If the able women of 70 or 100 years ago entered classrooms and hospital wards merely because nothing else was available, they would have brought little commitment to their work, and greater choice would clearly have benefited them and society alike.
What a load of crap! People who find pleasure in working hard and doing a good job (which is most of us, if we stop and consider) will find enjoyment from any number of tasks. I was very happy as a lab technician, and I could imagine being being just as happy teaching in highschool or junior high as I am being a poor starving grad student. There are a multitude of things I am good at that I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life. And I am hardly unique among women.
Yet the virtual disappearance of home-based, educated women (at least below the age of 60) has had an effect. A path once followed by able women across the developed world led to university, teaching and then motherhood, homemaking and voluntary work. Such women are now too busy. The average amount of time that today's British citizen, male or female, devotes to volunteer activities is four minutes a day.
The old unpaid female labour force is now otherwise engaged. Ask the Girl Guides if you doubt this. Scouting and guiding are themselves redolent of that vanished past. Yet Robert Baden-Powell understood exactly what excites and interests children, and the movement has them queuing, often vainly, at the door. What it lacks are adult leaders.
Okay, so, why not ask where the men are too? My church does a bang-up job of getting enough volunteers to fulfill these sorts of duties by asking all members to contribute. Volunteers are still probably mostly women, but the men are not left out of the picture at all.
I'm still reading Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood (which is an excellent read so far) in preparation for a book club discussion of the book over at FMH. It's an excellent read, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
I have always considered myself a feminist, and never thought "feminism" was a dirty word. I have to admit, though, for a long time I looked down on the stay at home mom as a sell-out to feminism. Through my association with FMH, and through watching my friends who now have babies I've come to, perhaps grudgingly, accept the choice of becoming a SAHM as a valid feminist choice. This book was quite a wake-up call to me. It points out that we've made great strides in that women are, indeed, equal to men in the workplace--as long as they act like men. Once babies come along, though, the situation changes and women find themselves on the proverbial short end of the stick.
I loved the chapter on Sweden (I don't have the book in front of me, so identifying it more precisely will have to wait!). I think it's very true that the solution to working mother's issues will only come when both men and women are aware of them, and contributing to the solution: raising children. Somewhere else in the book (and again, I'll have to look it up later) Crittenden points out that the choice of husband is the most important choice a career-oriented woman can make. Find a guy who is willing to help out with kids and you can manage both. Marry a guy who doesn't contribute to child rearing, and all of that work will fall on the woman, which, in most cases, will force the woman out of the workforce and into the home. Here's to hoping I married well!