May 16, 2010

On Being a Feminist



The Golden Stairs by Edward Byrne-Jones, 1867



Linda Lowen writes:
“The power of a well-written blog is undeniable. It resonates with readers, keeps them coming back for more, and creates a strong buzz.

“I’m partial to blogs written by women. I love that the Internet is giving women a larger voice in the conversation. And the more women we can promote, the greater our power will be…online and in the world beyond.” ~Women's Issues

This is a list of blogs written by women that Linda has added to her website. If you would like to nominate someone OR add your own blog to her list, click on the above embedded link.

I have read Linda's blog for a while now, including it in my reading schedule amongst other blogs written by women. Even women I don't necessarily agree with. What's valuable to me is gaining a broader perspective of women's lives upfront-and-personal. How they are coping with change. How they are coping with the lack of change.

I'm also in love with women, in case people haven't noticed. The woman’s journey, our story, is yet to be told which is why it takes a variety of voices to create a more realistic view of who we are as a collective and as individuals. For the majority of my life, women served as backdrops to men’s dramas. Especially women like myself: almost sixty, traditional values, progressive ideals, liberal and conservative at the same time, a feminist, a realist, and a bundle of contradictions I prefer to call ‘complexity’ not ambiguity.

It ain't easy growing up in the 1950's, choosing to be a stay-at-home Mom and refining your identify through decades of confusion, and yes, disdain for what used to be a respectable way for a woman to live her life.

At a certain point, I had an awakening. I write awakening intentionally because that's what it was like in the 1990's when my kids were grown, my husband had settled into an excellent career, the garden was flourishing, my culinary repertoire was awarded five stars, and suddenly, I was free to do what "I" wanted to do! I had paid my dues, earned my stripes as they say, and now it was time for me; which I never really expected to happen in my early forties. I was fine being me without questioning whether I ought be doing something more with my life than following in my grandmother's footsteps.

My awakening was a compelling urge drawing me to Women's Studies like a square-headed-nail clinging to an academic magnet. Questions like "Why am I the one designated to clean toilets?" came to mind. What happened is that one night, I rolled over in bed, stared at my snoring husband and suddenly realized how much he looked like Hitler.

What I assumed to be my Midlife Transition turned into my husband’s Crisis which probably reflected the lack of domestic tranquility for a lot of second-wave feminists.

Of course, I can only in hindsight say my awakening was a crisis for my ex-husband because at the time, I assumed individuation was a desirable thing; that he would relish in the meditative glory of washing dishes and fixing dinner when I was occupied with other things. Like throwing pottery in a studio. Or writing a research paper on The Men’s Movement. I was finding myself and discovering what made me tick, even understanding why was I comfortable looking like Doris Day and voting for Ralph Nadar.

From that point on, my brain was an efficient Brillo pad scrubbing the scratch marks of my identity, cleaning the grime and letting my true self shine. The one who valued a traditional woman’s role but didn’t see herself as a man’s subordinate.

From this initial awakening, new books were stacked on my nightstand. Books by Andrea Dworkin, Catherine MacKinnon, Simone de Beauvoir, and an occasional novel like The Bridges of Madison County, which made me cry my eyes out at two in the morning when I read the last chapter. My tears weren’t there because an ordinary housewife had sacrificed her one and only true love, but because she looked outside herself for value through a man’s validation.

This idea bugged me for the longest time---loving who you are when you’re a woman. I kept thinking about how hard it was for a woman to feel passionate about her life when the most exciting event of the day was waxing linoleum. And yet, my role as a wife and mother provided a deep sense of satisfaction. I was doing my bit to promote my equality, while welcoming social change. I was even able to recognize and deflect occasional disdain for a stay-at-home Mom who couldn’t prove her worth with an executive job or high-paying salary. At least we women used to validate our status with a high-paid executive in our bed. *grin*

Listen, you just can’t take the easy way out defining who you are if you’ve subscribed to traditional notions of female care-taking. Homemaking is a job that pays no salary, offers no promotions, lacks luster and interest at cocktail parties and basically, tells other folks more about your lack ambition or maybe intelligence since you’re pretty darn happy scrubbing the woodwork and changing diapers. More than one executive dinner left me stammering for answers when people asked what I did. “Ummm”, I’d say, “ I don’t work.” This was a robotic and deceptive reply coming a woman who paints her own second-story rain gutters. A common enough answer to fill-in-the-blanks when we aren’t quite sure what to say.

Or the other stupid answer spilling out of my mouth, “I’m a housewife,” which made me blush with shame because I didn’t marry a house. I married a man though it still wasn’t fair to call myself a manwife as if I were his possession. I stumbled around for words which luckily, didn’t last very long because most women excused themselves to meander through the crowd and find someone who was interesting to talk with. At least, that was my impression which probably isn’t far-fetched and please don’t call my reaction a ‘victim mentality’ either. It’s hard for women to relate to one another without talking about their new-and-improved status in society. As if that status tells us we are worth something or even worse, that WE are doing better than other women who aren’t as tough and strong as ourselves, or even as intelligent.

Talking with other women has been a challenge during changing gender roles from 1960 to 2010. Through the transition from Phil Donahue bringing feminism to my attention, to Susan Faludi’s Backlash, to Sonia Johnson’s Housewife to Heretic, and the Perkin’s nail-biting novel, The Yellow wallpaperI've still found meaning and purpose in a nurturing role that did not include a marketplace career.

“Homemaking is a career,” people placate us, which is more true than they realize. Like all careers however, your boss might fire ya just in time to deny your pension. Getting the pink slip five years short of full retirement is a bitter pill to swallow, especially if you did your job and did it well and never expected to be replaced without notice.

The job contract may be precarious but lemme tell ya, a marriage contract is even less trustworthy. For example, with a real job you can sue for sexual harassment, age discrimination, bullying, stress, and unfair firing if you work in a corporation. Love Inc. has no such recourse and even worse, you’re held responsible for not being able to please the CEO who kept you off the sidewalk out of his good graces and forbearance.

Displaced homemakers end up getting what they deserved, or so folks lie to themselves because they don’t want to admit how close women are to the sidewalk. One man shy of the concrete is how many middle-class women live their lives, never realizing the precariousness of their situation.

When Linda Lowen asked readers to contribute their blog and their reasons for writing that blog, I asked myself why I felt compelled to do a very atypical thing: stick out my neck and step up to the spotlight and draw attention to myself which of course, is okay because I don’t ask for money. If there’s anything I learned in my social milieu, it’s that women’s contributions are more valuable if they’re free. Which puts some of us traditionally inspired women in a tough spot when the benefactor we called ‘husband’ decides we aren’t earning our keep.

Old patterns are hard to see. Assumptions make us blind. And when we see through the seductive lies of our lives, we know we’re threatening connections to valued friends by questioning the status quo. Just write a blog and say you’re a feminist and you’ll see what I mean.

My daughter is a much more aggressive Gender Studies feminist than myself though she's told me time and again that feminism is based on Inclusion, not Exclusion. She puts theory into practice by listening to my thrilling stories about making banana bread with a perfect crack in the middle, or my amazing domestic success shining household brass with lemon juice and soda. Oh, now and then she rolls her eyes which gives me permission to reciprocate when she’s telling me about the workplace and her problems managing employees. I pat her little hand and tell her about getting along in a neighborhood and building relationships with people you don’t much like or might not much like you.

Still, we talk and we connect and we have learned to appreciate one another’s life as one more step towards women’s equality. I will say that when I sit down now, I stretch my legs comfortably, no longer making myself small enough to keep from crowding a man’s space. And I no longer defer to a man when he’s pouting because he can’t get a word in edgewise. 

What I do believe and put into practice every day of my life is connecting to other women despite our differences. This IS feminism. The goal is action behind words, practice following theory. This goal is much easier if you honestly and passionately respect other women and yourself whatever your role may be in life, whatever your circumstances.

Once you get the respect bit down, love is a natural consequence. You don’t have to struggle with high-minded intentions to love other women or yourself really; just work on connecting and listening and valuing women. Respect will naturally follow.

Inclusion, not exclusion. That’s what feminism taught me. My deep and abiding love for women has been an unforeseen yet natural consequence.


Hugs,

CZ




16 comments:

  1. I really identify with that old "waxing the linoleum" chore of our past, but it has been more years than I can count. Did you know that if you accidently knock the Scotch bottle out of the cupboard that was secretly put in there to impress a neighbor who visited the shop but never the house, it would take the old wax off the dark corners of the linoleum better than any scrubber I ever tried?
    Yep, it worked so well that while I was down there on the floor I cleaned a whole area with the bottle because I didn't know anyone in the family who would ever drink the stuff.
    And no one drank that bottle. I figured it was not tasty enough for the mincemeat pie, so I threw it out when we moved years later.
    I never found out how much it cost.
    But I learned something about scotch and linoleum, that's for sure.

    Doris

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  2. Yes.

    Have you ever read The Fisherwoman's Daughter by U le Guin? If not, I think you'd like it.

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  3. Ha! GrannyGreenThumb! There's no Scotch in my cupboard these days nor even the master bedroom closet, so guess I'll have to stick with Pine-Sol.

    You know, thinking back on my life, I was pretty darn happy doing menial tasks. In my mind, this was MY responsibility while the X had the task of bringing home the bacon. In my mind, we had created a reasonable way to have a fairly nice lifestyle without taxing either person with a lot of stress.

    It was a compromise of course and one that was modeled for me by my mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, connecting me to the lives of all those women before me. I found satisfaction in that, too.

    Plus, it was much easier to raise a couple of hooligans without the stress of an outside occupation. So I am grateful that at least I had time and the patience to help my kids grow up.

    The biggest shock of course, was discovering that what I viewed as a partnership, WASN'T. In fact, my X felt he had done all the work and I was just there for the ride which is pretty darn hilarious if you know how hard I worked wherever we lived.

    How could he not see my fair and equal participation? Hummm...must be that he only saw himself?!

    Back to the topic of feminism, though. I am sure it was a bugaboo for a man who was used to be cowtowing to his 'privilege and status' as head of the household. I changed fairly rapidly once my eyes were opened and yes, it definitely had something to do with ending our marriage. For one thing, I respected myself and ALL my contributions to society be they financially rewarded or not.

    I don't have linoleum floors anymore, thank goodness and few people remember having to Wax and Polish floors. (Aren't they lucky!) I still find it rewarding to keep a clean home that is beautiful, comfortable and welcoming. Maybe now it IS appropriate to call myself a "Housewife"? LOLLOL


    Hugs,
    CZ

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  4. Hi Maeve!

    I have never read LeGuin's book, so I jumped on Amazon to see if they had a used copy since it's out of print. Well, a used copy was $38!

    So I tried my library (Plan B) and the search engine didn't pull it up either.

    Plan C: get on my hands and knees and read the titles of the books on the bottom shelves in my library. ha! I'll let you know if i find it because it sounds familiar. I can almost see the dustjacket in my mind.

    Thanks for the recommendation. I'm always up for a good novel though I'm not familiar with Ursula le Guin's work.

    Hugs,
    CZ

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  5. CZ, I am in favor of banning the term "housewife" altogether! People live in houses. Everyone who lives there contributes to the household living, one way or another, by making messes or cleaning them up.

    I am the ultimate volunteer in getting the job done, with or without help, which should be expected of every volunteer.

    The rest of the non-volunteers come under the heading of free-loaders. Tradition can fly out the window as far as I'n concerned.

    Wife of the marriage arrangement is appropriate, but wife of the house doesn't make any sense to me anymore.

    When I kiss my refrigerator, does it kiss me back? No, and neither did my husband. Sometimes I think he was a visitor to my house. I wondered if he was ever really "home" to his family. He was served at the dinner table and he came and went as he pleased.

    His saving grace was that sometimes he would fix something that was broken in the house, but not in his later years.

    I have heard the term "house-husband" but never really understood the meaning.

    A young friend announced that she moved in with her fiance. Apparently her statis is whatever she chooses, as she is redecorating his house and hasn't yet informed him of the upcoming bill for what she has chosen. I assume that is fine with the male resident of his house, because I don't really know what term applies to either of them these days.
    They are living together in his house unincumbered with marriage license or formal contract. Their future plans sound indefinite.

    I don't know who does the floors, the cooking, or the laundry. She is free to do quite a bit of shopping, and with her career, normal "housewife" duties are possibly scarce or nil.

    Maybe we need new terms to define the relationships today. But "housewife" is definitely out.

    Love, Doris

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  6. The Fisherwoman's Daughter is an essay she wrote about women writing, usually published in a collection called Dancing at the Edge of the World. :) It's my favourite piece of writing about women writing, by one of my favourite authors. I hope you find it! Let me know if not and I'll see if I can send you a copy somehow.

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  7. I found it, Maeve! Once you let me know it was an article and not a book, I found it on amazon for a mere eleven bucks. It's now on order!

    Then I asked my daughter if she had ever read ursula leGuin and she rolled her eyes a tad.

    hahaha!

    "Of course I've read LeGuin!" she said. Many of her women's studies classes referred to leGuin's work.

    My main focus many years ago was Multi-Cultural women's studies. Perhaps that's why i don't recall reading LeGuin.

    I can't wait for the book to arrive. Maybe I'll post about it so we can talk again.


    Hugs and Thank You!

    CZ

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  8. Dear GrannyGreenThumb,

    We are of the older generation now! I was chatting with my younger nieces-in-law a couple weeks ago and they have a very different perception of marriage.

    they see themselves more as companions than fulfilling a dutiful role supporting their husbands. That's probably because both my nieces-in-law are supporting THEIR new husbands while my nephews finish graduate school.

    Such an interesting change in marital relationships and expectations!

    AND, get this: they don't know how to cook.

    LOL!! It's actually very FUN to get older and be able to see change occur overtime!

    I can't even imagine calling either of them a housewife. They'd probably roll their eyes.

    Hugs,
    CZ

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  9. Hello my lovely friend -- as always, if I weren't so timid about upsetting my genderfied identify, I'd ask you to marry me in a heartbeat!

    Inclusion not exlusion. We include each other -- regardless of if we're leaning against a white picket fence or rapping against a glass ceiling. It is in our inclusion that we embrace all that is wondrous about our gender -- and there is much to wonder over.

    And as to Scotch removing wax -- why I never! I'm getting down on my hands and knees right now and scrubbing out those corners of my mind that have calcified from too much bending over backwards trying to appease some man's notion of what he deserves being all that matters.

    LOL -- listen to me rant! Hear me roard!

    You my wonderful friend CZ are a gift. A woman whose heart beats loudly enough for all of us to hear you through the darkness of our fear we will never measure up to some man's insistence we can't.

    Thanks for always shedding light and joy and laughter and for being a woman whose roar is a beautiful song embracing us all in her love.

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  10. Not that much change actually - they are still financially SUPPORTING their husbands, that isn't a companion, that is a patron. At least they will have a career if the husband dumps them for a woman who can "look up to him" as opposed to a wife who thinks he owes her a big one; which unfortunately is a high probablilty with wives who put their husbands through school.

    "they see themselves more as companions than fulfilling a dutiful role supporting their husbands. That's probably because both my nieces-in-law are supporting THEIR new husbands while my nephews finish graduate school.
    Such an interesting change in marital relationships and expectations!"

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  11. Hi CZBZ, thank you so much for this post (and for your subsequent comments). Inclusion is definitely the way to go, and I look forward to the day when being a stay-at-home mum/dad is considered as important, or even more important, as any other occupation.

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  12. Make no mistake, stay-at-home moms were very important fifty years ago, in fact they were mandatory in most cases. Without a grandmother to baby-sit, there were few careers available for moms, as the economics would not work out at all.

    Ane we were very important! I worked 15-hour days, inside and outside, and never knew when the next order would come from the master of the mansion. Perhaps my situation was extreme, having chosen to marry a farmer. I was not allowed to ever decline an order to do something I had never done before. And the teaching moment was minimal, consisting of a few negative remarks or hollering at my efforts.

    The paid, hired man got more consideration, in fact he ranked above me most of the time.

    If you look around at the culture of other countries beside the U.S. you will notice there is a terribly long way to go in most cases.

    Women redeem themselves by seeing that the most important job in the world, caring for children, gets done under sometimes difficult circumstances.

    My children worked alongside of me on the farm and learned to love it.
    I still do the gardening for the entire farmily.

    Somehow I learned to take the good and develop some likeable hobbies.

    Doris

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  13. "Why am I the one designated to clean toilets?" ~ CZ

    Well, my mother asked the same question. Her husbands answer because he was more of a husband than he ever was a father and as a husband it still wasn't that much...his answer was, "Your hands are smaller" HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. I can recall this story coming at me Oh about once a year for 10 years. I understood it at the age of 11. I am thankful to my mother for many things.

    I enjoy what your daughter has to say about feminism.

    The way I see it is that feminism only exists because human rights have stolen.

    There would be no "feminism" if women didn't have to respond to oppression and patriarchal abuse.

    That is what the word means to me. That my birth rights as a human, not a female, were over looked, ignored , purposefully neglected and negated.

    When I reclaim those birth rights they look different then the going habit of oppression.

    Feminism is born out of oppression. We would not need a feminist if every one had their rights respected.

    One could be a house wife, or a chief executive of the house hold and mother and her job title and duty would be honored. It should be... it is one hell of a job. It is huge. It is the glue to humanity.

    Just because i just read this piece of information and it kind of blew me away... the author, David Richo, of a book titled "shadow Dance" about adult growth. He writes that in one of Ann Landers columns she asked her readers asking... if you had the choice again to have children ... would you do it.

    This is irelelant to this blog but... just because it surprised me... the responce of hundreds of letter but less then 100 ... of those letters 70% said "NO".

    When I read this I wondered how much this might actually have to do with the conditions of child rearing in terms of how society regards mothers and homemakers, a dishonored job.

    He mentioned this in terms of parents that do not actually do the job but I had to consider this other thought.

    Peace and thanks for a really excellent blog entry.

    anony

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  14. Your writing style is so personable and real that anything you write is a pleasure to read, though I was especially touched by this blog. Another writer you might enjoy is pretty much anything by Sheri S Tepper. She is grace personified.

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  15. Thank you Anon-July-20!

    I checked Amazon for one of Sheri's books but there are so many! If you happen to see my reply, would you mind recommending one of her books? I'd love to read one of her books. Thank YOU for the suggestion (and the compliment)


    Hugs,
    CZ

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