From Socialist Voice, March 2010


From a stay-at-home mother

Women in Ireland have been valued differently at different times, and it is in this context that I want to look at how society has treated us.
     Women have been the stable force in families for the most part and sometimes have been elevated to an almost pure and virginal role when it suited church and state to do so, i.e. portraying an almost Madonna image of motherhood in Irish society, from wearing a mantilla to being “churched” after the birth of a child.
     Due to the marriage bar, the choice of working after marriage was taken away, as women were required to retire. This was a policy of confining women to the home for caring and childbearing without choice. As Deirdre Uí Bhrógáin notes: “. . . the constitution of 1937 followed the norm of conservative Catholic and Christian Democratic parties, which have a well-known policy of confining women to the home . . .”1
     In the recent past, women have been steered towards going back out to work after childbirth, to fulfil primarily a government need in society, where big business needed cheap labour using women on the minimum wage. I believe that the state as a whole has suffered and will suffer because of this policy. The social consequences are still unknown.
     I had never felt there was anything wrong with being a stay-at-home mother, but when it came to the stage of actually staying at home with my first-born at five months, I became invisible to society. I no longer had the social life I had become accustomed to, and I certainly no longer had the financial independence. At times I felt less adequate than the woman who goes out to work, and I think this is wrong, to make people feel guilty about their choices.
     Choice is so important nowadays in our multi-cultural society, and I will reiterate this point again. In my own case I have defended my staying at home to a mother who went out to work and left her children with a migrant worker who was given no security of employment and may have been open to exploitation.
     The last thing we want in society is working mothers arguing their point with stay-at-home mothers and that either group feels marginalised. Women working outside the home are still discriminated against in their place of employment, and so they are fighting their own case within society without taking on another fight for stay-at-home mothers.
     Gender discrimination continues to be a problem for women in the work-place, even though equality legislation has been in place here for thirty-two years, according to the chief executive of the Equality Authority, Renée Dempsey.2 It has suited our patriarchal society to have women at odds with one another. It firstly divides and splits women in society, which in turn makes their argument for choice weaker because of there being less of a consensus of opinion. It caused dissent with me, and then I privately questioned the life-style I had chosen, so that by the end of my reflection I wondered who I should satisfy, myself or society.
     All women are still to one degree or another the underclass of the world; how can they afford to assist the even further underclassed?3
     It is difficult to defend other women in society when your own situation is undermined and undervalued. When you do defend your position it causes division, which is self-defeating and ultimately serves no purpose for the cause that was initially intended. We don’t want women bickering between one another for their right to choose, even if the politicians or the church do not agree with us. Personally, I do not think that the role of the stay-at-home mother is valued in our society, and so I was astonished to find myself agreeing with the Australian right-wing government, whose normal politics would not be sympathetic towards the feminist movement. Stay-at-home mothers, Howard asserted, had sacrificed an income to care for their children and should be adequately compensated and recognised for their efforts. They were Australia’s “forgotten women.”4
     But, as Natasha Campo reveals, it suited the government to take this stance and engage in the wrongs of what feminism had achieved and imply that women privileged work over family.

     1. Deirdre Uí Bhrógáin, Women and the European Union, Dublin: Communist Party of Ireland, 2009.
     2. Steven Carroll and Elaine Edwards, “Equality group says gender work bias still a problem for women,” Irish Times, 17 November 2009.
     3. Angela O’Connell, “Very ordinary people: Lesbian mothers talking,” in Ursula Barry (ed.), Where Are We Now?: New Feminist Perspectives on Women in Contemporary Ireland, Dublin: New Island, 2008, p. 113.
     4. Natasha Campo, From Superwomen to Domestic Goddesses: The Rise and Fall of Feminism, Bern: Peter Lang, 2009.


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