Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Feminism in a New Millenium

Right now, I'm reading a book that's a departure from my normal fiction/fantasy fare - The Girl I Left Behind, by Judith Nies.  The book is about Nies's life, both her personal and her political one as one of the few women working on Capitol Hill in the sixties as something other than a secretary.  While the book tells her personal story, it is also a vehicle to describe what the world was like in a time of great change and turmoil during a myriad of movements:  civil rights, anti-war and women's rights.  Reading this book makes me realize that I take a lot of things for granted.  The crap that women had to put up with as recently as the 1960's was absurd - separate entrances for ladies at various facilities that Nies visited during her political career, not being able to wear pants in public and having to endure what would today be considered gross sexual harassment in the workplace, not to mention being paid less than men for doing the same work and being categorically excluded from certain professions.  One of the points Nies makes periodically throughout the book is that the changes that took place during the sixties and seventies that allow women today to enjoy equal opportunities did not "just happen," as it often was portrayed in the media.  There were many women who fought long, hard uphill battles to achieve those changes.
So.... I feel a little guilty.  I feel like I have it easy.  I've always felt I could be whatever I wanted - a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, a chef.  Not that I had a mind to be any of those things, but I knew I wouldn't be excluded from them for being a woman.  Women of the sixties and seventies fought political battles and even went to jail sometimes to liberate us from the mindset that women are only good at cooking, cleaning, child rearing and other house-wifey type things.  So what have I gone and become? - a stay-at-home mom.  I doubt the women's rights activists of yore would be impressed with my two-kids-and-a-minivan lifestyle.  I spend a lot of time doing laundry, cooking dinner, shuttling my three-year-old to preschool and feeding the baby.  All in all, my days are not generally that intellectually stimulating.  Maybe I should be off full-filling my potential.  I should be more politically involved (except I hate politics.)  I should be writing for a newspaper or magazine or something (except that I don't want to spend that kind of time away from my kids at this point.)  I should be....
Wait, hold on a minute, wasn't the heart of the women's rights movement about women having the same opportunities as men?  Wasn't it really about a woman's right to chose her own path and her right to be respected for her intellect?  When I take a closer look at my life, I realize that I am the quintessential liberated woman.  I am an updated version for 2011.  I chose to stay home with my kids because I wanted to.  I help my dad run our engineering business, and I have not once run into anyone who thought  a woman couldn't run a business.  I write a blog, because I know I'm a good writer.  I know I have some contemplative things to say, and I'm married to a man who supports that idea.  I don't feel defined by the housework I do or the dinner I cook.  This is good, because I don't actually do that much housework, and I'm a mediocre cook at best.  Yes, "Mom" defines a lot of my persona these days, and I'm okay with that.  It's a big job, and as a liberated woman, I am up to the task.  And, even though sometimes I have to remind myself that wife and mother are not all of who I am.  I am a writer, a runner, a business owner.  I have my own set of valuable skills I can contribute to society and they are only limited by my ability, not by someone else's view of my gender.
One thing I have learned over the past several years is, every person is deeper and more complex than they appear on the surface.  You cannot make assumptions about a person's character based on what they do for a living or some little snippet of their life you happen to witness.  Most of all, you can't make that assumption about yourself.  So even though on the surface, I may fit the stereotypical definition of a soccer mom, I am about as liberated as they come.  I know this because I have made choices without feeling limited, and I am truly happy in the path I have chosen.