Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Our Founding Mothers Are Rolling Over In Their Graves
"As these thoughts rushed through my brain, I felt what a slave I was, and walked the floor, calmly, yet with a kind of resolution such as the shackled bondman feels who has resolved to be free." (130 Oakes-Smith)
This resolution underscored every step of Elizabeth's life, and every public word she ever spoke in regard to women's rights. It was the problem of economic inequality that vexed her the most, I think. Again, the minister in the story complains,
"I had said that the system of providing for the poor made poverty, and old age, and misfortune disgraceful. That no distinction could be shown between vice and misfortune in the present system. The woman born into affluence might be married- her property, by that act of marriage, passed out of her hands into those of her husband. He became a spendthrift, and inebriate, a gambler- she had no redress. He squandered her whole estate and died a beggar. His wife, this early minion of fortune, covered with shame, and disgraced in the eyes of the world, by no act of her own, heart-broken, and overcome by the infirmities of age, is brought to the alms-house, with the hundreds who are carried thither by their vices." (129 Oakes-Smith)
Economic equality was part of the early feminist platform, but by 1900, women were settling for getting the vote, and the cause was shifting. Elizabeth Oakes-Smith died in 1893. She lived to see women obtain the right to go to college, hold, control and will property, control their own wages, and become the joint guardian to their own children. Although she spoke up publicly to bring about these changes, she did not enjoy the benefits of this legislation in its infancy.
At the Woman's Right's Convention of 1852, she spoke along with Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott, trying to balance the idea of the "angel in the house" with the practical. She stressed eloquently that the right to vote was essential in being considered a full citizen, since a woman's property and wages could be taxed. She went on to say the need for women to be educated and skilled was necessary to keep them out of poverty. The role of wife and mother she emphasized as being the most vital to the success of a nation.
I can remember my mother telling me at a young age how important my education was, and how essential it was for me to go on to college and establish the ability to step into a career. It was her firm belief that economic independence would protect me from poverty and the need to depend on a husband for support. Thank you mom. Mom wasn't giving this lecture because she thought men were scoundrels, on the contrary, my father is a devoted, loving, loyal spouse. She was saying this to me because there is dignity, freedom and a feeling of wholeness in developing one's talents and skills. She wanted economic equality for me, and personal fulfillment. That's also what Elizabeth Oakes-Smith wanted for women in a time when they did not have much choice in the matter. She wrote:
"Since every human being has an individual sphere, ...no one has the right to determine the proper sphere of another." (taken from an anthology of Women's Activists of New York)
How far have we come at equal citizenship? Not far enough. What happens to a woman today, college educated or not, when she has a baby out-of-wedlock? She is at the mercy of the father of that child, economically. Paternity laws for unwed fathers vary from state to state, and there is some public confusion in regard to this issue because of the inconsistency. In New York, if an unwed father does not develop a relationship with the child and help pay for the birth expenses, he has no adoption rights.* A court in this state can force a DNA test to establish paternity, and then the father is forced to support the child financially. Still, the mother bears the responsibility of nurturing, caring for and raising a baby whether the father wants to take part or not. She is often faced with the added emotional crisis during pregnancy to "catch him," which may or may not happen. Journalist for the NY Times Lisa Belkin discusses this reality on her blog Motherlode, in the post Why Unmarried Fathers Stay. The unwed father can walk away care-free from that birth. Then the full load of consequences falls on the woman. If he does the right thing and takes responsibility, the woman's life is still the one that is drastically stressed by the birth of a baby. So the miracle of new life becomes an event that spurs depression and panic for a woman in this situation, and if she is not supported by family, the situation can become economically desperate for her and the child. The unborn child is even poorer in this case than its mother, in that as a fetus, he is at her mercy as to whether or not he will be born. We certainly still have a long way to go in regard to giving all of our citizens equality in this country!
What happens to a mother who goes through a divorce today? She also suffers economic crisis. She is at the mercy of the courts and her ex-husband in regard to child support. Why is this?
What makes women economically disadvantaged? Motherhood. Motherhood, which I believe is a blessing from God, the subject of a national holiday, also causes women to be poorer than men in this country.
If this society wants a nation full of spiritually, academically and physically sound children to take over in future generations, then people in the media and in the street have to stop devaluing motherhood and the job of parenting.
Am I saying that women who stay at home to raise their children should be given a salary by the government, and that working moms should be given a stipend for childcare as well? Well, I don't expect it, but if President Obama is giving out cash for clunkers to preserve the environment, why not consider giving mothers the respect they deserve? Won't that shift in attitude result in happier children who are higher achievers? Then perhaps we could preserve our summer vacation for family time, Mr. Obama. Seriously, what I am proposing is that in the very least, men should be forced to pay child support and actively care for the children they father, married or not. If mothers stay at home, they most certainly are working. If they are in the work place as well then they have twice the work. In her book The Price of Motherhood; Why the most important job in the world is still the least valued, Ann Crittenden argues that people say that being a mother is the hardest job in the world, but they don't really mean it. They have been taught by media messages that the job of parenting does not require skill, and it is not "real work." In reality the raising of children is the work that will be our greatest legacy as individuals, and as a nation. Instead we have been advised that "it takes a village to raise a child." Young children just want their parents, equally, but the expectation for sacrifice is more on the mother.
"It isn't fair that mothers' life -sustaining work forces women to be society's involuntary philanthropists. It isn't fair to expect mothers to make sacrifices that no one else is asked to make, or have virtues that no one else possesses, such as a dignified subordination of their personal agenda and a reliance on altruism for life's meaning. Virtues and sacrifices, when expected of one group of people and not of everyone, becomes the mark of an underclass." (9)
Our founding mothers are rolling over in their graves. Women who choose to step out of the workforce to raise children face remarks like:
"What do you do all day? Don't you get bored?"
My answer: "YES, and my work is valuable. Go away."
"Establishing a fair deal for mothers would go beyond "wages for housewives," an idea that surfaced in the 1970's; or even mother's benefits similar to veteran's benefits. What is needed is across-the-board recognition- in the workplace, in the family, in the law, and in social policy - that someone has to do the necessary work of raising children and sustaining families, and that the reward for such vital work should not be professional marginalization, a loss of status, and an increased risk of poverty." (46)
Thank God I have a loving, dependable husband. I quit my career to raise my children full-time. That leaves me relying on him solely for health benefits, pension, and insurance. I'm college educated, work just as hard as any adult I know and I am completely economically dependent in this position. It's no wonder to me why the stay-at-home mom has such a stigma in society. For me there was emotionally no other choice. I completely followed my heart in this matter and prayed that it would work out, but I'm not going to lie and say it wasn't a scary risk. Some women, especially single moms, don't have this option, because the economic and emotional responsibility of raising a child falls more heavily on women.
Elizabeth Oakes-Smith suggested that a mother should work outside the home if she desires it, but she upheld the idea that a duty to children and the home takes precedence. She wanted an America where both sexes took part equally in raising children, and a government that rewards mothers and does not marginalize them. It seems to me that often the workplace is intolerant of women employees who put their children before their job.
"Inflexible workplaces guarantee that many women will have to cut back on, if not quit, their employment once they have children." (5)
Economic equality for women is part of a larger issue: human dignity. We've got the power to vote, so how about putting real feminists in office, who encourage mothers and fathers to be present caregivers, who promote the protection of unborn citizens, who reject violent means of dealing with criminals? Respect for life and human dignity is true freedom. This is the sort of shift that will make our nation better. The modern-day Republican and Democratic parties slice up the human dignity cause, backing some aspects and rejecting others. Neither party reflects the original feminist platform. In the 1860's Elizabeth Oakes-Smith was a nominee for Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate on the Women's Suffrage ticket. She was an authentic feminist, anti-Capital Punishment, pro-family, pro-life, supporting economic equality for all citizens of the United States. The early feminists are rolling over in their graves; they want us to remember who they really were and reject the modern mutation of their cause. I really want to see a woman become President, however, I've yet to see a real feminist, (one like Elizabeth Oakes-Smith), on a recent Presidential or Vice-presidential ticket.
"The United States is a society at war with itself. The policies of American business, government and the law do not reflect Americans' stated values." (5)
*For more information of the rights of Unwed Fathers in NY State, click here.
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