Now don’t take the title too literally. I don’t mean to imply that being a feminist gives you permission to vandalize public property to crush the patriarchy or punch the next man that catcalls you on your way home from work. Let’s be reasonable here and try to keep things legal. What I do mean is that being a feminist means you should be allowed to turn your life in to whatever you want. You should be able to choose the path you want to follow and you should be able to achieve your goals along said path.
Right off the bat there are issues with this. There are still life and career paths from which women are largely discouraged, intentionally or unintentionally. For example the media still discourages women from pursuing careers in national politics by trivializing their efforts in every way possible. See: any interview with Hilary Clinton where they ask more about her hair, her outfit, or her husband than her politics. See also: any news story about Elizabeth Warren where they label her as a liberal loony or “abrasive”. Some career paths are not so directly discouraged, but their culture makes it hard for women to succeed because it is so male dominated. See: construction work, engineering, and many science careers. So, there are still a plethora of systematic barriers to women pursuing the careers and lives they want. This is one of the reasons feminism exists.
However, there is a more insidious barrier to some women pursuing the careers and lives they want and this barrier is within the feminist movement itself. I’m talking about fem-shaming. I don’t know if that’s a real term. If not I’ll claim I invented it. If it is I guess I’ll just pretend I knew all along. What I mean by fem-shaming is the phenomenon of feminists deriding other feminists about the career or life paths they’ve chosen. The classic example is the feminist lawyer shaming the stay at home mom for supporting the patriarchy by pursuing her family life instead of a career. I don’t know if this is still a thing within the movement, but I do know that there’s a perception that this happens all the time. I know from my own experience and the experiences of other women I love.
The other day my younger sister texted me “can I tell you something that doesn’t sound very feminist?” She’s been on the receiving end of many of my femrants as I have tried to instill my newfound feminist values in her. I told her sure and waited expectantly. She responded: “sometimes I just want to marry a rich guy and donate all his money to charity so my official job title can be philanthropist.” Let me tell you about my sister for a bit of context. She is an incredibly aware young woman with a keen sense of social justice. She’s worked with kids and adults on the autism spectrum. She’s worked in homeless shelters. She currently interns at a nonprofit fighting hunger. She’s applying for Americorps. When it comes to social responsibility she outstrips me by a lot. She’s kind of my hero. So when she says she wants her job title to be philanthropist, it comes from a place of wanting to help those less fortunate, not from a place of wanting to wear pretty dresses and attend charity balls. Though I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that either.
Back to the story. I immediately responded that I didn’t think that was unfeminist at all. If that’s what she really wanted for her life she should be able to do that since feminism is really about giving women the power to choose their own destinies. Then I flashed back to a time when I didn’t believe I qualified to be a feminist because I wanted to be a stay at home mom when I finally have my own kids. I truly believed that in order to be a feminist I would have to abandon my family for a career that would prove I could hack it as well as any man. Back then I also misunderstood the true goal of feminism and I realized it was because I heard stories about women being shamed for their choice of family over career. I had heard stories about women being shamed for choosing to be financially dependent on a man. I don’t know if these stories were told by non-feminists to discourage women from joining the movement, but it really doesn’t matter. The idea that got stuck in my head, and apparently my sister’s, was that we weren’t allowed to be feminists if we wanted to stay at home and let a man financially support our lives.
Now that I understand that feminism is really about giving women the power to shape their own destinies I understand that this means any destiny they want. For me that means that I quit the high powered career to become a nanny, a pink collar job. When I have kids I will stay at home with them until they are preschool aged. Both of these paths mean that I need my husband’s financially support. I contribute to our finances, of course, because I was raised to believe that I should financially contribute as much as I could, even if it’s not a lot. But my husband covers the majority of our bills and household expenses. I had to let go of a lot of pride in order to accept this arrangement, but it allows me to spend my days doing something I love and it will allow me to raise my children the way I’ve always wanted.
Guess what? I’m still a feminist. So is my sister, even if she does decide to marry a foreign prince or self made millionaire and become a philanthropist. We’re feminists because we have taken our power back from those who would dictate our destinies and chosen destinies that will make us happy. Our futures our wide open and our ambitions may change, but we will be feminists regardless of what our futures hold.