I attended Hillary Clinton's campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Saturday September 5, where she kicked off her "Women for Hillary" campaign. There is no doubt Hillary Clinton is a polished speaker. And America is in desperate need for a female voice in the Oval office. And if applying for the job of being president is like any other job application, Hillary's credentials and experience outshine the other candidates. But when she talked about how childcare is a women's issue my heart sank.
In my work with mothers and daughters, I see the negative consequences of childcare and caring for the sick being seen as women's work. I see how this thinking perpetuates gender inequality. How it heaps unreasonable amounts of responsibility on women's shoulders as they try to "do it all" without the conversation that inquires after and honors what mothers need in a much broader sense than just childcare arrangements. And I also wondered, where do the mothers who forfeit their financial well-being to stay home with their children fit into the conversation about "childcare being a women's issue"?
I felt frustrated as I listened to Hillary reassure the mainly female audience who had gathered on this sweltering Saturday morning that she understood their issues, because I'm not sure she does. It may feel good to hear a politician say that she understands that mothers have childcare issues, because they clearly do. But the answer to this problem is not found through the continuation of the gender divide that places childcare as the mother's primary responsibility.
Erica Jong writes in What Do Women Want? that women will not enjoy gender equality until we "solve the basic problem that afflicts us all -- who will help to raise the children."
This was the central question of my grandmother's life, my mother's life, and my life when I became a mother. And in my family, like many others, it was women who were expected to find the answer. The men in my family were not expected to take their equal share of responsibility in taking care of and raising their children.
My father was a traditional father who brought home the money and mom was expected to do everything else. And that was the gender split my husband grew up with as well. The problem with this was that it made my mother, grandmother and my mother-in-law invisible as people. Who they were as people was not seen or inquired after because their entire life purpose was to take care of their family. And because childcare was hard to find in their day, these educated women had little choice but to stay at home, whereas I believe that my mother would have fared much better emotionally if she had a job to go to.
Since my mother's day feminism has fought for women to enter the workforce. But because we have not solved the problem of who will help raise the children, and we still view mothers as the main person for the job, our daughters have inherited a world that believes mothers should "do it all in order to have it all."
Many mothers are suffering from unsustainable levels of stress and role overload. Their careers are still suffering because they are seen as not entirely committed to the job because they have their families to worry about. And mothers who stay at home to look after their children are not brought into the conversation because they do not appear to need childcare arrangements.
This is not the world I want my daughter to inherit. I do not want her to believe that she alone is responsible to take care for any children she may choose to have in the future. I want her to inherit a society where politicians, religious leaders, and companies understand that mothers and fathers are equally responsible to provide the care their children need. I want her to know that being caring and nurturing is a human quality, not just a female quality. And I want her to be with a husband who understands that caring for his children, and his wife and family, is a manly thing to do.
I would have felt so much better if Hillary had communicated that she understood that childcare and caring for our families and each other should not fall solely on women's shoulders. That she understood how this thinking harms women's emotional wellbeing, their equal rights, and their financial wellbeing. And that as a society we need a paradigm shift where old outdated gender beliefs are challenged and changed so that we create a world that cares for its young and treats mothers as people first.