Is the economy humming along so terrifically that women are once again fantasizing about dropping out of the workforce? It seems so, judging by the rise of female voices nostalgic for traditional womanhood. The latest in this chorus is the cover story in New York magazine, "The Feminist Housewife: Can Women Have It All by Choosing to Stay at Home?"
The article by Lisa Miller starts with a profile of Kelly Makino, 33, who gave up her job with a nonprofit organization to mind the homefront. Makino, writes Miller, "believes that every household needs one primary caretaker," and that women are generally "better at that job than men." It goes on:
The maternal instinct is a real thing, Kelly argues: Girls play with dolls from childhood, so “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully. When we are moms, we have a better toolbox.” Women, she believes, are conditioned to be more patient with children, to be better multitaskers, to be more tolerant of the quotidian grind of playdates and temper tantrums. . . .
As a parent who's experienced the existential emptiness of countless playdates, I can assure you that not all women share those sentiments.
Interestingly, Makino calls herself a "feminist" who wants her daughter "to be able to do anything she wants." She adds: "But I also want to say, 'Have a career that you can walk away from at the drop of a hat.'"
To that, I can only respond: Seriously? Do you want to tell your daughter that she can just trash her career" at the drop of a hat"? That's empowering.
But what I find troubling isn't so much Makino's individual choice, but the suggestion that a return to traditional gender roles is somehow the right thing to do:
What was once feminist blasphemy is now conventional wisdom: Generally speaking, mothers instinctively want to devote themselves to home more than fathers do. . . . For some women, the solution to resolving the long-running tensions between work and life is not more parent-friendly offices or savvier career moves but the full embrace of domesticity.
The article says there are statistics to back this trend: "The number of stay-at-home mothers rose incrementally between 2010 and 2011, for the first time since the downturn of 2008." Moreover, it states that Mormonism and Orthodox Judaism, which both "clearly define gender roles along traditional lines, represent "two of the fastest-growing religious movements in America."
Of course, New York isn't shining a light on Mormon and Orthodox Jewish women. As always, its focus is on hip urbanites, who have their own version of traditional motherhood. They don't want to be the type of stay-at-home-mom who takes shortcuts, like whipping up casseroles with Campbell's cream of chicken soup. No, they aim for something much more demanding:
These women . . . are elevating homemaking to an art, crocheting baby hats, slow-roasting strawberries for after-school snacks (“tastes like Twizzlers!”), and making their own laundry soap from scratch.
Is that where we are now? Recreating the rigors of life on Little House on the Prairie in some gut-renovated brownstone in Brooklyn?
So that's the new phase of feminism! How wonderful.
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