Sunday, February 27, 2005

Wonder Woman Doesn't Live Here

So, I'm reading Jen's blog this afternoon, particularly her Saturday post. And I find myself thinking toward that some of us girls should be asking what Feminism has done for us lately.

Wait, before you kick me out of the sisterhood--I am a self-identified feminist. Small "f". I appreciate the advances made in the last century or so. I like voting (although I'm not real whippy about my choices lately), I like education, I like birth control. I would like to see more advances in pay equity and in the boardrooms of America. HOWEVER, I think pieces of feminism have...evolved into something different. What I think of as classic feminism (first- and second-wave) sought equal treatment under the law. Absolutely necessary. Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex established la differance, that a woman is not just Man-Lite. Bingo.

But somewhere along the way, Feminists and feminists branched out. I think of big "F" Feminists as the ones with the press coverage. They're the popular, although not totally accurate, picture of women who think that equality means being exactly the same as men. Unfortunately, in practice, this ends up becoming a sort of attitude where women think they have to do everything men have been traditionally responsible for (success in business/wage-earning) as well as everything women have been traditionally responsible for (housekeeping, cooking, child-rearing, etc.). In other words, we're somehow supposed to be Wonder Woman, able to juggle a career, a traditional family life, and the fight for equality all while saving the world.

My mother tried to do it all. She has worked since I was two-ish, first as a radiology & nuclear medicine technician, then as a medical transcriptionist who eventually moved up the corporate ladder into being part of the design team that creates record-management systems for new hospitals that contract with her company. On top of that, she went to all the PTA meetings, served as scorekeeper for two sets of softball teams (luckily, my sister and I rarely played at the same time), kept three kids fed, clothed and up to date on homework, and drove them around to Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Job's Daughters, church groups, play rehearsals and even jobs. She taught me to sew, cross-stitch, crochet and cook.

Not that my dad didn't help--don't get me wrong, he's always been incredibly supportive, and there were a number of times that my sister and I split the parental involvement when our schedules conflicted. He generally took care of the laundry and ironing (until it became my job), kept the cars running, the electronics hooked up--all that generically "guy stuff." He taught me how to change a tire, starch a collar, swing a hammer, and take apart a clogged sink drain. Anyhow, back to Mom.

She spent years exhausting herself. More often than not, she was out the door before I was really awake, to beat the traffic for her commute. She was almost always the last one home, rolling in around 5:30 after picking up one or more kids at the babysitter or daycare. I watched this for years without really thinking about it, but when my husband and I started talking about how our family would be, I knew I didn't want to kill myself that way.

But I've tried to anyhow. It's what I grew up with as normal, and it's taken me time to sort out how to make my life work--a little better, anyway. Still working on it. I overloaded myself with academic expectations beyond what I really wanted to do. I let myself get lured away from the literature I truly cared about to "Real Literature" in my studies because it was "more marketable." I let my home nearly fall apart, both in terms of the clutter and in my relationship with my husband. I put myself on hold. For years.

I have to limit my committments. Including the ones that are only to myself. I have to find a way to be productive by my own standards, not someone else's. So, today I avoided grading again--it will get done in time, and my course management system gets quirky during peak traffic times anyway. I baked a cake--because I felt like taking cake to a friend's house for the Oscars. I knitted (because I'd like to have this sweater before I go to Florida in a month, although that is probably moronic).

So, what have Feminists done for me lately? Not much, other than making me feel like I ought to be doing a lot more than I really need to. feminists (back to the small "f") give me comfort and a feeling of completeness when I am feeling "domestic" and support when I'm feeling like challenging the status quo. The big F Feminists make me feel guilty for not challenging it to their standards. They can go hang...


Andy said...

Nice to hear you're relaxing a bit. Slow down, unwind, and smell the roses. Or don't, if you aren't feeling in a rose mood. It took me a while to learn that pretty much everything can wait, particularly if you're driving yourself nuts. There's no reason for it.

Jenorama said...

I think there is a strong movement in precisely this direction.

I may ask you to develop this into a chapter for a book.

Gina said...

Awesome. Just let me know. I've got plenty to say about it.

Karl said...

My students used to express this exact sentiment - well said.