Last fall I was teaching a gender studies affiliated writing class at USC while I was visibly pregnant. We had a class discussion on the need for maternity leave and childcare and one of my students, a guy, said, "It's not that I don't think this is important, but why is it more important than say the economy or health care or any other issue?" On the spot, I said, "Easy for you to say. It gets pretty important when you're pregnant." Some day he'll probably have a wife and his family will have to deal with choosing between living precariously on one income (and her taking time out from her career) or putting his children in prohibitively expensive day care. But how do we get him and his female counterparts to care about mom issues before they are confronted with them? Furthermore, how do we get women and men who choose to not have children to care? And when people are confronted with these issues, how do we get them to connect it to feminism?
As a culture, we're obsessed with our own self-interest. Aronowitz is right on when she says of Americans that "your family is 'your business.'" Somehow liberty and independence trumped community and family in American culture and the result is hostile to mothers, fathers, children, families, seniors, or pretty much anyone other than well-off singles and childless couples. It's a tough sell to get an 18-year-old to care about family issues. It's a tough sell to get anybody other than moms and moms-to-be to care about family issues. Most adults even don't know that maternity leave is almost extinct in the United States. Over and over I've been asked how I'm enjoying my leave. I don't have leave. I simply wasn't asked to teach during the term that I was due to give birth. And I probably won't be asked back in the fall either, not that I could afford childcare anyway.
When I explained this to my students last fall most of them shrugged it off, chalked it up to my poor planning. And indeed, I did choose to start having kids at the relatively young (for a professional woman in the city) age of 29. I know, it's not really young at all in the grand scheme of things, but my husband and I are not “established.” We live in a rented cottage in an iffy neighborhood. We didn't wait to have kids because my the time we make enough money to own a home and live decently on one income, I'll probably be too old. Actually, it will probably never happen. So now my husband and I are dealing with all the ways our culture shortchanges parents and we're doing it while living 400 miles away from our nearest family members.
I share Aronowitz's concern that mommy bloggers aren't flying the feminist flag, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. We need young feminists, old feminists, non-feminists and everyone to see that our culture is making motherhood a private struggle that is being medicalized, commericalized, and innovated past the point of meaning. Americans have become accustomed to thinking of motherhood as a trial, but with some activism and support, it could be a joy again.