Inertia. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. This post will likely make a lot of sense to you or no sense at all. If you think I am mouthing off, maybe I am. All in an effort to get some discussion going. I have sat on this post for awhile and am now in the mood to get it out of my brain space before the New Year.
Newton Law #1: A feminist is a feminist until an outside force acts upon her.
When did you become a feminist, when did you find yourself no longer a feminist and when did you personally redefine the word "feminist." I figured all women in my generation were feminists until recently. I started asking women older and younger than I if they thought of themselves as feminists and I have been really surprised how few women say "of course I am a feminist!" What are the forces acting on women that keep them from identifying with that word?
The feminist in an academic environment stays a feminist. She is surrounded by people who are constantly talking about sex and gender, questioning what wave we are all on. She is used to articulating what feminism means both to herself and others around her. She has community who cares.
A feminist who leaves school for non-academic work considers herself a feminist for a little while but then really defines herself more as a "worker". She begins to see her issues as worker issues, not always feminist issues. She leaves behind some of her worries about how the non-academic world might be since now she is living it.
One observation from this group of workers: When I have asked "worker" women this question, many worker women do not like the word "feminist." Often they say "well, I don't think I am a feminist because I think women can decide to stay home and shouldn't feel judged for that." WHOA! OK, it is true they are talking to me but...hmm. Very interesting. I have also been shocked at the replies of worker women to my suggestions of changing the system. Not usually a whole lot of interest. Doesn't sound very "old school" feminist to me. Some say worker women are feminists simply by working. If these women are not constantly questioning or challenging societal norms, that doesn't seem very feminist to me.
Enter an even greater force than leaving academia. It makes the academic and worker feminists in motion rest, some only for a few weeks, but it causes introspection for a lifetime.
Let me call the result of this force, "Feminism in the Childbearing Years". Motherhood both creates and ruins feminists. This force causes women to question everything everything her mother, sisters, friends and mentors ever told her about what it means to be a fulfilled woman. For every mother, finding her balance to happiness becomes so unique that she struggles to find a mentor, let alone a heroine. This force is so hard to describe that it has actually made factions within feminist groups.
As I contemplate the forces that act upon feminism--education, working, motherhood, surely there are more forces that energize or deflate the feminist within all of us. And more important than finding all these forces is finding the place where they can all coexist. Why is this so hard?
I get to plead naivete. I have very little feminist history under my belt. I like it that way. I was born in 1977. My world is feminist. And it is not. I choose to use the word "feminist" because I am immersed in women's issues right now. I occupy a world where I often discuss the woman's choice of WHERE to birth her baby, not IF she wants to birth the baby. Another important choice is to breastfeed in a bottle-feeding society. Do Reproductive-Rights-Oriented feminists make me feel like they want to hear about these issues? Not always.
Why do so many of my activist sisters feel left behind when we describe a modern feminism? I think we are some of the most active feminists in the country. I would like more recognition and more air time. From all media, but especially feminist media. They may not understand the force that is motherhood and how it affects women, but perhaps they can provide the space on their blogs for the discussion. Here is the last "midwifery" link on Feministing and I somewhat happily found this on BitchPhD. But I want more, I want variety and I want often. I would like some of these feminists to question their systems a little bit more. If you don't like your situation, change it. I am tired of people not being part of the solution.
Enter another force I see acting on feminists: group emotion. My husband does not like conferences, at least not that much. But oh do I get excited for a get-together with other women who think like I do. But...what fires me up does not fire up the worker feminist or the academic feminist. In fact, what fires up the academic feminists on BitchPhD is somewhat offensive to me. I know that I am not alone. By a some kind of reflexive property of offensiveness, I would guess "my" feminism must be offensive to them too. They will likely not want to discuss it. For instance, we all vilify Larry Summers, don't we? NO! I don't anyway! So I am not in the club? And honestly, I do not think congratulating yourself for keeping your children out of daycare merits self-loathing. What message are you sending me again? Do Caregivers Count? I really am such a babe in the woods still. All I see are the numerous women's issues we agree on and I think we could do so much for our country if we could meet each other half-way on those we do not.
I may be young but I can be loud too. Thirty may be the new twenty but maybe it is the right age for me to speak up. Maybe I can call myself a feminist and mean it. We all can. Be a feminist, you already are in my book, just tell your version of it. I am really tired getting the vibe that women who focus on feminist issues of mothers are not "real" feminists. NOW thinks they are but do not give them center stage. Well, maybe it is because I was a dancer but I am ready for the stage. Give us the stage! Where is my leader? I have some nominations ready to go: Deren Bader, Therese Hak-Kuhn, Peggy O'Mara, Brynne Potter, Sheryl Rivett ....can we please give these women the floor? They are amazing leaders--it isn't a generation issue, it is an opportunity issue.
Newton's Second Law of Feminism: the force of feminism should be equal to all women, including mothers (yes, even those including those that take mothering practices such as birth and breastfeeding very seriously), multiplied by the injustices each of them have seen along the way.
Can this force please start making itself known? Here are two conferences where I think it will show itself: BlogHer and Fem2.0. I would love to go to both of them. I have even registered for Fem2.0. However, I am also a mom of three children ages 5 and under and so I am realistic that I may not be able to attend. No matter what, I am excited about 2009 and many feminist years to come--no matter what forces may act upon me.