Monthly Archives: September 2014

Am I a Feminist?

feminism

Yes. No. I don’t know.

A bit of background.

I grew up in a pretty traditional Hispanic family. I enjoyed Disney princesses and all things girlie. I was scared of the term feminism because some men in my family thoroughly discredited the concept, and dismissed feminists as angry man-haters.

I also loved playing with my older brother’s toys, which were about 100% gender-specific. And I got into plenty of trouble for straight-up scoffing at things I saw and heard that simply made no sense to me, like a wife always (always) preparing her husband’s plate for a meal at family gatherings, or men making macho pronouncements about their macho superiority and authority. I saw so many husbands being mothered by their wives (with apparently no one seeing anything wrong with this), that I vowed to never get married. Naturally, as I grew up, I started to wonder whether maybe I was one of those “man-haters” that had so scared me as a young girl.

One thing that made my original nuclear family awesome was that they supported–indeed, they championed–its female members in achieving high-level education. My mother, sister and I are all doctors (sister is physician, Mami and I are PhDs). It was in large part thanks to this wonderful support that I finished my degree in Spanish Linguistics before age 30, and before I was married. This made me feel pretty bad-ass at the time. I lived alone for seven very happy years during graduate school in DC. During these years, I also got to see the world a bit. Alone.

The pyramids in Egypt; cappuccino in Florence; wine on a gondola ride in Venice; the Parthenon in Athens.
Eventually, I was pleased to realize that not all men are grown children. Then one day, I fell in love! My husband David and I did “shack up” before getting married (though, after I read some of the research at the time, not before getting engaged). While most people wouldn’t bat an eye at this, if you’d known me growing up, you’d know that this sort of decision could set many an eye to batting. Upon becoming a wife, I kept my own name–don’t care much for calling it my “maiden” name–instead of taking my husband’s name. Why? Simple. Thank you, Daniel Day Lewis.

I like that David talked to my father to discuss with him his intention to marry me. Of course it’s absurdly traditional, yet it didn’t make me feel like either man’s property. Maybe because I know I am no man’s property, and that these two men love me very much. Could it actually be that simple? Oh, I also love that my mother was a little p.o.’d that the phone call to “ask for my hand” was addressed to my father and not her. And when we were married, I did kind of look like a princess at our big fat Puerto Rican wedding, which we held in a church.
DSC01140

May 2005

Obviously, my marriage is traditional in one important sense: It’s between a man and a woman. And there are other traditional elements when one looks at it on the surface. I cook and bake and plan parties in our house. David typically deals with plumbing and electrical issues, takes out the trash and recycling, and shovels snow. These happen to be our respective strengths. But the balance between tasks has always been equal.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we had a baby boy. When I became pregnant (biggest shock of my life!), I always thought I would go back to work before our son had celebrated his first birthday. And then, I didn’t. And this is just us, okay? But David and I determined that we wanted one of our baby’s parents to be the person who spent the most time with him in his early years. Given our respective salaries (I was working as a Spanish professor, he’s an attorney), deciding who stayed home was a no-brainer.
I would make the same decision in a heartbeat if given a do-over. Once again, though, like the choice to keep my own last name after getting married, I am in no way making pronouncements or statements by means of this choice. It was a simple case of two spouses discerning what their gut told them worked best for their family, and acting on that. Thankfully, and very importantly, we have a choice in the matter to begin with.
Now. I don’t know how parenthood impacts the roles of each parent in same-sex marriages (hallelujah for that, by the way). But here’s something I think a lot of married hetero moms like me can tell you: There is no bigger game changer and gender role divider in a marriage than having a kid. Boom. It’s crazy. This recent article is an excellent example of the apparent inevitability of this dynamic.
No matter how awesome a husband is at washing dishes, changing diapers, doing laundry, being there when the kid is sick (and in this regard, I have hit the PowerBall in the husband lottery), you’re the mama. Robert DeNiro’s prosthetic “manaries” in Meet the Fockers were funny. Ha ha. But only mamas can do the nursing. My kid looks to Daddy for rough-housing, and to Mamá for …  well, softness. And once the mom makes the decision to stay home? Fuggedaboudit.
The single most important reason why I am able to be an at-home wife and mom without feeling like a doormat is because of the kind of husband I have. Because I’ve always felt like his equal. And there is not a minute of his time outside of his day job when he takes for granted that I will be the parent on duty. This is key. This is critical. Therein lies my jackpot.
My loves in November 2010.
The thing is, my current uber-traditional family role still compels me to reevaluate the issue of being a feminist. And I’m not even sure of the answer right now. Let me break it down a bit more.
 
Gloria Steinem is one of my all time personal heroes. Any time I see a man acting like a baby, or pontificating (ugh, ugh!), I have to actively remind myself to breathe, in order to curb the sudden and urgent desire to smack him someone. Articles like this one make my stomach churn. I have been judged and chastised my entire life, by both men and women, for being too opinionated and assertive.
On the other hand, I’ve also been referred to as “floofy” on account of my taste for girlie things. And I was recently teased by friends because I liked receiving flowers from my husband. The latter two were by women. Striking a nerve on both sides of the equation? Now there’s something I find interesting.
Some of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes.
But then I’m further confused by mixed messages. Like some married women not wearing wedding rings, and others straight-up rejecting engagement rings as barbaric. And apparently, they’re not barbaric because of unjust and violent diamond mining practices (this is actually a conversation I would be interested in having), but because of the old, awful, misogynistic trends associated with marriage and engagements back in the day. Way back in the day.
Wait, what? It’s based on this that we’re rejecting engagement rings? Please. Then why get married at all? If we were to really examine old practices and how they’ve been used to oppress women over the ages, no thinking woman ever would willingly get married to a man, much less leave her body open to the possibility of making a baby. Who, after all, gets to dictate the terms of what an object like an engagement ring symbolizes for two grown individuals in the 21st century?
Then there’s the wedding ring itself. Once, many years ago, I asked a married woman why she doesn’t wear a wedding ring. Boy, did she pounce! Something about how she shall not wear shackles because she is no man’s slave. Let me tell you something. This is a woman I love and adore, and have done most of my life. She is one of the kindest people I know. But ring or no ring, she does very little outside her capacity as daughter, wife, and mother, and her life basically revolves around the needs of the men in it, with no pursuits of her own, not even a “coffee can plan” down the line. It breaks my heart to say it. But who cares about whether or not you wear a piece of metal around your finger? I’m left scratching my head (more like shaking it) at the utter pointlessness of making statements for statements’ sake. Empty words, man–I mean woman! Here’s an idea. How about we lighten up, and get smart about picking our battles? Okay, that’s two ideas, but you get the idea.
I now, finally, understand Wayne Dyer’s frequent statements about how we should focus on being for things rather than against them. He is likely referring to the reactive “anti-” types, the very same types who seem fixated on making statements for statements’ sake. You know them, ’cause they’re all over social media. And there’s almost always something riling them up. I’ve noticed this particularly among particularly cynical women–this blog post is, after all, about feminism.
An example. Any time that “good feelings” are too readily available, such as the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with fall or the winter holiday season, or romance, such good feelings are rejected almost on principle. I think–I think?–these women view “feel-good,” or anything pleasing on an accessible, simple level, as incompatible with critical thought and/or intellectual sophistication. Which leads me to wonder, is cynical the new cool? Oh dear. If so, I am hereby cementing my status as uncool for life. That’s okay. With the exception of a very short-lived and confusing time in the fourth grade, I’ve never, ever, been one of the cool kids. All I know is, I grow weary fast when gratuitous reactivity distracts from the stuff worth fighting for, and god(dess) knows we women still have plenty of worthwhile battles to wage.
Another example. A lot of feminist women are dead against being asked by men to smile while they are, say, walking down the street. I get that. And I don’t. I remember being the target of cat calls one time when I was taking my baby for a walk in our neighborhood. I mean, this was very disrespectful and crude. Make no mistake. I laid into that guy like Hannibal freaking Lecter. That said, I like to smile. And I once asked a man to smile, and that got me an expedited passport for a trip to Mexico (the story is here).
My point is, there are enough mixed messages that I don’t always know where I fall on the question of feminism. It’s a question, like so many others, that can’t–and should not be–oversimplified. Clearly.
For now, my plan is this. I will continue to be the cook, baker, event planner, and travel agent in my household. I will also be the parent who is consistently home when our kid comes home from school. Most of my decisions in the foreseeable future will be conditioned by the needs of my family. I will also continue to go by the family name I was given at birth. And I will continue to pursue my writing and other passions. I will not become a martyr mother. Furthermore, I will not mother my husband. What is up with that?! And I will fix a plate of food for him mainly in direct proportion to him doing the same for me. Next time I’m in the presence of a pontificating narcissistic male type, I will actively remember to breathe. Next, I’ll remind myself that smacking the offender is never rarely the answer. Most times, not even trying to set him straight will be worth it. Instead, I will endeavor to recognize the equality and full humanity in him, too, in the spirit of Gloria Steinem’s quote above. And maybe then I will know I’m a true feminist!
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