Thursday, March 18, 2010

Have We Come a Long Way, Baby?

This is what a feminist looks like, sippy cup and all!

I can tell you the exact moment I became a feminist:

The first day of school, 8th grade, social studies class. My teacher, Mrs. Ryder, was a notorious Democrat in a land of Republicans. She even had the nerve to defend taxes to us Reagan-loving kids, telling us about all the important services that rely on those moneys.

Ah, that rebel Mrs. Ryder.

But the most incredible thing she ever did was pass out our American History books that fateful day and ask us to flip through them. "See how many pictures of women you can find in those books," she said, a sly grin on her face.

One. One little picture of Susan B. Anthony was all I found. Was all any of us found.

"So, do you think that Susan B. Anthony was the only one who had anything to do with American history?" she asked.

I my heart rate quicken. I felt my cheeks start to burn. And I felt the cogs in my brain start to turn. I. Was. PISSED.

From that moment on, both my BFF Amy and I proudly called ourselves "feminists." We'd write, "women rule" on our notes to each other, notes that dealt primarily with the boys we liked and whether they liked us back.

And although my family and friends poked fun at me and even tried to argue with me over the uselessness/offensiveness/ludicrousness of feminism, it was apparent to all that this was my destiny, that championing the causes of women was something that would stay with me from that point on, one day even leading me to a tiny feminist, mostly lesbian theater collective in the East Village of New York City.

I've written about the WOW Cafe Theater before because working there was one of the most important and pivotal moments of my life. I learned that there were many more issues affecting the lives of women than I knew about, global issues like genital mutilation and domestic issues like women STILL not getting paid the same amount of money for the same work as their male counterparts. And, equally importantly, I realized the importance of legalizing gay marriage, but again, that is a blog entry for another time. (I have to stop putting that blog entry off, I realize, but there's so much to talk about lately!)

But I also learned that feminism is a difficult concept to quantify and define. Is it having the same rights as men? Is it having specialized rights? Is it acting in a masculine way to overcome stereotypes? Is it embracing your femininity and maybe even using it for personal gain? Is it unnecessary now that we have the right to vote?

The conclusion I came to is that feminism means supporting women as they try to lead authentic and fulfilling lives and protecting them legally from discrimination or harm.

This means that it's fine that I love to bake and cook, that's it's cool that I tinker in knitting and sewing, that I'm not letting anybody down by having a traditionally feminine job such as elementary school teaching. I do those things because I choose to, not because I have to, because they bring me joy, connect me to my heritage, allow me to be creative, give me a chance to change the world. Not because society deemed those things appropriate or mandatory for me.

It means that it's fine that I pursued a master's degree, that I enjoy watching the NCAA tournament in the hopes that the University of Kentucky will win it all, that I make my opinions known when it comes to important political issues and that I take that hard-earned right to vote extremely seriously. These behaviors are no longer considered "male" and I am well within my rights to pursue them.

And finally, it means that I should feel free to take the subway home on a Thursday night without worrying that some guy is going to make aggressive and sexual remarks to me. It means that my career goals are as important as my husband's. And it means that I have the right to pursue my dreams and passions without feeling belittled, as in "oh, isn't it cute that this woman with her wittle ideas on her wittle blog wants to be taken seriously?"

I didn't realize how far we women still have to go and how ingrained sexism is in our culture until I became a stay at home mom in 2008.

Many educated moms make the choice to be stay at home parents these days. Even if it's a financial hardship, as it was for our family, many of us decide, for varying reasons, that it is something important enough to do. And, of course, in this economy, many women (and men) are stay at home parents out of circumstance, and they're just trying to make the best of it.

However, since we're shifting from a career to staying at home and parenting full-time, it can be a shocking and difficult adjustment. You find yourself missing time with colleagues, missing the intellectual work of your former job (which is different from the intellectual work of parenting full-time), missing the little moments to yourself while commuting or during coffee breaks. And, since a lot of us used to be writers in our former lives, we turn to blogging as a way to chronicle this incredible and transformative time, as a way of connecting with others rather than remaining isolated, as a way of expressing ourselves when a good chunk of our time is spent taking care of another.

So, why this long, rather unexpected rant rather than a new entry about Eastern-inspired recipes or tales of Stella's unbearable cuteness?

Because lately, moms who blog have been the source of much ridicule. The condescending attitude with which they are viewed just reeks of ingrained sexism, sexism that nobody thinks is sexism because it's just a part of the way our society is.

And, possibly worst of all, it's mainly coming from other women.

And this is what makes feminism so difficult. We're not technically a minority and our problems are not solely due to a dominating class. Our problems often come from ourselves and our misguided attempts to fit in to our preexisting patriarchal culture.

(Randi, this is not an undergraduate thesis. This is a blog. Reign yourself in, please.)

It all started with the article, "Honey, Don't Bother Mommy. I'm Too Busy Building My Brand." This article was written by a mom who blogs and was dealing with a topic that many of us find interesting: bloggers who try to build a brand and turn what they do into a business. However, this article was filed into the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times, not the business section, and often had a snarky tone that seemed to find it surprising that women would be entrepreneurial in such a way.

Look, I can't say it nearly as well as fellow mom blogger, Mom 101. In fact, I had no idea about the original article until I read her response and found myself intrigued and angry.

But that was just the beginning.

Then another mom blogger I know, Meredith Morgenstern Lopez, wrote her own wonderful response in The Huffington Post. And the comments on her Facebook page came pouring in. And some of them just reeked of sexism.

Sexism so deeply ingrained and subconscious that it was disguised as liberalism. *SHIVER*

Remarks like what would Betty Freidan think if she heard that many of us find being a stay-at-home mom harder than working outside of the home? I'd hope, if she's the woman I think she is, that she'd say, "You probably know what you're talking about, lady."

Perhaps I'm getting scattered. I do that when I'm angry. It keeps me from punching a hole in the wall.

But I'm so tired of this attitude that if I stay home with my child, I'm instantly an ignorant and indulgent person who concerns herself only with the volume of fecal matter I clean up in a day or how engorged my boobs are from breastfeeding. Or that I'm more valid now that I've realized that I'm a person who HAS to work outside the home for my sanity, because that means I'm doing a "real job." Or that I'm a crappier parent due to that realization, and that it's terrible that I'm letting someone else raise my child. Or that I'm so frivolous for blogging about how any of this makes me feel, since this is WOMEN'S BUSINESS, and that stuff is just SO DAMNED SILLY.

When men make the decision to stay home or are laid off, they are simply not viewed in the same matter. Nor are they judged as harshly if they go back to work. And, should a man find this time of his life amazing and worthy of writing about, he'd be applauded. And furthermore, should he decide to try to profit off of it, that would be considered industrious of him.

We women don't have the luxury of being viewed in that light. Unless you're the world-famous Dooce, a business woman who still has to deal with this crap but at least makes money off of it, people think you're being silly or terrible.

So, to conclude the most rambling of all my rants (and that's saying something), let me ask you this. Do people criticize the bloggers who created Stuff White People Like or Passive Aggressive Notes? These are people who found everyday occurrences funny and/or interesting, wrote about them, found they had a loyal following, then used that as a way to make money for themselves. Are they changing the world? Nope. But they make us laugh and keep us coming back for more.

If a mom can do that with her words, why is that funny or silly or ridiculous? At least we're also contributing to the future by raising aware and brilliant (and freaking adorable) offspring who'll make sure we get out of this environmental and financial mess, right?

Or am I just being a silly mom? Oops, gotta go, Stella's writing with crayon on the wall.


Meredith said...

I freaking LOVE this, Randi. Amazing. (And not just because you linked to my piece.)

You said everything so well, so articulately. I wish I could couch my arguments half as well as you do.

vjdutton said...

Hi Randi!
It's Saara Dutton here, under my blog alias.
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I totally agree with you. Feminism is about respecting the choices all women make: whether you are a lawyer, burlesque dancer, stay at home mom, plumber, landscape artist, glass blower, rock star--as long as it is your choice, you're doing what you want, and you are authentic.
I feel that a lot of younger women today have shunned the feminist label because for years it was associated with women who only wanted to promote one type of female success.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard interns say things like, "I'm not a feminist or anything but..." and then go on to spout a feminist perspective. That's when I paraphrase Bette Davis and say, "But ya ARE a feminist, Blanche. Ya ARE!"
Anyway-great post. I've already forwarded it to some pals.

Mom101 said...

Beautifully done Randi. And I love your definition of feminism.

There seems to be this strange thing happening lately in which people confuse feminism with an imperative to go to a full-time job. I would hope that if Gloria Steinem and her ilk did anything for is, it's pave the way to be anyone we want. Not just anything we want.

Randi Skaggs said...

Thanks, guys. I feel flattered to have such kick-butt women say such nice things!

Anne Stesney said...

HERE! HERE! The anti-mommy blogging PR is so blatantly sexist, it makes me ill. We women are so often our own worst enemies. I do think it's getting better and that there's less animosity among working and stay-at-home moms, but it's still not great.

Though I agree with your generalizations about stay-at-home dads, I will say that as a wife to a stay-at-home dad, it's not all encouragement and "great guy!" for him. He often gets ignored and shut out by other moms. And other men tend to look down at him for not having a "real" job. Basically there's a lot of judgment thrown at anyone who stays home with the kids!

Tiffanie said...

whew! this is rough stuff that gets my feathers ruffled! i appreciate that you can formulate these thoughts that speak for so many of us. i feel as if i, too, could fill up an undergraduate thesis with my opinions on the topic, but am busy trying to calm my breathing and not punch the wall to collect a cohesive Statement. [standing up and clapping and whistling] bravo!