I consider myself a feminist. A feminist? Whoa. That’s a loaded term. What do I mean by that?? (Pausing before moving forward.) I believe it’s important to let women have choices in life. I believe that not all women are meant for the same roles. Women are multifaceted, strong, capable people, just like their male counterparts are.
I do not believe women = men.
And I do not believe in a homogeneous outlook for women or men…or their roles. Each of us was created and called to a different purpose in life. Some are bakers, some are candlestick makers, metaphorically and literally. And our callings/purposes/roles often change over the course of our lives.
Practical application: my grandmother (my dad’s mom) was tough as nails. She was raised during The Great Depression in an Irish-Catholic immigrant family in upstate New York. She was poor financially, and on the bottom rungs of the social ladder. She married, had 3 boys, and her husband was a drunk that would spend his paycheck at the bar, so there would be no money left to feed the family by the time he stumbled home. Therefore, my grandmother worked. She was a custodian at a local school; she walked to work in the cold and snow. As a woman, she was not respected at her job, never got promoted, and brought home just enough to keep her 3 boys fed and warm. From cradle to grave she had a hard life.
If she had lived in a world that gave women better options, better opportunities and more respect as individuals, maybe her life would not have had to be so hard. There’s no way of telling: the past is past. But I wish she’d at least had options. In her era, that was just the way things were.
WOMEN’S ROLES = MEN’S ROLES??
Changing what is expected of women and then judging all women by those narrow expectations is NOT liberation. My grandmother’s era expected her to be a stay at home mom. She was not wanted in the workplace, and the deck was stacked against her to not be successful in “The Man’s World.” We have made a lot of progress as a society in giving women professional opportunities…but have our attitudes evolved as well?
Sometime I feel like we just turned the tables. Whereas before it was socially unacceptable for a woman to do “Man Work,” these days I feel like women are expected to do “Man Work.”
Well…let me put it this way. I was a middle-class girl raised in the 80s, and I was told my entire childhood by media and public school: “be all you can be” and “you can do anything.” I wasn’t just raised believing that I could do anything that a boy could do, but that I should. That the masculine way was superior, for both men and women, and that if a woman wanted to gain real notoriety, respect, achievement and fulfillment in life, what she needed was a career. A way to make her mark in the history books.
The problem with this mindset is that it is too narrow-minded. I thought the feminist movement was about expanding women’s choices, not about switching the female role from one stereotype to another.
MY FEMINIST IDENTITY STRUGGLE
As a new mom, I’ve faced the dilemma that every new mom in the modern era must face: do I leave the “professional” career world or do I stay? If I stay, do I work part-time? Switch jobs? How much time off do I take? If I take more than 2 or 3 weeks off, will I lose my job? If I take a few months off, can we afford to do that?
If I leave my job, will I try making money at home? Selling crafts on etsy? Blogging & selling adspace? Can I be industrious at home to make up for the fact that I’m not helping bring home the bacon? What can I do to help shoulder the financial burden of providing for my household, the household that I share?
Do I even have the right to consider staying at home just to mother, just to be a mom, to make no money and have no financial SAHM career plan? If I want to quit the career world for 6 months or a year or for good, do I even have that right? And, better question still: will anyone respect me as an individual if all I am is a mother and wife?
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
(Not to mention: stress…stress…stress…)
The question is not as simple as, “Do I want to keep my job?” or “Do I want to stay at home?” We now live in a world where, the way things are, women are expected to co-provide for their families no matter what. We are expected to be “an asset.”
And – frankly – when you meet a new family (or couple) and find out that the wife and husband both have careers, they seem normal. That is the archetype that we expect in modern American culture, at least. It’s the stay at home moms that seem “granola” or “religious” or “different” or “simple.” In addition, there is the association of less prestige, intelligence and respect for the path of full-time motherhood.
I am a woman. I want to live fully. I want to follow my calling. And when I draw my line in the sand to work or not work, I don’t want to do it so that other women can be like me, but so that other women feel free to make their own choices as I have done, as free from social pressure as possible.
DOWN TO EARTH: OUR STORY
Here was our situation. When we got pregnant, my hours had been reduced at work due to the economy. As the pregnancy progressed, my hours dwindled until I was laid off (during week 27 of the pregnancy). From then until now I have collected unemployment, which is due to run out about a month after the baby comes. And we don’t plan on applying for an extension, because I have no intension of going back to work. I don’t plan on making any money at all.
INSPIRATION: DOING IT RIGHT
The person who has inspired me more than any other to pursue the path that Mr. Wetzel and I are currently on is my friend, Amberly. She is a single mom, about 30 years old, with a 3 year old son. She works part-time at Trader Joes, rents a 1 bedroom apartment and drives a Subaru wagon. She works 4 days a week (about 30 hours), and when she’s at work her son typically stays with the father’s family. Amberly doesn’t just “make it work:” she has a beautiful life.
That’s right: my single-mom, blue-collar working, apartment-renting friend has a beautiful life.
From the get-go, Amberly had a no-nonsense approach to parenting, spending and living. She never buys anything new for her son (there are SO MANY wonderful thrift and consignment stores available, especially in our area). Instead of asking herself “what do we need” she would ask herself “what can we do without”? She strives to make the things she needs, or to repurpose objects. Her glasses and cups are all Mason jars. Instead of cable TV and dvds, she collects old VHS tapes from friends and thrift stores for their movie collection. When weaning her son, she didn’t buy baby food; she’d just mash up whatever meal she had: no special preparation or recipes or ingredients or gear.
A year or so ago, I remember a conversation with Amberly that really humbled me. She was fed up with “working too much” and was trying to figure out what she could cut back on or do without so that she could work fewer hours. That’s right: 4 days and 30 hours a week was too much. She wanted more time with her son. At the time, I was in full-throttle workaholic mode, and I felt like I had to make money and work really hard because we had debt and wanted a kid someday, and we had to be financially stable before we could allow ourselves to start a family. And here was my friend, a single mom, talking about making less money as a good thing. It really challenged me to examine my priorities and spending habits. In that season of my life, I started to address what my needs truly were and how I tended to use money to create an illusion of security and identity, when what I really needed was depth of character and spiritual growth.
Some lessons I’ve carried away from Amberly are:
1. Have faith in yourself as a parent. Go with your gut & don’t let other people tell you that “you aren’t doing things right” just because your life doesn’t look like theirs.
2. Have the guts to not be rich. Because when you have less money but more time, your life actually gets more creative, individual, unique and beautiful. Money is not power. Simplicity is freedom.
3. Don’t find your security in being homogenous, but in being real. If you’re struggling with something (emotionally, physically, financially, relationally), don’t try to make it “be normal” or “look pretty.” Instead, accept life’s rough patches for what they are, and learn to move onward.
4. Allow yourself to change along the way. Life is a journey. Our experiences shape and mold us.
We were always meant to grow, develop, flourish and bloom under the sun. We are different flowers in different fields. Some are bakers and some are candlestick makers. And that’s the way we are. Some of us are meant to quit our jobs and some of us are meant to keep them, and there are as many variations on the Career vs. Stay-At-Home-Mom theme as there are people who live out their lives and have children.
Don’t worry. Don’t let yourself be preoccupied with society and “the way things are.” Whether you are woman or man, you are a creation with a soul and a calling in life. Don’t let guilt motivate you. Don’t let your life and decisions be dictated by “the ways things should be.” Instead: dig deep, and live according to the way you are and the calling that arises in your own life. When you face the inevitable identity crisis that we all go through when our lives change or feel out of control, don’t grasp after archetypes or stereotypes, but have the guts to let the wild ride of life happen, to let your hair blow in the wind, and to let the pieces of your life scatter as they may, wherever they will, like the leaves of autumn, or the stars of the night sky. And may your life be beautiful.