Recent economic forecasts left Australia with a warning: End extended stay-at-home motherhood or face economic decline.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a transgovernmental group tasked with measuring international economic growth, concluded in March that Australia would face a labor shortage if mothers with school-aged children did not join the workforce.
Daily Telegraph columnist Sarrah Le Marquand agreed. It’s time, she argued, to ban stay-at-home parenting for school-aged children.
“Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that ‘feminism is about choice’ is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history,” she said.
In light of a decades-long push for women to eliminate the stereotypes Marquand referenced, the columnist’s exhortation for actualizing workplace equality should come as no surprise. What is a surprise, and an encouragement, is the pushback she received from those around the world who still value women’s freedom to choose whether to enter the workplace.
Following Marquand’s logic, if women should be equal but fail to achieve equality themselves, then society should help them realize it.
This logic underpins the approach of many international leaders, who seek to inspire young women to consider leaving marriage and the home to pursue equality in the workplace. On International Women’s Day last month, U.N. Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka delivered a speech advocating increased exposure to male-dominated careers.
“Across the world, too many women and girls spend too many hours on household responsibilities — typically more than double the time spent by men and boys,” she said. “We must construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science.”
More astonishing however, are the voices raised against Marquand’s proposition.
“Right on cue, hysteria ensued with commentators from coast to coast howling in indignation at the very idea that the uppity OECD would insinuate Australia might have a tiny bit of a problem with our female participation rates,” Marquand wrote.
A member of the hysteria, Australian television personality Ben Fordham, said reading the article made him furious because of the positive impact his wife has had on their two children after deciding to leave television herself.
“What that does to her career trajectory as far as work-life is concerned, is so hard. I cannot imagine what that would be like for me, and then I think about the impact on our children that it’s had having her home. I mean, what’s more important? There will be no economy if there are no future generations.”
Not only do stay-at-home mothers contribute to raising the next generation, they also contribute to communities.
“The stay-at-home mothers I know are there, and they’re helping other mothers,” Vanderbilt University professor of law Carol Swain said. “They volunteer at the schools, they are the monitors on the field trips, some of them are taking care of their parents. They’re actually contributing a lot to the communities.”
American author Suzanne Venker also argued, that contrary to Marquand’s assumption, most women do not care about equality in the workplace.
“As long as women with children put family first, feminists’ utopian vision for gender equality — where 50 percent of women hold top corporate and government positions right along with men — will never be achieved,” Venker wrote. “The mistake is thinking most women care. The research shows, unequivocally, that they do not.”
In the face of federal initiatives and feminist leaders telling women what to do with their lives, it is a pleasant surprise to see women, and men, who are still willing to voice arguments in favor of women’s choice to join the workplace.
Perhaps, the “howling” ultimately proves that women reject the notion that equality ought to be defined and achieved for them, rather than proving they don’t value it. If women have the intellect and the capability of equality in the workplace, as Marquand suggests, shouldn’t they be capable of achieving it for themselves?
So keep up the hysteria, mothers and fathers and believers in workplace freedom. Your voice is a relief because it means women will not be condemned to an engineer’s office just as they will not be condemned to a nursery. Your voice means that if women achieve equality in the workplace, it will be by their own hands and merits — not because of expectations thrust upon them.
Ms. Mork is a senior studying politics and journalism.