The main belief underlying feminism is that women are treated unequally in society. One particular idea is that much of the work that women do is domestic labour and this is neither recognised nor paid. However, financial freedom leads to more choices and when ‘women’s work’ is not paid they are left with fewer choices in life.
A large part of the feminist movement has been a move towards giving women greater access to education and work – moving them out of the domestic domain – and encouraging women to be more in control of their lives. As feminists we have made great progress but we still have far to go and feminists everywhere continue to fight for this. Men, who generally have unrestricted access to the things women fight for, seem to have limitless choice and their freedom appears guaranteed.
However, there is a hidden aspect to unequal gender relations that is not easily acknowledged for men. This is the disadvantages men experience in the current gender relations. While this thought may seem shocking, they do not have as many choices as it first appears.
Men are encumbered with the responsibility of providing financially for their families. Many men feel trapped in a cycle of work that they do not enjoy, because it provides them with money and status. It seems like many men are afraid to give this up even though they may wish for a different kind of work, perhaps one that pays less, or not at all, such as being a stay-at–home father. However, some men are able to (in whispered tones) share their wish to be more involved in the lives of their partners and children, and also to have less financial pressure. Many men are not able to admit this, but live with a deep sense of dissatisfaction that they cannot name.
Women may also find this hard to acknowledge. We have fought so hard for many of the opportunities that men so easily have access to and perhaps we overlook the benefits that our position can offer us. Despite the struggles of being a stay-at-home mom (lack of financial freedom, the guilt) or being a working mother (double the work, the guilt) women are often able to be very involved in their children’s lives. Meanwhile this is very difficult, even impossible, for most men.
However, it is important to note that these preferences are dependent on the person and not the gender. Many men love working, as do many women. There are also a great number of happy women who stay at home or juggle work and family. However, for those that want something outside of their gender roles this can be hard to achieve. Lots of men would be afraid to not work because of the societal expectation that they do. Men who are able to break the mould and stay at home may have to face feeling emasculated in a society that does not give enough value to the work a parent does.
Therefore, this becomes a societal problem, and not just a gender problem. As long as domestic work, and parenting, is not recognised for the value it holds and therefore it is not financially reimbursed, many people (men and women) who would love to stay at home are forced to work. As a society we all lose out.
Women are, happily or unhappily, doing jobs that continue to be underpaid, or they stay at home and their financial freedom is limited. Meanwhile, men are away from their families for the majority of the time in order to support them. Most importantly, children are being raised by one parent, who may be unhappy with this role, or being raised by a stranger and being deprived of the nurturance and care of the people who love them the most.
Kyla Maimon Edinburg is a clinical psychologist working in the community clinics. She has a special interest in gender relations.