Thursday, October 21, 2010

Feminism, or Why Can't I Just Do What I Want?

Today I’m going to talk about everyone’s favorite topic: Feminism! (yes, males, you may groan and roll your eyes at this point. But I urge you to read on...)

Now, feminism means many different things to different people. To some, it’s the ultimate political, social and economic utopia. Away with men! Women can do it ALL on their own! Except reproduce, but let’s not talk about that. I’m sure there are ways to do that without men, too. Science, probably. To others, feminism conjures up images of forest women burning their bras and growing leg hair that rivals the burliest of men. It’s for crazies, hippies and liberals. And then there are others who hang quietly in the middle. I like to think of myself in this category.

I generally think the basic idea of feminism is fine. Women should be granted the same rights and privileges as men, especially when it’s something so simple as voting, owning property, and bringing home the bacon. But these battles have already been fought and won, and feminism's goals have changed. Unfortunately, feminism now sometimes casts a negative light on those women who do not ferociously seek the traditionally held male positions in society: high political figures, CEOs, university presidents, etc. When women reach a plateau in their life that isn’t the upper most echelon, hardcore feminists may wonder why they quit. This thought seems even more common when feminists think about women who choose to walk away from academia or the work force to have children and raise a family.

Now, I would be straight up lying if I said the number one thing I wanted to do in life is to get my PhD and run an art museum. It would be pretty sweet, but the really number one thing I want to do is get married, have kids and be a stay-at-home mom. Even as I type this, I’m sort of cringing, because our sometimes-feminist society has taught me that I can be “better” than that. That I can get that PhD, that I can climb the corporate ladder and get an amazing job, and that I can do all of this without a man or kids in my life. Heck, the family is only going to slow me down, right?

Why is raising a family the “old-fashioned” way somehow considered copping out these days? Sure there are people who still think it’s admirable, but it seems as though that population is quickly decreasing. Personally, I think helping small people somehow become good big people is a pretty big and important task. I mean look at the state of today’s youth...yikes. Plus, isn't birthing children the ultimate feminist act? When Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to have a baby in that freakish movie from the 90s, it made me want to gouge my eyes out. Pregnant men aren't natural. I just wish all of this was a more commonly held view. Or maybe it is, but people (women) are afraid to say it because they think they’ll look weak or unintelligent.

Basically what I’m saying at the end of the day is this: I want a nice husband. I want a couple of kids. I want to hang out with them and bake them cupcakes at the end of a long day. Yes, I’ll keep studying and pushing my way to that art museum dream. And I am genuinely excited about that road too. But don’t think I’m not really hoping and praying for some tiny hands and feet in my future.


  1. Bay, I love you. I think you just blew my mind. But seriously. I'll write it to you in a more private message... haha

  2. Well said, Abby. Women need to be more like you. I guess I'm just "old fashion" too. But in all honesty, our society has drawn a lot of negative on a lot of issues and I don't think we realize till we actually get out into the "real world." And by that time we either are too late or don't care. So I'm glad you're addressing issues like feminism in a different light.

    Oh and about half way threw, I could feel the SALT in your writing so distinctively.

  3. I wish our world valued parenting more than it does. As a teacher of 26 years I felt the importance of good parenting in a palpable way. You have two great role models in your own parents.

  4. It seems to me that it is more genuinely feminist for a woman to be proud of what makes her a woman (eg your giving birth example) instead of trying to be like a man. Of course women need to be allowed the same opportunities as men, but it's sad that being a full time mother is often viewed as copping out. There are more important things than one's career.

  5. You point to important tensions--tensions that will likely be the topic of discussions (I hope) for you and yours for years to come. Praising, without question, the pursuit of a high-level career can be just as limiting and damning as judging those who once broke norms by wanting to be something besides a wife and mother. Feminism can mean freedom to make choices without these repercussions, judgment, and double binds. But as you rightly point out, we often are told (and feel) that you can't have it all--not really.

    You've identified a double-bind. Wanting to be a wife and mother is judged; choosing not to have kids or stay at home with them gets judged too. I want to give you a way out of this one, Abby, really I do.

    Unfortunately the best I can do is this: As someone who values her career and her PhD, I understand why people make other choices. I appreciate the gift that is raising kids and maintaining a family. I can see a feminist model in someone who raised six kids, just as I support my colleagues who make different models of parenthood and academia work (including a friend who just left a tenured position because she wanted to be a sane mother to her kids).

    So this: be honest with yourself about what you want. Trust people who know and respect you to hear your values. And know that you have allies in your family, perhaps where you least expect them.

  6. Abby, I know it's been a while and this is a little out the blue, but I felt compelled to comment on your post. I understand the internal struggle you're discussing as a woman who wants to have her cake (PhD) and eat it too (kids). For me feminism is about being able to do both, just like any man would be permitted, I would even say encouraged, to do without question.

    The main thing I really wanted to reply to was your comment about the battle for equal opportunity being over and won. I'm sure you've heard the recent news about the Senate failing to ensure equal pay for women, but I just wanted to reiterate that the fight for equality (both socially and legally) continues. Women with equal qualifications and equivalent jobs still make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. Call me hardcore, but if that doesn't scream good old-fashioned gender discrimination, I don't know what does:

    That being said, I agree with you that feminism is about much more than legal recognition. But social progress tends to lag behind the law. Until our laws guarantee us the same rights as men, it's going to be a long time before women like you and me have the true autonomy to live in both worlds without feeling like we're shortchanging either our family or our work.

    I hope you're able to find peace with whatever choice you feel is right for you. In the meantime, let it be known that you expect to have the same opportunities as your brothers whether that means raising a family, running the museum, or finding a way to do both.

    Strive for that utopia :)

    Annie Fehrenbacher

  7. The picture you paint about feminists is more accurate for the 60's and 70's than it is now. Modern feminists love men (and women), but they don't love male privilege (or chivalry that women supposedly benefit from).

    Modern feminism isn't about restricting your choices as a woman (or even as a man). That actually runs completely against what modern feminism advocates.

    The eradication of rigid gender roles and expectations mean that you should be free to pursue whatever you want without anyone judging you or criticizing you because of your gender. Have kids and get married or don't; you should be free to do what you want without judgment or harassment :)