I'm having a week where I am contemplating a lot of abstract feminist thoughts and I thought I had better write them down to better understand what it is exactly that I am trying to figure out.
Earlier this week I read the New York Times opinion piece, 'Poor Little Rich Woman'. It's an social researcher's observations of the ultra rich housewives from the Upper East Side of Manhattan and well, you can go read it for yourself, or kind of guess what it's all about (think Nanny Diaries or Jane Krakowski's character in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).
But the article and the author's commentary on the lives of these women, however observational (and also maybe just a tad judgmental), where not what really got me into this contemplative mood. It was a comment I read on Facebook that has stuck in my brain. It read, "This is not disempowerment of women, this is abdication."
This made me start to examine the words we use when discussing feminism and our efforts towards full equality. It made me think that in our aim to constantly EMPOWER woman, are we not also saying that they are in fact weak? To empower someone literally means TO GIVE THEM POWER. If we are looking at the world from a perspective of power and who holds it, then, let's be honest, do we really think that true equality is ever going to happen within the social, political and economic structures as they exist today?
This is the situation as I see it; especially when it comes to most of the anti-feminist rhetoric one reads and any and all arguments about women actually having agency in their own lives. Women ARE gaining personal, professional and political power in our world. This power though, is often perceived as a finite resource, and therefore any gains that women are making, is seen as power being taken away from men. And this is just not cool for the current power-holders.
I am also not completely convinced that I need to feel empowered as a woman. The thesaurus says that synonyms for empower are "to LET, ALLOW and PERMIT". And I am sorry, but no one needs to PERMIT or ALLOW me to be a full, equal and valued member of society. As a feminist, I believe that ALL PERSONS have this right just by being born. It's not about empowering or allowing someone to have these rights, it's about making sure that everyone knows this as the truth and feels it from the day they come into this world.
Also, do you know what is DISempowering? Governments that resort to the lowest of lows to limit power to women by regulating our reproductive systems. Workplaces and schools that continue to function as they did in the 1950s when a parent (mother) at home full-time was the norm and not the exception. Childcare costs that are so hefty, that they alone can eat up half of a person's annual income and make it seem like having children is in fact a burden on society.
The aggressions, both micro and macro, that women experience daily are all there for one purpose - to keep the power right where it has always been. In the hands of the patriarchy.
My Webster's dictionary and I are getting all cozy up in here today.
Abdication (noun): to formally give up a position.
As a stay-at-home-parent, is this what I have done? Is this what women who "opt-out" of careers and professional lives to care for children and households do? And if so, is it such a terrible thing?
In 1936, Kind Edward VIII abdicated the Throne of England so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. This man gave up his birthright and the ruling of the Commonwealth of Britain to marry the love of his life. At the time, this was considered a "crisis", that Wallis was a twice-divorced floozy, and just after the king for his literal crown jewels. And yet, he gave up his crown, they married, and remained so until he died 35 years later.
My question is this: Is it wrong to want LOVE more than one wants power?
I say NO.
Power doesn't crawl into your bed in the early hours of the morning and fit perfectly in the warm space between your arms and your chest.
Power doesn't ask you to still do "The moon is round" rhyme every night before he closes his eyes, even though he is almost 9-years old.
Power doesn't take a three-hour car ride with you in complete silence, not because you don't have anything to talk about, but because you are so comfortable with each other that you don't have to talk about anything.
Yes, I abdicated my position as a 9-5 career woman. I gave up the jewels (perks) that came with my job. I chose to renounce the paycheque, the benefits and the possibility of bigger and better things and the power that came with them. I was also in a very privileged position to do so and am so very grateful for that.
And yes, I would do it all over again if I was given the chance and/or the choice. (As I suspect King Edward would have too!)
I feel like that random Facebook commenter was using the word abdication and meaning it in a derogatory sense. As a form of "crisis" for the feminist movement.
To this person I would say this - Nothing in my life; no high powered career, no promise of a corner office, no amount of money offered, has made me more of a feminist, and has "EMPOWERED" me more, than mothering has.
After yoga one morning last week (because, yes, I am one of THOSE moms who goes to yoga after I drop off my kids at school), one of the moms was telling a story about how her daughter had asked her if there is a course at university to learn how to be a stay-at-home mom. She proceeded to tell us that she told her kid in no uncertain terms that NO, there most certainly is not and that she is to have a career FIRST!
I wasn't about to get into a big feminist discussion in the parking lot or stick around for the MRS. degree talk that was starting to happen, but I did wonder... How would her daughter, how would MY own kids for that matter, know this? We are our children's first role models and if you are a stay-at-home parent and have been since your kids where born, that part of the equation (the career FIRST part) is not something they have been exposed to.
And also, have we been so conditioned by our society, that this is what must FIRST define a woman's worth? Her career. And then, once she has established that value, THEN she can opt (out) to become a mother and perhaps, if she can, choose to stay at home with her children.
My kids have never witnessed me with a 9-5 job. They have never been in full-time day care. They don't take the school bus or have to be in before- or after-school care. We've had discussions about what Mommy's job is versus what Daddy's job is and how both are very important in order to help our family function and thrive. Sometimes it hurts to hear them say that I don't have a "real" job, but I can't deny that this is the truth in the literal sense of the word.
Because of the choices that we have made, and that we are privileged to make for our family, I feel that as a woman, a feminist, and a mother, it is my responsibility to show my children how to be the best at all three of those things. So that my daughter finds her own footing in this world as a strong, confident woman and so that my son respects and admires this in the women in his life and looks for these traits in his future partner(s).
It also means exposing and introducing them to people from all different walks of life. Moms who work, dads who stay home, same-sex couples, single-parent families, couples with no kids, and everyone in between. That means not shying away from the tough conversations that come up when they ask questions, be they about race, sex, work, religion and privilege. This also means being the ones to bring up these topics when they DON'T ask about them and making sure they are getting their information from a reliable, albeit often-fumbling-through-it-all-as-best-we-can, source.
In the end, do I want my daughter to get an education and have a career before she has children? Do I also want the same for my son? I don't really know. We believe this is the best thing for our kids, because it's what we've been taught to believe and what our parents where taught to believe as well. I'd like to think that I am teaching my children that what THEY want in their lives is what is most important and I can only hope that I am giving them the tools to know themselves well enough to figure this all out and make the best choices for themselves.
I want them to know that sticking with the status quo, just because that's the way it has always been, doesn't have to be their way. I want them to know that their value as human beings is not tied to a paycheque or a lofty title or a high-powered career. I want them to know that choosing and being guided by love is never a bad thing. I also want them to know that working hard and doing their best at whatever they decide to do, is to be done not simply to make their parents proud, but to make them proud of themselves and the good things that they are doing for others.
This feminist parenting stuff is not always easy and sometimes, my brain gets overloaded with all the thoughts that I have, all the articles that I read and all the news that I consume. I know that to some people, it may be tiring to hear me "make a point" about EVERYTHING all the time, and that not everything has to be about some kind of feminist agenda.
I am not sure I can agree with this. Nothing will ever change if we just keep doing what we've always done. If we don't stop and think about the way we talk, and the way we act, we'll never see the kind of change we want not only in ourselves, but in those around us as well.
And so I'll keep contemplating, keep writing down my thoughts and keep on making my points. Until such time that the world we live in looks a lot more like the one I envision in my head.