Thursday, 29 January 2009

Changing my attitudes...

Having never been particularly affected by either feminism or sexism, I have tootled along for most of my existence completely oblivious to the two concepts. However, as I think about it more and more (and study it intensely for university), I'm finding myself drawn to feminism. However, I do have concerns about some feminist issues, particularly the gender gap in pay.

Women still don't earn as much as men, particularly if they bring up children. But is this 'bringing up children' qualification an important point? As a mother myself I feel quite strongly about being there for my daughter as she grows up, particularly while she is below school age. I don't want another person bringing up my daughter, I want to have a direct and fulfilling influence upon her in her formative years, which takes me out of the job market for at least 3 years, preferably 4. However, as a university student, I have outlaid a huge amount of (borrowed) money to get myself an in-depth education in linguistics. I have nearly finished my degree and my daughter is now 18 months old. Unfortunately, staying out of employment keeps my debt growing to the kind of level where I can't even conceive the amount of money I owe.

But this is the literal price I am paying for wanting the best of both worlds. I am not the kind of woman who is driven by career aspirations, I am much more a mother than a worker. However, I will not deny that I am also driven by intellectual achievement. Thus I am going to want to work, in some capacity, at some point. If we hadn't had our daughter we would be 3 years better off financially. So do we deserve to earn as much as if we hadn't had a baby? I doubt many people would be convinced by an argument for this stance, after all, it was our decision to have a child. Knowing full well our values and opinions on raising children, it should have been a sacrifice we had factored into the decision.

However, it shouldn't be the case that women are disadvantaged because of having children, if they feel they have to go back to work asap to keep their job, or if they have to give up breastfeeding because they have to work in order to feed the family. My situation is lucky, I haven't got a job to lose. But never mind the mothers, what about those children losing out on a family environment because parents (and grandparents!) have to work?

Is this women's lib? Going back to work, leaving your child in an extortionate nursery? Is the world forcing women to lose perspective on their priorities? Of course, for many women their career is an important part of their life, but if they decide to have children, surely there should be a shift in focus? Perhaps a loss in earnings is a suitable price to pay for the knowledge that you have provided a strong parental influence in their early years. Notwithstanding, men are equally as capable as women at bringing up their children, and I applaud men who chose to do this, but with young babies, breastfeeding is also a factor that should be considered.

Now, it's perfectly acceptable for people to jump up and shout me down with arguments like 'but I can't afford to stay at home and bring up my child.' I know I've been extremely lucky to have a partner who can support us all. But, consider this: we live within our means. We choose not to have another child because we could not afford to provide for another and we choose not to spend lots of money on ourselves.

So, with all this in mind, I still feel drawn to feminism, but with a traditional slant. I want to stay at home and look after my daughter, but I also want to have the chance to earn an equivalent wage to my partner. However, I don't believe I should automatically expect to earn as much as him over my whole working life. He is already working and is obviously going to have earned more money than me. It is my choice to stay at home and I will bear the costs. The only issue I have is having access to an equivalent basic pension, for which there is already a system in place. Obviously, all situations are different and this is a very personal perspective on a personal situation. I acknowledge I'm speaking from a highly privileged position and welcome alternative views on the issue.