I believe that motherhood has been institutionalized in such a way over history to exploit women and prevent their public influence on the activities of adult men. In other words, patriarchy has colluded in confining women’s influence as narrowly as possible to the world of children. Childcare, teaching, and parenting are overwhelmingly done by women. Nancy Chodorow and other psychoanalytic feminist theorists have maintained that the mothering practices of Western society have aided and encouraged the public repression of women. This body of theory argues that if children receive the majority of their nurture from women, the children will reproduce the sexist pattern of gender roles we see around us in society.
Although Chodorow and other psychoanalytic feminists focus on co-parenting as the solution, I think that more institutionalized measures are required. I believe that a social systems consideration of psychoanalytic feminism’s claims will lead to the conclusion that gender equality in society will require acheiving three basic goals; 1) men must become far more involved in nurturing work such as raising children, daycare, and primary education, 2) creation of universal childcare as extensive as the current public education system in place in most industrialized countries with men as fifty percent of the workforce, and 3) that women be supported in reducing the amount of time and energy that they are required to devote to such work. The goal of universal publicly funded childcare would be to reduce the pressure on women to be full-time mothers. I am not advocating that full-time mothering be prohibited, but rather that no woman should have to feel that she is obligated to be a full-time mother.
The universal childcare system should also be gender equal. I advocate an “affirmative action” program aimed at training, recruiting, and compensating men to join the largely female domains of childcare, primary education, and parenting. Boys should be given babysitting courses as readily as girls currently do. Day care centers should receive funds to invest in more male workers.
This aggressive program of recruiting men into classically female-dominated work will require programs in the institutions which supply those fields. The shift to a gender equal system of childcare would also necessitate a massive effort to offer greater educational opportunities to women in fields traditionally male-dominated. All academic and vocational programs which are currently male-dominated should become aggressive in recruiting women into their courses. This goes beyond classic affirmative action which encouraged hiring more women as teachers in those male-dominated sectors, but a shift to gender equality in society would require aggressive recruitment of female students into those programs. These programs, universal childcare and large-scale training of women in fields outside of traditionally female-dominated sectors seem to me an essential feature of genuine gender equality. The goal advocated here can be summarized as the redistribution of childcare and domestic work from its current burden on women’s freedom into a responsibility that is shared equally by men.