Losing My Feminism

The first time I noticed, really noticed, my feminism slipping between my fingers, I was standing outside of Pennsylvania Macaroni in the Strip District with E. It was a bright, cold Saturday morning and she was asking one of the vendors if they had those bags of broken biscotti that they sell for a dollar when available. Her husband loves those bags filled with broken biscotti pieces. The vendor said, no, but next week and as we turned and walked away my mother’s spirit crossed the five hundred or so miles separating us, slipped into my body and caused me to say “That’s really too bad! Dylan works so hard, he deserves his favorite food.”

I stared at E. in horror but since she didn’t reel back in shock I felt I had to explain to her how odd the comment was. “See,” I said. “It’s something my mother would say. Also, I don’t know your husband very well. Why would I care if he gets biscotti?” And since I had informed her earlier that I feared my feminism was disappearing, although I had sort of been kidding, I also added “This is another example of me, losing my feminism.”

I don’t remember how E. responded but, like everyone I’ve told thus far, she didn’t seem overly worried for me. But this weird response is happening more and more lately. If my sister-in-law complains about my brother, and when she does it is only in the most abstract and loving ways, like perhaps if he weren’t so terribly busy he could empty the dishwasher, I find myself having to bite back responses defending how very much work he has, and how when he comes home he needs rest, and to be taken care of. Even more disturbingly, I find myself thinking about my cousin quite a bit, hoping he is getting enough rest, has enough vacation coming this summer after his long school year, that sort of thing. With S., home now and studying for the bar, I find myself keeping track of how much sleep he’s getting, what he’s eating, what we need to do to restore his health to pre-law school levels. And, in case this all isn’t enough, just last week I found myself posting to a bog post, defending the creation of Sex and The City.

So, as you can see, disturbing developments, indeed. I don’t know where all of this is coming from, but suddenly I find myself wanting to take care of S. in a way I haven’t before, and whatever is stimulating that emotion extends beyond my little household. When you factor in my inability to support Hillary Clinton as our presidential candidate and my desire to throw rhubarb and strawberries together at every opportunity, I certainly think I have something of a situation on my hands.

Is this what happens in one’s thirties? Sudden, overwhelming desires to take care of your loved ones in the home? To protect? To nest? And if so, does it necessarily mean I’m losing my feminism? Perhaps I should have started with an essay like, What Feminism Means To Me, but my definition and thoughts on the subject offer nothing new to the debate.

On the blog discussing Sex and the City, I wasn’t so much defending the series and movie itself as I was stating I thought the blogger’s determination that this was not just a “chick movie” ridiculous. I don’t remember the whole argument but the writer and her readers were responding to the fact that there is no such thing as gendered movies – that if this is a good movie men should be willing, no, grateful, to go with their wives and girlfriends to see it because to assume Sex and the City was a movie for women was ridiculous.

And I just couldn’t help myself. I tried imagining dragging S. to watch two hours of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda. And I thought about him slowly poking his eyes out with hot pokers during the process. And it’s not because he’s not liberated – he’s as likely run the dishwasher or cook dinner as I ever am – but because there is not one thing about the storyline that would interest him. I guess, if I am a feminist, I’m the kind who is more worried about returning those young women in Texas back to their normal lives so they can have a bunch of babies before knowing anything different, than I am about whether S. watches a movie with me.

Wow – that sounded incredibly sanctimonious, didn’t it? My apologies. It’s just…I spent my late teens and all of my twenties calling myself a feminist, believing myself to be an advocate for equal rights and pay for women, not only here but abroad, and I suddenly find myself walking to work thinking “If I have a baby, I’ll never have to work again,” which is (a.) completely untrue and (b.) the antithesis of most of what I believe in. These events and the evolution of my thought process not withstanding, I spent three years of my life teaching women’s literature to classes of girls who essentially thought the feminism was over – it had served women the purpose of giving them Choice, and now that Choice was around, activism on their part wasn’t needed, and I’ve also spent a lot of time arguing with friends about the importance of things like agency over one’s body, and how universal health care is a feminist issue, and on and on and sometimes all the discussion, all the arguing, grows a little tiring. When arguments come down to whether or not men should see the Carrie Bradshaw movie I just want to throw up my hands, go look at some throw rugs and get a facial – because that’s not the important part of this whole thing.

I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m getting at, yet. I’ll revisit this idea as I think on it more….a part II will be in works, discussing how one of my (male) supervisors called me “bright eyed and bushy tailed” and when I shared that with my parents , trying to make the point that however well meaning he happened to be no man would every say such a thing to another man in the workplace, they just told me I’m oversensitive, and should be flattered…

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13 Responses to Losing My Feminism

  1. Make Tea Not War says:

    I hear you- I quite often find myself springing to the defence of men nowadays. I found myself agreeing with a Mens’ Rights Activist the other day. I still consider myself a feminist but I’m a heterosexual married woman too and my first loyalty is to my husband, who I share a bed, a house, a bank account and a child with. That comes way before anything so abstract as feminism and in fact I feel actively opposed to some of the hate filled misandry I see around the place mislabeled as feminism.

    Oh yes and I love Sex and the City- and I think it will be a light escapist chick film. My husband is probably going to see it with me- mostly to indulge me but also because he expects it to be mildly amusing. Similarly I’ve sat through many a big dumb action blockbuster or violent yakuza film with him. My rambling point here is that I think it is self evident that there are somethings that tend to appeal somewhat more to women- Gilmore Girls is another example- not to say all women like them or should like them, or that men can’t like them.

    Anyway, getting back to feminism I have been thinking for awhile that the word seems to carry such a vast lot of meanings that it is almost meaningless. It’s very hard to have a conservation about it nowadays without first going into lengthy explanations about what you mean and don’t mean by it before you can even get to the substance of what you might want to say.

  2. Make Tea Not War says:

    Oops- I mean *conversation*!

  3. Very funny! While my husband stacks dishwashers, cooks meals and does his fair share of childcare, he would rather pull his toenails out than see the SITC movie. So he and S are at one there, and we are still feminists, Courtney, despite our desire to make sure that people are fed.

    I lurk on various feminist forums (forae?) and while most of the issues there are things that move me and I care about, I just can’t get worked up about whether SITC is a women’s movie or not. Debate is good and healthy, but when women are still abused and raped and demeaned, that kind of debate looks a little meaningless to me.

    As for the “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” comment, that’s too irritating for words. Could you call hi “keen as mustard” at the next possible opportunity?

  4. Elaine says:

    I’m right there with you, C. Except that I think I’m just turning into a different kind of feminist – one that can both 1) advocate for equal rights and pay for myself and future generations of women and 2) honor our foremothers by taking up sewing, baking, biscotti shopping, etc.

  5. Amity says:

    a) It is not unfeminist to want to nurture people, have babies, cook, bake or put others before yourself

    b) Feminism is not dead nor has it accomplished its mission. It really, really irritates me when people, especially those like the young women you mentioned, think that feminism isn’t needed anymore because everything is just peachy keen for them. Bollocks! If anyone thinks that women are truly equal to men and have all the same rights they are living in la-la land

    c) You don’t have to hate or belittle men to be a strong, passionate feminist. We shouldn’t have to issue a disclaimer saying as much every time we fight for better treatment of women around the world or make strong statements. To say your feminism is somehow weaker or changed just because you don’t brand all men with the same brush just isn’t true or necessary. You can want women’s rights and still preserve men’s

    d) Great blog post! It’s good to explore our -isms and dissect how they evolve. 🙂

  6. laura says:

    Hubby sent me this the other day: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-kass-movie-htmlpage,0,5302018.htmlpage

    I don’t think there’s anything at all unfeminist about wanting to take care of and pamper someone you love. The unfeminist part would be forgetting to take care of yourself in order to do so.

  7. Emily says:

    Your descriptions of the hoopla going on over men’s and women’s movies reminds me of how I feel about such things as “waitresses.” I really couldn’t give a damn if we distinguish between waiters and waitresses, or stewards and stewardesses, but I do care that women make less money than men in the work force. Now THAT’S what’s important. Yet, what do we have in our society? We have “airline attendants” and “wait persons” and still no equal pay. Personally, I’d rather bring back “waitresses” and “stewardesses” and have the equal pay. Just like I’d rather have gay marriage and all the rights that go with that than to worry about whether I’m married to a “husband” or a “spouse.”

  8. Audrey says:

    Courtney,
    You’ve touched on a topic that I think a lot of women in our age group struggle with. Without saying anything cohesive, here are a few of the things that I frequently consider:
    1. The issue of equal pay isn’t just an issue of the same pay for the same work (though that is an issue). It’s also that women are still overwhelmingly in job fields that pay less (social welfare and service industries as opposed to business, sciences, etc.).

    2. I’m really concerned about the generation of women that are currently in their early to mid twenties. Among this group there seems to be a sense of entitlement, and a complete lack of career orientation. It seems that a lot of women in this age group see work as a temporary situation which will allow them to meet a husband, have kids and stay at home for ever and ever.

    3. I’m a little bitter that somewhere I was misled. Not sure if it was society, my upbringing, school,or exactly what, but the version of feminism I was taught involved the notion that you can “have it all.” You can have a family, love and nourish your husband and children, care for your home ala Martha Stewart, and the sky’s the limit for your career. When I chose to be a stay at home mom (and it was a choice. I got a writing job straight out of college and quit on the third day because I couldn’t leave my son with a babysitter), I thought it was a temporary decision. I was 21, had some job experience, and a college degree. There were plenty of jobs for me, the world was my oyster.
    So, now I’m 30. I’ve been at home with my boys for nearly nine years. I’m about to give birth to my third child. During the past nine years I have worked in one form or another at all times. Initially, I did transcription work for my college employer. Then, when Moon was old enough for pre-school, I worked as a research assistant for a General Motors epidemiologist. I did newsletters, report writing, editorial jobs, design work, and computer programming. When my second son was born, I quit the outside job and started my own business selling antiques on ebay. That evolved into my current vintage clothing business, which I’ve run successfully for five years.
    I never truly dropped out of the workforce. My skills are not rusty. I’m a pretty savvy business woman, and I know what’s happening on the web.
    And I am un-hireable.
    If I apply for the same entry level job as a new college grad, I can’t even get a phone call for an interview. Because despite what my resume says, despite my degree, my work experience, and my own business, to hiring managers, I am nothing but a stay at home mom who’s been out of college for nearly 10 years and never held a full time job. (Sorry for the run-on sentence. I swear to god I do know how to write).
    So, where are all the women in positions of power willing to open a door for me (and all the other women who stay home to raise their children) when I’m ready for full time work?
    I didn’t quit the workforce, it quit me.
    And I feel duped.

  9. Emily says:

    Yes. This is what happens, and not just to our feminism. Our ideals in general begin to lapse and slip as we age. We realize that we live in a complicated world, and things cannot be as ideal as we once had hoped…

    I loved this post!

  10. litlove says:

    I don’t think this is about feminism, Courtney. I wonder who it is that you feel compelled to protect – I think there’s a ghost getting in the way here. What I think is that in S’s absence you’ve been so self-sufficient, worked so hard to cope, and just plain worked so hard, that in actual fact it’s a part of you that you’d like to cosset right now, but you haven’t given yourself permission. You might associate it with masculinity, with hard work and earning and responsibility, but I think you might wonder what nourishment your spiritual soul craves and find ways of protecting and caring for it. I do hope this isn’t overstepping the mark – it’s just something I’ve recognised in myself in the past.

  11. Wow, what amazing, insightful comments from so many of you – I’m tempted to simply post your comments over at What We Said and leave it at that! Let’s see,though –
    Ms.Make Tea – I like how you discuss feminism as being so abstract – that’s how I feel as well. And perhaps because I’m not generally an abstract person particularly, fitting my thoughts and feelings around this issue feels extraordinarily difficult.

    Charlotte – thank you for commenting on the bright eyed/bushy tailed comment – it’s inappropriate, yes? I have a meeting with him today and I am tempted to take your suggestion.

    Elaine- I love you bring up honoring our mothers and grandmothers through the domestic arts. Barbara Kingsolver writes a lot about this in the book I am reading and I think both you, and she, are dead on.

    NS – I love your impassioned response, especially regarding the young women who view this as a “movement” that’s over – it’s extremely frustrating but I think Ms. Make Tea might be correct…we might need to find a new language to talk about this altogether. Even words like feminism, feminist carry connotations we can no longer compete with…

    Emily – EXACTLY. We’ve allowed ourselves to get all tangled up in language and political correctness while letting the important ships sail by…

    Audrey – I think there is a blog post in here for you as well! You write about this so eloquently! I think the idea of being duped by society is very true…I feel a bit duped that I took all the right steps – college, graduate degree, financial stability and now my doctor is lecturing me on not having kids in my twenties!

    Emily – exactly! Thank you!

    Litlove – first of all, you never overstep. And you might be right…I read once somewhere that when you find yourself worrying excessively your needs on some level aren’t being met, and so when I find myself in those cycles of worry I do check in on that level with myself, but perhaps what I need is nurturing and care, and I’m looking at it through an odd prism? I certainly wouldn’t mind if my mom came down for a week and cooked for me right now! And S. really couldn’t care at all if I buy a throw rug or ever cook a meal, so in the end, this is about me…hmmm…I need to explore this more…I’ll definitely be exploring this idea in my next post on the subject!

  12. You’ve spoken right to my heart. I’ve felt for a long time now that men get the rough end of things in this world. It’s not a sign of inequality or slipping feminism to care about people, or men, or to look after one’s husband.
    The world is certainly always changing but we should never let go of being good to one another, and it’s not wrong to want to protect people.
    One of my favourite film series is that of ‘The Thin Man.’
    In one of the films (it might be ‘Return of the Thin Man’) Myrna Loy’s feisty character saves her husband’s life in one scene, and at the end is sitting down looking like a goddess and knitting something for a baby. It’s a beautiful message.
    I don’t like the word feminism because of what it’s come to mean.
    This is so thought provoking. I need to think more about this- it conjures up so much for me, I could go on and on.

  13. Pingback: Everyone is Full of Cake and Staring at the Floor. « Make Tea Not War

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