Defining Feminism Down, part I

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Defining Feminism Down, part I

There's a New York Times article that is sure to trigger some anti-feminist victory dances in conservative circles. The article is on a small survey of young women at elite colleges-- Harvard, Yale-- and what they envision for their futures. It's supposed to be a big surprise that some of them are planning for motherhood with either a part-time career on the side or no career at all. Of course neo-conservatives such as Vox Day think this is evidence of a rejection of feminist principles but, unsurprisingly, he only sees things in the context of whether or not they validate his extraodrinarily sexist views. (In the past he has said women shouldn't have the right to vote, it's too costly and has no discernable positive value to society. Seriously.)

However, in a way, I can't entirely blame Vox for coming to the conclusion that this study is some kind of evidence of an anti-feminist culture shift among young, educated women. The female author thoughtlessly weaves that angle into the story, she opines that the notion of young women attending Harvard and Yale who are planning for motherhood in leiu of big careers is something that would "shock" most feminists. As usual, the issue of women, work and family is set up in an antogonistic way, even by a New York Times writer who likely considers herself a feminist. I'm just so bloody sick of it.

I don't know how many times we have to have this same tired argument. For the last time, women choosing motherhood is not a repudiation of feminism. Even feminists can't seem to see the forest for the trees. There is this constant presumption about what feminism is and frankly, it's often wrong. Feminism is supposed to be about both women and men having choices beyond their traditional gender roles.

Debatably, the biggest contribution feminism has made to our modern society is so intrinsic to this whole debate that people don't even get it. Feminism is supposed to be about giving women choices-- in theory, today's women have the choice to work, to stay home, to do a mix of both or do neither. The notion that there are young women who are very high-achievers who feel that staying home with a child is as valuable as having a career is a very good thing. I think it is a sign that modern feminism has come full circle.

I know I am especially frustrated by all of this nonsense because I view this whole issue as an outsider, so it's much more clear to me how much bullshit it all is. My wife and I aren't strained by who will stay home to take care of our future kids, both of us are willing, it will largely depend on who is the bigger breadwinner at the time. (At this point that is somewhat unclear because we're both in the process of going back to school.) Ideally, we'll have two kids and will be able to take turns staying home. Neither of us see it as a betrayal of feminist principles to stay home with kids, quite the contrary. I think like a lot of women it comes down to choices limited by finances. For instance, if we were independently wealthy we probably both would both stay home with the children in addition to doing lots of volunteer and activist work-- we both believe strongly in contributing positively to community and society.

However, I do have some issues with some of the things these young women said in the article, although not on the basis of whether or not they're feminist. But that's for another post...

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