I was raised by a working, single mother. She went to Stanford, majored in economics, became a public school teacher, wrote a book, and now works as a journalist. She didn’t give up her job when she had my sister or me, and she certainly didn’t give it up after she and my father divorced. I consider her the ultimate feminist — she’s worked her butt off, made a living on her own, and raised two perfect daughters (just kidding). She’s my hero. But if she had quit her job when I was born, retiring at age 31, would she still be my #1 role model? It’s hard to say.
To this day, I am still trying to figure out what makes a woman strong and independent. Maybe I should talk to Beyonce, who seems to be confident about the definition. I know women who are CEOs, ones who inherited millions, others who are living on welfare, and still more, who married rich. Are some of them “better” than the rest? More respectable? Harder working? Stronger-willed? It could be argued, and probably has been, that all of these “types” are worthy of the feminist label. There are so many different kinds of feminists out there these days, it’s hard to keep track. When the feminist movement (in the U.S.) began, there was a clear-cut dichotomy between the two groups of women: the Housewives (the norm), and the Feminists (the rebellion). Now I’m hearing that a woman can be both, and still retain her power. But I just don’t think I buy it.
Several of my college friends frequently discuss their post-grad hopes and dreams, and I am usually forced to walk away from the conversations, having become more than embittered by what I hear. They tell me they have plans to marry by age 23, pop out children by age 26 (believe me, they have the dates strategically planned out to a T), and then abandon their careers to build their family. Why are these women spending thousands of dollars on a college education if all they plan to do afterwards is care for their husbands and children? They say that they might build a career, but that if they “happen” to marry rich, they will likely quit their jobs, instead resorting to more “feminine,” “wifely duties.” And what happens if their husbands leave them, or, more likely, if they want to leave their husbands? How will they support themselves? One friend told me she was looking forward to having a “man of the house,” who would make the financial decisions, while she would worry about PTA meetings and grocery lists. I sat there wondering how she would ever be able to handle her own finances, if god-forbid this marriage didn’t work out. Of course, when she saw my facial expression change from genuine intrigue to lucid judgment, she started passionately defending the goals she had just described to me, claiming they were just as feminist as mine. But I just couldn’t get myself to believe that she was describing the life of an independent woman.
I’ve heard a lot of this chatter about choices. If you make the choice to be a homemaker, that is your prerogative, and it doesn’t make you any less admirable. While I’m all about choices, and I agree that the ability to choose one’s path in life is part of what makes a person independent, in my eyes, a woman who “chooses” to be a housewife might not be any different from one who was pushed into the role by societal norms and precedent. I would be much more inclined to believe that homemakers were making this lifestyle choice autonomously if there were men who were making it as well. but for the most part, there aren’t. It’s the young women who are brainwashed into thinking they have to give up their career in exchange for a family. (Because, of course, it’s the mother’s — not the father’s — fault, if the kids aren’t raised with TLC, the dinner isn’t prepared, and the counters aren’t shining). And so these girls convince themselves that as long as they have a feminist philosophy, they don’t actually have to live it out. But I truly believe that women can, and should want to, have their feminist cake and eat it too. Maybe I’m just naïve.
“Desperate Housewives” has really got me thinking about these possibly unanswerable questions. One character, Bree, is the most Republican, gun-loving, suburban housewife you will ever lay your eyes on. But while I judged her at first, I grew to adore the firey redhead. And she actually ended up leaving housewife-dom behind, becoming a book-selling entrepreneur. Now I can’t remember if I began to respect her before or after the career change took place. But even if I only respected her after she hopped on the career boat, was she a feminist all along?
Which leads me to ask the question I desperately want answered: What makes a feminist? Is it the philosophy, that may be covered up by meal making and soccer game attending, that counts? Is it your career resume? Is it just about loving and respecting yourself? Or does it simply not matter?
I’d love to read your two cents.