A Woman’s Place Is…

For the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day next week, the poverty-fighting group CARE is releasing a brief titled “The Top 10 Myths about Women.” For each myth, CARE will honor a “myth-buster” who did something remarkable to dispel that particular piece of sexist folklore during the last 100 years. Myths on the list include: “Women can’t be trusted with money” and “Women’s empowerment comes at the expense of men.”

My personal favorite on the list is the doozy, “A woman’s place is in the home.” In keeping with CARE’s project, I’m going to take a moment to imagine what would happen if that wish actually become reality.

The problem with the glowing picture of the happily baking housewife is the flipside: If women are home, they’re missing elsewhere: among professors, researchers, law schools, courts, Congresses, media, business managers and religious hierarchies.

And what happens when women are largely absent in the halls of power? Consider a few scattered examples:

  • In the Old Testament (Judges 19:22-29) depraved men pound at a door, demanding a male guest be turned out to be raped. A concubine is sent out instead, to “use and do whatever you wish.” The woman is raped and abused throughout the night. At daybreak she staggers home, falls down and dies. No one seems too upset at her suffering. The concern back then was over defiled property–the concubine. Whether you take this story as historical fact, or simply as evidence of the writer’s bias, a male-dominant power structure is in play.
  • See anything odd in this argument about why rape should be illegal? “Women’s power to withhold or grant sexual access is an important bargaining weapon… it fosters, and is in turn bolstered by, a masculine pride in the exclusive possession of the sexual object… whose value is enhanced by sole ownership.” How about the lack of concern about women’s suffering from violence and violation? Nope; women are instead straightforwardly called sex objects that are owned by men. The above explanation comes from the 1952-53 Yale Law Journal. Needless to say, that issue’s editorial board [PDF] was almost entirely men.
  • In 2009 Arizona Senator John Kyle declared to an 83% male Senate that maternity leave needn’t be mandated since “I don’t need maternity care.” Well, if a man doesn’t need it, clearly it’s not important. You have to wonder if he’d be so brazen in a Congress that was half women.
  • More recently, in the current 83.6% male House of Representatives, Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Pitts feels hospitals should be able to refuse to terminate pregnancies even to save a mother’s life. Others want to slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. On the state level, Rep. Bobby Franklin of Georgia introduced a bill to criminalize some miscarriages. As The New York Times summed it, a war on women is being waged.
  • Finally, soon after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor exited the Supreme Court, leaving an eight men and one woman jury, the ban on “partial birth” abortion was upheld. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the sole remaining woman, noted, the ban saves no lives, but makes the procedure more dangerous for women.

We need women out in the world in places of power. Not surprisingly, women med students are pushing for abortion training at Bay Area universities (most prominently UC San Francisco and Stanford) so that women’s lives can be saved.

When women’s place is in the home, women are at the mercy of the patriarchy’s ways of seeing. And that is more than a little scary.

Photo from Flickr user notionscapital licensed under Creative Commons.


  1. "In 2009 Arizona Senator John Kyle declared to an 83% male Senate that maternity leave needn’t be mandated since “I don’t need maternity care.” Well, if a man doesn’t need it, clearly it’s not important. You have to wonder if he’d be so brazen in a Congress that was half women."

    This reminded me of my mom. She was a waitress when she was pregnant with my sister and I. She pretty much worked up until she went into labor. Nothing has changed for women in that industry. Don't get me wrong for what I'm about to say. I don't mean to insult anyone, and I don't want to seem degrading to women (I am one), but we pretty much know that women in the waitressing industry will never have access to (paid) maternity leave. Restaurants can't afford that (especially considering most waitresses ARE women). Basically, what I'm getting at is, why should women that work in cushy office environments get "paid" maternity leave when women like my mom have to power through it. And yes, I realize a lot of restaurants will allow women (unpaid) maternity leave, but women like my mom can NOT afford that.

    Sorry, I know that this may have been a bit off topic, and may have even sounded ignorant, but this is something that I've wondered about for some time. Maybe someone can offer me some insight.

  2. Jordan Tatana says:

    Are you kidding me? I have lived in New Zealand and Australia, and both countries offer paid parental leave to everyone, regardless of whether they work in an office or as a waitress. (I say parental leave because in both countries to option for either the mother or father to take the leave is available, as it should be).

    • @Jordan Are you really surprised that America doesn't offer parental leave to everyone? lol. I really like that idea by the way. I wish that worked here, but it couldn't. Not any time soon at least. First of all, I think paternity leave may actually be available. If it is, most men here would probably be to "manly" to use it anyway. Notice the parenthesis there 🙂

      [Does anyone know if paternity leave is available in America?]

      As for parental leave being offered to everyone… I think that's a bit too socialist for America. As it is, we're struggling to get people proper healthcare. At least, thanks to your comment, things seem possible to work out in the future, but I'm estimating that won't be for another 100 years. Sorry for the pessimism.

      • Jordan Tatana says:

        Ahh, I suppose I shouldn't really be surprised, but paid parental leave is just something that seems completely normal/I feel everywhere should have. Sometimes you don't realize how much you take things for granted!

        • Ambermoonchild says:

          Having parental leave would alleviate a lot of sexism, that's for sure. People couldn't say that women make less than men because they're too busy having babies anymore because men would ALSO be too busy making babies 😀

      • I don't know about Oz, but NZ's paid parental leave only came into effect a few years ago and is only available for 16 weeks. This only happened because NZ had a female prime minister – change happened quickly and can be just as easily changed again. Canada's parental leave is for 50 weeks and has been entrenched in society for years.

        • Unfortunately though, when a parent takes parental leave in Canada s/he can only get a maximum of 55% of their normal wages. For low income people like my husband and I that meant parental leave wasn't an option.

  3. mumsyjr says:

    It would be more accurate to say Rep Franklins craziness would make every miscarriage a potential crime.

  4. I wanted to tell my little 7 year old cousin so much when we talked about girls and boys. He was telling me how he understood that women have gone through tough times to earn rights and that “Well, at least now they can be teacher’s, nurses and all that. So I guess we’re equal now.” But little did he know that all of the positions in which held power, women had less places in. So I shed some light to him and he pondered about it as we exited our conversation.

    Today, he received his first diary he ordered from Scholastic. I was a little irritated by the cover that stated “Top Secret: Boy Stuff.” I thought, why couldn’t it just be a simple “My Journal” or “My Diary”? As he flipped through the pages, within the journal had many stickers that said “No Girls Allowed” or “Tough!” and a bunch more of other stickers that were what boys were supposed to be like. Dominating and all.

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