Don’t Tell Me I’m Not a Feminist Because We Are Not There Yet

In a recent article Elizabeth Wurtzel begins by comparing 1% wives (the richest non-working women in America) with all stay-at-home moms. Apparently I can’t be a feminist unless I earn an income.

This was the response that I originally intended to post to as a comment to her article, but I decided to put it here instead:

Come on Liz, don’t conflate rich moms with nannies with ALL stay at home moms. I have an education and I want to have a career, and I worked before I had a child, but for personal reasons I’m just not cut out for a full time job while I’m trying to raise my little ones. And I wanted to have children.

I don’t think it’s my duty sacrifice my family or my desire to have a family just to go out in the world and have a career “for the betterment of all women.”

I don’t think it’s my duty to help Feminism, but I think it’s Feminism’s duty to help me. Stand up for my right to work AND have a family. Come on Feminism make it easier for women to have a career and a family and they will! Where are the policies for maternity leave, family leave, breastfeeding rooms, daycare, etc?!!!!! I don’t not have a career because I’m lazy. I do it because we are not “there” yet.

You are absolutely right that we still don’t earn as much as men for the same jobs and we do not occupy all the top positions. My husband gets to be more successful in his career and life simply because he has a wife. The reverse is not true for me. But I don’t want to fight that fight while my children are small. I choose to sacrifice my career – for now – because my husband and I make a good family unit.

I do not romanticize staying home. It is a sacrifice I make.

But I am still a feminist.

I plan to earn my own money someday because I want to experience that fulfillment of my full human potential. But whether I do or do not – I am still a feminist.

You chose to not get married and not have kids – perhaps you never wanted those things – but perhaps it’s because you knew you couldn’t do that AND have your career. Brava! You have solved nothing for women. A working feminist without a husband or kids – who completely ignores the issues surrounding working mothers – is not a feminist.

(Incidentally, my husband does all the cooking after coming home from his job as a physician, so I’m not sure I’m *completely* losing in this situation.)

In a response to the article on the blog Feministe, the author, Jill, at least separates the act of staying home from whether or not someone is a feminist (emphases are mine):

“…she tries to draw lines around who’s a “real feminist,” which is a pointless exercise, and she defines a “real feminist” as someone who earns a living and has money and a means of her own. Obviously there are plenty of “real feminists” who don’t earn a paycheck. Obviously there are plenty of people who, because of age or ability or socioeconomic status, are dependent on someone else and are still “real adults.” And obviously stay-at-home wives can be feminists, even if I cock an eyebrow to the claim that staying at home full time is a “feminist choice.”

But that aside, Wurtzel poked some things that needed to be poked – “I choose my choice” feminism first among them.

In any comment section on the internet where feminism comes up, someone will pipe up and cry, “But feminism is about CHOICE!” No. Feminism is not about choice – at least not insofar as it’s about saying “Any choice women make is a feminist one and so we can’t criticize or judge it.” Feminism isn’t about creating non-judgmental happy-rainbow enclaves where women can do whatever they want without criticism. Feminism is about achieving social, economic and political equality for all people, regardless of gender. It’s not about making every woman feel good about whatever she does, or treating women like delicate hot-house flowers who can’t be criticized.

And maybe Jill is right by criticizing “I choose my choice” feminists instead of all stay-at-home moms. And maybe you can argue that my “choice” to stay home wasn’t exactly feminist – at least that separates my action from whether or not I’m a feminist. But I’m not a “I choose my choice” feminist either, just because I don’t work. I don’t feel it’s really an equal choice. Again, for me it’s not a “choice” it’s a sacrifice.

Saying that “feminism is about achieving social, economic and political equality” – but saying that that should be achieved by all women going to work and men stepping up at home just isn’t effective. It’s shooting us all in the foot. What we need is policy that prevents women from being punished for working AND having children.

Show me the feminists who are working on those goals.

Today I Was A 1950s Housewife

At least according to Wells Fargo.

Tuesday it the day the babysitter relieves me of my precious one-year-old for a few hours so I can catch up on me. On my way home from doing some work in a reserved work-room at the library, I was all excited to deposit the federal tax return check (yeah, we filed late, don’t worry about it) so I could have money in my account without having to worry about transferring money from my husband’s account for awhile. We don’t have joint checking accounts, but with online banking and knowing my husband’s password, I’m free to transfer money from his account to mine any time I wish.

I pull into the drive-through and tell the lady I want to make a deposit. She sends a slip through the shoot and I send back the signed check, my ID, and my debit card.

She then informs me that she is very sorry but she can’t cash the check.

“Okay.” I answer smoothly. “Do I need his signature too?” That seems plausible and I can live with that (despite the fact that he just deposited our state tax refund in his account the other day when we went out to lunch and I didn’t sign it.)

“Well, it’s not that. It’s that he’s not on your account, so we need him to physically be with you. He needs to actually come in and get put on your account. You should call ahead to make sure he brings everything you need for him to get put on your account.”

So I tell her, that’s funny, because he just deposited our other check no problem. Nobody needed me for that even though my name was on that check too.

(And furthermore, we came in and sat down and signed up for these accounts together. How was it not noted that we are somehow connected by marriage then?)

It was just one of those whatever, ridiculous things and I didn’t make a big deal about it, it’s not the bank teller’s fault.

But really. As I was driving away it just kept niggling at me. This didn’t happen when Tim deposited the other check.

And it hit me forcefully upside the head.

I’m as powerless with our finances as a 1950s housewife. Even though I have no qualms about the fact that his money is our money,  (I spent a pretty penny of my own savings on our wedding and when he was in med-school. Our money is our money) and I transfer it to myself as I need it, I do find it very upsetting that there is this unbalance in our access to the money we share as perceived by our bank.

My name is on that check. I would have understood if they just need both of our signatures on the back.

But apparently I need to prove that it’s okay with my husband if that check goes in my account.

It’s not a big thing, but ick! The whole thing just rubs me the wrong way.

It’s so very I Love Lucy.


Marriage Monday: One Day Late – ‘Cause It’s Never Too Late To Appreciate

You know me – I believe life is not a race – so I think you’ll forgive me for posting my Marriage Monday reflection on Tuesday. I’m so determined start a dialogue about marriage that I’m committed to attempting a weekly post about it.

I just….haven’t been able to do it regularly yet.

This week, I’ve been reading Flux, by Peggy Orenstein and I came upon a paragraph that mirrors feelings I’ve had about my husband that I hadn’t been able to put into words. The emphases are mine.

As I turned back to my computer screen, Steven came in, bearing a bowl of udon, a kind of Japanese noodle soup, for my lunch. He set it down beside me, then quietly left the room. It was a small gesture, but I realized that in our relationship, those gestures were usually his. He was the one who worked the garden, who cooked, who found special things to display on the walls. He had made our home a sanctuary. It occurred to me that he was the kind of person I wished I were: the kind who could be accomplished in the outside world yet create a cozy environment at home without either role threatening the other. He had found the balance that I lacked. The longer I was married to Steven, the more I appreciated what he brought to our relationship. Ironically some of his strengths are those most associated with women. Through him I was slowly learning that I could have connection without submission, domesticity without a betrayal of self. Those lessons did not come easily to a woman whose feminism was built on the primacy of autonomy and achievement, who saw any step toward traditional spheres of femininity as backsliding. I write about women, but it took a man to teach me this.

Wow! This blew me away. I feel so fortunate to have met a man who is as unconventional as I am. Just as I’ve not been overly comfortable discussing certain “women’s topics” such as purses and shoes, he’s never been really comfortable talking sports. I remember him telling me in the beginning that he didn’t believe in traditional gender stereotypes (Boy, did I score when I met him!) and I’ve been well aware that knowing him has changed me, but I didn’t realize that his nurturing actions could have so profound an effect on my perception of myself as a woman.

Like Peggy, I grew up thinking that “any step toward traditional spheres of femininity as backsliding.” For much of my life I saw taking too much of an interest in such things as cooking and sewing as moving away from my opportunity to reach my potential. I grew up with the belief that I could and should “do anything” (that is, anything that wasn’t traditionally “women’s work”). I rejected the idea that I should sacrifice myself for a husband and children.

I think I’ve developed this blog as a way to address my ambiguity about these issues. I’m obsessed with the idea of the housewife – how I’ve never wanted to be one – how I’m beginning to question what it actually means to be one in the 21st century, now that women are no longer stuck “inside,” but are always connected to the rest of the world through the internet, continually networking and creating new definitions of “work.”

My husband’s generosity and care for me reminds me that caring for a family and making my home a sanctuary from the outside world is pretty much what gives my life meaning. Work is important in my life, and it has brought feelings of accomplishment and confidence that nothing else has, but it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive of settling into domestic life with my life partner and future children.

The fact that my husband – a very accomplished man – can cook, buy plants for the house, be the one who remembers to water said plants, garden, and get excited about buying a vintage rug for the living room, proves that I can do such things without giving another thought to what it says about my gender or my potential to be “successful” in this world. Cooking for my husband (and myself) or packing his lunch, does not undermine my autonomy or my or my ability to “be accomplished” outside the home.