting your business comrades. None of this would be possible without feminism (suffrage) and no doubt your kids suffer with the chaos you live in as described in your blog. Stop blaming women and start taking responsibility for your behavior and mental illness. Why anyone would want you for a coach is beyond me but if people are really paying you to coach them, they need professional help too. Not because of feminism but because you are making choices that harm other people, mostly your children. You don’t really seem to care that your kids and the man on whose farm you live are taking the brunt of your anger, it looks a lot like the relationship your mother and father had.

    • Kelly
      Kelly says:

      Whoa, cowgirl, put down the pitchfork and throw a little water on that bonfire! We’re not burning witches here! I think you’re reading a little bit into this post. Are you aware of how personally attacking, angry and spiteful your comment reads? I suspect perhaps you do, or you would not have posted anonymously. Penelope is expressing her opinion and she is entitled to do that without having her skin taken off for it. I like to think that might be one of the eventual gains of feminism: discourse that does not degenerate into personal attacks and ad hominem commentary. Rule one: argue with the ideas, not the person.
      Penelope, our limitations are also our strengths. As much as I struggled with my mother’s work habits, I also respected and admired her choices, and I still do. I’m sure you drive your kids nuts. We all do. Fly to LA, shop, do your hair. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. What are we teaching them if we don’t live an authentic life?

      • Anon
        Anon says:

        Not witch hunting Kelly, just some authentic feedback on my part. Having occasionally read this blog since approx. 2010 I’ve watched the downward spiral and read so much commentary that supports it. Maybe you are right, I probably shouldn’t be commenting because I don’t think this information is healthy and I don’t support it. I think I stopped reading around the time the half naked/provocative/bruised body photos were used as an opener, talking about throwing oneself in front of a tractor then blaming and shaming the other for self bludgeoning and mutual abuse. I think you are right on some levels that it sounds terrible to point it out but knowing the site panders to a much younger audience, I think a reality check should be in the mix as well. The fact is that there are people raising children who pass on the generational traumas of their parents, grandparents, etc. I know about of this because it’s put out there under the guise of “coaching” millennials who seem to take it hook line and sinker. I just think that some of this deserves a response that addresses the skewed nature instead of supporting it. Really, that is a POV that you may not be able to see but I read it loud and clear. That’s one reason I hesitate to read or engage in this site, it’s not good for the kids and it makes me cringe. But yes, Kelly, not a nice response from me but an authentic one with regard to the information in this blog.

        • Kelly
          Kelly says:

          Thank you for responding. I think, had your original comment addressed the concerns you mentioned (speaking to the issues not the person) I might have been able to take them in more easily. You have some valid points. I missed the value of your content (that there is a skew to some of Penelope’s posts based on her own childhood wounds, and perhaps the processing issues which she has written about) which was lost in the tone, which came across as a personal attack on her mental health, parenting and life choices.
          I found that especially ironic in a discussion between women on feminism. One of the fundamental issues I see is the failure of women to support one another in making different choices. Some of us will work, and some will stay home. Some will wear the pants, and some will defer. Some will have late life careers, and some will soar ahead straight out of college. Some will be childless and some will have a brood. These are all valid choices.
          By all means, express your thought that certain aspect of the essays may cause harm, but consider doing so in a way that points out what you are seeing, and how it affects people rather than allowing your frustration to take over your pen.
          Perhaps because I live closely with Aspergers I am aware that sometimes there can be a disconnect in how one’s actions (and words) affect others. I suspect that such information would be taken in, where a personal attack is simply dismissed.

  19. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I have no idea if I am a feminist or not, it’s not even something I care about. I have always been treated equally, demanded respect from others, and I have only been discriminated against maybe once. This person was my friend’s husband who is a male-chauvinist, xenophobic religious nut-case who told me to “be quiet because the men were talking”. My husband almost lost it but since the wife was my friend for years I ignored it and kept talking to “the men” anyway.

    Other than that instance I just don’t get the whole feminism thing today.

    When my partner and I decided, logically, to have a family I said I would only do it if I could be a stay at home parent and he agreed. A few problems, I have ZERO domestic skills. I hate cleaning, cooking, don’t know how to sew, the house is always a mess. My husband, works at SpaceX like a million hours a week as an engineering manager, he comes home and cleans the house and does all the laundry. He does this to show me he supports our unschooling and one parent staying at home lifestyle. He does this to show that it’s not just a man’s job to earn the income and be served by a wife. He shows me every day that I am valued for my work staying at home, even though I suck at it. Did I marry an outlier or do other people have the same experience?

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      “Other than that instance I just don’t get the whole feminism thing today.”

      Then you’re extremely lucky.

      • mh
        mh says:

        I think luck has less to do with it than an understanding of trade-offs. Economic and personal trade-offs.

        • Helen
          Helen says:

          Luck was the wrong word. And the wrong sentiment. It’s all about contribution, and he’s doing his fair share. That’s unusual.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      This is an incredibly unusual situation Elizabeth, from the fact that you’ve “always been treated equally” to the fact that your husband works full time and does all the housework.

      It explains why you don’t understand the need for feminism though. Most women are still in a situation where they work, do most of the housework and most of the childcare.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Thanks for your response to my comment. Do most women really work? Or is it 50/50? How many of these women have children? I am definitely interested to learn more about your perspective.

        • Helen
          Helen says:

          In the UK 67% of women are in paid work, and the ESRC found that women also do (on average) 60% of the housework.

          Men spend an average of 2 hours a week on childcare, while women spend 6-7.

          57.7 per cent of unpaid carers are female.

          The gaps have narrowed but women are still doing a lot more than men, despite working outside the home as well.

          • Helen
            Helen says:

            Also, In 2013, the labor force participation rate of mothers with children under 6 years old (63.9 percent) was lower than the rate of those whose
            youngest child was 6 to 17 years old (74.7 percent).

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            So I’m a numbers person and this is great feedback. I’m just curious if most of these women are choosing to do all these things or if it’s is being forced on them.

    • CeeBee
      CeeBee says:

      If your husband works at SpaceX and still does all that, you found an incredible man. My husband is in the same industry but two hours north in the desert, and he’s the Type A one of us. I stay home but he’s a 50/50 parent when not at work and he definitely cleans more and heads up all the home projects. But if he worked at SpaceX he would never do that stuff. Actually, I’d never let him work there because he wouldn’t be home enough for my liking.

      • CeeBee
        CeeBee says:

        I don’t mean any of that to sound condescending. The space industry is fun but mentally gruelling and I’ve heard its really hard to date/be married to someone who works all the hours what’s-his-name demands.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        After the third kid I just stopped caring about how the house looked. He wanted the big family but I couldn’t unschool and keep everything immaculate at the same time, so he just does it no questions.

        Yes, he works a lot of hours when it’s time to get a rocket out for testing. When it’s not crazy he leaves later in the day to avoid traffic and gets to be with the kids. If we were conformists that sent the kids to school he would never get to see them since he works weekends occasionally. But with our alternative lifestyle he spends time with them every morning before he faces Los angeles traffic.
        I do feel guilty when he gets home at midnight and does the dishes, I never ask him to do that…he just does. He knows how crazy it is to do what I do, but he is so supportive of unschooling he doesn’t care that Legos are everywhere.

        So I’m guessing virgin galactic or scaled.

    • mh
      mh says:

      No, not an outlier. This is pretty much how things operate around here, too.

      One spouse works 60+ hours/week and travels 40 weeks per year, and manages large household projects/family goals.

      Other spouse unschools the children, keeps the house reasonable, provides nutritious meals, pays bills, and is sexually responsive when traveling spouse is at home. (Important)

      Expectations are that family time is precious and trumps all else.

          • CristenH
            CristenH says:

            Our home life is on par as well. I am the OCD half, so cleaning is my thing, along with unschooling and nurturing the three littles. My entrepreneur husband works, travels, brings home the bacon from the grocery store and cooks it. He does all the shopping and cooking. Even makes my morning coffee and breakfast. I think there’s a recognition in my home that the emotional work of providing for kids 24/7 is the job that truly needs a supportive spouse. As for my spouse, sex alleviates all the provider woes.

      • Helen
        Helen says:

        One of the great things about feminism is the idea that ‘sexual responsiveness’ whenever your husband feels like it is no longer a requirement.

        Don’t get me wrong, if that works for you, great, but to me it sounds horribly transactional.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Nine-tenths of happiness in life results from comfortable shoes and an enthusiastic sex life with one’s life partner.

          You wouldn’t want me to be unhappy, would you?

          Anyway, my shorthand internet advice to women is “shut up and put out.” My shorthand internet advice to men is to regularly use this phrase: “wow. That _________ smells great.” (dinner, forest, play doh, fresh paint, baby, whatever)

          This advice stems from certain truths about intimacy between couples.

          • Tanya
            Tanya says:

            “Shut up and put out”? not good shorthand. You can’t force consent. You’re encouraging marital rape at worst, and at the very least for women to use sex as a commodity. You could stand to make it a little more nuanced, if that wasn’t your message.

          • Tanya
            Tanya says:

            Are you implying that “Shut up and put out” is funny? Not really, when you consider how many abusive partners would stand up and applaud your catchphrases. It’s not any funnier than the joke about women being life support systems for c**ts. Don’t cop out by portraying it as an attempt at humor. It’s not a topic you can throw two phrases at and solve.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            you make it sounds so easy. I speak shorthand, so when I say “time for me to putout” my husband gets a sick look on his face and tells me he isn’t interested.

            This could be a personality issue on my end though.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Elizabeth, that’s so funny.

            At our house, discussing the MasterCard bill is considered “Wife-Away.” Keeps things balanced.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Not known for my nuance, true.

            But perhaps you could read me another way.

            Not as a marital rape apologist, but as a person who values marriage enough to figure out what makes one work. Wifely dialog can go overboard, the endless rehash of the events if the day. Most evenings, the marriage is happier if there is less complaining about thus-and-so and just a skitch more seduction.

            You know, shut up and put out.

            It you could put the worst possible interpretation to the comments of strangers. Hey, whatever floats your fleet.

          • Kelly
            Kelly says:

            Years ago, there was an interesting study that showed that most people, given a neutral statement on the Internet and asked about possible interpretations, interpret it negatively. Thus, we constantly assume malice or ill will where none is intended, and read the darkest possible interpretation into each others’ words.
            It’s easy to read mh’s words in the context of dv and abuse, but she was speaking about her own relationship and the reality that for her, a little sex, spark, mystery and high heels go a long way (hope I’m not over-interpreting here, mh). four decades in the relationship game, I will say this: we all compromise something. We don’t always know it at the time, but nobody gets out of here without giving up something. You can get in a power struggle that locks up your love and your energy, or you can pick your priorities and move on.

          • Amy A
            Amy A says:


            I still haven’t figured out why your partner telling you something smells good does anything at all for you.

            I can understand not wanting to be told you or your cooking STANKS; but who cares about being told something smells good? Just curious.

            As far as ‘shut up and put out’ advice, I reckon whoever needs that advice is physically and emotionally attracted to their partner and enjoys sex with said partner. They just need to reminded to put down their phone for a moment to actually *see* their partner (and once they do, hubba hubba). Or something like that.

            So, ‘shut up and put’ out doesn’t seem to apply to all relationships.

        • Jay
          Jay says:

          I agree with mh, right or wrong, my wife and I simply get along better when we have regular sex. And I am sure that she. Sometimes she is simply being there for me (responsive), but we BOTH distinctly benefit from this.
          To me this is as basic and core as acknowledging that there are differences between men and women.

          • Kelly
            Kelly says:

            I’m guessing, too, that when you are regularly getting freaky between the sheets with said wife, that things like putting down the toilet seat or emptying the dishwasher aren’t nearly as much of a hassle as they can seem to a person (man or woman) who is starved for affection, attention and sexual appreciation from the person they love.
            It’s always complicated, but I come down too, on the side that regular sex makes for happier couples. Just like sometimes Beloved might vacuum the living room because they love you, maybe sometimes you agree to sex, even if you aren’t there to begin with, because the person you love needs some human contact.

          • mh
            mh says:

            I look at it this way.

            Pregnancy has three trimesters, with these characteristics: 1st, nausea; 2nd, horny days; 3rd, whale.

            My youngest is ten years old, but in our marriage, we’re still making up for the “mercy sex” of the third trimester, when there wasn’t much in it for Mr. but Mrs. was insatiable.

            Kidding, ladies.

            Besides, frequent marital sex is important for prostrate health, among other things. Can’t be too careful.

            Use it or lose it.

        • Zellie
          Zellie says:

          Attitude goes a long way in getting along in a marriage. Think of the neediest you’ve ever felt and imagine your husband telling you he doesn’t want to help fulfill your needs. It’s not kind. If you’ve never felt sexually needy then you don’t know how a man may feel. Marriage goes both ways, but I think many couples get caught up in thinking primarily about how they feel themselves and not how the spouse feels.

          • Tanya
            Tanya says:

            Dan Savage makes a good point about this, similar to what you say. People need to understand the importance of being sexually compatible, and work out those differences before jumping into a lifetime commitment. Telling someone to shut up and put out is no less ignorant than telling someone to suck it up and remain unsatisfied. Life is short, but it can really drag on in an unhappy marriage.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      Replying up here because it won’t let me reply to your latest comment :)

      I think it’s difficult to quantify whether it’s by choice, given societal pressures. Society still rewards ‘traditional’ relationships, and men and women are still expected to conform to certain gender roles. Stay at home parents of both genders tend to be either lauded or mocked, working men are ‘normal’, working women are still unusual.

      There is also the factor that if you are doing most of the childcare and housework, that leaves less time for the networking and study that can advance your career, if that is what you are interested in.

      However I think it’s worth separating out childcare and housework. Childcare is both intrinsically rewarding and incredibly important. It’s also exhausting. I think it’s important for both parents to be involved for their sake as well as that of their children.

      Whereas housework is just work. It may be less onerous than it used to, but it is still a necessary chore rather than a joy, and I feel it should absolutely be split as equally as possible.

      In my experience, many men simply refuse to do their fair share. So is it a ‘choice’ when the alternative is to leave the clothes on the floor and the dinner unmade?

      I also find it incredible that there is a subset of middle class men who will criticise middle class women for hiring working class women to do their cleaning, calling them exploitative, without questioning whether they are exploiting their wives.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        I’m sorry, I’m getting slightly confused. So is today’s feminism about getting husbands to help clean up the house? This doesn’t sound like feminism, it just sounds like humans trying to live together more cohesively.

        What is today’s feminism? I have three daughters being raised to be independent and self-sufficient, we literally reject convention including traditional school. We teach that choices matter and you CAN’T have it all, so pick what will make you happy in life and do that. Is this feminism? Or is this just being an intelligent human?

        • Helen (a different one)
          Helen (a different one) says:

          I’m sorry, I’m getting slightly confused. So is today’s feminism about getting husbands to help clean up the house? This doesn’t sound like feminism, it just sounds like humans trying to live together more cohesively.

          Elizabeth, feminism is trying, among other things, to question why the unpaid work is still disproportionately taken on my women. and your use of that revealing word “helping” demonstrates that you still see that unpaid labour as your job. One only “helps” when there is someone to help who the job “belongs” to. Why does the greater percentage of the unpaid work still “belong” to women? Why do people like Penelope come out with the idea “no one can ever have it all” as if it’s some wonderful revelation, without analysing how the different parts we all pick up are rewarded differently? You’d think that would be obvious to a self styled career guru.

          And Helen, thank you so much for your sterling work on this thread. It’s an uphill battle I fear. But good on you for trying!

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      So he does work at SpaceX!


      My husband is currently cleaning while I’m in the bath. He worked until 9 tonight.

      I think it depends on the relationship dynamic.

    • Cindy
      Cindy says:

      Elizabeth, I am curious about how you described your life; you staying home, your husband working a gazillion hours outside the home, then doing pretty much everything inside the home when he gets home. How the heck does that fly with him? How do you look at it as a fair division? Maybe “fair” is the wrong word.

      I find when I read things like this my hackles go way up. Way up. And, I’m trying not to do that, but to stay open and understand. I am honestly curious about this.

      When I was a SAHM, I looked at the entire home as my job. I did all the cooking, cleaning and yard work. I figured that my husband was doing his part by focusing on my career. And, my job was to take care of all domestic stuff. He could use his energies to build his career, which benefitted us all and come home to a nice home, good food and the kids needs taken care of. I figured my taking care of the home fires freed him up to focus on his part of the job – his career. I have always thought of being a SAHM as such a wonderful thing to do for the family unit as a whole.

      So, I honestly have trouble understanding SAHM’s declaring a lack of domestic talent and having their husbands doing it all after they spend their days in a high powered/pressured job, then also taking the kids on the weekends so mom can have “me” time. Wow!

      If I were a man in that situation I would resent it. And I often think that the men must figure it’s easier to stay married in a situation like that then deal with the fallout of divorce, so they put up with it.

      Please, don’t take offense, I honestly find it confusing when women declare things like that. Help me understand your reasoning. What’s in it for your husband? When does he get his break?

        • Cindy
          Cindy says:

          Jessica, I just saw your question to me about whether my kids went to school. Let me start by saying I had an extremely unsupportive, narcissistic husband who only agreed to do exactly his half of anything, including picking up the baby. So, if my original question to Elizabeth sounded judge or sanctimonious, I do apologize. I typed it on the fly from my phone and didn’t take time to edit or clarify my situation. My “wonder” at her husband comes partly from having the one that I did have and knowing that, that type of arrangement would not have flown with him.

          In any case, the short answer is……I had a home based design business from their infancy until age 2 and 4. It was incredibly difficult. I have memories of putting them in their car seats at 7:00 am with little baggies of cereal so I could drop off projects I had stayed up all night to finish. I worked while they slept. I lost my mind. I paid half the bills, did half the housework, blah, blah, blah…..I actually walked in the door after giving birth with my second son and sat right down at my computer to go over projects. I was an idiot.

          At that time, we moved and I became a stay-at-home mom. It took me two years to feel like a normal human being again after the punishing situation I put myself in while they were babies.

          They both started at a Montessori School, then transferred to public school. I volunteered quite a bit, so their school time often meant I was also at the school. Not all day, every day, but it was important to me to be involved. I also headed up my youngest sons cub scout troop because none of the other parents wanted to do it.

          It was during that time that I also felt it was my responsibility to do all the home-related work. My husband had a very demanding job. I felt it was only fair. (remember, we had set things up practically divided down the middle before this time).

          I threw myself into being a SAHM. I often had a dozen kids in my home or yard because all of the other parents either worked, or didn’t spend time with their kids. I had fun cooking “classes” with the kids, hauled out my art supplies, taught the little girls to sew (because the girls who were the only ones that asked and were interested) and was very hands-on. School itself only takes up so much of the day and we all know it flies by fast…..Then, there are the summers….

          I divorced when they were 8 and 10. That was a hellish time when I had to deal with some serious personal issues and try to re-enter the workforce while being pretty much the only parent to my boys. I ended up starting a business five years ago (when they were 13 and 15) that has blossomed well and gives me a very nice income at this time.

          I had to take matters in my own hands because at the time of the divorce I was 43, hadn’t worked in 7 years and felt totally obsolete. I wanted to control my lifestyle, my future and future earnings. And, seriously, I hate working for others. I will never, ever work for anyone again…….

          So, that’s my story. Yes, they went to school. And, if I could roll back the years, I would love, to unschool my boys. My youngest used to beg me to homeschool him. But, I thought it was impossible as a single mom floundering around trying to figure out a way to support us. Yes, I needed the public school to care for my boys so I could figure out how to survive. It was a pretty desperate time in our lives as a former SAHM, newly single, with an uninvolved ex-husband.

          Aside from all of my own “stuff” I dealt with. I do know that I always try to make things “fair” if possible, or as fair as I can. It felt fair to me to take care of all home stuff while my ex worked 12+ days so we could have all that we needed. I think it must be huge pressure for the sole bread-winner, knowing they have a whole family to support. I felt I was doing my part by picking up the home side of things.

      • Jay
        Jay says:

        Cindy, will you marry me???

        But seriously, I wondered the same thing. What the hell does she do all day if he has to come home and work that much? I don’t speak out of ignorance, my mother was a SAHM and did exactly what you did. My wife also.

        Frankly, I think there is either 1) a self inflated feeling of entitlement going, 2) just plain laziness, or 3) lack of parental control over the house and a feeling of helplessness (inmates running the asylum).

        My 2 cents.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          It’s a weird feeling being totally judged by strangers on the Internet.

          I was speaking more to my husbands awesomeness than to my laziness.

          I have three girls, ages 3, 5, and soon to be 8. I unschool them. We are together all day every day.

          There might be a little bit of number 3 going on here. We are all loud, intense, animated, aggressive, independent, and messy.

          My husband gets to be with adults all day making important decisions and feeling “the most satisfied in his professional life” so as soon as he gets home, he takes over.

          If you can’t understand that, or why he does it, maybe you need to look at your own life instead of judging me.

          • Amy A
            Amy A says:

            Being present and accessible; being watched and responded to (including your inner life and the subtleties of the energy you’re sending out); being an example for what life, parenting, adulthood, womanhood looks like; guiding; troubleshooting both personal and practical issues; being intuitive, alert and responsive to both the seen and unseen; staying intuned and connected; making parenting, health, educational, well-being choices based on all of the above…all of this around the clock…is what at-home parenting is to me.
            Housework is something that happens in the in-between, when the physical or mental energy allows.

            It is absurd for anyone outside of the at-home parent’s shoes (partner included) to even have the nerve to judge or ridicule the at-home parent about household chores.

            Whoever wants it done and has the energy for it will do it. Even if it isn’t up to someone else’s standards and timeline.

            Myself, I do it and I do it alone (plus recruit help from the kids sometimes because we are a team/allies). But I do it my way. The person who ridiculed my job and efforts for years is someone I no longer live with.

            Don’t get me started on this topic. Grrr. I’ve had a blog post in my head about this one. This is a good start.

        • mh
          mh says:

          Is this Awesome Jay who structured his divorce so his ex-wife could still homeschool their kids?

          I’d be interested in follow up on that story.

          If this is Different Jay, then you’re being judgmental.

          Marriages find their natural balance points, and these change through the years.

          One of my children was born prematurely, not a lot, but there were problems. For about two months, the division of labor went as follows:

          Mrs: sleeping, eating, breast feeding the baby, laundry.

          Mr: all else, including full time work, and returning all phone calls. Also deflecting Helpful Relatives from offering Helpful Advice.

          Happily, we had some genuinely helpful relatives and friends nearby who got us over the hump in terms of keeping children during the day, etc.

          Things even out. We’re in it for the long haul.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Being a SAHM doesn’t have one defined meaning.
        I’m one, but I outsource all of our laundry to the local cleaners because 8 loads is 27 dollars, washed folded and delivered. My husband earns that income from work.
        Am I less of a SAHM? Maybe, by your definition.

        From my view, increasing productivity with myself and the kids in areas that are beneficial is priority.
        My husband has a huge career at a huge tech company. He works huge hours. He came home last night and cleaned the living room and washed the dishes. We live together, as in do together. He eats, he makes messes, does that mean because he works one way and I work another during the day, unpaid, that I’m obligated to clean all of his stuff all the time?

        Of course not. The situation that boggles my mind are some SAHM who fret to leave the hubby in charge of house and kids to go away for a weekend because he can’t do his own laundry or cook a meal.

        Balance. (My husband is a highly productive individual, meaning his ‘free time/relaxing time’ is spent creating/working on his accidental pretty successful children’s book series.)

        On that note, where’s all my free time ?? lol

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        My husband is awesome. His personality is more suited to domestic chores than mine. I’m not saying it’ll be like this forever, or that it has always been this way. I have young kids that we unschool. We are radical unschoolers. I do not send them away to strangers all day which would then give me time to get the house organized.

        Before kids, and even with just one kid it was easier for me.

        He wanted a bigger family, I did not. We ended up having two more kids and I ended up with a kid who is not suited for school and needed to keep her home with me.

        This naturally led to me keeping all my kids at home.

        Part of unschooling is keeping the house stocked with fresh supplies. We have games, Legos, art supplies, books, computers, blurays, kindles, easels, desks, Dna kits, robot sets…you name it. My kids are free to learn about and do what they wish during the day. I do not control them. They pick up what they can and I clean up as well during the day.

        I seem to recall you mentioning you sending your kids off to strangers for “school” instead of keeping them at home, but I do not vilify you for that.

        My husband loves our lifestyle. He does not come home and complain to me. He cleans up. He is amazing. Why can’t we praise him for being wonderful, instead of vilifying me as lazy?

  20. Carol
    Carol says:

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I am a stay at home mom. I gladly gave up my career in advertising to look after my much longed for child and now I am pregnant again. As a stay at home mother my confidence is constantly shaken, I have to constantly explain why Im not going back to work (as if im on a holiday now), I am isolated from all those I knew who still work in offices etc, I often hear people ridicule stay at home mothers or domesticity in general and I cringe internally and try to stand up for myself. Thank you for this post. It builds up my confidence and some days I really need that.

    • Helen
      Helen says:

      There’s an unfair thing where some working mums shame stay at home mums for not earning outside the home, and some stay at home mums shame working mums for ‘neglecting’ their children.

      There was a great campaign to end the ‘Mommy Wars’ recently.

    • Help4newmoms
      Help4newmoms says:

      Hang in there, honey, you are not alone. Stay at home moms do what they do not because it is easy or that they do not want to work but because they believe it is best for their family. The pay is bad and the accolades are even worse but if you are doing what you believe in, you will be just fine.

    • Help4NewMoms
      Help4NewMoms says:

      Hang in there, honey, you are not alone. Stay at home moms do what they do not because they do not want to work (as if taking care of a child and home 24/7 was not work!) or because they want something easy but because they think it is best for their family. The pay is bad and the accolades are nonexistent but if you are doing what you believe in, you are doing the right thing. Btw, I would argue just hard for a mom to be able to stay in the workforce! Why shouldn’t a Mom be able to have a career and be a mom, too. Men have done it centuries! Doing what is best for the whole family, including you, is what is important.

  21. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I want friends who do not care to throw away the college degree and better job prospects for the no-money job of building a healthy strong family.

    But I want the friends who know what they are giving up. Not the friend who blindly do it without any idea.

  22. Satyabodhi
    Satyabodhi says:

    Thank you Penelope for integrating into wisdom, the horrendous trauma of your childhood. Thank you for your heroic sharing of your experience and your learning. You give your readers a better chance to love the best of themselves.

    Of course, all people should be legally and socially allowed to choose the life and career that suits them. But some choices are impossible regardless of the social environment. We cannot simply choose to fly with our bare bodies as birds do. Neither can we choose to work 60 hours per week and at the same time be a great father.
    I hope your writing encourages men to value supporting their wife as a full time mother of young children, above all other badges of success.

  23. mh
    mh says:

    What’s your gripe with the electoral college? It’s brilliant.

    Be even better if we repealed the 17th.

    Otherwise, great post. It didn’t go where I expected it to go.

  24. Holly
    Holly says:

    Well, this post was provocative in many ways. How wonderful because I felt very engaged with it. I remember when I first had my “consciousness raised” back in the 70’s when I went to college. Yes, I’m old. I loved reading and thinking about feminism. I remember reading From Housewife to Heretic and being moved to write to the author. As I’ve aged the way my feminism has been expressed has changed and evolved. This is what I know now. We can NOT have it all. We can try, but it’s so very hard. We are not all good at everything and some division of labor is OK but not because of rigid gender roles. Yes we should all have choice but do many men have that yet? I still see women suffer mightily when they are not economically self-sufficient and I see children suffer when the parents don’t prioritize. There’s no perfect way but I am grateful for the women who fought the battles and came before. The man who hired me for my first full-time job told me I got it because my skirt was shorter. There are many things wrong with that including how it made me feel. I’m glad we’ve made progress, but the road is still long.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I think the point of feminism today and always has been that if you come to the realization that you can’t have it all is because you have decided. Not because society legislates that you can’t do something just because you’re a woman, gay, or a person of color.

  25. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I don’t want to diminish the serious stuff that your weird about here, but I must say that this post helps solidify so many of my “theories” about you, Penelope. Your childhood was hard. And there is no denying or arguing with your experiences in a two- breadwinner home. But would you believe that I could write a similarly compelling story using MY childhood experiences with MY parents’ marital dysfunction (mom- homemaker, dad-doctor) and clearly lay out to you, through that story, why no woman should ever choose to stay home? I have an internal dialogue with myself that regularly hones in on the fact that my insatiable desire to work, in many ways, stems from the type of dysfunction that I saw in my home as a child. Ultimately, we BOTH need to realize that people will never be perfect, most people, even parents, will fail us in significant ways (due in large part to thier individual flaws rather than any societal trend), and we must recognize the nuance of every personal situation and not hold up those experiences as “the way it will be for anyone who chooses this path”…

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I have an internal dialogue with myself that regularly hones in on the fact that my insatiable desire to work, in many ways, stems from the type of dysfunction that I saw in my home as a child.

      This can be solved and worked out to where this is no longer an issue for you.

  26. Tatyana
    Tatyana says:

    thank you for your post. Although I do not accept some of the logical passes you make in your piece, it helped me solve the “feminism” puzzle for myself.
    I have to confess that for a long while I held similar views as Penelope expressed and I arrived at my conclusions as forcefully and offensively as she does. I was and still am convinced that I was right in saying that feminism has set up younger generations for a tougher life filled with more expectations and responsibilities. Feminism created a gilded cage for women in 21st century, I thought, while solving the apparent inequality of women in 20th century. Any social evolution or revolution does this. we move in cycle of change and reaction, and then change inspired by the reaction and so on and so forth.
    What I missed and Penelope’s post inspired me to realize is the piece that has to do with men and nature of feminism. Why do men get it so easy when it comes to homemaking? It is not because they are lazier, or less involved with the family. No. It is because the Industrial Revolution solve most of urban men’s chores and only a fraction of those that naturally fall onto female shoulders. And feminism was born partially as a response to the Industrial Revolution and progress. As “middle class” men stopped cutting wood, tending to cattle or slaughtering pigs and chickens for dinner, they had more free time to work, study, and have a social life. They had richer life, with more influence on political situation (voting AND talking about it). Women wanted the same and , rightfully, felt left behind, disaffected, no longer equal to a men. I must note that it is easy for us to say that patriarchical system is not fair or equal in its nature. But it is not about what we think 70-150 years after the fact, it is about how women and men perceived their stations at the time. So women fought and won the same social standing and the same breadth of choices available to men. Feminism was about political and social equality. But the result of it was that when you fight for more rights, you also get more responsibilities.Yet technology did not replace all our natural responsibilities. Many of them could be delegated or substituted but the cost is tremendous, sometimes it is higher than the income woman is able to generate. And some, like childbearing and raising children, could not be substituted without causing harm and needing to set up a “therapist fund”. On top of that, most women actually enjoy and find meaning in raising kids if the choose to have them. It is biologically pre-wired within us. Although, equally worthy, men and women are made a bit differently. What is the point of all my rumbling? Feminism is not at odds with the current struggle many modern women find themselves. It is the cause of it. But in a good way. And next step is to adapt, once again. Find better ways, change the perception, remove the stigma and taboos. One of the American taboos that urk me unbelievably is that one can not put their family ahead of work if she wants to succeed at the job. This way of thinking is a social construct, no more.

    • Tatyana
      Tatyana says:

      Sorry, but the flood gate has opened. What I missed to express in my very long post is that statement that “women acting like men, and marriages being 50/50 is the road to self-destruction” has a deeper meaning. Women are different, yet equal to men. Activities that make us happy and fill our lives with meaning often differ from those that men seek. Especially in the procreation phase of our lives. So acting like men is sabotaging our own nature, and not recognizing that equality does not mean sameness. Secondly, 50/50 marriages can not happen unless there is a degree of healthy co-dependancy. Not allowing yourself to rely on husband’s income takes the natural co-dependancy out of equation. Now we employ passive-agressive approach to ask or men to change what the do in their lives to create that depend, partnership marriage. Let’s not forget that men used to partake in more labour involved aspects of homemaking. Now 99% of us pay for those tasks or buys appliances that do them without thinking twice. The majority of homemaking tasks left that are not completely solved by technology lies in natural female domain. So when we talk about 50/50 marriages in modern interpretation, we ask our men to venture into this female domain and like it. Both, changing feminine behavior to mimic males and changing male aptitude towards more female tasks make for a very destructive path.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I strongly doubt that any part of housecleaning is the “natural female domain”. I also doubt that engineering and science is the “natural male domain”. Both tasks can be performed with equal, high quality performance by either gender.

        • Helen
          Helen says:

          It’s been disproven, over and over again. Evo-psych is one of the most thoroughly debunked ‘sciences’ ever. It also bugs the hell out of me. If half the human race had been sat on their laurels for millennia we would have died out in short order.

          • Tatyana
            Tatyana says:

            Yes, Evolution Psychology takes things too far when it claims that their hypothesis are not arguable because this is how nature (might have) created us. But it cannot be discounted completely. It has some good insights. What about 50/50 for nature and nurture? And “female domain” has little to do with cleaning, but more with nurturing. Be it at home or at work. You can be a very bright and accomplished engineer and still express the need to be more creative and not distractive, nurturing and not cut throat. Men clean. They cleaned in last century but not necessarily at home. Garages, stables, fields, outhouses anyone? I know many men who clean “naturally” but they do it differently, having a bit different goal formulated in their head and achieving slightly different result. there are exceptions to anything. No doubt. But the discussion is about the majority (even if it’s meager) that creates social expectations. Would you say that the ability to pop out kids was not serviced by necessary nurturing desires by Nature? And just because there is a pre-wired design within us, does not mean that it is the only one and we are slaves to it. But it does mean we need to pay attention to all aptitudes we have, some that come from our gender, others from genetic baggage, and others from our efforts in developing them.

        • Tanya
          Tanya says:

          So agreed. I work in research and make more than my husband, who writes and takes on more of the “female” realm of domestic stuff. I really wish we could put this “men’s work/women’s work” bullshit to rest and allow people to do what they feel best doing without roles being assigned. Humans are so much more complicated than wifey/hubby.

        • Zellie
          Zellie says:

          People persist in discussing issues from a gender perspective, but it appears to me to be more a personality type issue. Some people are suited for college, some for physical labor, some for cooking. Some find certain activities too tedious. Others have priorities that trump cleaning the floors. In a pair or group we tend to do what suits us. When it suits no one, either someone pitches in or it doesn’t get done.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            there is a strong societal expectation that women have to be nurturing – take teaching evaluations for example. The evaluations for women are usually lower then for men unless the woman brings a strong “caring for the students” component to the table. One can now argue that men are simply better teachers, but I really doubt it.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            … and I totally agree that individual personality gives more variability in behavior and preferences than gender.

          • Tatyana
            Tatyana says:

            Agree, personality differences and personal choices define us. Gender does not define us but it still impacts who we are and what we want on a very profound level.

  27. Kat
    Kat says:

    It’s a lose-lose situation for women.

    I wish my mother had a career instead of being a stay home mom.

    Would you rather get welts from some babysitter or from your own mother?

    There will always be child soldiers.

    • Tanya Spacek
      Tanya Spacek says:

      THIS. Also, for every commenter relishing in the joys of unschooling at home while hubby makes bank: Just because this feels natural to you doesn’t mean eveey woman’s cut out for it. We are deeply influenced by society’s expectations of gender roles. High-five each other all you want, but don’t wedge me into your definition of a real woman, and then tell me and countless others that we’re denying our true natures because we don’t fit your narrative.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        Guess what?

        It wasn’t natural for me. I actually hated it. But you know what else? Children don’t wait. Skills can be learned, internally and externally, to do what needs to be done. I never thought I would unschool. I never thought I’d be a stay at home mom.

        Then I went to therapy and figured out the pieces missing from my life, from my past that was destroying a present I fought for, and put it back together. It’s not an easy road, parenting is not easy (I think this is where people err, into thinking that when parenting is hard it is ‘oh I’m just not cut out for this’) but when you start to look at how to better an area of life versus using blanket statements things can happen, feelings can change, and ultimately you can get what you want and even better, what you need.

        • Tanya
          Tanya says:

          My current narrative? Both my husband and I work outside the home. Our youngest is 15 and in high school.

          My former narrative? A single mom with no family support system, trying to work, go to school, and be there for two, and then three, children when I gained custody of my niece, all the while trying to process a traumatic childhood.

          I don’t have a problem with SAHM moms. I do have a problem with SAHM moms who judge women who don’t have a choice but to work outside the home. I do have a problem with SAHM moms who assert that unschooling is the best and how could any decent mother leave her child with strangers, because that is a direct judgment on women who struggle every day to be the breadwinner and the nurturer and doesn’t take into account that some children, like myself, are better off in school than in the home of an abusive SAHM. Lastly, I have a problem with our society in general, because we laud SAHMs unless they’re poor, then we call them welfare queens. We as a society judge women for working outside the home AND for not working outside the home. I wish our society would be more supportive of moms in general, and supportive of children who may need more than their parent/s can offer.

          I have no issue with SAHMs in general. While pregnant and ultimately fired from one job, I collected unemployment and got to work one-on-one with my older son who’d been diagnosed with PDD-NOS and take him to occ therapy and sensory therapy classes. I had to put him in daycare from time to time so I could job-hunt. Then unemployment ran out and I had to take a low-paying job working midnights. I had to pay a babysitter double shifts so I could work and sleep. I did what I had to do to keep a roof over our heads, and all-day childcare and then all-day kindergarten was essential. All the while, I had to put up with other moms in the school making shitty remarks about women who didn’t care enough to stay at home with their children. Of course, I heard these remarks while on class field trips that I skipped sleep for so I could be there for my kiddo.

          Can we all just support each other, and not pass judgment, and focus on children’s outcomes? Some may need formal schooling, Head Start, licensed daycare. Some may be great with unschooling. I don’t think an ideal society means having a full-time parent at home in all cases. I think an ideal society is a society that cares for its vulnerable populations with resources and a collective effort to make sure every kid has a chance no matter the background. I’m for SAHM, SAHD, daycare, public schooling, homeschooling, unschooling, Head Start, whatever gets the job done.

  28. J.
    J. says:

    There’s no freedom for women from social expectation. The expectations change, that’s it.

    Here’s what’s expected for women these days: Go to college whether you need to or not, rack up debt, sleep around, try to marry and have kids in your late 20s to mid 30s (if you’re lucky), keep working.

    Want to skip useless college, marry young, have your husband be the breadwinner, and raise your children at home? Nice try. Unless you’re from a very religious community (Orthodox Jew, Amish, etc.) everyone will tell you you’re wasting your life, and in any case there’s no social expectation for men to young, or marry at all anymore, so why should they? Let alone work hard to support a family.

    (This is thanks to a generation of women like Penelope’s mom going into the workforce and choosing to sleep with a bunch of hot guys without forcing them to commit.)

    The sexual and social choices of the majority of women affect *all* women. Some, like Penelope’s mom, were the malcontents under the traditional order of things. They get all the sympathy and praise. Other are unhappy under the current equalist feminist order. They don’t get all the sympathy and praise. Why not?

    Penelope gets it a lot more than most feminists, but not how she still uses the shocking and destructive imagery of a child soldier to describe the changes her mother’s generation brought.

  29. Eric
    Eric says:

    I can see from the comments that my life experience is not the norm. Growing up in the rural West, my parents did conform to traditional gender roles, but…my mom also helped my dad and worked in town. My dad was never caught in the act of relaxing or socializing when there was work to be done. It took everything they had to keep their heads above water. My dad’s fatherly advice to me was “a man’s job is to sacrifice for his family, and if your family doesn’t have what they need, it’s your problem.” It was a blessed childhood in many ways but obviously not the experience of most. The first time I heard about feminism I remember thinking “they should meet my mom, she’s always been equal. I wonder now if she actually felt that way or was it just my impression.

    • Tatyana
      Tatyana says:

      You are lucky, Eric. I think the example of your family needs to be as much a center of the discussion as examples of highly dysfunctional families, like the one Penelope described. Women should be able to choose what they do and how they do it, and if the enjoy doing it and are able to do it well, they feel accomplished. When women decide that they want to have children, they give up lots of other opportunities and as a result need to rely on their partner (making he bank) or the various systems (village raising kids, day cares etc).

  30. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I waited until the end of the day to comment. I was curious on what the reactions would be. I know I am in the minority of P’s (your) readers because of my beliefs and views.

    P’s Mom is not a hero.

    Sacrificing your child so you can work is not fighting for feminism. It is not paving the way. You can fight for a right without ignoring child abuse. It is simple selfishness.

    P’s mom did not have to work. She was not a single mom. There was not a reasonable excuse for her to work except she wanted to. P’s Dad had money, and he made money. She could have waited to fight for women for 6 years until her kids were in school. She didn’t have to settle.

    Parents should sacrifice. A child never should.

    I am very thankful for feminism because it created a way for single mom’s to survive. They could leave the abusive situations and afford to eat because of feminism. That is amazing. Sacrificing your children’s safety so you can pursue your dreams is disgusting.

    I grew up an only child to a single mom. My mother lived in a town where her income was limited, so she could have appropriate help with me. I know what sacrifice is. I am thankful my life wasn’t the offering.

    This isn’t a post about if you should or should not be a stay at home mom. This isn’t a post about if a man should be a stay at home Dad. And this isn’t a post about Feminism. It’s a post about the cost of two parents wanting to have their own way, and the price their child(ren) paid.

    Feminism is about allowing women the freedom to work if they need to, or stay home if they need to, with equality in the work force. I am thankful for the women who fought for this right.

    (P’s Dad is not off the hook. We already know he was abusing P so why would he care and no longer counts as a viable human being).

    • Tanya Spacek
      Tanya Spacek says:

      I also felt this was not an argument for feminism so much as an account of a grown-up feral child. I know my own. My mom, like Marc Maron’s, was a stay-at-home narcissist. I would have rather taken my chances with a sitter than endure her abuse, but she felt it was god-mandated that she stay home and beat me for spilling juice and generally being a kid. My takeaway from my experience was that no woman should be forced to do something she’s not fit for, or children will suffer.

      Also, I’m curious. To all the SAHMs, are you down with poor women being SAHMs? Because I hear a lot of complaints about welfare moms being takers, while upper-SES SAHMs are lauded for “putting their children first”.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        This question doesn’t seem very fair to ask. It’s like a straw man argument.

        I am a stay at home mom, I’m a human (sometimes), and I care about all these issues we are talking about, in my own way.

        I have NO expectations of anyone else. I only want others to see what is possible if they reject convention. Talking about our lives is not judging other people’s decisions and choices in life. I have a right to talk about how I live and the choices I have made just like everyone else does.

        Why on earth are you trying to paint sahm’s as heartless, soulless persons? We are not your mom.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            “To all the SAHMs, are you down with poor women being SAHMs? Because I hear a lot of complaints about welfare moms being takers, while upper-SES SAHMs are lauded for “putting their children first”.

            You are right, I’m not sure how to interpret the question.

        • Tanya
          Tanya says:

          To clarify: I’m asking how we as a society can reconcile this image of the best mom being the one who stays at home with her children, with that option generally only available to married middle-to-upper SES families, while simultaneously increasing welfare-to-work programs that hinder lower-income women from staying at home with their children. I’m not painting SAHMs as heartless or soulless by asking this, just trying to get SAHM opinions on women who are better at nurturing than working outside the home SAHMs but can’t do so without relying on TANF.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            My go to response, regardless if I am poor or middle class or upper class, is F*ck off. If someone has a problem with me that is their issue. People should stop caring so much about how others perceive them and do what is necessary for their own situation.

            You know what I mean? Who cares what society says you should do. Do what is best for YOU. OWN that choice. That is feminism.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            When I say OWN your choice I mean women need to realize that it is a choice. We cannot have it all, noone can. If your choice is to work, then go do that and be the best you can. If your choice is to have a family, stay home and be great at that. But choosing to work (for someone else) AND raise a family at the same time while expecting both to be super awesome is not realistic. The women with the awesome careers have like 20 helpers giving around the clock care to their children. The women who only stay at home do their best job work and find fulfillment in that. It’s not a war between us and them. It’s people that think they can be BOTH that are the ones complaining.

            I’m all for helping out poor mothers who want to stay at home, I consider our income taxes charity and it makes me happy that they can be helped temporarily.

      • mh
        mh says:

        I’m an unschooling parent, and I am absolutely in favor of lower SES women having the option to make their own choice to stay at home.

        Every choice has trade offs. Acknowledging and handling the trade offs is part of being a grown up ( and a feminist, I might add ).

        • Kelly
          Kelly says:

          There are no good answers to these questions in this current climate.
          I’m curious if those of you in support of lower SES mothers staying home have any idea what that actually looks like in America today? Yes, there are subsidies which assist with basic health care, housing and food, but they has been drastically cut, again and again and, I’m not sure how much choice any single mother has about working to support her children.
          Food stamps do not make it to the end of the month, and most people I’ve worked with express shame and humiliation at having to use food banks, soup kitchens and the charity of relatives to make up the difference. There is insurance for children, but providers are backlogged, and things like dental care and psychiatry can be waitlisted from 6 months to a year in some areas. As federal programs have been cut by congress, local governments have been forced to make up the difference in necessary programs, like fuel assistance for those who would freeze without it.
          Cuts have meant less “vital” programs like public transport has become more scarce, especially in smaller communities, making it harder to plan trips to the grocery store, physician, etc.
          Under these conditions, is staying home really a choice?
          In my experience ( in community mental health, so there is a slant) the lower SES mothers I knew would work, if they could. Living hand-to-mouth is barely survival. But most had complicating factors such as physical and mental health issues, addiction, PTSD, and a lack of resources which made it difficult.
          One example is illustrative of the problem: Despite a severe and chronic mental illness, ‘A’ , mother of one, obtained an advanced degree with the support of state services, tutoring, supportive family and good mental health resources. She had subsidized housing, food stamps and student loans. She applied for a part time position, because her role as a mother and her chronic illnesses were such she could not work full time or face a relapse. The only job she could get was as an assistant in her professional field, at a wage far below that expected for a woman with an advanced degree. One the first day at her job, she lost her housing subsidy, her food stamps, and her fuel assistance, and was handed a bill for $900 by the housing authority: more than her paycheck. Now she had childcare to think about. So she quit.
          And so it goes.

          • mh
            mh says:

            Is there any life circumstance we can agree the federal taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay for?

            If it’s important to me to become an NFL referee, but because of age and physical fitness I do not qualify, can I collect from the taxpayers? But what if it’s really, really important to me?

          • CristenH
            CristenH says:

            I’m trying to wrap my head around why questions of poverty are directed at the SAHM’s. How do I feel about poverty? Do I know what the reality is for others who’d like to stay home? Does anyone really care what I have to say? My choice was made deliberately, and not everyone has that option. I feel that this path is my contribution. There’s no picket sign, just me, giving some children a little more love, more patience, more kindness, than I had, or that I was able to give yesterday, or five minutes ago. This choice is no indictment of any other path, nor does exacerbate existing poverty. It’s just what feels right. People who choose to unschool tend to see that society is seriously messed up, and want to stop the cycle of submission. Should I put my kids in school and go to work because poverty keeps others from this path? Would that make me a better citizen, or improve the poverty epidemic?

      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        SAHMs are more likely to be low income and less educated. There was a Pew study last year about stay-at-home parenthood. 1/3 of SAHM live in poverty; 20 percent of SAHM are single mothers.

        Overall rise in SAH-motherhood stems from immigration. Latino and Asian immigrant families more likely to have a SAHM.

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        My takeaway from my experience was that no woman should be forced to do something she’s not fit for, or children will suffer.

        I think most women are fit to be moms; that being said they just need some help/therapy/less brainwashing/ more empowerment and yes, accountability. I’m really sorry you went through that, as I went through something similar. Years ago, non of these options were possible. So let’s celebrate the fact that as women in this day and age we can CHOSE to make better more informed choices regarding our lives. That’s what I appreciate about the women’s movement.

        Also, I’m curious. To all the SAHMs, are you down with poor women being SAHMs? Because I hear a lot of complaints about welfare moms being takers, while upper-SES SAHMs are lauded for “putting their children first”.

        I think that yes, some people have misplaced feelings around some people needing help such as welfare. I, being a SAHM, don’t mind at all that women need help in the form of welfare. I try to help in my own ways on a personal level when I do meet people in this circumstance, but I definitely support a social system that prioritizes mothers and children.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I love the idea of SAHMs using public assistance to stay at home. It’s a much better use of social services than school is. I think we should take all the money we put toward schools and give it to families so they can have a parent home with the kids all day.


        • kelly
          kelly says:

          Here’s the problem. Some mothers, like yours, aren’t suited to that, and some educators are gifted. Some schools are active, dynamic places where kids are still excited to learn. Some kids still need a safe haven from the hell the wake up in every day. If you take that away, what happens? No parent is capable of the specialized learning needed to educated kids if they should happen to prove gifted in an area that mom or did didn’t have an interest in. The gift of school is not only the ability to provide specialists, but also the ability to socialize with their peers, to get along with arbitrary and sometimes unreasonable bosses, and to understand that different people have different expectations.
          I agree that sometimes and for some kids, homeschooling can be fantastic. But I’ve also worked with a number of formerly homeschooled kids who vastly lacked academic, (math, grammar, current events, history, STEM) and socialization skills because the parents didn’t have the awareness of the energy to put into it. One well intentioned parent I know simply sat home and played minecraft with her daughter all day. For three years. Finally, the kid put her foot down and expressed that she was bored, lonely, missed her peers, missed science, and wanted to be in a real school. The parent was well intentioned (the kid has some significant health issues), but schools are not inherently evil. Every institution has problems, and our current propensity to test the life out of kids and teachers alike is a huge problem, but as a former educator, I can say that there are so many passionate and gifted educators out there who spend their own time, money and leisure trying to figure out how to make their subjects come alive for kids that I find this characterization of School as Evil to be harsh and unrealistic. As will all such discussions, it contains elements of truth. Kids get bullied. Bureaucracy sucks. But many kids thrive. There are programs in schools (music, arts, socialization, science, sports) that are beyond the capability of most parents to provide at home. For some kids, there is NO question in my mind that school is a better answer.

          • Tanya
            Tanya says:


            Yes, it’s so much more complex than striving to fit the ’50s ideal. I do feel that cutting help for low-income families while encouraging a “traditional” family unit only widens the gap for kids. For example, if people opposed to public school vote to cut school funding or things like all-day kindergarten because in their opinion everyone should be at home/un-schooling or they have this idea that since their kids don’t use the public resource they shouldn’t have to pay in, then kids not lucky enough to be born into a home where that can happen will suffer. Those kids are left to struggle along with none of the extras and frequently not all of the basics for achieving on the same level as kids born into wealthier or more stable homes. Only a lucky few will encounter a mentor or be able to rise above the chaos and fight against the current. It’s luck, not a result of hard work, to be born into a stable, nurturing environment. I think people forget that.

            Feminism didn’t screw over Penelope and her sibling, a SAHM mom with very traditional beliefs inflicted much of the same damage on me and my siblings.

  31. neha
    neha says:

    You are a feminist and you want to stay at home ..is good. Feminism is about choice.
    But are you ok with earning and working hard and letting your husband stay at home (by his choice, of course)? That is true feminism – choosing what you want to / not want to do, and not judging the other race for the choices they are making.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      That always bugged me about the assumption that a married woman would “keep house”. If the idea of a man staying home is laughable, what makes it less laughable for a woman? If a man is brave enough to step forward and buck society’s expectations and announce that he would be an excellent caregiver and housekeeper for a partner who wished to be the breadwinner, people scoff at his “laziness”. Rigid gender roles damage both women and men, to say nothing of the children who suffer from being raised in that environment with no idea that it can be different.

        • Tanya
          Tanya says:

          But they’re not gender differences. They’re human differences. Take away society’s constructs and you have people, just people, who are varying degrees of nurturing/ambitious/hardworking and so on.

  32. through my autistic eyes
    through my autistic eyes says:

    a child soldier all right, with battle scars to prove…

    hard to believe they asked if your husband would sign a letter saying you can work. translation: will your husband give his permission, like a minor who needs parental permission.

    as for the child abuser who discipline children with a hot iron – I always believed child abusers should be put against the wall and shot.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      You and me, both. As it is, my brother and sister scattered to the winds, and now our abusers sit alone in their house and rot in their old age. You get what you give.

  33. Marlowe
    Marlowe says:

    This post really resonates with me. I’m so glad to have you in my cyber world to offer some encouragement! My mom named me after a feminist icon of the 70’s…then left me to find herself on another continent! Ah…if only children had PACs… I’d like to think that the future of feminism would push entrepreneurial career paths that offer genuine options for families who don’t place the needs of one over those of many.

  34. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Wow, this is one of the most thought-provoking articles you have written in a long time.

    I remember once you said that you definitely are not a feminist but I think you are being too strict with your definition of feminism. It is okay to want to stay home with your kids AND want equal opportunities in the work place.

    The stories about your childhood are so sad to me and I can’t help but think about how this must influence your parenting today. Do you know that you wrote the sentence about your dad coming home late in the present tense? Perhaps you are being creative with your writing or perhaps that part of your life doesn’t feel like it is in the past. I think you are still trying to fix the mistakes of your parents with your own parenting and that is an impossible job. Your parents made serious mistakes, you cannot fix them.

  35. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Most women will always do what is expected.

    Back then they stayed at home, cooked and sewed, and smiled when hubby came home with Pleasantville’s: “Honey, I’m home!”

    Today women are expected to do well in school, go to college and make themselves available for sex and regret it afterward, have careers, have children, worry about work/life balance, talk about feminism and equality, and they do.

    Plus ca change.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      I am very glad to see that someone recognizes finally how most women are – the followers who do what is expected. Please reassess your reality – or maybe you live on another planet.

  36. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Good post Penelope. I wonder, though, if this pertains to feminism or shows what happens when two people who are unsuited for each other and parenthood marry and have children? I don’t know if I’d call it feminism or showing the effects of not being true to who you really are and how that impacts others.

    Also, how much of your mom’s choices were feminism and not a reaction to growing up impoverished? You say your mother only married to avoid going back to her impoverished family. I don’t think you’ve said how impoverished they were, but people carry the survival skills of poverty for a very long time, if not forever. Do you still have contact with anyone from her side of the family? How did they turn out?

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      “I don’t know if I’d call it feminism or showing the effects of not being true to who you really are and how that impacts others.”


  37. Summer Van Wagoner
    Summer Van Wagoner says:

    I was going to read this, but then I saw the article on how video game players are more successful in life and the entire site lost any credibility. There is not ONE person I know who would have classified themselves as a gamer as a kid, who isn’t still a gamer. Living with their parents, or driving their spouse crazy because they never grew up. Nice try, but no.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      My husband is a very successful engineering manager at SpaceX and he plays video games every night after he gets home. It helps him relax after a very stressful day. He is an amazing dad and on weekends he and the kids play video games together and I get some alone time. He also does all the house chores, cooks on the weekends, and does the grocery shopping. But it doesn’t sound like anything will change your mind so maybe I am just wasting time responding to you.

  38. Troyy
    Troyy says:

    What a sad story. My mom had me back around that time and I think for the same reasons (Vietnam).

    She loved me and did her best. I know because she raised my brother and I until we were close to graduating high school. Then she kinda fell apart I think?

    I don’t know if she realized her youth and dreams had escaped her or what but she must feel like she has nothing to hang her hat on, she divorced my cheating father and has lived off grandma and grandpa ever since.

    I learned a lot from mom good and bad. One of the things I learned was I would never marry a women who could not take care of herself. I found her.

    We raised our children together, she stayed at home. The boys became men and she became a Special Education Teacher.

    I watched her fight through a “Man’s” world and succeed. I know, I helped her. She did not achieve because of some innate feminism burning desire, she achieved because she was driven and every obstacle was just a stepping stone.

  39. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Interesting…but I think you’re missing the way families have been handling complexity for thousands of years. Grandmothers. I’ll even do a link: (excuse the Wikipedia, not looking up the news articles:) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandmother_hypothesis

    I was a SAHM for 8 years. When my mom retired, I went back to work. She watches my kids. They get cared for by someone who loves them. I get to work. My parents moved in with me. Are there challenges? Yes. Are they worth it? Yes. (And then you get back to getting to talk about figuring out how to have sex in a busy house.)

    I come from a farming family, although I’m two generations removed. The grandparents lived with someone and helped. They felt purpose. My 89yo grandmother had one of my cousin’s and her 6yo daughter move in. Living with that great-grandchild has perked my grandmother up more than anything – she seems 10 years younger.

    I am a feminist who chose to stay home. I am a feminist choosing to go back to work. I am just not a feminist who thinks you can do it all alone.

    • Tanya
      Tanya says:

      “I am just not a feminist who thinks you can do it all alone.”

      Agreed. And it gets sticky when the grandmother is a registered child abuser, but some kind of social support network is vital. How many working women are fired every day because daycare can’t take their sick child and so they must miss work and rack up points/occurrences? And it’s worse in lower-income job situations that are much less flexible or willing to work with employees. The woman is seen as a bad or unreliable worker, when it has more to do with the fact that our society is just not supportive of people who don’t already have supports in place–the people who need it most.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I see this so often — there’s a huge advantage that comes from having a grandmother in the home to care for the kids. (I say grandmother only because I have never heard of a grandfather taking this responsibility).

      As a parent of young kids I see so many of us going to great lengths to give our sons and daughters advantages later in life. But it’s so clear to me that the biggest advantage I could give them is to unselfishly move into their house, and raise their kids according to the rules and guidelines they give me. That would be a huge gift and would afford them so many more opportunities than most parent have.

      I’m just not sure I could do it. I wish I could do it. I just don’t know. It’s clear, though, that a grandmother in the house gives the parents of young kids incredible opportunities to have a very very full life.


  40. JB
    JB says:

    I’ll stay out of the arguments about who is/is not a feminist–I’m not sure what the word means, and I think the debate here proves that there is no 1 generally-accepted definition–and besides, there was another part of the post that caught my eye: “Just look at the US: we have little celebration for the institutions of the Founding Fathers: [such as]…libertarianism.”

    I interpret this as an acknowledgement that the US Constitution (as written) was pretty much a libertarian manifesto, written by people who had read their Plato and their Pliny (both of them) and their Plutarch, and knew what happened in societies which had tried all other forms of government. That was pretty much the all-time high-water mark of libertarianism; now it is vilified as an extremist philosophy fit only for kooks. When Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government had been created, he replied, “A republic–if you can keep it.” It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

  41. Uninformed Observer
    Uninformed Observer says:

    Responding to the notion that feminism is about being able to choose what to do with your own life:

    Hogwash. As a man, a father and husband, I don’t get to choose what I do with my own life. I have responsibilities. It’s the height of selfishness to say my own desires for fulfillment trump the needs of my family.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      It means we can choose to have a career, choose our responsibilities, choose to have a baby or not, choose to do nothing or something with our lives as women and the expectations of what we can and can’t do in society are changed. This empowers us to be more brave, when perhaps we wouldn’t have been, be more ambitious when we didn’t have the opportunities before and be more able, prepared, educated and liberated to take on those responsibilities. Men and Women have the same accountability when it comes to our decisions, it’s just that prior we didn’t have the ability to carve our own futures. Now we do.

  42. Eve
    Eve says:

    I fought for women to be bold enough to have a big career and then give it up for kids and be brave enough to suffer the shame of not earning their own money in a world that values money above everything else.
    Holy shit, Penelope. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. I’m typing this with my one-week-old son in my lap. He’s amazing. He is the most important thing in the world to me, and I would not put anything else ahead of him. I’m lucky that my husband is successful and that it’s looking like me being a SAHM will be a possibility for us, but I feel that shame. I feel ashamed not being able to say “I pay my way,” having to ask my husband for money every month. I feel shame over not pursuing the acting career that everyone expected of me, even though I had decided to quit that long before getting pregnant. I strongly believe that the most important thing is for my son to grow up loved and secure and nurtured, but it is a struggle sometimes.

    When we were talking about this I told my husband that I worried about my son not respecting women if his mother didn’t have a big career. He told me that his most feminist male friends are the ones who had SAHMs.

  43. jennifer
    jennifer says:

    I have a real problem with this, as a woman who put the children and my ex’s career first (relocating repeatedly) and now, at age 53, make 1/18th (and not a viable living wage) of what my soon to be ex does, said ex having had the finances to trounce me in court – I am facing decreasing spousal maintenance and a bar on any spousal maintenance past age 58?!!, and only enough assets to buy a modest apartment in a decidedly depressing area; this after a 21 year marriage to a man who makes reasonable money. My newly-entered line of work depends on financial support to be viable and I will shortly fall off the financial pier – I cannot picture any reasonable future for myself. My advice to young women – you cannot afford to put the children’s needs first.

    • Tatyana
      Tatyana says:

      This is a core of the problem. Women not having an option of putting children first without sacrificing much of their personal (not joint with a spouse) comfort. Low-income parents, especially mothers, also face this problem. Women can choose to work, or to raise children, but there is not socially guaranteed option to raise children for so many years and then go back to fully supporting ourselves.

    • Cindy
      Cindy says:

      Jennifer, I am so sorry for what you are experiencing. I was in your shoes. It’s so stressful and scary. I totally understand. As much as I believe a SAHM is a wonderful gift to the family unit, it is the woman who often ends up screwed if the marriage ends. I get it.

      May I suggest you look for opportunities to create income for yourself outside of the traditional job market. Being in your shoes was what prompted me to go into business for myself this last time 5 years ago.

      After a 25 year marriage, the last 7 of which I was a SAHM, I felt obsolete and unqualified for anything meaningful, as if the world passed me by. This does not have to mean a future of poverty for you. If you are a reader of this blog, you are an intelligent woman. You can make something different happen for yourself.

      I started my service business with very little money (we’re talking less than $100). It can be done. Think about your particular talents. Think about a service you can provide. Think about the types of things working people don’t want to do or don’t have the time for and would love to pay someone else to do. Create a business based on providing that service. Just a thought to get the wheels turning…..

      I wish you well. I know this is very difficult. You will be okay. Sending (((hugs)))

      • jen
        jen says:

        That was a beautiful response. I ditto it. Jennifer – The day is still young. I pray you feel the hope we are sending to you through these simple and remote keystrokes.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      You bring up good points. I understand your struggle is very real and painful.

      I do want to shine some hope on at-home parenting.

      I think it is possible to hone in on job-transferable skills while being a homemaker, as well as to acknowledge the useful, sought-after skills you use as a homemaker.

      For example, in the past years as a SAHM and while still being with my kids, because I needed the mental and organizational stimulation and sense of accomplishment apart from 24-7 parenting responsibilities, I created and organized a parenting expo, created homeschooling groups, created and maintained websites, did volunteer work for a local homeschooling organization, went to city meetings to advocate for changes I wanted to see.

      Additionally, after so many years, I’ve worked part time outside of the home (do this during the other parent’s custody time or child care swap with another at-home parent if you don’t have relatives to help). This gives you income to file taxes with, and if you are low-income, the tax return can be helpful.

      My own mother stayed at home with 4 kids right out of high school for almost 30 years. Once the youngest was an adult, she divorced my dad and was able to get a full-time livable income job and later married someone new. She didn’t even do what I suggested above, either.

      You should be able to get college grants to get some sort of training. Also, dig deep to figure out what independent contracting work you can do and start marketing yourself.

      I think it also helps to streamline and simplify ones life. Having a minimalistic / capsule wardrobe enables you to look and feel good with very few clothes. Some churches offer once-a-week free clothes shopping with donated clothes. Not having a bunch of stuff frees up physical and mental energy. I think a lot of people feel like they have to keep up with the Joneses even when they don’t have much money. Getting rid of the TV (and social media) helps to not feel like crap–same with relationships that drag you down.

      Annie Brewer of ‘annienygma.com’ is a single mom living very frugally and as an at-home mom who enjoys life. She’s very inspiring.

      Believing in ourselves is pretty huge. I’ve read a lot of books on loving myself and watch a lot of youtubes by people who inspire me (Abraham Hicks and Byron Katie) which have helped me tremendously.

      I’m happy to talk or email with anyone who needs emotional support for staying home with kids.

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