My first degree was in sociology and women’s studies. I chose it because I loved it. I liked that my classes pushed me to think out of my comfort zone and consider possibilities I didn’t know existed. I didn’t understand what feminism was before college, and it was there that it increasingly became a pivotal part of my identity.
And yet, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized just how narrow my understanding of what it meant to be a feminist actually was. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit now how exclusively I had internally defined feminism for so many years, despite outwardly working towards equality. I didn’t realize that disconnect, but parenting, as it has a way of doing, has opened my eyes to many of my weaknesses, including those in my work empowering women. Here are two ways parenting has challenged my idea of feminism, and helped me become more inclusive:
1. Being a stay-at-home mom is not anti-feminist.
I graduated college with a goal of creating a career. I wanted to get married and have children, but I had a murky understanding of how that would fit into my career. Mind you, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted my career to be, but at the time I was determined to work; after all, so many of my classes emphasized equality in the workplace, shattering the glass ceiling, working in male-dominated fields and the devaluation of jobs that women hold – yet not much was included around motherhood. Motherhood was part of my plan, but I also at the time shunned stay-at-home motherhood in favor of the idea of being a working mom, since my understanding of feminism at the time was that feminist women work.
After the birth of my daughter, I sort of fell into stay-at-home motherhood. It wasn’t a conscious choice, and yet it was. It wasn’t part of the plan, but then it became the only viable option for me. To this day I still have trouble putting into words the pull I felt towards staying home with my daughter once she arrived, but I can say that it slapped me in the face how silly I’d been to view the choice to not work as contrary to feminism. My biggest fear was that people would see me as some kept wife, luxuriating all day and not contributing to the household finances, which to me had meant I was dependent on my partner. And you know what? Who cares if that was me. It wouldn’t have meant I was any less feminist for my choices or situation. We all have our own paths through life, but that doesn’t mean any one choice is better – or more feminist – than another.
2. There is nothing anti-feminist about pink and girly.
There is so much emphasis on raising strong girls, brave girls – remember “girl power” of the ’90s? To me, being feminist had meant rejecting that which our culture told us was synonymous with feminine – and therefore weak, unimportant and undervalued – pink, girly, soft, frilly. I had thought of it as rebelling against what was assumed of me as a woman and making people question their own assumptions. Really, though, I was the one being narrow minded. By rejecting all things “girly,” I was actually saying that the only “right” way – the only feminist way – to be was to be more like how our culture defines masculine things: strong, brave, fierce. All that did was reinforce that “masculine” was superior to “feminine.”
My daughter loves makeup, dresses and accessories. She is no less feisty, opinionated or outspoken for it; it’s just another aspect of her personality. I’m no less of a feminist parent for buying her the pink toy after giving her a choice of the primary colored or the pastel colored version, or for indulging her love of princesses and dolls. Offering a choice and allowing for self expression is just another important way I can practice feminism in my parenting and in my life.