Today is my wedding anniversary.
Which, in retrospect, is perhaps not the best time to finally get around to reading Susan Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women.
Anyway, the combination of the anniversary and the book, and my continued thinking about motherhood and women’s struggles for equality and justice and health and peace…have me thinking about what a truly pro-women policy agenda would look like, and what such a movement would mean for families, the nation, and our social work profession.
Women’s experiences in our society are distinct, and we need political power that recognizes that, demands policies that support us, and changes the expectations that we have internalized, which, after all, is what the backlash is really about: making women police ourselves, so that no one else even needs to consciously repress us.
And I think that all of that is tremendously important, which I why I read blogs like MomsRising and Feministing, why I include content in my policy classes about “gendered budgets” and how social welfare policy has oppressed women, and why I think that we need policy reforms that give women real options and real equity and real authority. Absolutely.
But, on this day, my thoughts are really more on my own journey as a woman, how the personal is always political and, for me, the political is personal now, too. I’m thinking about how I couldn’t see how sexism and proscribed gender roles impacted my life until I was a married woman, largely because I had bought into the conceit of exceptionalism. I’m thinking about how many people have nodded sympathetically (approvingly?) when I said that I quit my full-time job because I missed my kids too much when I was traveling, and how their reactions affirm the backlash at work: “see, another woman who tried to have it all and thought better of it.” I’m thinking about how my wonderful husband, who had to actually show me where we get things dry cleaned when I first went to part-time work (because I never, ever got off work in time to go to a dry cleaners before!) has only made dinner a few times in the past three years. I’m thinking about how nice it would be, at least sometimes, to be the one to rush off to work in the morning, and about how much I miss the recognition and respect that came with a more prominent job. I’m thinking about how many mothers at the park say “lucky” when I tell them that I work part-time, and how many of my full-time employed friends say the same. I’m thinking about how our own social service organizations fail in creating the kinds of jobs that work for working mothers, and about how many times I asked for more help so that I could cut my hours back, before I quit. I’m thinking about how glad I am that my son told me, “when I’m older, sometimes I’ll have to get off work early to pick up my kids because my wife will be at work,” and how to make sure that he sees all of me, not just the Mommy side. I’m thinking about how many people told me to “work less” when I couldn’t get pregnant, and how no one told my husband that. I’m thinking that many of the same groups that attack women’s right to an abortion attack the technologies that helped us build our family, too, and about how my grief cemented my commitment to women’s full spectrum of reproductive freedoms. I’m thinking about the kind of example that I may have inadvertently set for the young immigrant women with whom I organized when I stepped back from that work…and about how missing my kids can be construed as a statement about something entirely different.
And, because I’m an organizer and a policy geek, I’m also thinking that I bet most of those moms at the park would agree that they do more than their fair share at home, want better options in the labor market, and reject being labeled as “just stay-at-home moms”, and I’m wondering how many would self-identify as feminists. I’m thinking about how to build a movement that can change the frames that constrain women’s lives, because “pro-family” shouldn’t mean “turn the clock back”, “gender-neutral” almost never is, and no one ever nods knowingly at working fathers who “try to have it all”. And I’m thinking personally, too, about how my wedding vows included the phrase “work with you for justice and peace in our home and in our world”, and about what building a truly equitable partnership looks like, every day. I’m thinking about that agenda: equal pay and equal education and some things that must be distinctly unequal–reproductive choice and affirmative action and economic support for single mothers. And I’m thinking about how to make sure that my kids, especially my daughter, grow up in a society that supports women in a multitude of roles, having broken through the backlash for good.
And I’m thinking, too, happy anniversary, honey. I swear.