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The 'feminist housewife' vs. Beyonce

March 20, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
(Gianluca Foli / For The Times )

New York magazine’s article “The Retro Wife,” about how self-described feminists are bucking their NYC careers in favor of becoming stay-at-home moms, has ignited a fierce debate online.

Is feminism the opportunity to make the choice between having career or becoming a SAHM? Or is feminism the pursuit of equality, in which both men and women have the same opportunities in the workplace? Or has the concept morphed into a hybrid of both? If a woman chooses to pursue a career, her gender shouldn’t become an obstacle, whether she has children or not -- just like her male colleagues. But if she chooses to stay at home, we should support the decision -- just as we should when men become stay-at-home dads.   

Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey isn’t buying the whole "feminist housewife" trend. And not just because New York mag profiled only two women. ("The golden rule of journalism is that three makes a trend," Morrissey wrote as an aside. Slate concurs.) She’s saying that Kelly Makino, one of the two women profiled, is a study in "internalized sexism." Just because she describes herself as a feminist and a "flaming liberal" doesn’t make it so, Morrissey says.

I didn’t get that sense from reading the article. Like some of my friends who’ve been discussing the  article on Facebook, I saw an ambitious woman who felt so stretched between work and family that she chose to put her career on hold to raise her children. I didn’t read her decision as anti-feminist. It was a family decision.

Makino, unsurprisingly, has been vilified. And it’s true, there are some moments in the article in which she makes ridiculous comments about the biological differences and capabilities between men and women. Wonder if Swedish men would agree?

Here’s where I’m troubled, though. Feminism has paved the way for women to make choices that our grandmas weren’t afforded. But what happens to women after they’ve made the choice to stay at home and raise their families? Don’t they risk losing their independence, their identity?

Beyoncé would argue (I never thought I’d write that, but stay with me here) that women need their own source of income to maintain their personal freedom and strength. "I truly believe that women should be financially independent from their men," she says. "And let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what's sexy. And men define what's feminine. It's ridiculous."

I can't argue with her there.

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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