July 29th, 2010


feminism, motherhood, and what you want

I know a woman who tells me regularly that all she ever wanted was to be a wife and mother. So I guess she thinks I'm fulfilled now? At least I know she's unable to relate to my happiness about returning to work. She says it a LOT. In fact the whole phrase kinda makes me cringe... "All I ever wanted was to be a wife and mother". I cannot relate.

For a while I thought maybe I was being Bad Feminist. I mean I'm supposed to be happy for her because she's a woman who got to live her dream, if that dream is being married with children, go you! I love being married, and even though I haven't been a mother very long I can already tell it's an amazing, irreplacable adventure. The only time any feminist should have a problem with it is if a woman was coerced into it, brainwashed into thinking she could only be a wife and mother. Or if she was saying that because she believed society couldn't offer her any other options.

But the more I thought about it, my problem with the phrase wasn't the "wife and mother" part. It was the first part... "all I ever wanted." I just can't think of any way to end that sentence that I'm happy with. It feels like you're always selling yourself short if you just set the bar somewhere arbitrary like that. I wanted to be a mother, but it wasn't all I wanted, it was just part of what I wanted. Being an engineer is part of what I wanted. Being a pilot is part of what I wanted.

I mean, don't we feel sorry for people who say things like, "All I want is to make gobs of money"? Because what will they do with it? Look at it piled up? There's just not a whole lot of directions to go from there unless you've got passion for something else.

No matter how the sentence ends, it sounds fearful. It says that you want to be stuck in a place, you're unwilling to explore and rise above your initial impressions of the world because what you find might not fit your idea of happiness.

Feminists also get smacked on because we "pressure women into trying to have it all". It's an old insult... in reality, most articles I read about overstressed superwomen make me think we need a little more feminism in the world, get the men in their lives to wash a dish every so often so they're not the only one trying to "balance" their career and family. All feminists are doing is watching and making observations. There's a nasty history of a world that tells women to fill in that "all I want" sentence, and fill it in like every other woman because you're not an individual, you don't need to struggle or have a journey to find out who you really are and what you can really have. That's what makes me cringe.