Is a Feminist Uprising the Traditional Ninth Anniversary Gift, or the Modern?

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.

8 responses to “Is a Feminist Uprising the Traditional Ninth Anniversary Gift, or the Modern?

  1. Happy anniversary to you and your husband. What a great post. Being a single woman, a lot of this hasn’t come up for me yet, but it’s good to think about these things now.
    I love that your wedding vows included the phrase: “work with you for justice and peace in our home and in our world”. Wow.

    • Thanks so much, Emily! It’s great to hear from you! We spent A LOT of time talking about power dynamics in our relationship before we got married, and that’s what is so vexing, and yet fascinating to me about our lives today–gender roles are so engrained in marital relationships in our society that even hypersensitive couples like us have to continually struggle to find a more equitable path.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. You touch upon so many important subjects: women’s struggles for equality and justice, pro-family policies, oppression of women, sexism, how best to raise our kids so that they grow up with as open and flexible views as possible and the inevitable “frames” that define us.

    I don’t know what’s the right answer or whether there is a right answer to the questions you raised but I think it’s great that you are thinking about them. They will inevitably make you a much more thoughtful and conscious-raising mother than you would have been otherwise.

    The thing that is so wonderful for our children is that they are growing up at a time when so many changes are occurring and have already taken place. They are witnessing what works and doesn’t work and hopefully, they can work on bringing about the necessary innovations to family policy (if they don’t occur sooner).

    • Great feedback–yes, so much is about the “frames” that impinge upon our lives. I am absolutely glad to be raising my daughter in this generation, but I also have big dreams for the world I want her to inhabit when she’s my age, too. As my kids grow, they are increasingly central to my motivation for social justice work. I don’t know that I have any firmer answers, either, just a strong desire to see women able to answer, and ask, their own questions, in their own voices!

  3. Such a timely post, since I was just talking about Free To Be You and Me with another parent yesterday. I remember that album playing continuously in my household, and my mother constantly working for women’s equal rights (to pass the constitutional amendment – remember that?).

    What I was most struck by, after the album (no, CD on the iPod) finished was how incredibly dated the songs are. And how most of the issues that are discussed are really not applicable now. When talking about these things with another parent, we thought about the album wistfully and then both agreed that it’s a wonderful world when in one generation Free To Be You and Me seems dated. (Except for William Has A Doll, which is definitely still applicable for the upcoming generation..)

    Have you listened recently? What do you think?

    • Great to hear from you, Debra! No, I actually don’t think I’ve ever even heard the entire album, and certainly not recently. My own parents have a pretty “gendered” marriage, and most of my own approach to parenting and partnership have evolved with my work in social change. But I know enough of it to agree–when we’ve “moved the goalposts” (to borrow a sports analogy!) such that, only a generation out, it’s not really relevant, it does seem cause for conversation. There has been a lot of Facebook conversation about this particular post, and it has been a real crossover among my personal friends, too, which has been a joy–we don’t often know much about how even those close to us grapple with these same issues of family and gender and power, and I have appreciated seeing a bit of others’ journeys. I’m going to check out the album this weekend! Thanks so much!

  4. I’d love to know what you think of it. Please do check back and tell me, especially given your perspective of NOT having grown up with it playing in the background….

    I’m not surprised that this blog post has taken off and crossed over. It’s such an important discussion. Thanks for bringing it up.

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