Sunday, May 12, 2013

Feminism: I'll skip this wave, and catch the next set

When I attended the Popular Culture conference in Washington, D.C at the end of March, quite a few of the panels discussed the three waves of feminism, and whether or not there was another wave occurring now.
This got me thinking.

I knew I had reached a certain age when my first conversations with strangers went like this:
Are you married
by: karra.shimabukuro

I always felt a screaming internal voice struggling to get out-
No, I'm not married. But I've driven cross-country several times.
And I have two master's degrees.
And I've had adventures.
I own my own house.
No, I don't have children.
But I cared for my ailing mother. And I have hundreds of students I've helped raise.

But these are not acceptable answers. Most of the women at work, when asked to introduce themselves start with "My name is ----- and I have three beautiful kids..." I cringe a little when I hear that. Not that there's anything wrong with having kids, or getting married, there's not. But the fact that these women define themselves only as mothers seems a little awful to me. Have they lost their own identity? Can't they be themselves, and still be mothers? If not, does the inverse hold true, that I can't have an identity because I'm NOT a mother?
I have some serious issues with that.

Then this week, this article popped up in my Twitter feed:
And the line that stuck with me was this- "I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure."
My mom died over two years ago. So I hate the holiday. I hate that my email inbox gets flooded with ProFlowers advertisements counting down the days until I can get mom that special bouquet. I hate that my mom isn't here any more. I hate that nothing I do from now on can be shared with her. There are no more phone conversations, cute cards, hugs, or anything else. I don't begrudge anyone their children, or their celebrations, or their mothers. I just don't want to see it. I don't want to be reminded of what I don't have any more.
For me, today is not about love, and brunches, and flowers. 
It's about loss.
Given that Mom died on Valentine's Day, I have similar feelings about that holiday.
Perhaps this year feels particularly harsh because I'm getting ready to move to Albuquerque. The place where Mom was born. The place she never saw as an adult. The place where she was always so jealous that I had been.
Moving also means leaving the house, and the last place where Mom was. It means leaving Dad. And being all on my own for the first time in over nine years.

At work, most people's response to me leaving to get my PhD has been "Oh well, do it now, while you're young. I mean, it's not like you have a husband or children."
It's like the "Are you married?" conversation all over again. As though I am only able to go and do this because I have failed to land a husband or have children. As though higher education were a back-up plan if you couldn't be a "real" woman.

The first wave of feminism wanted basic rights.
The second wave of feminism wanted to address the "de facto" inequalities.
The third wave of feminism wanted Girl Power.

So why am I still being judged for pursuing what I want? For not living up to other women's expectations? Why am I looked down on because I have not followed a set path?

Isn't feminism's end goal supposed to be that women can do anything they want? Pursue anything? Follow any path they choose?
I am not a failure because I've chosen not to get married.
I am not a failure because I've chosen not to have children.
I am not a failure because I've chosen instead to go to school, support myself, buy a house,  take care of my family and travel.
And let me be clear- THIS WAS A CHOICE. It's not a back-up plan, it's not a fall back position. It's not Plan B. It's the choice I made. I chose to work hard at my job and pursue higher education. I worked three jobs to be able to do this. I worked full time, and went to school. I paid my own way through school. I did all of this on my own. And yet more and more, I find people's reactions to be judgmental. I am somehow lesser because of this.

People deserve to be treated equally. People deserve to support each other's choices, and at the very least, not judge them for the choices they make that are different from yours.

I'm not interested in the 4th wave of feminism that appears to argue that women can only succeed if they rely on a global sisterhood to do it.
I'm not interested in reclaiming a womanhood, that I wasn't aware I had lost.
Instead of advancing towards the future where people are judged as people instead of by their sexual identity (whether it's the one they're born with, or the one they choose) we seem to be moving backward, more clearly defining the battle lines between men and women. And it's not just "men" or "women" but a certain kind of "man" and "woman".
Are there still issues to be addressed? Of course. Just as there are issues of racism and classism. I just wish that I could be judged based on my own actions, and not in comparison to the woman down the street.

So I'll skip this wave, and catch the next set.
Let me know when you stop making it an either/or proposition.

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