I just had a couple of thoughts about your last couple of posts that I wanted to share with you.
Reading your posts about what the majority of women would do, I thought about an interview to George R.R. Martin that I read a while ago. The interviewer asked him how did he manage to write female characters so well, and he answered "Well, you know, I've always considered women to be people". :D
It may sound obvious, but I think it's worth a thought.
Women are people, and therefore I think their aspiration and their idea of happiness is as individual as any man's. Some people love being around other people, some don't. Some people prefer intellectual pursuits, others find satisfaction in manual jobs, etc. I think that is true for men and women alike.
It's a bit difficult to say what the majority of women really want or desire, because it's a question closely linked to centuries of social organisation that defined what was expected by women and what made her good and valuable in the eye of society (in this area, the options were much more limited than men's).
Generally speaking, a successful man was a man that could provide wealth to his family, with whatever means he chose, and a worthy woman was one that provided heirs and took care of the household. What led to the establishment of this organisation is a complex process that was brilliantly analysed, among others, by Simone de Beauvoir: her “The Second Sex” is a wonderful read, if you haven't read it yet, by all means do. You may or may not agree with the conclusions she draws (taking a wild guess, I suppose you won't :) ), but the whole analysis is so insightful and thought-provoking.
Anyway, the concept of patriarchal society was challenged by the industrial revolution, that put less emphasis on physical strength, that was not so important when it came to making machines function and later simplified most domestic tasks, by the World Wars, in which women took over many jobs traditionally done by men then off to war, then by the debate about women's rights and finally by the feminist movement.
The influence of these centuries is still strong, though. In the country where I live, for example, being a working woman (let alone a mother) is still a challenge. Men are better paid and preferred when it comes to payrises and promotions.
In most Western countries the women that work outside the house while the husband takes care of their kids are still a minority, and it is generally frowned upon (especially the husband, who is considered “unmanly”).
Besides, women usually have it harder than men when it comes to choosing between family and career. I agree with you when you say that the majority of women (but I would say people here) desire a family, but it's only women that have to choose between work and family.
That's because the way that work is organised (with rigid timetables and more stress on the hours spent in the office than on the actual result) is what is best suited to the traditional figure of the manager that spends all his time in the office and is only marginally involved in the education of his kids. Few women accept it, because it's not carved in them that the only way they can be "valuable" is through the wealth they provide (as it is for men). I think this behavior model is incredibly sad and humanly diminishing, both for men and for women. Even men are starting to challenge that: there are many fathers that want to be more involved in the family life (think, for example, about the divorced fathers that are fighting to have more equality in the time spent with their kids) so there's a bit of a revolution going on there as well.
But traditionally a man that spends all his time outside the house is not the target of imposed (or even self imposed) guilt, while a woman is.
The goal of modern feminism is not to drag women outside the house and make them choose a career that occupies all their time, but rather to arrange work so that women don't have to choose one path or the other, but rather find a variable "mix" that works for each of them. The attention should be shifted from time spent at work to results achieved with work.
The myth of "having it all" is destined to remain a myth if the work structure doesn't change. Now though we have the technology to do it: with mobiles, laptops, internet it's not that difficult to manage time more flexibly... now it's just up to companies to implement it (and that's taking a looong time).
Also because women are an incredible treasure for a company: statistically they're more efficient, more prone to multitasking (I bet you know why, being a mother! ;) ), more honest. Companies that have women managers, statistically do better.
Society should give the possibility to choose; however, if you think that your path is inside the house, and you decided this for yourself because you think that's what's good for you, I think that's wonderful. You had the courage to choose what was best for youself as an individual, and I applaud that. The "mix" I was talking about could be 100% private life or 100% career, but statistically (according to the theory of Gaussian distribution) I'd daresay the majority would be located around the middle area.
What makes me sad while reading the apparently neverending debate between stay at home women and working women is how every part usually tries to make the other feel guilty about their choices.
In all places and times, the main problem faced by human beings was to find their places in the world and there's not a solution that works for everyone. Making a choice, any choice, about how to live your life is difficult and validation by others seems important because it's reassuring. I think that women should stop fighting about who has it harder or who is doing a better job. I think we should try to be more supportive with each other. The goal of feminism should be to promote diversity in choices and profit from it, in terms of quality of living and openness to change.
We're all doing our best, and the solution that is heaven for one can be hell for the other.
For example, some families are ok living on one income, while others (and I admit, I am amongst them) would find overwhelmingly anguishing the thought of what would happen if that one income wasn't available anymore (also because, I don't know how it is in Israel, but here in South Europe the financial crisis hit us hard and losing one's job and falling under the poverty line is unfortunately a very concrete possibility that is affecting thousands of families). But that doesn't mean that one vision is better than the other, everyone must discover what works for themselves.
And I don't have kids, but from what I understood they learn the most from examples, so I believe that if their parents are happy and serene with their choices, whether they are working, stay at home, homeschooling or public schooling, they have the best chances to become balanced and serene human beings.
Well, as you can imagine, I have so many thoughts swirling in my head after I've read this that I feel as though I could sit and write all day, and still not cover half of what I would say in response. But of course, as ever, time is pressing, and I can't afford more than a few minutes today.
Just a few points I find crucial: yes, of course women are individuals, with their unique dreams, opinions, pursuits, lifestyle... but I still believe that the nurturing side, the desire to set up and make a home, and raise children - all of which takes such a big part in a woman's life in so many ways - is universal, and far beyond what may be called social conditioning.
Give some very small children a box of toys, and you'll see that girls and boys play in quite different ways. I have a relative who told us he isn't going to let his little boy play with dolls, because it's "unmanly". The notion made me laugh, because truly, the way of play doesn't depend on the toys. Our girls have cars, dolls, construction toys, stuffed animals, water guns... and they play like girls. Not long ago I caught them "mothering" a ferocious-looking rubber dionsaur with very long teeth.
If a woman is home, taking care of her family, obviously she has many things in common with other women all over the world who are doing the same thing, but it doesn't mean her individuality doesn't blossom. She sets the tone to her house; together with her husband, she has the freedom to pursue the lifestyle they choose. Some will dwell in cities. Some will settle in remote places and set up a homestead.
I partially agree with you about work hours vs. productivity. Around here, many men would like to get up and go to work early, and then come home early, but leaving early is frowned upon even if they have done all their work. So they stay at work until late hours, doing nothing in particular. Also, my sister-in-law, who is a teacher, told me about a new (and very foolish, in my opinion) educational reform, in the course of which fully employed teachers will have to commit to 8 hours of work per day, and checking exams and essays will be done at school, rather than in their homes, as was common until now. This will rob teachers (and most teachers here are women) of the flexible hours they have had before, which have enabled them to go home early to their children, then do some exam-checking and other paperwork in the evenings, at their leisure.
Also, it is true that the Internet has provided many opportunities for being self-employed, and for setting up one's own business, than were available some 20 years ago.
Still... hours may be flexible, but they are hours. To work, either from home or outside it, you need to put in effort; you need to put in time. Obviously I believe working from home is infinitely preferable for a mother who wishes to remain with her children, but even this may put undue stress when there are a hundred-odd things to do in a day even without a business to manage. I am against the notion that a woman must accomplish something, anything unrelated to her home and family in order to be considered a truly worthy human being. Or there is the Super Housewife who grows her own food, sews her own clothes, makes her own soap, candles, cheese - all on a regular basis. All those are wonderful things, but not everyone can do them, at least not always! Around here, if I've taken care of the laundry and dinner, and all the animals, and done some reading and perhaps some crafts with the children, with a bit of cleaning squeezed in, I consider it a very good day.
As for women being statistically better workers... I confess I am unfamiliar with these statistics, so what I'm going to say now is based on anecdotal evidence and common sense. Women, especially after they have children, often find that their heart and mind remain with their children, even when they are at work. I have personally witnessed women who hold very responsible jobs trying to settle disputes, help their children with homework and make sure everyone eats a healthy lunch, all over the phone. Women are pregnant, women give birth, women pump milk at work. Women miss their babies (and worry about their school-age children). I'm not saying women are bad employees, but I know I would probably be a bad employee. I would think about my children and about things that need to be done at home, and they would hold far more weight for me than any job I would be assigned to do.