I Am a Feminist Because I Say So

I choose to fight the gender gap in my own way, and I refuse to allow myself to be pushed to the margins of feminism. [Graphic by By London Student Feminists]

I have tried to read the articles. They pop up here and there, quite often recently. Are thosewomen really feminists if they stay at home to raise their children? Will women achieve equality if we stop trying to achieve success as it has been traditionally defined? Should we stop trying to “have it all”? I try to read the arguments. I give up.

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.

A Happy Father’s Day

My husband Nathan made an adorable request the other day. (I’m sorry if this embarrasses you, dear, but you are married to a blogger and… I want to brag about you.) He asked that our family never buy him a Father’s Day gift. I asked if handmade gifts were acceptable, or if he simply did not wish to receive any gifts for Father’s Day, ever (a request I had no intention of granting). He enthusiastically assured me that handmade gifts and cards were exactly the kind of thing he would like. I got the impression that he’d rather we ignore the “holiday” entirely than get him a tie.

I cannot give him anything this year, even though I would like to mark the day with something like the beautiful brunch he took me to on Mother’s Day, back when we were getting paychecks. I do think that Mother’s Day was a bigger deal for me than Father’s Day will be for him, given that I’m the one with round ligament pain, breasts that have doubled in size and a pain in my right hip that just never seems to go away. I have a feeling that this whole thing is less real for the parent who isn’t getting kicked from the inside by our tiny progeny.

But nothing could express the gratitude I feel when I think of Nathan as a father. No matter how scared I might feel at times by the prospect of parenting, I feel better as soon as I picture Nathan helping raise our child. I have chosen a partner in this endeavor who can look into the soft brown eyes of our dog, and respond to the animal’s mood. The empathy with which I want to raise our child comes naturally to Nathan. He will easily learn to “read” our baby’s cries. He will have no trouble with gentle discipline.

Sometimes, I think of this family we have made together, and I feel like I must be dreaming. How did a girl who came from such a dysfunctional family, when every affectionate moment between my parents seemed to have a corresponding cruel insult, grow up to find a man who is just so kind and so patient? I have no fears that the darker aspects of my childhood will repeat themselves, because even when I doubt myself, I never doubt Nathan.

I have chosen the best possible parent, husband and human being to share my life with. How could I possibly find a gift to match what he has given me?

Happy Father’s Day, Nathan. You are already a wonderful father. I am forever grateful that I have the privilege to be your wife and the mother-to-be of your child. Thank you.

Following the Fear: How My Friend Helped Me See My Father’s Emotional Abuse

emotional My friend “Jane” (pen name) has been writing ever so bravely about her journey through the looking glass since she realized that her husband is emotionally and verbally abusive. It has taken me a few days to process my reaction to one post in particular, “Follow the fear: how you know it’s abuse” because it triggered so many memories of my own past. I read her words, and I thought, “My God. My mother and I spent so much of our lives tiptoeing around my father. We were so very afraid. Was he actually abusive?”

Yes.

Oddly enough, the best “proof” I have of this is a letter that he wrote to me when I was in college in which my father accuses me of abusive behavior toward him. It’s in a file somewhere or shredded or something, because I couldn’t keep it. I gave it to my therapist at the time. The contents of this letter triggered a spiral that landed me in the psych ward, but I’ve told that story. What I keep thinking about now is the way that I reacted to the litany of accusations his letter hurled at me, and how very different that reaction was from the reactions of my loved ones.

“My dad says I’m abusive.”

Several friend actually laughed out loud. Some just looked utterly baffled. I heard again and again that they had never met anyone who fit that description less.

But I was so scared. I thought, at the time, that I was afraid that it was true and that this would make me a terrible person, a terrible daughter; that it would mean I had a sort of Hyde personality that could come out without me knowing. That I could hurt anyone I loved at any time. That I was a ticking time bomb, ready to go off and abuse the people I loved most.

That rings totally false. I knew at the time that it rang false. I knew my friends and family were right. I knew that a teenage girl yelling at her dad was normal, not abusive. I was afraid of retribution. And it came. He cut me off. Refused to answer his phone. Blocked my email. My poor sister had to tell me that he had done this, while I cried into the public phone in the middle of the hallway at the psych ward.

I was the center of his world, you see. When it was just me and my dad, we were everything to each other. There were people in my class at school who I never got to know, because he didn’t like them. (He was a teacher there.) I was the only one who never let him down, after my mother and my sister, according to him, had betrayed his trust just the way his mother and father and brothers and sister had all betrayed him. I was his best friend. He was so proud of me. He brought me to New York to settle me in at Barnard, and we cried together that we would be so far apart.

A mere four years later, here he was, writing letters accusing me of abuse and refusing to come to my Barnard graduation. Without him, he promised, I would never have even gone to college. I would have ended up “just like your mother.” That’s pretty much the worst insult he can come up with, since my beloved child-care provider, soft-spoken mother has somehow become Evil Incarnate to him. How dare I invite her to my graduation, when he had “done all the work” to get me there?

That did spark some anger in me. After all, I wrote the damn papers. I got myself into college, and I got myself to that stage on graduation day, magna cum laude, without even his financial help.

But this is how emotional abuse works. I believed that I needed him. I believed that without his approval, I really was worthless. I believed him when he told me that my mother had abandoned and betrayed me and would even kidnap me if she had the chance. I believed every word he said, even when he said cruel things about me, the mother I still loved, the sister I adored, the friends I spent my time with.

Then, the day came when he asked me to make one final, impossible choice: choose between him and me. If I continued to believe him, to be “on his side,” then I was worth less than nothing. I had betrayed the one person who had ever loved me. That road lead to my plan to commit suicide.

If I stepped outside his world and admitted that he was wrong, I would have to rebuild a world of my own, but I would be worth something. My life would be valuable. I could learn to trust the other half of my family again. I could trust my friends. I could trust myself. The trouble was, I didn’t trust trust myself or anyone. I had to spend years reconstructing my sense of self.

But this morning, I spent ten minutes bawling happy tears into my husband’s t-shirt, telling him how happy I am that there is no fear in our home. I have built myself a life and a family where no one has to be afraid. No one will threaten to withhold love or approval for any reason. I stood up to my dad a few years ago. I told him that I wouldn’t follow his rules. He could cut me off forever, but I would not do this any more. The sky didn’t fall. We’re still in touch, but I keep him at a distance. I love him. I think that I’ve even forgiven him. He has no power, anymore. One day, I hope that the fear leaves me entirely. I hope that the nightmares stop. But the fear lives in the nightmares, not in my reality. If I ever doubt that, all I need to do is look in my husband’s eyes.

This is the world that my child will know.

Welfare Mom: A Title I Will Be Proud to Claim

I have taken my time writing this post, because I wanted to write it from a calm place. I didn’t want to write it while I was still very angry. I was fired, you see, and accused of–hmm. How exactly do I put it? An accident happened. It was scary, yes, but it might happen to anyone holding a squirmy child, and the child was not hurt. There was not a scratch on her. If I hadn’t done my job and told the parents what had happened, they’d never have known. But, in the end, I was accused of being, essentially, untrustworthy and unsafe.

A few of my friends think that my employers just wanted to move on and were looking for an excuse to let me go earlier rather than later, having already decided that they did not want a heavily pregnant nanny or one with a child of her own. I don’t pretend to know what they were thinking. I do know that I am glad to be out of there. I didn’t realize how much pressure I felt until it was gone.

We have a new beginning this week. I no longer work. We are moving into the bigger apartment across the hall. We have acquired a real, grown-up, king-sized bed with a natural mattress (purchased before we realized we’d have no income this summer), and we spent today helping my incredibly efficient mother-in-law clean our new apartment. It’s a bit hard to help her, you see, because she’s so darn quick and it seems to always be easier for her to do it than for her to explain what needs to be done! I watched and learned. I am writing this in a clean, new bed, in a clean, new (to me) space.

I love this space. I can picture our child coming home to this apartment and growing and learning to walk and run, here. I can see the baby playing with the dog. I can picture Nathan holding the baby and pointing out the window at the flowers, trees and passersby we can see from our big, gorgeous front window. I can see myself baking bread for my family in this rather large and cozy kitchen. This all provides an invaluable perspective.

It’s not going to be easy to get through these next few months. Neither of us will be drawing a paycheck. I can’t bring myself to apply for a job with a new family this late in my pregnancy, especially since I seem to need so much sleep just to feel like myself. I am hardly the “energetic, camp counselor” type that one ad sought. We get some help from family.

We are applying for food stamps first, since that application process is the easiest to understand. A beautiful site called End Hunger helped me figure out whether we were eligible and explained the application process. We have mailed the application, and we are waiting to hear from someone at the Department of Social Services. This someone will schedule an appointment to meet with us, at which we will prove that we were born, where we were born, that we are US citizens, that we pay x amount in rent, that I was in fact fired, that Nathan receives x dollars during the school year, and on and on.

I am, in fact, enjoying the prospect of blogging as a Welfare Mom. Applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Energy Assistance (help paying the electric bill, etc.) will come. As far as I can tell, we qualify for both. I am eager to openly write all about the process, so that perhaps just one person will understand that financial assistance from the government is incredibly difficult to receive. It is not easy to fool anyone at the DSS into giving you money that you do not need. And it is not only uneducated, irresponsible, substance-abusing mothers who ask for financial assistance from the government. I fully intend to work again. I do not intend to stay on SNAP (food stamps), TANF (welfare), or energy assistance longer than my family needs the help. But we do need it. And I’m not ashamed of that.

Through no fault of our own (according to me), my family does not have enough money to pay our bills, our rent and buy food. We cannot very well stop paying for any of these things. I need to eat healthy food, and lots of it–I’m growing a human, for heaven’s sake! I am thankful that our health insurance comes through Nathan’s job, so we need not apply for MedicAid. I can keep going to see the same wonderful midwives I’ve been seeing for a mere $10 copay. I can keep paying small-ish copays for my medications. But yes, we do need help paying for food, rent and other expenses. And we don’t look like the Welfare Family one might picture if one listened to those who are against giving families in need any help at all. I am proud that we are growing closer as a family through this experience and supporting each other. We are happy. There’s just one thing I don’t understand…

How on earth does anyone complete one of these applications without two college-educated brains reading it over? The darn things are nearly as incomprehensible as tax forms! I suspect that the same people write both forms. My proof is in the tendency to ask for additional forms that do not appear to exist anywhere (where is this W-147-something form you speak of? where?!). I’m still not sure we did it correctly. I’ll let you know!

For now, be happy for us that we have a summer-long “babymoon” to spend lazy days together and get plenty of sun. Perhaps we will even introduce Lewis the Dog to The Ocean and The Beach. Most definitely, we will be getting excellent sleep–this bed and mattress are divine!

18 Weeks Pregnant: Update

How Far Along? 18 weeks, 6 days

Maternity Clothes? I’m loving them! Thanks to my lovely sister-in-law Peggy, I have a closet full of lovely things. I’ve just added two pair of leggings, since my belly does not always appreciate the jeans as the weather gets warmer. My maternity bathing suit arrived, and it is simply adorable! I love it! I even have a floppy straw sunhat with a black ribbon. You’ll have to wait until it’s beach weather for a photo of the vintage-y outfit, but here’s the picture of the suit on the model:

The print is red floral. The top flairs out from under the bust, and the bottoms and top are tied with red polka dotted fabric. It's made by the Spanish company Pez d'Or, but I got it for well over 60% off from Gilt.

Weight Gain?

I’m not exactly sure, but it’s probably more than the recommended amount. I’m not sure because I’m now seeing midwives instead of an OB/Gyn, and as much as I loved my OB/Gyn, the midwives really are marvelous at putting me at ease. Their nurses do the weight and the blood pressure so fast that I can’t see the numbers. When they check the heartbeat, they just say “Perfect!” and don’t even check the actual number. They can hear if it’s too fast or too slow (there’s a large range that qualifies as healthy). I’ll talk about them some more soon, because they deserve a post all to themselves. I feel like crying in gratitude every time I think of them and their calm kindness.

Stretch Marks?

I can’t actually find any new ones. I have quite a few left over from adolescence. It’s a good thing I’m so pale–the silvery marks practically blend in. New stretch marks are bright red, and I can’t find any of those! That’s pretty remarkable, since I’m pretty sure I’ve gone past an H cup bra size by now.

Sleep?

It’s hard to get to sleep these days. It’s either anxiety or heartburn or just plain discomfort. Once I fall asleep, I seem to be able to sleep through anything.

Best Moment so Far?

Hearing the doctor and ultrasound tech reassure me yesterday that every measurement is normal and that there is no sign of cleft lip. I’ve been waiting for the moment they could see the lip clearly on the ultrasound, because the risk for the birth defect might be higher for a fetus exposed to Klonopin, one of my medications. Seeing our baby looking so perfectly baby-like on that screen yesterday lifted a thousand-pound weight from my shoulders.

Movement?

I don’t think so. A few times, I have felt things that might have been movement, but I’m just not sure. We found out yesterday that I have an anterior placenta, which is not at all a bad thing, it just means that the placenta is in the front, behind my belly button. You know what’s pretty cool about that? It shows us where the egg implanted in the lining of my uterus!  But some people think that it’s a bit harder to feel movement with an anterior placenta. I might also just not recognize the feeling because I’ve never felt it before! In the next week or two, I should feel something. We saw Bug moving around a whole lot, so I’m sure I’ll start to feel all that squirming pretty soon!

What I miss?

I really miss having my internal organs in their proper places, especially those that digest my food. They’ve all been squished, and I’m looking at months more of discomfort every time I eat anything.

What I’m looking forward to?

This one is a little silly, but I can’t wait to go swimming in a lake. I’m told that all the fluid in my uterus makes me buoyant, and I want to float on my back the way I did when I lived in Minnesota. I love to float with my ears underwater and my face above water, so things get really quiet and I can either look up at the sky or close my eyes and just feel the sun on my face. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of sunscreen!

What I’ve Learned about Pregnancy:

No one could possibly warn you about all of the things that you might feel. Ligament pain is indescribable and so painful, as is “pelvic pain,” which is what happens when hormones tell your pelvis to start getting ready for letting a baby come through. Why does my right hip ache when I wake up or walk too much? Why am I getting a weird new kind of headache so often? When will the vivid dreams stop? It’s apparently different for everyone. And I don’t even want to know what’s coming anymore!

Milestones:

Our last ultrasound was yesterday! Unless something seems very wrong, the midwives won’t order another one. After this last one, where they measure everything, the baby is really too big for it to do much good. And the weight estimates they sometimes use ultrasound to do are rarely accurate. I just heard about one woman who was told her baby was 9 lbs and it was really 11 lbs! I’ve also hear about women who were told they had to have C-sections because they’re babies were “too big” only to be cut open to find a much smaller baby than they expected. Unnecessary surgery? Not a fan. Anyway,

Emotions:

All of them. One minute I’m beaming, and the next, I’m in tears. I’ve gotten angry because Nathan forgot to turn off the light or the TV or because I can’t sleep (which is obviously always his fault). You never know what you’re going to get around here!

Photos!