As I scrape the burnt eggs from the bottom of the pan I feel small hands tugging on the back of my shirt. “Mom!!! Look at this!!!” My 4-year old has something very important to share with me. However, my mind is on other things– the dishes at hand, the rally for peace taking place downtown, the sadness and frustration in my heart over the state of things in our country. I feel torn between worlds– the one in which I want to give my blood, sweat, and tears to help right the wrongs I read about in the news and the one in which I quietly wash dishes and bandage knees and read bedtime stories to raise up girls who will someday right wrongs themselves.
Feminism = Equality
Feminism has been a part of my identity for as long as I can remember. I didn’t always call it by name but it was there all the same. As I entered adulthood I learned that feminism is, plain and simple, the belief that men and women are equal. I could passionately claim my dormant feminism for myself and, thankfully, my husband journeyed right along with me.
My journey toward feminism has been just one facet of my coming home to myself. Another part of that becoming has been motherhood. When I had my first child, almost seven years ago, I had no idea how radically and beautifully my life and identity would change. Staying home with my children, nurturing and teaching them, creating our home into the welcoming and peaceful space I want it to be, has been the most fulfilling work of my life. And as our family grows and my husband’s career begins to take shape, my role as mother and homemaker has become an even more natural rhythm for our family. I love it! So why do I sometimes feel like I should be doing more?
If the mothers and grandmothers of feminism worked so hard to get out of the kitchen, am I settling by staying there? I have so many friends who are strong, empowered women who either delayed having children, didn’t have children at all, or strike a beautiful balance between home life and activism. And yet, there is also the assumption that if you stay home or have a lot of children you are conforming to traditional gender stereotypes or the expectations of your husband. I have struggled with this both internally and externally in the judgment of others. But the truth is feminism is the full equality of men and women. Regardless of what role they fill in their family or community, we have equal value. Right now my most meaningful life just happens to be found within traditional gender roles.
Everyone can win
Historically, women only made personal and professional choices if their husbands “allowed” them to. Even now, if a woman has a more visible or high-profile job than her husband it can be implied they have their spotlight because their husbands allowed it. What an amazing guy to “let” her pursue her career. Or reverse it: my husband has a very busy professional life and sometimes people will joke that I’ve given him permission to be away and participate in all the things that fill up his calendar. But I agree with Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie when she said in her TedTalk, “Allow is a troubling word. ‘Allow’ is about power.”
My best hope for my marriage, which is rooted in the idea that my husband and I are equal, is we would mutually support one another (never overpower or compete with each other), and we continue to grow together as we make meaning of our lives. I (and we) do not have this figured out by any means, but here are some of the most helpful things I’ve found to battle my own self-doubt in regards to my feminism.
- In my marriage, wide-open communication is key. We are constantly checking in and evaluating our rhythms and routines and expectations to help us understand each other, support each other, and root for each other in our day-to-day work.
- With my kids, reinforcing all those values of justice and equality and compassion that first lead me to feminism. Raising children (boys and girls) who believe in the inherent worth, value, and equality of everyone is our greatest work and activism as parents.
- And in myself, learning to own it. This is who I am: a stay-at-home, raising-tiny-kids, planning-the-meals, cleaning-the-bathrooms (occasionally), and folding-all-the-laundry mom! When I doubt myself I turn the question around, “You’re a feminist and you’re making dinner for your family, so making dinner must be an act of feminism.”
When I get to wake up every morning and be exactly where I want to be, I am a feminist. When I get to use my gifts, become who I was made to be without judgment and restriction, that is feminism. Feminism that doesn’t support all women is a sham. True feminism should mean everyone wins, everyone gets to be fully human– men and woman, career women, working moms, and stay-at-home moms. Let’s cheer each other on into a better culture for us and our kids.