Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stay at home mothers - I salute

Given that in the West ideas of motherhood are relatively different than here in the East (I have a full-time nanny, and a housemaid, also full-time)I'd like to expound on my own academic thesis concerning the family process. In the West especially among middle-class white families, to live in the same house as their parents is unheard of, here in the East I stay with my large family in a relatively middle class environment, my parents are divorced and the people living in my house is my three kids, my husband, my father, my three siblings, my cousin and my maids. It's pretty noisy, sometimes there are moments of privacy of course but something that is quite different than that in the West's conception of the home and the house.

Now returning on the problems of the stay at home mothers, there are quite a few in my society, not many because women usually work outside the house and they have a barrage of nannies and maids to keep the house running full-time. the extended family is not something to be frowned upon, people save a lot of money staying in one house with large spaces (each of us have our own bedrooms except for smaller children, parents usually sleep with smaller children, sex is when you kick them out of the bedroom and lock the door at any other times they wish, night, afternoon, morning). Now things here are very easy compared to the West, there is no frowning if a large family stays in one large house, it's not unheard of, it's welcoming to older parents who wish to be close to their children and their children's families. I've even heard of cases whereby until the parents feel that they wish to move out because of familial reasons (fighting between siblings, extreme lack of space and privacy for instance) and they eventually do - or they don't. Ever. Pooling resources between siblings to buy large tracts of land and build their houses next door to each other (I've seen a whole block of terraces/ semi-detached houses owned by one large extended family too).

The stay at home mother, a phenomenon I do not disagree with especially in some cases done by wealthier women with a secure financial background at times by working class families who do not have the resources to afford nannies or maids. Now the idea of the stay at home mother is an anathema of Asian culture. when women imply they are stay at home mothers or suri-rumahtangga the idea should not be misconstrued in westernized terms, that they do not contribute financially or physically to the well-being of the occupants of a house. Women that I have met who do claim themselves as 'housewives' (such a degenerative term) had their own businesses, worked in the fields or grew crops for sale or house consumption. How does this make the 'suri-rumahtangga' unviable? This is ridiculous. Women do not stay at home, families are interdependent and children are raised together by whole villages at times, by siblings and the relationship between parent and child although something of a 'bond' idea etched by hallmark is something equally fluid in Southeast Asian societies. Sure, a sibling may raise a sister's child if the sister does not have enough resources and the other sister (or relative) do not have any children. The children's loyalties lie with those who raised them not to those who are their biological parents.

So what is this 'stay at home mothers are looked down upon' idea? Sure there has been some stand-offs between Asian/Black feminists versus Western/White feminists. But this is not a culture than can be easily translated - patriarchal. The words and the arguments of patriarchy are the same and yet women enjoy more freedom in terms of who they are than they do in material/sexual culture of the West. Even in Egypt where the stay at home mother is under the thumb of the oppressive patriarchy there are ways in which these women negotiate their existence, the same can be said in extremely patriarchal Indian or Chinese culture. It's simple, sons loyalties plus money go to mother. Not a single cent goes to the father. When the father stops becoming financially viable it is the mother that holds the reins of the houses' finances. To add to this there were also numerous studies concerning Malay culture whereby the wife and the mother holds the husband's purse, leaving him some money for spending on their comforts such as cigarettes or coffee shop trips. And honestly, I too hold my husband's money and when he needs some money he just asks me.

To put it into some perspective concerning highly patriarchal 'Islamic' societies read Fatima Mernissi, that should put some kick in the schlong.

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