If I’m Going to Be Labeled a “Feminist”: I Get to Define It

***I didn’t post a blog last week because I couldn’t bring myself to post this in the aftermath of the enormous natural disaster in the Philippines. As someone with a platform, I feel it is my duty to hold space for their stories, not my own. <Steps off self-righteous soap box.>***

***This post was written largely in response to this other post from a couple of weeks ago which inspired a thoughtful debate in the comments by some intelligent women attorneys. Thank you ladies for the responses. I appreciate your engaging in the discussion.***

Oh shit, there's a feminist in the family.

Oh shit, there’s a feminist in the family.

Aaaaaaannnnddd we’re back to Feminism… Or not.

I hate labels. Hate. Hate. Hate. And yet. There is no way around them.

As hard as I try, I still can’t read minds. Without this super power, like everyone else, I must resort to words in order to communicate. It’s a tree, a Monday, an accident, a Jew, a lesbian, a liberal, a middle-aged, single mom.

All labels.

I hate labels because the moment something gets labeled it ceases to be something else. It now has an outer edge, a definition, a clearly outlined “box” that it must now fit inside to be understood.

The older I get the more I realize that life is much more complex than I’ll ever grasp. There is too much mystery, too much unknown, too many overlapping stories that I’ll never be able to untangle into a single Truth. The Truth is too grande an idea to grasp completely with my wee little brain and I am a dedicated Truth Seeker.

This is why I am not eager to label myself. When I attach myself to a label, some part of the Truth gets lost. 

I don’t like to tie my horse to a political cart, cause, or religious affiliation because the moment I do, I know some people will cease to see me as a whole human being.  In fact, it is only recently that I have called myself a Christian because it is the religious ideology of which I most identify. But even then, it somehow feels limiting to say it out loud. I am so much more than just a traditional “Christian” when it comes to my spiritual life. I am large, I contain multitudes (to quote The Great Walt Whitman).

It is with this same idea that I hesitate calling myself a feminist in spite of all that I have written on the subject. I know the moment I announce I AM A FEMINIST HEAR ME RAWR! there will be some people who dismiss what I have to say based on whatever “box” they have placed “feminists” in. And that is unfortunate.

Some people (myself included in the pre-sexual-discrimination-lawsuit-plaintiff-days) might assume that if you are a self-proclaimed and vocal “feminists” it is entirely possible that: A. You’re a woman, B. You probably have an abundance of body hair, C. You always utter “oppressive” and “Barbie” in the same sentence, and D. Are likely to give a stranger a verbal thrashing  if they look twice at your naked breastfeeding breast in public. Not that any of that is accurate, but you’d have to live under a rock not to know those stereotypes exist.

So I feel it necessary to clearly define what I mean when I invoke the word “feminist.” To draw my own boundaries around this provocative label.

1) I believe that men and women are different and are supposed to be. My 2-year-old son loves his big sister. One day, when he was not yet two, I put him in one of his sister’s frilly, pink dresses. When he looked in the mirror he acted like I had just zipped him up in a suit full of yellow jackets. He whined and pulled at the collar. He  wanted that thing off NOW. He has also been instantly attracted to anything with wheels since before he could speak, and even though he idolizes everything his sister he does, she does not share his love of bulldozers. Simply, we were made different. And I think that is a good thing. Yet, I also believe that at the end of the day, we are mostly all the same.

2) I do not secretly believe women are the stronger sex, or that our inherent traits are better than a man’s although I prefer being a woman.

3) I believe these inherent gender differences are part of a divine balance of strengths and weaknesses in the world; one that is essential to maintain a healthy equilibrium. I believe that equilibrium, at least worldly, has been tipped in the favor of men for far too long as evidenced by the fact that there is not a single culture on this planet that oppresses men. Not one. And I need not state the obvious that it is not true for women.

4) I believe that gender inequity is played out in our country in our leadership roles. I think this is evidenced by the paltry percentage of women executives and in Congress; 16% and 19% respectively. I believe our entire culture suffers when this equilibrium is not balanced precisely because men and women are different. We have different world views and those views need adequate representation in the highest levels of leadership. The same levels that create the media messages, policies, and laws the rest of us live by.

5) I believe that women are as equally qualified as men for positions of leadership and should be able to attain them, and they should NOT have to choose to forgo motherhood to do so. I believe that being a parent makes a person a better leader and vice versa. Male or female.

6) I don’t think the choice to stay home with your family is a wrong one. I don’t think the choice to work full-time is either. I have stayed home full-time. I have worked full-time. I have stayed home part-time and worked from home part-time. It’s all hard. I believe that people should know what they’re getting into when they make these choices, but above all, people should make choices based on passions and responsibilities… not someone else’s expectations. 

7) I believe we need to find a better way to support families; whole families, not just mothers, but fathers too. Currently mothers need more support based on long-held stereotypes and ideologies, but these things are s l o w l y changing. Father’s are taking a larger role in child-rearing these days. To sustain this momentum we need to continue to promote messages that emphasize a balanced work/life approach. Many of these messages tend to be about women, and the choices and sacrifices they are making to manage career and family, but the larger conversation is about the whole family. There are too many families in this country who are barely getting by because they are faced with impossible choices. And when your choice is between being able to stay home with your kid when they are too sick for school, or getting fired…  is that really a choice? And what about having to choose between reaching the pinnacle of a career that fulfills you, or raise a family? A less drastic choice, but no less unfair.

8) I don’t think we need large legislative measures to change our priorities. There are areas where legislation can alleviate some important issues like maternity and paternity leaves, but  this fight is not going to be won on the floor of congress, but rather in the hearts and minds of our country. We need to demonstrate through our choices and voices that families are important; more important than profits, or power, or winning, or the next call to Wall Street.

The only label we have for people who want to actively support women in leadership is “feminist.” But I don’t think that’s a wholly accurate label anymore. It is too small for this fight. Because it’s not strictly about women these days; (“feminine” being the root word of feminist). This is about our society as a whole. We need balance in our leadership, and not just between red and blue.

I think I need a new label to describe what I believe when it comes to gender roles in our country. I still think women are the ones who need more support because they are the ones behind in equal pay and equal leadership, but what needs the MOST support… are families. Whole families no matter what they look like. So I guess I’m in support of families.

I’m a Familiest.

I'm a Familiest

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