Feminism and Free Choice
I Thought Feminism Meant Increasing All Kinds of Choices for Women
Let’s stop shaming other women for making their own choices regarding careers and whether or not they want to have one.
I was in a coffee shop the other day and overheard a group of women talking. They were discussing career choices. One of them made the statement that she was all for having a career, at least until Mr. Right came along at which point she was happy to become a stay at home wife and mother.
An outcry was heard from the other three who began arguing mightily with her. She seemed not to know what to say, and quickly went from looking taken aback, to confused, to distressed. You’d think she’d said she planned to go slaughter baby seals!
I couldn’t help but listen in and I wasn’t surprised to hear arguments that were familiar to me.
“You can’t fall back into that flawed, antiquated system of thinking about things,” one said.
“You want some barbarian to keep you barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen doing his bidding?” the second one asked.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d let yourself be brainwashed like this,” the third one added, sounding disappointed.
The reason that this whole thing sounded way to recognizable to me was that I’d encountered it in graduate school. Like this girl, I had initially been confused as to why women in my program were berating me for a choice, that perhaps they didn’t agree with in principle, but a choice I thought women had the right to make.
We were discussing how women can balance family and career. The upshot was that it was great that women had career options that hadn’t existed 30 years before, but there needed to be more support for things like funded childcare so that women could go back to work right after giving birth.
There was also mention of how men had to be just as responsible for childcare, housework and the like since gender shouldn’t dictate family roles. If women had careers like men did then it shouldn’t be assumed that they also had to take on the majority of childcare and household tasks.
I decided to weigh in with a different opinion. I said that some women might feel that maintaining different gender roles in a marriage was actually the best thing. Despite the sour looks on my peers faces, I persisted, adding that I believed that the differences between men and women in terms of how we interacted with the world around us could function in a complementary manner.
Some of us appreciated the differences between men and women and preferred maintaining traditional gender roles in our relationships. Different wasn’t the same thing as unequal, and while some may use the word in that manner, the definition of the word didn’t include automatic value evaluations, I suggested.
You’d have thought I’d just advocated for drowning a sack of newborn, orphaned kittens. There was dead silence for a minute. The two guys knew where this was heading and quickly walked off. Then came the explosion.
I won’t rehash all of what was said but I was pretty stunned at the vehemence that went along with the words. At the end of things, one of the women stated disgustingly,
“There are no natural differences between men and women other than the obvious physical ones! You can’t keep believing these things and you certainly can’t act them out or otherwise put them out there. You’re preventing women everywhere from being able to assert our rights and keeping us imprisoned in a chauvinistic society!”
Regardless of being fully supportive of people having different opinions, I thought that this was a bit harsh and gave me way too much credit. After all, I couldn’t imagine that my personal opinions were being picked up and disseminated by NPR or Cosmopolitan, nor had I been invited to appear on Oprah.
Not to mention that my opinion in no way suggested that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen with no other possibilities available to them. I also thought the need to deny there were any differences whatsoever between men and women other than the observable physical ones was a bit naive and more of an attempt to compensate for the view that different meant unequal, and in this case meant female oppression.
Confused by the response I made the statement that largely sums up my overall opinion about this topic. This was that the Feminist movement was about increasing the choices, options and opportunities for women and that stating that now that we could have careers we were obligated to do so or else we would be holding women everywhere back, was just as limiting as saying that women couldn’t have careers or work outside of the house.
I don’t see a difference between saying that women can only be wives and mothers and it’s not okay for women to choose to stay at home and be a wife and mother. Actually, I think the latter view is worse because it seems to have somehow been generated by the feminist movement and generally it’s women who say this to other women. If feminism is about giving women the right to make decisions for their own lives then it’s no better to have women take that right away from other women then to have men do it.
We need to get past this knee jerk reaction to hearing women say that they genuinely don’t want to work outside the home. Plus, with today’s options, there’s no reason women can’t still have a job or even a career working from home.
Women’s rights should be just that, the right for a woman to choose regardless of what other people’s opinions might be about those choices. This doesn’t just mean men. It means as women, we need to have each others’ backs no matter what our choices are, understanding that they are our choices to make.
The word ”can” as in “women can have full time careers” and similar statements should refer to opportunities, possibilities, options. But “can” and “must” aren’t interchangeable and treating them as such will be just as limiting for women as the ideas men had 30 years ago about what it was okay for us to do.
None of us should feel we have to hide our opinions and preferences for our own lives and relationships. As women, we certainly shouldn’t feel that we need to hide our choices from each other for fear that they will be evaluated and found wanting.
Natalie C. Frank (Taye Carrol) has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She specializes in Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Medicine. Her poetry collection, Disguised I Breathe, In Love I Hold can be found on Amazon.
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