That feminism post from last week got me thinking a little bit about raising a daughter.
When I told Brian about the "America's next top model" comment* and mentioned the NOW t-shirts to him, he wanted to know exactly what made someone a feminist. "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people," I spouted. Because really, isn't a bumper stick definition enough? Not for Brian. So then I babbled something about equal pay for equal work and voting rights and...
And I wasn't sure what exactly it meant. I wanted to say that it means that I am not defined by my gender, but knew that wasn't entirely true. I have long hair and I wear dresses (sometimes I even get around to shaving my legs). I am proud of my ability to grow and nurse a baby. But I like to think that my preference in school for subjects other than science and my distaste for spiders are just a fact of who I am and don't just reflect my lack of a Y chromosome. (I concede that the way I've been socialized has something to do with the former. But I like to point out that I was socialized not to like it, not to bad at it.)
I met a woman a couple of years ago who refuses to call herself a feminist. She says that if it were about equal rights and equal pay, she certainly would, but the main fight she sees feminists fighting now is abortion, which goes against her religious beliefs. I was surprised by this idea, but as I talked with her about my view on the matter (that it's really about making decisions about one's own body, which is why the feminist movement has embraced the issue), I could see where she was coming from. She believes that a human life begins at conception and that any action to end that life is murder. How could she accept the label of feminist in that case? She still believed in comprehensive sex education and the use of contraception, so I think she could label herself a feminist and disagree with some elements of the movement, but I guess that's not my call to make.
I don't think that woman is less of a feminist that I am because she doesn't believe in abortion. Maybe I would have thought that if I hadn't talked about it with her. But talking about it made me realize that I don't think there is a feminism scale. Don't laugh: some of my friends seem to think there is one. I was somewhat offended by someone commenting that another friend was the only one she knew who is as much as a feminist as she is. I wasn't sure it was something that could be quantified (and I certainly didn't like the implication that I was not as much as a feminist). In fact, I was pretty certain it was a yes or no question. But I also don't think about feminism all that often. It's just something I take for granted most of the time. But I think I know why my friend would measure my feminism as something less than hers: I made the decision to stay home with Adriana beyond a standard maternity leave before she was even born, leaving the world of paid employment. Does being a housewife (a housewife with a master's degree!) make me less of a feminist? There are a lot of people who probably think that's so. I prefer to think that the feminist movement is what gave me the opportunity to choose between staying home with Adriana and continuing in the professional world. I think the movement still has work to do--that our culture has work to do--to allow more people make the decision I made (if they want to), so that they don't have to worry so much about the financial effects of having one parent stay home and of how that break in their resume looks when they want to go back to work.
Except I wasn't talking about public policy here. Feminism. I can stay on topic. Really.
Brian asked if he could be a feminist. I told him yes, he could, and remembered that in college, I heard a guy in one of my classes say, "As a feminist, I think..." I don't know what the discussion was about or how he finished that sentence. I just thought it was awesome to hear a guy say that and I wanted to make out with him. So I did. (Hey dude!)
I find myself trying to work out not only my definition of feminism (since I hadn't thought of that, really, until Brian brought it up), but on whether my ideas about gender are affecting how I raise Adriana and how I interact with her. I tell her she's pretty an awful lot. Is that bad? I remember reading somewhere, probably in a psychology or sociology class, that we hold our baby girls facing toward us and our baby boys facing out toward the world. I do carry Adriana tummy-to-tummy in a sling most of the time, but she doesn't completely have control of her head yet and tends to fall asleep when we're out walking around. But sometimes I become self-conscious and I am sure to sit her on my lap facing out toward the room when we are visiting with other people and she is awake.
I'd like to think that if I had a son instead of a daughter, I would raise him the exact same way that I'll choose to raise Adriana. I know that's not possible: even if I could overcome my own prejudices, I would still want to raise a child who wouldn't be a complete outcast in our society. Before I knew whether I was having a boy or a girl--before I was pregnant, even--I thought it would be easier to raise a boy, actually. That wasn't necessarily about feminism though, but about some of the things women have to deal with: I thought it would be easier to teach a boy to respect women than it would be to teach a girl that women have to be a lot more careful than men, in some respects.
I want to teach Adriana to be a feminist, and not just because she's female. For Adriana to respect men and women as equals even if individuals sometimes have different abilities. For her to understand that men and women face different challenges because of gender and because of our world's perspective on gender. So I dress Adriana in pink some days, blue or green or red on others. I read her The Paper Bag Princess and sing her songs from Free to Be You and Me. I speculate that someday she might be a forest ranger or a teacher or a lawyer or a mama or a poet or a mechanic. I snuggle her and kiss her and tell her she's beautiful. It may be a bit early to be worrying about teaching her feminist values, but I want to make sure I've got my bases covered.
When I was little, I subscribed to an astronomy magazine for kids. Each issue there was a question posed that readers could write a response to. One month they asked whether women should be allowed to go on a mission to Mars, or something like that. I was about twelve years old, and the question bothered me. I thought it was ridiculous to ask such a question at all. I wrote a lengthy response, citing a picture book I loved when I was small called Mothers Can Do Anything. I was surprised to see my response (well, an excerpt from it, due to my issues with brevity) printed a few months later. (I was more surprised by the responses--from kids!--that said that women had no business on a Mars mission.)
To being a feminist means that I am my own person. That Adriana will be her own person. That she can be whatever she wants to be--mother, astronaut, teacher. All of the above or none of the above. Whatever she wants.**
*Someone else commented on Adriana's height since my original post. She followed up her comment with "I bet you'll make a great volleyball player." I thought it was awesome and I wanted to make out with her. But I didn't.
**Except a Republican.