Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Feminism and Me

"Why are you getting married?" a mentor asked me, with coldness that was unmistakable.

"Are you keeping your last name?" A fellow student asked.

"You're pregnant? That was fast." Mused a co-worker. 

"Have you ever gone back to work between babies?" 

"So, when are you going to use that degree you worked so hard to get?" A question from a relative.

"Well, I'm not sure you have much street cred as a feminist," said a Sociology classmate motioning to my pregnant belly.

These are the things that swirl through my mind as I think about feminism as it relates to me. It's not a very welcoming place, this feminist world, for a stay-at-home Mom who is a practicing Catholic - and yet, I feel like I should throw my hat in the ring. My classmate by surface accounts of feminism is right, I don't have feminist "street cred" by typical measures.
I put marriage and children before my career, I'm not a birth control user, and I do subscribe to a faith - Catholicism, that is certainly never described well in typical feminist circles. But given that I made these choices with full understanding and free will, I feel fortunate, blessed even, to be able to call myself a feminist.

I care deeply about women. It shakes me to the core that there is still oppression and injustice being enacted against women for the reason of their gender alone. So I dare to call myself a feminist. 

Women should have choices, yes. Women should have freedom to do and say and be anything they want to be, yes. Women should not have to fear the ramifications of being who they are and living to their full potential.

But I would argue from my side of the coffee shop, that there is a lot of fear and insecurity that emancipated, educated, free women like myself face each day.

A lot of these fears come from the set of ideas we call feminism. The idea that one must be educated, have a successful career, have strict control over how many children we have, we must have no reliance whatsoever on men, and we must be able to use our body when and how we please. These are the messages I grew up alongside, and at face-value, completely positive. But in another way these seem to be oppression again of another set of values - the ones that I hold dear. 

"Why are you getting married?" 
I was 22, in love with an amazing man, and I viewed marriage as the fulfillment of my deepest desire to walk with this man through life, leading each other to be better with each passing day.

The coldness and criticism I experienced told me a lot. It told me that marriage was looked at as a thing of little value to this person. But my inner feminist thought, "Shouldn't this be my choice? How dare you belittle my decision!"

I became pregnant within the first year of my marriage. In the hallways at my university, I stuck out and often got looks of pity, invasive questions about whether my baby was planned, and copious opinions about delivery (of all things). "Thanks young man, for letting me know that you deem it ok if I receive an epidural." Only a few times in those hallways did I hear congratulations, mostly from women who had children already. Having children was almost revolting to the majority of my 18-25 year-old peers. I thought of the feminists then: If women were supposed to do anything and be anything they wanted, why was my choice to be wife and mother less valid? 

Most women I meet in public with children my children's age are at least 10 years older. They've usually put in their time with a career of some sort, and often refer to it in conversation. I'm not going to lie, I myself vaguely refer to my degree in communications, but amidst these conversations I often wish I had the courage to just say I stay home and leave it there. There isn't any shame in staying home with children. I find it an extremely valuable use of my time. Where modern feminism has failed though is that it snubs the lives of our grandmothers, when what our grandmothers and indeed, early feminists sought, was simply for all women to have a choice and a voice. 

We still don't have that. Women all over the world are still being oppressed, and of equal worry, are the women who have lived the modern feminist life and found it wanting. 

More women than ever are on anti-depressants.  More women than ever are experiencing infertility.  Our choices are getting narrower and women are still suffering in a multitude of ways.

Maybe what women need most isn't more money, more birth control, more CEOs who are women, more politicians promising things that never materialize.

Maybe women need to support one another and celebrate the very things that make them women.  Maybe we need a feminism that puts who you are above what you achieve, and acknowledges that some of our previously accepted notions of what women need are hurting more than helping.

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