My daughter looked at me the other day, right in my eyes so that she knew she had my full attention and said, “Mom, I think Jane is a feminist”. (Jane is one of her friends. Except I changed her name; anonymity and all that). She said it with a sort of reverence, as if a feminist was a mythical goddess, something you either were or weren’t, by birth right. I asked her if she knew what a feminist was and she said it was, like, someone who believed women were better. She also mentioned that “Jane” hates all of the boys, so she must be a feminist.
I realized that feminism was not something we had ever talked about. We’ve had discussions about racism and bullying and accepting differences in others. And she is wildly compassionate and steadfastly righteous when it comes to those things. I snatched the opportunity to explain that a feminist was someone who believes women deserve the same opportunities as men. The explanation I gave was spontaneous. I didn’t really think about it. It was the simplest way I could explain it, but it has stuck with me these last couple of days. I also explained that you don’t have to hate boys to be a feminist. In fact, boys can be feminists, too.
I have a confession to make. I have a secret resentment toward feminists. I work outside the home and I always have since my daughter and, then later, my son was born. I’ve always wanted to stay at home with them. I’ve always felt that it would be better for them and me if I were around more to take care of them and the house and to host play dates and bring them to activities after school. Instead, we make do with scheduling things around work schedules. It feels like the family comes in second to work and it’s all the feminist’s fault. They had to burn their bras and get jobs and now the 21st century mother has to go to work every day because two incomes are the standard and how on earth could anyone manage to make it on one income? I mean, the cell phone bill alone!
Except it’s not the feminist’s fault. The key word in my off the cuff explanation of feminists to my daughter was “opportunity”. The women ahead of me gave me the opportunity to work outside of the home. And I really am grateful for that. My job provides income for the family and it does have the occasional moment that makes me proud and feel like I’ve helped another human on this planet.
What I’m beginning to understand is that being able to work outside the home is only one opportunity bestowed on to us. We can take that opportunity, or we can pick another path. It may not be the easier path or the familiar path, but if I walk it, then it will be easier for someone else to someday. Like, maybe my daughter.
I remember reading a post by Katie Bower of Bower Power. Her husband had lost his job and she wrote about how difficult it was for him and the weight on her shoulders of being the sole provider for their family. She committed to do all she could to bring in extra money for the family. I thought, here is a young woman with two little boys and a home to take care of AND who also happens to have a successful blog that could provide for her family. She’s a stay at home mom with a full time job that can bend to her family’s schedule. And I dare say she loves that job. Katie Bower is a feminist. Barefoot and pregnant and a feminist. She’s blazing a trail that I could follow. It’s another opportunity for a woman. We can stay at home, we can go to work, or we can try something a little weird and see if it works. That’s what the women before us have handed down. The opportunity to choose.
Sherry of Young House Love (pause for moment of silence. God, I miss them) is a feminist, too. She and her husband were at the pinnacle of their profession as bloggers. And then they decided they didn’t want to do it anymore. So they chose not to. They shut the whole thing down and chose something else. Can you imagine the guts that took? Clara has a mom who took every opportunity she wanted, until she didn’t want them anymore and then she said no. What an amazing example for her children.
Then there is Janelle of Renegade Mothering, who says the F word. Like, a lot. She writes fearlessly. She says things that I know I felt and didn’t even have the guts to allow myself to say out loud, never mind write them down for everyone on the planet to read, including her own MOTHER! But you know what writing that down and publishing it on the World Wide web does? It reaches scared moms who have no idea what they are doing and who feel alone on this planet and who are certain they are doing everything wrong and feeling all of the wrong things and gives them a moment of solidarity. That’s a life line for a lot mothers. If that’s not feminism, I don’t know what it is.
To the women like me who work every day in an office or a school or a bank or a warehouse or wherever and then spend every other waking hour making up for lost time with the family and to the women who stay at home with their kids and volunteer at their schools and then traipse all over town to soccer and swimming and karate and piano and to every woman in between who is doing everything they can to raise a family and build a home, you are a feminist. You’ve taken your opportunity and you are clearing the path a little more for your daughters who will come after you.