I recently wrote a column for Inside Catholic that pointed a finger at certain schools of feminist thought for making women feel like less instead of more. The article sparked an interesting dialogue (some of the comments took issue with the column) and has prompted further thoughts from me.
One of the many challenges of being a writer who occasionally broaches controversial topics (other than the fact that I’m oh-so-vain and want everyone to like me and pump their fists as a sign of solidarity when they read my opinion pieces) is that you’re confined by a word count and there never seems to be a way to address all the points of your argument or to defend against potential naysayers. I can’t completely blame the word count though. At times, comments help to unveil my failings as a writer. Perhaps I could have done a better job at making my point. Perhaps I could have been more concise. In the case of this article, perhaps I could have explained what I meant when I threw the word “feminist” out there.
Thankfully, the interactive nature of the Internet affords writers the opportunity to clarify points, and that’s exactly what I attempted to do in the comments section. The article and subsequent discussion spurred these additional thoughts as well:
The purpose of my article was not to ignite another Mommy War. I hate the Mommy Wars. It bothers me to no end that we’re so quick to criticize one another instead of lifting our fellow mothers up and encouraging them. While most women don’t reduce themselves to openly criticizing other mothers, I believe many of us would agree there is implicit tension between working and nonworking moms.
A man pointed out when he wrote after the original article, “With men a woman is much less likely to be judged negatively for making the choice of hearth over career.” Sadly, I believe this is often the case. Men are frequently more supportive of at-home moms than women themselves. It goes both ways, of course. Stay-at-home mothers may secretly label successful, working moms as being too absorbed by their careers to care about their children while working moms pity their nonworking counterparts who have nothing better to do than bake cookies and watch Blue’s Clues every day.
Why are women so quick to attack their own kind? Partly because, I think, we’re trying to find validation for our own choices, and one way to do this (we assume) is to point out what we think might be missteps of others. (If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you’ve seen me bring this up before.) Still, I stand by my original argument that part of the reason otherwise amiable women find themselves being so judgmental about others’ choices is because of the feminist movement. It’s pitted us against each other because of its promises of equality, liberation, super careers, happy motherhood, etc.
Which brings me to another point:
I was not attacking people – feminists or otherwise – who believe women deserve respect and equality. But I was blaming certain ideologies propagated by modern feminists who often seem to view “equality” as men and women being the same. In truth, the term “feminist” has gotten a bad rap, partly because it’s been muddied up by extremist organizations like NOW. (I mentioned in my original article how early feminists fought for women to to be seen as being equal in dignity and worked to be champions virtue of virtue.) But in my personal experience – and perhaps I’m too quick to make global generalizations – many women today who claim to be feminists are extolling (inadvertently perhaps) two traits:
And #2: You’re better and stronger if you act more like a man and leave those empathetic tears at home.
I certainly shouldn’t dub all feminists as angry women with Y chromosome envy. I’m hopeful of New Feminism, which will hopefully take back the term “feminist” and that women everywhere will devote their resources to raising awareness about real injustices against women like “gendercide.”
Presently, I’m blessed to know some self-proclaimed feminists who truly are about choices – and American women are blessed to have these choices. But perhaps a column for another day would be take ask the question: At what cost are we willing to make some of these choices? When is the price too much to pay?
And while some at-home moms may be lucky to never have had to face any condescending remarks, I have. One example: I was once asked by another woman in a social setting what I did for a living. I proudly said I was an at-home (no twinges of inadequacy in this particular exchange). Her follow-up question, I kid you not, was: “Did you go to college?” Not, “Where did you go to school?” but did I even go. I don’t blame her. I don’t think she even realized how condescending she was being. And what if I hadn’t gone to college? What then? My mom didn’t finish college, and she’s never felt insecure about it. (Go Mom!) She always wanted to be a wife and mom and believes her dropping out of college and focusing on the domestic front made it all the more possible for my dad to scale the ladders of corporate success. My mom is also one of the brightest women I know. Intelligence is not a commodity only granted to those who have professional titles or a college diploma.
Nor should we pursue a career as a way of exerting our independence or providing a backup plan in case we end up having to support ourselves. Smart, resourceful women can find their way back into the workforce. We won’t “lose” ourselves, our potential to perform in the business world, or our identities if we give up a career for the mom track.
When I worked in secular media, we gave motherhood plenty of lip service, but there were definitely these subterranean messages (terms like “hybrid women” were subtle but clear: Doing more is better) to be careful to not “lose” myself in motherhood and to be sure to pursue all my heart’s desires. The irony is I’m just beginning to find my true self in the trenches of motherhood.
Now to give readers some more background, I initially started jotting down ideas for the column after a feminist in my area began making a big deal about the “men at work” signs along our roadways. While I don’t think she ever referred to herself as a radical feminist, to me this is a radical, if not absurd, agenda. While I imagine her intentions were good, why would an obviously passionate and intelligent woman devote so much time to something like this instead of doing something that would really benefit women and society at large (say local job fairs or helping to support breastfeeding women in the workplace)?
Her crusade was wrong on so many fronts. I could address the absurdity of pandering to an illogical minority all for the sake of political correctness. Even if the merits the argument that the “biased” signs are wounding women held some merit, should tax dollars be diverted so that a handful of women won’t have hurt feelings? Unquestionably, the advancement of women – not in the form of ridiculous road signs – but in education and social standing and in dignity, is venerable, but we need to advance women without changing them into something that’s contrary to their design and the gifts they have. It’s just been my experience (and perhaps as a commenter alluded to, it’s a limiting one) that radical feminists often create a crisis where there isn’t one.
All this said, we can’t dump all the blame on radical feminists. The big push for Super Women is found in society at large. Everyone is telling us we can have it all. There’s also this idea that all it takes is self-determination and you can make you into what you want to be, and God, our nature, and other circumstances that are out of our control are left out of the equation. Then when we don’t get what we want, we feel like failures. But it’s not all up to us. It never has been.
One commenter made an excellent point about all people – men and women – being called to give of themselves. This is the mark of a Christian. But men’s “way of the cross” often takes on a different form than a woman’s. When women start adopting male roles and traits, we rob men of the ability to be protectors and providers. We have to be careful to not undermine their worth by changing our own.
Of course, men can be great nurturers (I’ve said before my husband is a natural one). Likewise, women make great workers in fields other than motherhood, too. I actually prefer going to female health care providers because I feel like they listen to me better (you know, that special sensitivity I referred to in my article) and can just relate to the workings of a female body better than a man might be able to (but I have had great male doctors, too, and I happen to be married to one!). My midwife listens to her intuition. She’s very, very good at looking at a laboring woman and knowing exactly what she needs at that moment. I’m so thankful she’s using her innate gifts to help women bring life into the world.
Lest I’m not being completely clear: I am not against working women. Moms are working women. I’m not tsking, tsking working women who have to work outside of the home either. In fact, I’ve had to freelance write to help support my husband through his long medical training, so it would be very unfair of me to judge moms who work outside of the home simply because the nature of my trade allows me to do it at home. I understand economics often demand women work outside of the home and further believe that women can add a lot to the workforce. I’m passionate about encouraging mothers (or fathers!) who have made the decision to stay at home with their children. I do not believe anyone has the right to judge or condemn mothers who chose to work outside their homes. I know an amazing mom of many children who had to put her children in school go back to work for the good of her family. She is making tremendous sacrifices doing this and deserves admiration, not condemnation.
However, I do believe we should not work simply to be more like men, to feel better about ourselves, or to escape the “ennui” of motherhood. Unfortunately, I do see some potential bigger picture problems emerging with more and more women entering the workforce, but that would make for yet another column. The Economist recently had an article examining some of the real and potential effects of the economic empowerment of women.
Personally, I don’t think I could have a demanding career and be a good mom. I know my own limitations. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist. Trying to be a perfect employer and mom would surely lead to burnout. Motherhood alone sometimes leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Maybe it’s partly because of the age of my kids (three five and under), the parenting style I adopt (practicing extended breastfeeding, not separating myself from my little ones much, etc.) and because of my husband’s work (I’m almost always the one on night duty, and it gets exhausting). Sometimes it’s hard enough for me to “just” be a mom. I just can’t imagine nurturing three little ones AND working full-time. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. As wives, mother, and women, we have to do what is right for our family at the time. I believe my family would have suffered had I remained in law school (I mentioned in the article that I dropped out of law school to support my husband through medical school). Yet if our circumstances demanded I take a leap of faith and re-enter the workforce, I would trust that I would manage somehow or another. Even now, knowing I’m blessed to be able to be the primary caregiver for my children, there are times when I find myself longing for the time management skills of another mother who appears to accomplish so much more than I ever could imagine doing. That’s when I have to stop myself and remind myself to focus on what I am doing and what I’m doing right.
This brings me full circle back to the heart of my original message in the Inside Catholic article: Women, be whom you were created and called to be. Don’t let anyone – feminist or not – convince you that you’re less of a woman or a person for embracing your femininity and/or motherhood.
Now go cuddle with your kids (you’re making a good use of your time even if you can’t add that particular skill to your curriculum vitae – as a friend reminded me) and know that your children are most definitely concrete achievements in this world and the next. :-)
*UPDATED: I thought this was wise counsel from another comment and something I need to keep close: “If instead, we just begin to radiate our own personal comfort in ‘being’ who we are – not so much needing to ‘justify ourselves’ as one thing vs. something else – I think we would not only have more personal peace, but in some cases, others could find even better inspiration from our peace, than from many of our words – especially if the words have to become defensive and/or contentious.”
Comments closed for Lent.