Am I a Bad Feminist?

I have wanted to write a blog post about feminism for two years now. I’ve started and stopped posts on feminism so many times – it never really seems to come out quite right. I think that’s because I can’t seem to figure out exactly how I feel about feminism.

I can easily put into words my thoughts on feminism. When I think of feminism, I think of choice, power, strength, equality, freedom and respect. I think that feminism is about having choices and having the freedom to make those choices without being penalized. It this definition a bit idealistic? Perhaps. Too simplistic? Maybe. Nonetheless, this is my kind of feminism. And this is the kind of feminist I am.

Things go sideways for me because feminism also makes me think of hairy legs, bra burning and man-bashing. It also makes me think of anger, spite and judgement. There are some really angry, judgemental, awful people who call themselves feminists out there and I don’t want to associate myself with them in any way, shape or form.

Some of these angry people think I can’t be a feminist because I’m a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM). Some people think you can only be a feminist if you and your partner do exactly the same amount of work around the house. You do a sock more laundry than your partner? Oh well, that’s it, your partner is an oppressive Neanderthal and you’re a loser, under his control, waiting on him hand and foot – catering to his every need.

I read once that you can only be a stay-at-home-mum and a feminist if you could potentially make as much as your partner and/or support your family financially if the need ever arose. Ya, that’s right, poor, uneducated women can’t possibly be feminists. Do you earn less than your partner? Too bad for you — you’re not a feminist.

Still others imply that if I’m a SAHM, it is because I’m too stupid to realize that I’m under my husband’s grasp – that I only think I want to be a SAHM – if I were smarter, I’d realize that I’m being brainwashed into believing that I am living the life I want to lead. Or along the same lines, some think that I’m a SAHM because I don’t have the education or skills to get a job.

But wait just a minute here. Feminism is about freedom, choices and equality – but there are strict conditions under which you may/may not call yourself a feminist – does that make any sense? Do you want to know the funny thing about it? I never really considered myself a feminist until people started telling me, that because of my choices, I wasn’t one.

I am a SAHM, caring for the children, doing house work, cooking most of the meals and doing what many would see as the stereotypical “women’s” role. I also never take out the garbage. Does that mean that I can’t be a feminist? Does it mean that I’m a bad feminist? Does it make any difference at all that this is what I want to be doing? Does it matter that my partner is a dedicated, involved Dad who does almost as much (or as much) housework as I do?

This is not about what is better for children or what is better for women, or families, or society. I don’t think that being at home with my kids makes me a better mum in the same way that I don’t think going back to work after kids make someone a better feminist. This is about having choices available to women. This is about doing what I think is best for me.

For me, staying at home with my kids is a conscious choice that I made.  It came with some sacrifices but this is what I’ve always wanted to do and this is exactly what I want to be doing right now.

For me, this is where my instincts as a woman and as a mother have guided me. If I’d gone back to work, it would have meant me denying or ignoring my wants and needs — that doesn’t seem very feminist-like.

What, exactly, does being a SAHM, who shaves her legs, does laundry and cares for children make me? I have no idea what anyone else thinks but I’m going to say that it makes me a feminist.

What comes to mind when you think of feminism? Do you consider yourself a feminist?

10 thoughts on “Am I a Bad Feminist?

  1. JA

    I know lots of angry, judgmental people who aren’t feminists. Please don’t think that the women and men you’ve come across speak for all feminists. They certainly don’t. I think the stereotype is so loud that it’s easy to get caught up in the caricature of what stands for feminism, when it’s not really the “truth.”

    It’s great that you’ve had the choice and privilege to be able to stay home and that you’ve made this choice. I have lots of friends who are SAHMs and I certainly don’t think that they are bad women or bad feminists. I don’t know if I know any bad feminists for that matter!

    I’ve blogged about this http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/big-old-bad-feminism/

  2. Lisa N

    Feminism: choice, freedom, equality. A pretty decent summary. Choice: to shave or not (don’t feel the need to bother vs. the luxurious sensation of soft, smooth skin), to have children or not, to partner or not, to vote (Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green, or Communist) to SAHM or not. Freedom: to be enabled to do the above. Unfortunately, the SAHM option isn’t available to many, especially single parents, for financial reasons, and in almost all cases it involves major financial sacrifice.
    Equality: Being recognized as an individual, with your own needs and strengths. Much of this is negotiated within a relationship and family, influenced by cultural forces.
    These cultural forces have changed dramatically in the last century, generally for the positive. Wearing pants and having short hair is no longer an issue. Women have the right to vote, to own property, to live independently. But barriers do still remain. Supports around child-bearing and child-rearing remain inadequate, especially those which enable parents to choose working arrangements which are best for them and their family. Women are expected to be the primary caregiver, and do spend more time, statistically, on childcare and household management, regardless of their own inclinations and abilities. Medical research regarding women, including how medications act differently in women than men and how chronic illnesses develop and effect women, is lacking.
    I think that some difficulties in balancing gender roles will always inherently exist. As a parent, I have been repeatedly surprised at how innate some “traditional gender” characteristics are. With almost no media exposure and conscious gender-neutral language etc, our oldest son naturally gravitated to things that move. His doll was for pushing in the stroller, not cuddling and feeding. Tractors and trucks provided hours of fascination, while a nearby female peer had little interest.
    Feminism will never mean “being the same”, because there are biological difference –beyond the plumbing. There are differences in brain structure and hormones, leading to inherently differently responses to situations. I presume that this is intentional, for the benefit of children and family. My younger son, despite having a SAHD (dad) his entire life, consistently prefers to come to me for comfort. That baffles me, as his dad is usually the one available and providing nurturing.
    Feminism does not always doing just what is best for me. In deciding to partner and to parent, we give up some of ourselves to the other. Frequent sleep interruptions and poopy diapers are unavoidable with babies. So is compromise and self-sacrifice in a relationship. Hopefully this comes naturally, joyfully, out of love. But often, it takes work and conscious decision to display love despite …. It may mean delaying going back to school or work, or attending school or work against your wishes. So perhaps feminism isn’t as much an individual opinion as a relational strategy or family operational mode.

  3. Amanda

    Very thoughtful, Lisa.

    I wish more feminist would focus on things like supports around child bearing and child rearing, medical research regarding women, etc. rather than quibble over who is or is not a feminist.

  4. Lisa N

    There are very few people in the Western world who truly are not feminists. There are varying degrees, of course, and most people don’t want to be associated with “feminazis,” hairy legs, no bras, and more militant advocates. There are also specific “niches” within feminism such as LGBT, immigrants, street workers which, unfortunately, others want to distance themselves from. Some conservative religious groups (remember I’m only referring to the Western traditions, and am most familiar with Christian and Jewish denominations) may deny support for feminism, but many of their objections are either related to issues surrounding feminism, such as abortion, promiscuity/sex outside marriage, and homosexuality; or have what most people within their larger religious group would consider to be a mis-reading or distortion of religious (Biblical) texts. eg. men will rule over women as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:16), which is presented as an undesirable situation to overcome, rather a statement of how things are to be from then on, similar to pain in childbirth, and weeds in farming, which are mentioned in the same passage.
    People who mandate women to marry and have children, forbid women from employment, owning property, wearing her choice of clothing, and voting are uncommon within our culture. Most of those who deny being feminists are quite unaware of the history of feminism and the huge changes it has brought in society. We as mothers, and fathers, aunts, friends, teachers, need to ensure our children learn about this important aspect of history and societal change.

  5. AlbertaMama

    I was so glad to read your take on feminism. I feel the same way sometimes. There is many a feminist who has told me I’m not one, because I’m a SAHM, I shave my legs, and I have diner on the table when my husband gets home (most nights), etc. etc. etc.
    I’ve always viewed real feminism as the ability for women to be equal and make choices. It is my choice to stay home, because it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and be. I think my choice is just as valid as any other woman who chooses to be a working mother. I value my husband as my equal, he’s not less than me or “stupid” or simply a man and can’t do anything right. He’s my partner and he contributes to our family in every way he can. I choose to boost him up and support him, not be a door mat like some feminists have told me I must be doing since he brings home the bacon. He supports me, too. We’re a team!
    These are a small set of examples as to why I consider myself a feminist, because I exercise MY right to choose what’s right for me as a woman and I also respect the right of every woman to choose what’s right for her.

  6. KateM

    Thought-provoking post! A few of those thoughts:

    Feminism is a political and historical movement that, in the Western context, has three waves. The first – around the 19th century – sought the franchise for women, pursuing political equality in an effort to improve social equality. It was a violent and bloody struggle in which suffragettes fought (literally) for the right to vote. The second wave arose out of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, but was rooted in widespread dissatisfaction with 1950s “housewifery” despite the material comforts of suburban living and marriage. Women had just been returned to their “proper” place in the home after their historic wartime contribution in factories, weapons design and engineering, spying and code cracking and computing, to name just some. The contrast was jarring and doubtless disconcerting. I highly recommend Betty Friedan’s engaging and readable book, The Feminine Mystique for an overview of the “problem with no name” and the factors that played into the “women’s lib” movement.

    The “bra burning” epithet comes from this time, and refers to a misrepresentation by the mainstream media (where most folks get their information) of a minority of feminists who were using symbolic protest to convey their dissatisfaction and yes, anger, with the status quo. The accusation of “man bashing” is used to shut down debate, sidestepping legitimate critiques of patriarchy and the way it has legally and socially disadvantaged women. The slur “feminazi” has nothing at all to do with feminism and has been applied by opponents of the movement to undermine and discredit while inciting fear. (I also recommend Herman and Chomsky’s compelling book, Manufacturing Consent for an analysis of how the market and the economics of publishing shape the production of the news in support of the status quo).

    Certainly women in the ’60s had much to be angry about the way their sex had been treated, even in the North American context: as property, as children, as incompetents in the eyes of the law, which did not even consider women “persons” legally in Canada until 1929. (See the famous Persons Case). Women became doubly disillusioned as the movements they joined to fight society’s myriad injustices (and the men who led them) did not acknowledge the ill treatment of women “at home.”

    I think anger is a rational response, actually. But it wasn’t a mindless, shapeless anger. It was a righteous anger that led to organization, education (including self-education) and mobilization around the inequality of the sexes and the issues that affect women, many having to do with reproductive rights and children, of whom women remain the primary caregivers (despite recent shifts). Abortion, wage parity, employment equity, sexual harassment, rape laws, child care, sexual autonomy, welfare, affordable housing, legal aid and a host of other social issues have been battlegrounds for the liberation and equality of women and central for feminism.

    I agree: there is no “one” feminism: gender oppression is striated by race, class, age and various other categories. As such, feminism will be multiple: feminisms. Believe me, feminism has been the subject of much self-critique, particularly from feminists within the academy: its failings have been exposed, new avenues opened up etc. Third wave feminism is basically a critique of and response to the exclusive nature of second wave feminism, not least its classism and racism.

    I also agree with the assertion that feminism is not just about individual choice: it’s important to remember that masses of women fought (and even died) over the centuries so that we could exercise individual choice. And there are many women – yes in Canada – who can’t exercise the individual choices that middle class, educated, white women have available. Sex workers, poor women, single mothers, society’s dispossessed, disadvantaged, marginalized women still need a feminist movement in order to enter the realm of choice I believe many of us take for granted.

    But yes, ultimately, feminism is liberating. And to make our own choices, empowered and supported by others in our lives, including brothers, fathers, lovers and husbands, is a critical element of feminism. But only one element. There is still a lot about the way our capitalist, patriarchal, judeo-christian society is structured that requires change. It’s a struggle to just maintain the rights and freedoms women have won (see e.g. this rape ruling). Who will continue to push and fight and agitate for those necessary changes, lest our “feminisms of the individual” be lost?

  7. Julie

    I’m glad you wrote this because I have never known if I am a feminist or not. I work full-time outside the home and I make more money than my man. I cook all the meals but he does all the laundry and usually the dishes too. I breastfeed our daughter, but she’s a daddy’s girl. We both take care of our children and each other. It’s not always 100% equal but who is really keeping track? I’m not sure what that makes me, but I’m a woman and I have choices, I know that I’m strong enough to take care of myself and my children, with or without a partner (i’m lucky to have a great man by my side), I think women are awesome and powerful and if we stick together we can support one another in amazing ways. The problem is that we tend to label each other and make judgements instead of learning from our differences and giving well meaning advice when needed. I know I love reading posts and stories and experiences that other women write about; it makes me feel like I have a bunch of friends and a huge support system because I know there is always somebody with some great advice, a pat on the back, a funny story or a beautiful picture when I need it.