Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gen X Feminist?

I was raised by a feminist, a new feminist just figuring out what this all meant; liberation, equal rights and yes, freedom. My mother was always a champion of the underdog and the oppressed, she still is with her work at the VA pushing vets to and from appointments and her work at the local food shelf/services agency. But when I was a little girl this Women's Movement was all new. It was the 70s. Mothers were leaving the house and the kitchen and headed out into the work force. My grandmother had run a small daycare center in inner city Minneapolis for 20 years, and my mother took it into 10 more years of growth and expansion. By the time I remember being there it was full of kids, lots of kids. White kids, black kids, Native American kids, Egyptian kids, blind kids, kids with CP, kids who sometimes spent the weekends with us because their single mom needed a break--it was kind of a daycare center/social outreach program. But it was clearly a daycare center where kids were dropped off at 6am and were picked up at 6pm.

As I grew up, the expectation was that you left your children. Not from my family of origin, but from society. "Delay getting married, having children. Focus on career, advancement, freedom. Don't let a family hold you back, bring you down. Your children will be fine in day care, after school care, fine!"

I took a Women's Studies class at 23 and when they asked the people who identified as feminists to stand, I sat. Most of us did. I had been married for three years. I was yearning for a family, for children. Some people feel called to the ministry, I felt called to be a mother. The two female instructors, "baby boomers", were furious. "Why? Why don't you call yourself feminists?" We had clearly expressed opinions and beliefs in our discussions and writings that would lead them to believe that we were feminists. But I felt absolutely abandonded by the movement.

Where was the advocacy for women who wanted to be home and raise a family? Social Security benefits? Health care?

I was, infact, pregnant during that class. I highly recommend that everyone announce a pregnancy in a Women's Studies class, I was celebrated with joy and delight! I had my oldest son at 24 in 1991. And until I was in my mid 30s I didn't even realize that other people felt like I did, like feminists who had been left on the road, shunned by the movement because of our choices.

Now I'm old enough to realize that the "male" way was the only model available to those early women fighting for equal rights. To them equal meant to be like men, out in the work force, leaving family behind for long stretches of the day. But for some of us, nothing is further from the truth. Our highest aspirations are realized in raising children. Many Gen-Xers bought the line that you have to go to work, have to leave your babies in daycare, you have to go work in the world, all these women before you worked so hard to get you here, don't let them down.

Some of us, some Gen Xers knew that it was just wrong for us. Some of us know in the depth of our soul that it is an act of extreme feminine power to trust your partner to support you finincially while you give all your power, creativity, heart and mind to the art of Mothering. Some of us painfully stayed seated when the women who identify as "feminist" were asked to stand. If the choice was follow heart and soul or hold the label, well....I had no choice, if mothering the way I chose made me lose my "feminist" card, well so be it.

I have never regretted it, not for one nanosecond. I can see that what the Women's movement needs is some of the Gen X "early adopter" mothers who stayed home and still identify as feminists to come join the movement and speak their truth out loud. We have felt marginalized. No one is going to come re-claim us. We have to go re-claim them.

Now you can never really know what is in someone's heart, but I wonder if this is what's really at the root of the misunderstanding going on with some of our UU women. When I read this blog by CaliforniaGirlinMassachusets, I heard her anger. But I understand the back story in a way that no one but "stay-at-home-mother, life-long-UUs" can. Yes, all 12 of us! I understand.

5 comments:

Kelly KH said...

Amen sister. I have struggled with this myself. I also had my first child at 23, and in college, and never regretted doing it that way. I have always toed the line between being pushed to "fulfill my potential" (whatever that means - profession, money, prestige, etc.) - but I have learned and experienced the most as a mother. I believe that feminism means that we have a right to *choose* our path.

Now I am getting ready to pursue my own big dreams, even though my youngest is only 2, but in a way that honors our continuing connections and bonds as much as possible.

Stay at home mothers in our culture are NOT appreciated or honored in the way that they should be. Keep singing it!!

Kristina said...

Did you read Judith Warner's piece on the NYT last week? It touched on this topic, too, and though I wasn't fond on her writing (grrr) I thought that the dialogue it spurred in the comments (a few hundred) were right on topic.

I am a proud feminist. And a proud stay at home mom....as you know. But how many times have I been answered "I'm a stay at home mom, BUT I used to...." and given my resume? Why is it not enough to say "I'm a stay at home mom" and leave it at that, full of knowledge of how much work that job takes and how much intelligence I apply toward it?

I have gifts and talents to give the world. I'm certain of it. I've shown myself capable in lots of ways, in the workforce and outside of it. Right now, my primary focus is one laughing six year old who loves me and needs me. I am not putting myself on hold to care for her, though it sometimes feels like that, I am living my deepest dream.

When I was certain that I would die before my fortieth birthday, and aching with the pain of that thought, I did not regret the unwritten novel even half as much as I regretted the missed opportunities to mother. In those moments, it became very clear what I value.

Now, 40 is on the horizen, and I intend to celebrate my life fully. I still plan to write those novels, I still plan to save my little bit of the world (whatever that might mean). Still, my greatest accomplishment is my love for and bond with Tessa. I hope that I never lose sight of that.

Proud feminist. Proud stay at home mom. Who says I have to choose? Not me!

Karen said...

Hi Kari! I found you through Ms. Kitty's blog, where I lurk often. I grew up in the 70's too, and now that I'm a mom who works outside the home (because I have to), I often find myself thinking of that Enjoli commercial: "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you're a man, 'cos I'm a woman." Until I learned what being a mom was about, I thought that was what a strong woman was. How crazy is that, to think we can be all things to all people! I'm learning now that a strong woman makes her choices based on her circumstances and her gut, not on what society thinks she can or should do. Anyway, I find a lot of kindred thoughts here, and think you'd be interested too:
http://raisingmyboychick.blogspot.com/
-Karen

Sara said...

Kari,

Yes! I feel the same way, and it's hard to claim that label "feminist" and follow my own heart's call at the same time. I also followed your link and read the post about the "hippie-pagan" ceremony, and I just had to giggle, because I could SO relate to the dialog. Since I was raised "hippie-pagan" and I then started attending UU church in my late teens, I know what was going on between those generations! My mother's "moon circle" that met at our house once a month would have been very offended if they thought I was belittling their "feminine-power".

Kari said...

Hey, thanks so much all of you! Such wise women. I'm honored that you read my blog and shared your thoughts. I can see a panel discussion of this at a GA....can't you!?

Big Bright Blessings to you all.