14 July 2008

Feminism- 21st Century Style

Last Thursday, I did my brief spiel about feminist literary criticism in my class. I asked how many of them considered themselves feminists. Out of 8, only 4 raised their hands. Two women didn't.

That's fine. It's understandable even. We've gotten to this post-feminist moment (god, I hate that phrase) where most of my generation and the generations following me think that feminism equals bra-burning man-haters and that everything has already been fixed. These are young women who never grew up thinking that there were any limitations to their lives. No one told them that someday their brothers would go to college and they'd become mommies. No one tells them that they need to make a choice between being a partner and mother or having a career. And perhaps, for many, they never will.

But the cold hard truth is that someday most of those young, bright women in my class will hit the glass ceiling so hard that their teeth will rattle. Maybe they'll grow up and get married and no one will expect them to start having babies, so they'll be safe. Maybe their husbands will even "help" around the house--how lucky they will be to have such enlightened mates. Maybe, even, they will make more than their husbands.

The cold hard truth is that for many of them--feminist or not--they will reach a point where they have to choose. Where they have to make sacrifices that their partners never even think about making.

I've been reading some of my favorite bloggers lately, and it's made me curiously aware of my own situation. While they've been struggling along, I've been very, very lucky. My own husband is a partner in every sense of the word. I cook, he cleans the dishes. He gives little man a bath, I put him to bed. I nursed, he changed every diaper. He doesn't help around the house. He doesn't babysit for me. It's his home and he maintains it; it's his child and he cares for him. Period. There is no sense that we are anything but completely equal. And that's the only way I would ever have it. I've never been willing to be someone's maid, chef, and nanny.

He was raised by a second-wave feminist--one that marched on Washington for the Equal Rights Amendment and still curses Phylis Schaffley's name if it comes up in conversation. He wasn't raised to expect anyone to cook or clean for him. He's a better feminist than many women I've met.

But the job market it coming fast. Very fast. And I am very aware that his discipline makes more money than mine. If we have to choose between positions, I will loose if it comes down to money. It makes me angry. Very, very angry. And sad. Very, very sad. Because I've been reading the saga of another mother an wife who was denied tenure and who has decided to give up her hope of a research career to keep her family together. I can't help but see the pain and anger in her posts, and she should be sad and angry. It's not fair in a lot of different ways.

Studies have shown that women with families suffer in academia. In one study about the California system, the research showed that women predominantly hold those non-tenure track positions while men who were married and had children actually did better than their non-married counterparts. For women, having children is a liability. For men, it's proof that you're stable.

And I've been reading the blog of a local mom whose husband is a grad student and who stays at home with her daughter. Except that she, too, works as a freelance writer. And she laments being the one in charge of the household alone. It's a choice, I know, but she's also fighting against a society that sees her work as less valuable than his.

And it makes me sad and angry, because this is where we've gotten. To a place where the young women don't need to be feminists, don't identify with feminism as a cause, and won't fight for it.

We still don't have an equal rights amendment. We still have a presidential candidate that claims that women are paid less because they have less education and training. We still live in a world where I cannot put a picture of my son on my web page because it might cost me a job, when it will probably get my husband one. We still live in a word where smart women pick up their husband's messes, even when they have work of their own to do. And we still live in a world where it's a given that mothers will nurture, but its emasculating for men to nurture as well. We still live in a world where the media can call a presidential candidate a bitch or some other misogynistic slur, and there's not a thing she can do about it. We still live in a world where a woman is raped every minute and for the cost of one fighter plane we could test every one of the rape kits sitting on shelves because of lack of funding.

It makes me sad. It makes me glad I have a boy. I'm not sure that I could raise a girl in this world, because how do you tell her that she can do or be anything she wants, when you know that it just isn't completely true?

Post-feminist my a$$.


Mrs. Chicken said...

Oh, friend.

Yes yes and yes.

I never once thought as a young journalism student that my gender would be a factor in anything I did.

But it is. I figures hugely in every decision, in every argument, in every job assignment.

My husband was raised in an atmosphere that led him to believe that women did the housework, and they did it without comment.

His 89-year-old grandmother still cooks and cleans and EVEN SERVES HIS GRANDFATHER'S FOOD TO HIM.

This is the model I am up against. While I love my hubs dearly and he does believe my writing is very, very important, to him it is still a sideline to my role as live-in domestic and mother.

I am raising a daughter AND a son, and I hope to provide them with the kind of example you and your husband seem to have.

But it is a long, hard road.

Rayne of Terror said...

I now have the experience of staying home 18 months, studenting for one year, and working for one year while parenting and I can say it is way easier to swing equality when you are working. Staying home and being in law school were nearly equal in how lopsided parenting/housework was even though I'm married to a feminist man. He lectures his co-workers about why they need to be changing diapers etc. Putting my work first had led us to a true 50/50 place. If I may say so, my husband possibly does more than I do now.

AcadeMama said...

Great post! I often think this about my female students, but I've realized that, for some of them, they're still feminists....they just don't know it. They don't use the terminology or the "language" of feminism. Certain traditionally feminist tenets are assumed, yet they don't realize that they are feminist by nature or origin. Granted, this isn't always the case, but it's not bad for the uber-conservative, George Bush-loving area where I teach.

And yes, raising a daughter is tough in ways that don't parallel raising a son. But, I still tell my daughter she can be whatever she wants, because I really believe it to be true. It may take shitty sacrifices and a mountain of stubbornness and strength, but I believe both of my daughters can do whatever makes them happy in the world. My thinking is that if this idea is a given in their world as they grow up, they'll pass it along to their friends, partners, future children (if they have any), etc. Offering them limited options from the beginning, though, would make me feel like I was throwing in the towel, and that just isn't an option.

LD said...

mrs c- I can imagine it is a hard road. It's funny, though, because even as equal as we've made our household, the second the baby was born I felt like I needed to be a certain kind of mother and he felt like he had to be a provider suddenly. Biology maybe? who knows.

rayne- that's what worries me-- if I don't get a job, I wonder how long the equality will last?

academama- true, so true. limiting options for a girl seems counterproductive, but if I had one, I would feel like I had to make sure she knew that it's not enough to be as good as-- you almost have to work harder, smarter, longer, and better. I mean, the statistics right now are that more women than men are graduating from college-- but that doesn't translate into being more successful. They're actually getting into less prestigious grad schools and lower paying jobs. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

Michelle said...

I don't see what the big deal is. As I look back at history, women moving INTO the work place full force has led to a generation of bratty, out of control children who lack anyone to teach them about life and morals. And the economy has suffered GREATLY. Gone is the American dream. Instead of employers paying one husband well.. they split the money and now two incomes are NEEDED. It's ridiculous. Great.. same income split two ways.

Sure makes it hard on everyone.

LD said...

But why does it only fall to women to teach the children about life and morals? That's part of my point. For men, there's no doubt that they can have a family and a career--it's expected. For women, it's a problem sometimes. And part of that problem is that men are often unwilling ("not my job") or unable ("because of job/ social pressures) to take an EQUAL share in childrearing.

LD said...

plus, the income is never split equally-- there's still an idea that the husband deserves/needs to make more.

Brian said...

Although I don't know all of the specifics about your situation, aren't you overemphasizing the ideological component over the practical? It doesn't make someone a bad feminist to have chosen a less lucrative career path than their partner and then later be driven by practical financial considerations to have to follow their career path at the expense of yours. If your husband is as enlightened as you say he is (and there is no reason to doubt your assessment of him), I am sure the situation would be reversed.

You do raise a good point, however, on the perceived effects of children on men and women in the workplace.

LD said...

no- that wouldn't make someone a bad feminist-- whatever that might mean. But there are still very practical concerns that are often overshadowed by the idea that everything is equal. Studies show that women with equal education still make less than men in the same positions. In my own industry, there are very real reasons to hide the fact that I'm a mother. The job market is tight and it would be much easier to hire someone who won't have to put the tenure clock on hold to have another kid- or who doesn't seem "serious" about devoting their life to their work (talk about ideological conundrums.) But the ideological problem that I see is that it's assumed that women will put their career on hold while it's assumed that men will not. It's not just bad for women- it's also bad for many men who never get the opportunity to realize the importance and fulfillment of being a nurturer as well as a provider.

Brian said...

I think we can both agree that there are plenty of systemic problems that still require remedies, not the least of which is the income gap between men and women. However, it does not appear that such issues are much of a factor in this case since it sounds as if your husband is in the more "lucrative" field regardless of whatever income inequalities within particular professions exist. As academics in the liberal arts we have already sacrificed much of our individual capacity to earn to do something we love, but, if the income difference is as great as it appears based on your statements, there's nothing wrong with being capitalist pig-dogs and following the money without regard to who is making it within your family.

Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas said...

The income gap is still (unbelievably!) there and it sucks ass, if you'll pardon my being blunt. I'm an executive level person and I have no doubt I'm paid less than if I were a man. I've believed that in every postition I've ever had at mgt level and up. And you know what? I'm here at this company and I'm happy and staying here because they are flexible beyond what I could hope for about the kids. At other places, I suspected I was paid less than the men AND they were not flexible about my children's needs. The men had wives at home tending the children.

I do tell me daughter she can do whatever she wants and I believe it. But I also tell her not to get married or have children until she's already done most of it.

In my situation, my husband changes diapers and cooks and cleans and I cannot complain at all about us being equal on that front. (He is terrible about "babysitting" the kids. That's our issue.)

He makes a butt-load more than me. Tons more. But 12 years ago he was a high school teacher. Had he stayed in that job, I'd be making more now. So his career change flipped us.

Great post!