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Redefining the stay-at-home mom stereotype


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Illustration by Patricia Tompkins
By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 29, 2005
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Recently, The New York Times reported on the phenomenon of young Ivy League women intent on finishing undergraduate and graduate studies, launching their careers and then casting aside such plans to become stay-at-home mothers.

Wait; this notion appears counterintuitive in accordance with the women's rights movement, because for decades, women resiliently cried for advanced opportunities in lieu of the sole position of mother.

But this shouldn't be viewed as a stopping point for gender equality in society. Instead, the decision that these women are making should be regarded as the freedom to make personal choices regarding their futures.

Out of 138 Ivy League freshmen and senior students' responses in an interview, roughly 60 percent plan to cut back on work or stop working entirely after having children.

One important angle to consider is the fact that these women are attempting to act more realistically, as opposed to the many women who try to balance full-time work with child rearing.

Before feminists begin decrying such a mindset as an affront to women's rights, it's vital to evaluate the benefits of cultivating educated mothers.

Traditionally, women in Western culture have embraced (willingly or not) the dutiful mother role within the dominant patriarchal family. But, following the end of the American Revolution, this novel idea (dubbed "republican motherhood") emerged as both a catalyst for women's right and an inhibitor of progress.

The basic premise revolves around the idea that women should rear children in order to promote the new values of liberty and democracy in order to ensure the children's steadfast loyalty to the new American way.

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Katie Paulson
columnist

But while this republican motherhood allowed women to further their influence over familial life, at the same time it continued to render them capable of only raising children. Unfortunately, this premise is a tad paradoxical.

Now we're revisiting this same set of idealistic principles, but with a modern twist. Because of battles taken on by such greats as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and others, women today have vastly more possibilities in terms of education, careers and lifestyle choices.

Furthermore, women are embracing the gifts set before them. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, for freshmen entering college in October 2004, the enrollment rate of women reached 71.6 percent, which looms over men's 61.4 percent.

With this knowledge, it's clear that women in general are taking more steps in order to reach their educational goals. How can this bring a new feministic twist to motherhood?

First, educated mothers have greater influence, persuasion and resources than non-educated mothers. Women with college degrees have vast amounts of knowledge not only in the educational realm but relating to social interactions and financial obligations.

Moreover, educated women who embrace the stay-at-home position have the power to revolutionize the stereotypes associated with the role. Mothers who decide to raise the children instead of working full-time often face scrutiny in regard to their social standing (they're seen more as a second- or even third-class citizens), their ability to adapt to real world situations and their loss of future possibilities.

Some feminists might view this scenario as a regression of women's rights. Yet, it should be applauded as a step forward, because today women have a choice. Some families rely on dual parental incomes and cannot afford to allow either parent to maintain continuous watch over the children.

It's also important to acknowledge that the role of the home parent shouldn't necessarily be restricted to the woman. Fathers are receiving more lenience from companies in order to spend time at home on a paternity leave. Some fathers even end their careers in order to raise the children while the mother works.

Because of the rise of non-traditional families, any individual willing to make that commitment can fill this role. For instance, same-sex couples raise children without conforming to the standard mother and father roles.

Assuming the educated modern woman fills the role of stay-at-home parent, she now has the power to affect her community in ways that she would not have been able to before.

This shouldn't be an issue that is associated with one ideology or another. This isn't about crushing the progress of feminists. Today's women have the ability to mold the negative connotations of stay-at-home mom into leadership positions beyond individual families and spanning to societies across the world.

Besides, for those who believe that working with children doesn't qualify as a full-time job, believe me: You'll understand some day.

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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