Thursday, September 22, 2011

hold the stereotype, please

Years ago, on the eve of our impending weddings, a dear friend of mine told me, “Deb, I’m sad because I feel like we won’t be friends moving forward.”
“Why?” came my mortified reply.
“Because you’re a feminist, and I’m not.  I want to stay home with my kids.”


There’s a stereotype out there y’know.  It goes something like this:

Feminist = man-hating, spiky crew cut sporting, army-boot wearing, anti-domestic, hairy legged, angry loud strident bitch.  Not much mother in that picture. Definitely no stay-at-home mom.

For the record, I’ve actually known quite a few army-boot wearing feminist women and, in my experience, they pretty much rock just as much as the rest of us. 

But the question at hand: What's up with that unsavory mold? Do any of us fit it?  Do I?  I think if you saw me, you wouldn’t remember me. I’m a fairly unremarkable looking mom.  In fact, I worry that the folks from What Not to Wear might show up, all smug and giddy, in my purple living room one day.  Their mission: get me some style.  Any style.  So if there is some sort of feminist fashion sense out there, a pair of very expensive and bulky fem-boots I should be wearing, I’m falling far short with my disappointingly suburban lack of flair.

But what about all the other stuff?

Man hating: it just isn’t so.  The list of things I “hate” is fairly short: raw egg white clinging to an otherwise perfectly lovely omelet, canned peas, hypocrites, and being sick on a sunny day.   I love men, have lots of male friends, am married to a man.  I have a beautiful kind-hearted son who I hope will grow up to be a feminist too.  Yeah, men are pretty cool.

Crew-cut sporting:  Nah.  Even if I tried, no amount of gel could get my hair to stand up like that.   I have thin brown, shoulder length hair.  I use hairspray. 

Army Boot Wearing: Nope. 

Anti-domestic:  I cook.  A lot.  I bake all of our bread with home-ground grain.  I make allergy friendly homemade dinners every night.   I don’t sew, but I want to.  With the help of my family, I clean when things are dirty.  I’ve worked from home part-time since my kids were born.  I deeply value my role as a mom.  I do, however, break out in a cold sweat at the thought of doing a craft.   

Hairy Legged:  Yeah.  I do have a bit of this going on.  Darnit.  I didn’t want to admit that so soon.  We’ll talk more about it later.

Angry, loud, strident:  I suppose this blog will tell.  I do talk louder when I get passionate about something. And if you ply me with a little wine, you can certainly goad me into a debate, but I would describe myself as generally flabbergasted more than angry.  I’m a little strident about food, but I imagine the stereotypical feminist waving around a burning a bra more than I can see her brandishing a home-grown butternut squash.
Bitch:  Gosh.  I hope not.  I mean, I take in stray cats, speak sincerely and charmingly to other people’s children, and give money to homeless folks when I pass.  I cry when birds fly kamikaze-style into my picture window, when athletes overcome adversity to win intense victories, and when my kids hit milestones like riding a bike and finishing 6th grade. 

I guarantee there are some things that are different about me, and I do feel passionate about my politics.  That’s part of why I thought it would be interesting to write this blog.  I guess I just think it’s a shame for all of us intelligent, independent women to let an overblown stereotype scare us out of claiming and celebrating our feminist heritage. 

We don’t have to mimic our feminist predecessors to celebrate them.  They left a legacy that allows us to reinvent motherhood, womanhood and feminism itself if we want to.  So let’s do it!

Here’s my stab at it: 

Feminist  =  a woman who desires autonomy and equality for herself and other women

That means that at a minimum: I want to make my own decisions; I want other women to make their own decisions, and I want the boys to play fair. 

Because it’s my nature to complicate things, I do take it further.  I value my role as a citizen, so while I’m making all these decisions that come with parenting and running a household, I try to keep my eye on the bigger picture, asking myself how my choices benefit not only my family, but the community and the environment around me.  

That’s not so scary is it?  Maybe it’s time we take the “bitch” out of “butch” and give the big “f” word a better name.  It deserves a place with all the other happy f-words like:  fun, fabulous, fantastic, frisky, feeling, fine, and...friend.

As for my friend of yore.  We’re still close.  When you’re 20-something, you think you have it all figured out.  She had kids and discovered it was harder than she thought to stay at home.  I had kids and discovered it was harder than I thought to leave them for work.  Who knew we would both get caught up in the very dilemma that stymies feminism today:  how to strike that elusive balance.   

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