I am a feminist. I believe women should have equal opportunities to men. I acknowledge that they often do not. (Yes, even now.)
I am also a mother, and when it it came to preparing for motherhood, feminism let me down.
From the beginning, we tell young girls they can do anything they want to do, they can be anyone they want to be. They are given access to great education, encouraged to further their studies and attain higher degrees. We push them to push themselves, to break boundaries, to achieve what seems impossible, to break through corporate glass ceilings and professional roadblocks.
We tell them they can have it all. And they can.
Until they have a baby.
In the fight to ensure equality, as we preach to girls that they can — and should — do anything a boy can do, we are failing to prepare women for one of the greatest challenges so many of them will face; motherhood. We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.
We then wonder why, when these girls become women who turn into mothers, they suffer from depression, anxiety and struggle to find a sense of self or identity. Are we truly helping women get ahead, or are we instead setting them up for a future of self doubt and a sense of failure?
We are functioning in a society that pretends women don’t grow up to become mothers. We are so driven by the focus that women can do the same and be the same as men, that we completely fail to provide them with education or understanding of what may be ahead for them, as future homemakers and those who raise children. How can we ensure equality for all women, when we place so little value on the role of the mother?
Mums need the sisterhood more than ever. We need feminism. But we need it from the beginning.
We need to be telling our young people that raising children is an incredibly important part of the fabric of our society and we need to be giving them the skills to be doing that well.
We need to be validating the role of the mother and highlighting the work that goes into it, instead of perpetuating the myth that the work that takes place in the home is ‘less than’ — less meaningful, less valuable, less important.
We need to teach young people the skills they need to succeed — not only in the workforce, but in the home as well. We need to teach them how to care for children, how to cook, how to clean and organise, how to manage household budgets and administration.
We need to view and offer this as just as an important career option as any other; because for many women, the ones who, for whatever reason, do not return to the workforce and instead stay home to raise their children, this does become their career.
Young men need to understand the value of this role as well. They need to be shown that a homemaker — male or female — provides an essential contribution to society. They, too, need to be given the option to become the primary caretaker. We need to ensure that we lift up the value and recognition of this role to the point where it is just as viable an ambition as any other career prospect.
The men of our society, when not performing the role of stay-at-home parent themselves (as so often is the case) need to be taught to see the worth of the parent who stays home. There needs to be a change within our society in how we speak to and about homemakers. If our only marker of success is what you do in the workplace, how can we ever achieve that degree of equality?
The reality of our society cannot be ignored.
For many women, their journey will naturally lead them to a period of stay in the home, caring for children. Whether that time is only a few months, or for several decades, they need to be prepared. They need to be given the skills they need to succeed and they need to be taught that their work is valuable.
We need to stop acting as though when we provide women with these traditional skills, we are taking away their power. Teaching women to care for children and a home empowers them. It prepares them for a path that may lie ahead. What really takes away their power, is telling them that doing so is worthless.
Feminism, it’s time to catch up. Our women deserve better.
Let’s tell them they can be anything they want — including a Mum, and let’s start telling them just how important that is.
This article originally appeared at the HuffPost Australia.