Feminism has always been part of my identity; I have always thought that girls and boys, women and men, should have the same rights. I have believed that since they told me I couldn’t have boy friends. I ignored “them.” I have believed it since I was (literally) told to shut up about the fifth-grade teacher who gave the girls back rubs and the boys advice on floor hockey technique. I have believed it since a high school classmate thought he could use the word “feminist” as an insult after I requested that more women be included in the history of chemistry unit. I believed it when I chose to go to a women’s college. I believed it when I graduated from Barnard, and I am so very proud to be included in that institution’s long history of brave women.
I dare you to try and take “Feminist” away from me. Go ahead and try.
Here’s the point: I have stopped caring whether such-and-such a famous feminist in France or writer for the Atlantic or professor at Princeton thinks that I am a feminist or a bad feminist or a good feminist. I have also stopped caring whether anyone outside my family approves of my decision to stay home indefinitely and depend on my husband for income, insurance, etc. Depending on my spouse is not shameful to me. It’s something that happens in marriage. We depend on each other.
I can’t see the future, so I don’t know if this decision will leave me broke and broken-hearted one day. But I’d rather take that risk than break my heart now by making plans to leave my baby with someone else, anyone else, and go get a “real” job. How do I know that it would break my heart? Because I cry for days when I have to leave the kids I nanny! My heart aches because I’m not there to see my niece at swimming lessons! I am a kid person. My heart and soul longs to be with children. I am having one of my own, and I do not want to leave that child every day for hours.
My heart tells me that this is the right path, and I have always done well listening to my heart. My heart pulled me to Barnard, where I found a community and friendships I never dreamed were possible. My heart pulled me to this man who is my spouse, who married me after knowing me for just about one year, and we have both been happier every day.
I reject the idea that by staying home now, I dooming myself to a life without any sort of fulfilling career outside the home. I also reject the idea that working long hours at a “real job” is the only way to earn my feminist wings. I believe that this false dichotomy does nothing but divide an army of women who all want the most of same things: respect, equal pay for equal work, high-quality and readily available childcare for every family, fair access to medical care, good public education, the right to speak our minds without enduring gendered insults, and the list goes on.
Dividing an army is the best way to halt its progress. And look at us, doing the work for our opponents. How convenient for them!
And they exist. They are the men who banned elected officials from speaking in Michigan state government. They are the organizations working to limit reproductive freedom and access to women’s health care. They are the employers who discriminate against pregnant women, hesitate before hiring a woman lest she become pregnant or treat a female employee like a sex object simply because she is a woman. They are the companies who try to sell sexualized toys and clothing to our young girls, drilling into them the message that a woman’s worth lies in her outward appearance.
These are just a few of the enemies of feminists and women everywhere. When we divide ourselves into “good feminists” “bad feminists” and “not feminists” we are simply handing them the power.
It is someone’s place to show my niece that she can occupy high government office, but not mine. Her mother does an excellent job modeling the amazing things smart women can accomplish with her prestigious PhD and her incredible research and her incredibly difficult job. It is not my role to model that behavior, because that role doesn’t fit me. Someone must show her that women can run corporations and invent things. I will not be that role model, either. It’s not because I can’t do it or don’t think it’s important. It’s because my heart belongs elsewhere.
My heart belongs with young children. When my child or children are in school, my heart will most likely lead me back to a classroom in a child care center. I will be the teacher who compliments girls like my niece on what they do not just what they look like. I will be the teacher who insists that colors are for everyone if I hear anyone say “pink stinks” or “pink is for girls.” I will be carefully choosing books with balanced representations of gender to read aloud at story time. Until I am that teacher, I will be that woman. I will do these things for my child and my child’s friends and the children I meet at the playground only once. I am a woman who, while waiting in line, responds to a young girl’s friendly hello with a question about the basketball on her t-shirt, rather than a compliment on her hairstyle.
If I never earn more money than my husband, if I am dependent on him all my life for some thing or another, it will be our business. If a stranger wants to put me or us into a broad category and label us toxic to the feminist movement, that’s her business. I am a feminist because I say so. I am a feminist because I work at it.
If you want to take that away from me, you will not be the first person to try. Bring it on.