After I give birth to my son, I decided to take some time off from work- a sabbatical, maternity leave, or whatever you name you would like to give it. During that time, whenever I filled out an online questionnaire or a form that required me to tick a box for my occupation, I hesitated to tick “stay-at-home-mom”. In doing so, I felt like a feminist failure. Instead of partaking in the great moment of gender equality, I had decided to embrace the most traditional role- that of a homemaker and a stay-at-home mom. And of course, watching my friends invest in big career moves gave me an all-consuming sense of millennial FOMO

I felt like my qualifications were rotting away much like my degree that was catching dust on the wall of the study. I felt my intelligence deteriorating and my aptitude diminishing. All my life I had judged women who bypassed their careers for a life at home. And suddenly, the joke was on me. I was that woman. 

But stepping into the shoes of a stay-at-home mom was a good thing for me. I learned that motherhood comes with its own set of challenges that are not accurately represented by the title. The hyphenated prefix “stay-at-home” in the phrase drives all the attention away from the most important word: mom. This prefix has some terrible connotations: laziness, stagnation, and inertia.  Yet, the prefix overshadows everything else in the title, kind of like the caricaturish image of stay-at-home moms as privileged, entitled beings overshadows the pitfalls of motherhood and domestic life.

Ben Young, in his Ted Talk, accurately points out that the prefix is not a qualifier or a descriptor as much as it is a value judgment, a social stigma of sorts. He humorously questions: if it is important to add this qualifier to any occupation description, why do we not have phrases such as “sit-in-cubicle business analyst”? Because working professionals are not judged in terms of where they work, rather by the work that they do.

Despite greater hours of work and an unwritten job description that encompasses everything in sight, a stay-at-home mom is considered inferior to any working professional. The only reason for this disparity: the absence of monetary compensation. In a traditional economic sense, productivity is measured in terms of extrinsic value. That is to say, that if you are not making money for a task that you are doing, you are not creating value or contributing to the economy. By those standards, people running non-profit organizations or doing volunteer work must simply not be making an impact on society. This, however, suggests that our perception of value and impact is actually very problematic and by default, a top-down one.

Let’s reverse this hierarchy of power and adopt a more bottom-up approach: a stay-at-home mom enables a family unit, and this family unit multiplied by many eventually makes a country and well, an economy. This grass-root level contribution is the most fundamental impact an individual can make. And if one fine morning, all women refuse to give birth and take care of kids, the human population would simply become extinct.

And so I realized the great hoax of non-intersectional feminism: you can be anything you want…as long as you’re not a stay-at-home mom. In being obsessed with equality as the literal definition of feminism, I had failed myself and overlooked the most important facet of its meaning: choice. We fail to realize that for many women out there, being a stay-at-home mom is as much an autonomous choice as being an engineer, a doctor, or a lawyer.

Feminism, above all, should be about agency- women should be able to choose any life they want for themselves. Without the daunting expectation to conform to an ideal of feminism, women need to realize that a feminist and a stay-at-home mom are not mutually exclusive identities.

I would like to leave you with the words from the 2019 International Women’s Day campaign: “All women are working women, only a few are salaried.”

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  • Safa Shoaib is an educator and counselor turned entrepreneur, writer, and editor. She has a B.A. Honors in English Literature from the Lahore University of Management Sciences and has written for local publications such as the Express Tribune. She is a history buff who is equally passionate about literature. In 2021, she co-founded Deja New Pakistan, the first of its kind marketplace of pre-owned fashion in Pakistan, pursuing the vision of sustainable fashion.