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  • Homeschooling and Feminism

    Filed at 2:26 pm under by dcobranchi

    It’s not a brand new book, but if you want to read more about “maternal desire as a central feature of women’s identity” (from the jacket), pick up Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life by Daphne de Marneffe (2004). This book affirms and explains mothers’ desires to focus on nurturing their children as a positive, empowering choice and an experience that encompasses growth and creativity for women. De Marneffe doesn’t dismiss feminism (in fact she uses it as a framework, devoting a lot of time to explaining its history and various permutations) or mothers who work outside the home, but she also demonstrates that feminists and mothers who work outside the home should not dismiss women who are spending generous amounts of time nurturing their children. And somehow, miraculously, she does not succumb to The Mommy Wars.

    Contrast this with another 2004 book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. They don’t get it. They figure that homeschool moms are homeschooling as an ultimate expression of momism – by raising the stakes of raising children to levels that are impossible for most women to achieve, in order to create kids that can out-perform everyone else’s kids. (The fact that some homeschooled kids outperform some schooled kids is, for my homeschool mom colleagues, a sort of nice unintended consequence, but far from the goal these women have for themselves or their children. A good thing, too, since some homeschooled children don’t outperform some schooled children). I actually cringed as I read their misunderstandings and misrepresentations of homeschooling mothers.

    They also fall into the oppression trap. If I am so oppressed, why is it that even though I can do whatever I want in the world, have the education, confidence, professional experience, economic ability and power to do so, I still choose to focus on nurturing my family? I know, I know, they have answers for that too – from cultural expectations to my being a sell-out to religious tradition to my husband’s (now) higher earning power to patriarchy. But it is de Marneffe (the Maternal Desire author) who has the answers that ring true for me, without sentimentalizing motherhood or underplaying its challenges or ignoring the very real economic considerations and professional ambitions that are also part of mothers’ realities.

    Among those answers for me is de Marneffe’s explanation that many mothers at home are nurturing children because of “…a mother’s belief that her presence will help, rather than hinder, her child’s ability to feel and acknowledge his full range of feelings. And in creating that environment, she is enacting one of her OWN most valued goals” (page 142).

    And, as Marjorie has said over at Life Without School in her post “What If I’m Not Wasting My JD?”, “Perhaps it’s possible that the ‘wealthiest, most-privileged, best-educated’ women (who are absent) from the market economy. . . are looking for something better than what the corporate world has to offer. Maybe these at-home mommies are the real risk-takers, betting that their careers and their lives are better off for the path they are taking (setting aside any argument about how they feel about their children and what they think is best for them).”

    Homeschooling and being a mother at home can be positive situations for women to develop self-fulfillment, experience creative power, and seek self-actualization. Equality feminists have often missed or dismissed this reality, somehow overlooking (dare I say oppressing?) and often condemning homeschoolers, who are undoubtedly part of a powerful, effective and radical women’s movement.

    8 Responses to “Homeschooling and Feminism”

    Comment by
    September 22nd, 2006
    at 4:37 pm

    Ho, ho! The library has it! (and the overdue books should be checked in by now, so now I can go pay my fine and get underway again)

    Thanks for the tip, Jeanne!

    Comment by
    Daryl Cobranchi
    September 23rd, 2006
    at 6:19 am

    Joanne Jacobs posts about some more reports from the front.

    Comment by
    September 23rd, 2006
    at 8:49 pm

    “…feminists and mothers who work outside the home should not dismiss women who are spending generous amounts of time nurturing their children.”

    You kind of lost me there. Why the implication that “feminists” are a different group than “women who are spending generous amounts of time nurturing their children”?

    Comment by
    September 23rd, 2006
    at 9:52 pm

    No implication. Feminists are not necesarily a different group than “women who are spending generous amounts of time nurturing their children.”

    However, I’d wager that many of these women would regard themselves as “choice feminists” rather than “equality feminists,” or they might embrace the newly-emerging term “maternal feminists.”

    And that is NOT okay with some feminists, like Linda Hirschman, who, in her American Prospect article, pretty much lambasted women who make the choice to be at home with children, saying,
    “We care because what they do is bad for them, is certainly bad for society, and is widely imitated. . . . ” And, it certainly seen as bad by the authors of The Mommy Myth as well. There is plenty of feminist material out there that does criticize stay-at-home moms as sell-outs, fear-of-success-types, as willing to submit to patriarchy, too weak to assert themselves, victims of culture/religion etc. Many feminists who choose staying home with children to the extent I’m talking about probably have to have some kind of re-examination of how their relationship to feminism makes room for themselves — powerful, joyful, creative, fulfilled women who prefer not to outsource their kids, but want to care for them first-hand, in their own families.

    So, at least *some* feminists don’t want us. And just to make things tricky, some homeschoolers don’t want us — or at least the label “feminist” — either, since there is a strong current among some homeschoolers (and some non-homeschoolers) that feminists = “feminazis.” I believe a feminist identity would be strongly rejected by some of those strong women, for whom religious and cultural identities make it very important that they claim traditional gender roles without any nod to feminism.

    So I guess to sum up my observations — not all homeschool moms would consider themselves feminists, not all feminists would consider (any?) homeschool moms feminist, not all homeschool moms who consider themselves feminists would fit the mold of some definitions of feminism, not all feminists would consider (all/some — choose one) homeschool moms to not be feminists. (Add your own “not all” statement to further confuse the issue). And many of us are feminists.

    Guess I need a Venn Diagram.

    Really, I love to explore this topic, and enjoyed the very positive response I got speaking on it at a homeschool conference recently. But de Marneffe’s book covers the bases far more expertly – and definitely without the implication that feminists are necessarily a different group than “women who are spending generous amounts of time nurturing their children.”

    A couple of other related articles on the net are Isabel Lyman’s “Motherhood Gets a Facelift” from The New American, Peter Cook’s “Feminism, childcare and family mental health: have women been misled by equality feminism?” at naturalchild.com, and Wendy McElroys “Can a Feminist Homeschool Her Child?” at the Foundation for Economic Freedom.

    There are others, but that’ll keep us going.

    Comment by
    September 24th, 2006
    at 4:35 pm

    Maybe our response to such articles, blogs, books, etc., should be the simple truth: Many of us long-time feminists define feminism as “the freedom to live according to one’s beliefs, goals, and abilities rather than according to arbitrary societal dictates.”

    Or, putting it in fewer words, “the freedom to choose.”

    I chose to stay at home, when I had that luxury available. I never had to “second-think” myself. I guess that’s because I never believed those dopes who insisted that I “had to” be this or that, or whatever was fashionable in their circles.

    Comment by
    Nance Confer
    September 24th, 2006
    at 6:48 pm

    Thanks for all the “not all” statements, Jeanne. That diverse confusion is just what so many people don’t get about hsers — or any other group, I guess. “Not all” Democrats. . . etc.


    Comment by
    JJ Ross
    September 25th, 2006
    at 9:14 am

    Reminds me of April 05’s news story about Ms Wheelchair being stripped of her title when she stood briefly for a photograph with her students; although clearly representative of women for whom a wheelchair or scooter is daily reality, she still –like every woman I know!– was vulnerable to the charge that she wasn’t quite stereotypical enough.

    Comment by
    Carolyn Smith
    September 25th, 2006
    at 12:41 pm

    The way I look at it, homeschooling as a choice is an expression of the ultimate independence of a woman. I mean, what a risk it is! It is definitely not the easy way out! Everyone thinks we are nuts, we are out there on our own in a lot of places walking a decidedly different and outwardly less comfortable path than most choose, and rather than delegating our children’s education, we are placing ourselves in a take charge position and ‘doing it ourselves’. I find it one of the most rewarding things I have ever done!
    It always amazes me that many vocal feminists at my husbands place of employment(academia at a university) look incredulous when he says we homeschool and act as if he is some kind of controlling monster keeping his children and their mother chained to the kitchen table. ( He actually had nothing to do with the decision, although is quite supportive!)—