Feminism is something that I don’t really question in my life. I guess I’m a feminist – I believe we should have the same rights as anyone else, as a result of being people, regardless of gender. I’ve been lucky enough to live a life largely shielded from the battles fought by feminists. I’ve been able to attend the university of my choice and have my choice of jobs. I have never taken a high-powered career position, but in my choice to work in the non-profit field I haven’t encountered divergent pay scales or lack of opportunity. Most of my bosses have been women, and I have been an employee, the boss and a business owner. I excelled in school and have had important volunteer positions of my choice. And now, I am a stay-at-home-mom.
Many of my choices seem at odds with feminism. I am not seeking high-level employment, I was working in “womanly” care-giving kinds of positions in non-profit organizations. I volunteer, and now I’m a housewife. But I feel that it is feminism that has allowed me to do all of these things, and I think feminism and family care can co-exist.
I never wanted to get married. I now believe it was because I hadn’t met someone who I trusted with my heart and my life, but at the time I saw that as one of my “feminist ideals”. I would be single, perhaps orbiting around life with a partner, but individual, focused on myself and my work and my interests and hobbies. I didn’t want children – I felt that as an oldest child and a nanny I had “done” my share of childcare by the time I was in my mid-twenties.
In college I studied what I was passionate about, taking opportunities as they arose. I wasn’t in business or law or medicine, I was studying Northern European Medieval History, German, Linguistics, Pacific Northwest and Arctic Archaeology. I studied for a quarter in Vienna, traveling and learning German in a native environment,. I went on an archaeological excavation. I instructed a lab class at my university analyzing the artifacts we had brought back from my excavation. I worked in the archaeology department at the campus museum recording and cataloging artifacts for research, storage, display, repatriation. I worked as a nanny. What the hell was I going to do with that? It didn’t matter – I was doing what I loved, excelling at it, and I would make it work. I was independent. I could teach, research, write. I could go to grad school or work. I chose to try working in the non-profit field. Fundraising sounded challenging, fun, and could offer a great sense of accomplishment and give me the opportunity to live a life of service while improving myself and building a career.
Choosing a “life of service” may seem like a fall from feminism. I wasn’t competing with men for personal gain or fighting to accomplish what other’s hadn’t. I wasn’t breaking new ground for other women to follow. I was spending my life energy raising money to help women who had lost everything. But wait – maybe my job was feminist. I was busting patooty to raise money to improve the chances of success for women who had lost families, jobs, and homes. I was poorly paid and over-worked, but I fought to improve the opportunities for other women. Although it involved a lot of personal sacrifice, it’s kinda feminist.
Feminism is swinging back around. My generation has grown up with the option to not only attend but complete school as a given. We can expect to find a job without having to prove our worth as humans or endure sexual harassment as the norm. Although we still statistically receive lower pay, it’s far more comparable now than in the past. Our mothers and grandmothers fought for us to be able to make choices, and now we are making choices with how we live our lives.
I have made the choice to (perhaps temporarily) give up full-time employment to raise my baby and care for my family. I have chosen this, with all options available to me, and have no resentment. No one told me I had to, no one chose this for me. As much as I sometimes hate the drudgery, I made an informed and carefully orchestrated choice. I do the laundry, clean the bathroom, spend my day caring for my child. I work part-time from home for the PTA, I volunteer, I serve on the Board of Directors for Rain City Rock Camp for Girls. I try to read, I am working toward a certification to become a postpartum doula. I am a constant learner, and like to have too many projects. I don’t get paid for most of my life’s work, but I feel that I am spending my life energy in a way that is positive for me, beneficial for my family, and allows me to explore my interests. I am raising a child who will be able to explore her interests and make choices in her life, while I’m scrubbing toilets and cooking and running errands.
I was lucky to marry someone – the husband I hadn’t thought I wanted - who shares my ideas about spending my energy raising my child – the child I hadn’t thought would fit my life. I met my Mountain Man and some of the major trajectories of my life changed, for the better. I was lucky to marry someone (was it luck, or was waiting for that person a choice I didn’t realize I was making?) who could support our family with a good job that he enjoys, so that we could make the choice for me to be home, caring for our family. It was my feminist foremothers who fought with their life energies to allow me to have choice in mine. I chose the exact things that they were fighting against, or so it seems. They were fighting for opportunity and equality in the workplace, voting rights, social & cultural relevance. I have these. Am I squandering them? Am I taking for granted the efforts that grandmothers and great-grandmothers made for my benefit? Or are we living in a different world – one which is still not perfectly equal, but one that allows me the options of how to spend my energy?
I feel it’s the latter, and I am choosing to set my personal professional goals aside for later. I am choosing to spend my days scrubbing and wiping and cooking and folding. But I have the choice, which wasn’t the case for my foremothers. I live in a way that supports my new goals, that offers me the opportunity to follow my interests even if for no financial or career gain, and will hopefully lend positive impact on the next generation of women – who can make their own choices, without reservation, about how to lead their lives. My choice to be a housewife/stay-at-home-mom was a decision carefully made, with months of analysis, planning and preparation. I went in willingly, willfully and fully informed, and in partnership with my husband. If I made more money than he, he would be the stay-at-home parent.
For my family, it’s what work. It was my choice to make, my life to build however I thought best. For now it’s right for me, and for now it’s my personal act of feminism.