Today I am linking up (again) with Faith Feminisms. Follow other posts on Twitter with the hashtag #FaithFeminisms.
I am a feminist for my family.
I am a feminist because:
my daughter hears the words, “Don’t ________ like a girl!”
my son already gets told, “Be strong! Don’t cry!”
my daughter is already worried about how she looks.
my son told his friend he was slow “like a girl.”
my daughter already feels like a failure sometimes.
I am a feminist because we live in a world that tends to dictate both what men and women should be and what they should not be, what parts of themselves are worth keeping, and what parts they need to strip away or hide. Yet I want my children to live by their own convictions and to be whole. I don’t want my children to have to silence some part of themselves because they are _______ (insert gender here). I don’t what them to not take an opportunity because they are ________ (again, insert gender here).
There are certainly gender differences, and some of them are in our genes. But culture is often what influences expectations for males and females. I remember last year when a photo of a dad wearing a baby in sling (or some baby backpack) and combing his older child’s hair in the bathroom went viral. I applaud that dad for proving that fathers can be nurturing and can take care of their kids well. Yet at the same time, the fact that that photo went viral tells us that America still finds it hard to envision dads as primary caregivers.
I have worked full-time since I was 22, and our children both went to daycare when they were little. (Although I do get summers off with them.) I work both because I want to and because I need to. I have told my husband before that I feel like he is only expected to well at his job, but I am expected to do well at my job and succeed at parenting. To some extent, men are allowed by society to put their jobs first, whereas women are not. Even though I have a job, I am expected to be concerned about my family primarily because I am a woman. In conversations with new people, I am asked about our children; my husband is asked where he works. (That said, my husband is an awesome dad and a competent caregiver.)
I assure you that in my book, my family comes first. Yet I am very aware of the fact that I would be crucified if I admitted that sometimes my job has to come first. The truth is, there are times I have to tell my kids, “I’m sorry, but I can’t come to your field trip/school program/class party today.” I take personal and sick days when I can, and I can occasionally finagle my schedule to be able to attend something, but there are days that I just can’t take off, and I always feel rotten for it. Yet the work I am doing is providing financially for my family, and that means something, too.
I believe that feminism affects this conversation, attempting to level the playing field. What if both mothers and fathers were expected to care for and nurture their families? What if both working moms and dads were valued for their contributions to both society and to the finances of their families? What if both parents were allowed to slow down a little at their jobs so they could focus on their children? What if working moms were allowed to breathe a little? On a different but just as important note, what if stay at home moms – and dads – were given greater respect and valued more for the work they do?
Some people blame feminism for the downfall of the American family, but I can’t help but wonder what would happen if our government would legalize paid maternity and paternity leave like many other developed nations. How would that affect family life? What if workplaces provided on-site daycare for their employees or allowed more people to work from home? When you have to work to make ends meet, these changes would probably be positive. Yet our nation is so work-driven and consumer-driven that the thought of “losing money” by paying for maternity and paternity leave is unbearable. (Maybe feminism can be a voice to help get paid parenting leave eventually.)
Sometimes I feel like this is a fight: I fight to be a good mother, and I fight to have a career that matters. There are voices everywhere (including my own sometimes) telling me that I am not good enough at either. Yet I am a feminist because I believe that both are important callings, and neither should reject the other.
I fight to create an environment where my children are valued for who they are, not for what expectation they live up to. I am a feminist because I don’t want for my son or daughter to have to fight to feel like they have worth.
I fight to see beyond my white, middle class nose and to understand women who are different from me, whose voices contribute to the story of all women. I am a feminist because I believe in advocating for all women, whether they work, stay at home, are young, old, black, white, poor, rich, or anything in between. I realize that is idealistic and easier said than done, but it’s what I hope for.
I wonder how many of these questions are rooted in our Western Industrialism’s history since the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that time most labor was not far removed from the home. In the Industrial Revolution men began to “go” to work and women remained in the home for the most part. Gradually women have begun to “go” to work also and now that is for the most part the norm. It’s something every family has to work out and it is so important to escape the barrenness of mere role-playing and to work out a comfortable fit between all involved. Thanks for a wonderful article.
Yes, and I think about how during the world wars, the women often had to go to work (sometimes even taking their husband’s places in factory lines, etc.). I know a variety of families who have a variety of ways to make a living, and there is a lot of judgment out there on all sides of the fence. Our situation works for my family. I do think that our American culture could be a little less “workaholic.” Most European countries do not have that workaholic mindset. They believe in rest, and breaks, and family time. I think shrinking back from that “must work all the time” idea would help both mothers and fathers!
cultural expectations for working parents are SO varied by gender! thanks for speaking to some of these tensions.
Thanks for reading! I thought about writing about all the reasons why I think me working is actually good for my family, but I thought that would sound defensive. And the post was already defensive enough! 🙂 Every family has to figure out what’s best for them. This works for us.