What the bloody hell is a feminist?

As you stand surrounded by the debris of domesticity, up to your armpits in washing, cradling a sick child and wondering what’s for dinner can I ask what are your thoughts on feminism? I know probably not your most pressing issue at the moment but bear with me.

Hands up if you identify as being a feminist? On what criteria do you make that call?

I’m just wondering because once upon a time I would have definitely have  labelled myself a feminist – I was going to have  a career, one I had every right to have, I expected I would get paid the same as my male counterparts, I retained my surname when I married, I assumed equality was a given, I knew I was going to have it all.

Then I had a child.

Suddenly the cosmos shifted dramatically.

I still remember having to bath my newborn in the nursery in front of staff and other parents  – I had no idea what I was doing but wasn’t given the option of not doing the task. My husband elected to bath our daughter for the first time in the privacy of our home.

I distinctly remember that feeling hitting home that I was a little more tied to this child than he was (physically I mean – pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding you kinda got be around when you are the mother). My expectation of a 50/50 partnership began to disintegrate before I even left the hospital.

Six months later I offered my husband the opportunity to be a stay at home dad – he said no thanks.

Then I had to reassess my priorities, figure out how to make this parenting/work thing happen.

Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a committed dad who has always done more than his fair share of parenting, housework and cooking. But essentially the organising of our life, the career sacrifices have had to come down to me.

There was a brief period of time when we moved to Brisbane where both my husband and I were looking for work. There were tears one evening when I realised it was all different now. I came with baggage. It may have been illegal but I was asked “What are your childcare arrangements?” “How will you manage organising a breakfast function and an evening function in the one day if you have a child at home?” While for my husband having a family was seen as a sign of stability and security. He was less likely to leave a job when other people relied on him for income.

So I opted out, I worked from home, around the kids, bringing in varied amounts depending on, the health of the kids/the amount of sleep I’d managed to get/my husband’s shifts. On another tearful occasion I remember asking my husband if he would be doing his job if he didn’t have children – the answer was yes – he was doing a job he loved, that he had trained for and couldn’t see any reason he would want to change. I, however, would not have elected for my job if I had not had children. In hindsight in that time period I learnt more than I ever had before, I developed a ton of new skills, became more flexible and discovered a whole host of new things about myself, it was an opportunity to completely reinvent myself which, although painful was very valuable.

However, did my decision to be predominantly a stay-at-home mum for 10 years mean I handed in my feminist beliefs? I’ve always felt even if I did identify as being a feminist I don’t think other more public feminists would agree.

What is it to be a feminist in 2012? Is it still effective to have an identifiable force called feminism or does the strategy need to change?

Speaking from the suburbs of a regional area, and having spent a number of hours recently trawling through the blogosphere, I think women are tired, overwhelmed and struggling. I’m not sure our most active feminists are getting that fact.

I’m rapidly gaining the opinion we can’t do it on our own. Today’s dads and husbands are far more involved in “women’s issues” than our fathers where. They are at school drop-off/pick-up, they attend all the kid’s activities, they cook as many meals as their wives, they want us to be happy but they have no idea how to make that happen.

Sexism and inequality are still prevalent and while some important battles were won the war still rages, particularly in the workforce.

Do we need a more inclusive model to deal with the issues? Do we need to look at making life better for everyone and selling the benefits to men, people without children, those in charge of our worlds?

What does feminism mean to you?

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27 thoughts on “What the bloody hell is a feminist?

  1. I’m a feminist!
    My definition is that men and women are equal and should be treated with equal respect whether they be a stay at home parent, banker or street sweeper.
    Men and women should be able to achieve what they are capable of, without prejudice or stereotypes getting in the way.
    Stay at home parents should be treated with the same respect & be of the same social standing as someone who works outside the home.
    I believe both genders can be feminists, it’s not exclusive to women 😉

  2. For a while I was surfing the web for old advertising to post on my blog and I realized then how far we’ve come. The sexism was blatant.
    Compromise will always be important, but I think feminism is the freedom to make choices in our lives. It doesn’t alway happen that way, but it is much better than it used to be.

  3. I really relate to the shift you went through after your first baby. It didn’t really happen with my first, as I was the main breadwinner and went back to work very early and it stayed that way for many years. But with my next two, in more recent years, I was working for myself, and it made sense for me to stay home more. I could still work, but one hour of output took a week to produce. So my husband and I found ourselves falling into more old-school traditional roles. Never thought it would happen. It does make sense, it makes life easier in many ways, but with it comes (for me) dissatisfaction and having to work rather hard against the forces that conspire to push you further into the Stepford zone. I haven’t answered the question, ‘what makes a feminist?’, but I am learning that i still need to fight rather hard for myself. And that reminds me of a quote i love by Roseanne Barr: “The thing women have yet to learn is nobody gives you power. You just take it.”

  4. I am not a feminist.
    I like to embrace the male / female differences
    When I was younger I was all for equality – and thought I was a feminist – but now I see life from a point of view of respect. If a women is good at something we should respect that and let her have a go. Everyone should be free to let their talents and gifts shine through.
    xx

    • I think that could still be considered a feminist. As long as people aren’t assuming that because I am a woman I am nurturing or maternal, maybe my gifts and talents are in the corporate world, and if they are I want them to be able to shine through.

      On an aside, my gifts are not in the corporate world. I have a 9 month old daughter and am mostly a stay at home mom. And the career I am pursuing is a nursing career. I just hope that I can do all these “feminine jobs” and still be a feminist.

  5. After working near fulltime since leaving school and returning to work 3 months after the birth of my son (14 yrs ago), I now find myself in a blended family, working from home with time to explore who I really am. Instead I cook, garden, wash, iron and clean and feel like the maid. I agree with Cathbore we should be treated as equals but somewhere the lines are crossed… or is it just my inability to see what the future holds and what I am capable of.

  6. Feminism. Alright, so let me start this by saying I graduated from college 7 months ago with a degree in architectural engineering. It’s interesting because I saw females that ranged from – “I’m going to do this job and I’m going to be as good if not better than a man at it” and I saw “well, this is cool and interesting to learn about, but I really think I’d like to be a stay at home mom one day”. So maybe feminism is more about knowledge and insight and the ability to do everything and then choose what makes you the most happy in the end?

    At this point in life I don’t have the insight to be able to discuss feminism in relation to child raising, but I anticipate my mind being blown on all of these matters one day.

    • I find it fascinating that in a course like architectural engineering you have girls stating ambitions about staying at home. I’m not sure that Generation X ever considered staying a home as an option – and maybe that’s why it’s all come as a rude shock to us to discover that work/family is a tough juggling act. I’m thinking maybe X is the struggling generation where we flounder around trying to find the right “fit” and gen Y will be able to benefit from our stuff ups and have a much clearer idea (and hopefully the structures and support in the workplace) to make it actually work!

  7. I took a quick read through this and then I had to go make dinner! Ha! I loved this post. I have always felt myself a funny sort of feminist. When I was a baby my mom read Dr. Spock’s wise words about going back to work outside the home and he said, what makes momma happy will make baby happy. She went to work. I stayed home. I probably shouldn’t have. But that’s a story for another day. I’m not angry. I don’t feel a need to “get” anywhere. I kept my surname. I feel everything my husband’s equal…and I am the keeper of the dinner table and the calendar and the doctor’s appointments. I don’t mind. It’s what I do. I cook, my husband does the dishes. I dust, he vacuums. Maybe it’s my ability to come to that place comfortably that makes feminism work for me; for our family. I don’t know. What I like, is that so far, my son doesn’t see a difference between us. Not really, at least. Momma is good at some things, Papa at others. Are we making progress? I hope so.

    • I hope so too. I asked Hippie Child if she thought her father and I were equal she said “yeah of cause – either one of you can get me what I want so you’re equal”. Teenagers it’s all about them. She did say she’s been fighting sexism all her life – trying to convince boys that girls can play soccer/basketball/climb trees. The fact that our kids can’t see any difference (and we did the stay at home thing) may mean that for their generation it all comes together! Here’s hoping.

  8. It’s funny but as a man I am a total feminist. Nothing pisses me off more than the things that limit what defines someone, and women in particular, as successful. In our house, we balance 2 full time careers with raising two great kids. I am more flexible and my wife has more challenges with being involved with our kids just due to job constraints. When you ask “do we need a new model?” I answer yes! There needs to be a model where women stop challenging each other as to who made the greater sacrifice. All you need to do is attend a baby shower to see what I mean. As a pregnant mom-to-be smiles in horror and pain, everyone else shares the one up (wo)manship stories of how their pregnancy or delivery was so much harder than every(woman)else’s. Stop measuring success by you sister’s standards and measure based on what you value.

    • You are right in that women can sometimes be their own worst enemy and the point that we should start measuring our success on what we personally value is a really important one. I think that so many families today are just like yours and mine trying to balancing jobs/careers with raising kids, juggling between each other and I’m starting to come to the opinion that a new model should really be about helping everyone have a better life. Looking at how we can all work together to improve the situation.

  9. I love this topic…I can’t say I ever wanted to be or proclaimed to be a feminist. I joined the US Marine Corps as a young woman because my brother had and I wanted to get out of small town SD and saw the military as a ticket to do just that (and it did) and also had to join the Marines because it was the toughest (haven’t ever regretted that decision). I always wanted to have kids tho and to be a wife and although I didn’t exactly do things in the correct order, and my life didn’t exactly pan out the way I’d have hoped (divorced 2x with 4 kids), I find that I grew to be a woman that could handle any situation and now own a business that I knew I would have to work at 10x harder than any man in the same position (at least in my small town where I ended back up) but maybe the feminist side of me has come thru anyway. Nothing I can’t do or won’t try and still can be as girly as I want…maybe it’s the men I feel sorry for these days????

    • I think it’s interesting that you have excelled in male-dominated fields although have never seen yourself as a feminist. The old-school feminists would probably argue that is was because of feminism that you had the choice to be a marine and a mother – and they would be right. However, I think the term “feminist” is a little problematic and conjures up images of confrontation whereas I think today the problems still facing women can’t be solved solely through confrontation but need collaboration to come up with solutions that mean – you don’t have to work 10x harder in your own business than a man – parents (male and female) have the structures and support to work and raise a family – those without children have flexibility to take time out to study, travel, care for ageing parents – whatever it is that’s needed at the different stages of your life. I like your point about possibly feeling sorry for the men these days – maybe I need a bloke to guest post about what it’s like to be a male in this “Post-feminist” world?

  10. Great post!!! So much to contemplate. So – the final question – what does feminism mean to you? I think, for me, it has become blurred with equality! When I look at my time working in Australia, I am sad to say, my male counterparts, with less experience, were paid more. I did not, and still do not, have any kids – so it isn’t a case of my doing less, contributing less due to family etc….in fact, one of the men was a single dad – he had responsibilities at home….fast forward to a similar position in Canada. My team was predominantly female, with a senior member having kids. She expected that everyone else pull her weight as she had to be home early to pick up the kids, and couldn’t leave til they went to school. Has feminism as a concept been exploited? Has “having it all” become a moniker for something else…..I no longer consider myself to have feminist leanings….rather…..I am just trying to fight for myself in amongst the masses….

    • Great points. I think that’s why we need a more inclusive version of feminism – yes when you have children certain issues become critical for you to be able to work ie childcare, flexibility in the workforce. But everyone could benefit from more flexibility and a workforce that pays more respect to a good work/life balance where the workload is achievable in the hours you are paid to work and the notion that being successful means staying back late every day to show your dedication gets ditched. Everyone deserves equal pay and it’s really sad that it still isn’t happening. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  11. I was a single working mother with 3 sons to raise. Feminism was not a choice with me. Sometimes you have to put down the labels and do what you have to do. If I’d had my druthers back then, I’d have loved the luxury of having been a stay-at-home Mom. I was lucky enough to work for a company that recognized that family came first.

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