Perhaps it’s just me and the books and articles I’ve been reading or my current role in our family, but it seems that questions of feminism are everywhere.
The gist of what I keep hearing is this. First, women were oppressed by the trapping mentality that their roles as dutiful wives and perfect homemakers were equivalent to being righteous and acceptable women. If they worked or rocked the boat in some way, they were judged. Then, women found liberation and subsequently careers, activism, divorce, sexual freedom and self-actualization. Because of this, the notion and shape of families changed. Today, we are questioning what feminism means because women are in a double bind.
Some say the idea that mothers can do it all (career, family, self- actualization) is in and of itself just a new type of trap for women. Working mothers everywhere are feeling worn thin by the demands of their hectic lives and feelings of guilt or inadequacy. After all, who the hell can simultaneously charge ahead in their rewarding career, be a perfectly involved mother, run a Martha-Stewart-like home, appear beautiful and fit, and still have time to please everyone else in their lives? No one can, but the construct – the unrealistic ideal held above women’s heads – still remains.
The alternative, of course, is to go back to the 1950s and become a housewife. Well, not exactly, because a modern housewife is called a “stay-at-home mother” and she does things very differently than June Cleaver. Maybe this mother held on to a modicum of her former career through freelance work, or her activities through yoga and running. Unlike Betty Crocker, she is not looking for short cuts like cake in a box or TV dinners, but feeling ridiculous pressure to make her children everything fresh and by hand. All the while, an oh-you-don’t-work attitude slides down people’s noses onto her Lilliputian self-esteem.
I once was a woman determined to never marry or have children because that would be like falling for a trap society set for me. I was going to be dependent on no one, fulfilled only by my career, friends, favorite pastimes and boyfriends, if I happened to be in the mood. I never labeled myself feminist; I just followed my strong, independent female role models.
As it turned out, I chose a totally different path. I chose to marry, because I met a man who I wanted to spend my life with, not because that was what I was supposed to do. I chose to become a mother because I felt it would make me a whole person, and it was an experience I did not want to miss. I chose to be a stay at-home mother because I was raised by a hard-working single mother who had no time for frivolities, and I wanted to be the homemaking mother I dreamed of as a child: the mom in the 1970s Kool-Aid commercials.
If you stir together the ideals of society, images of perfect mothers seen in the media, the judgment mothers heap upon other mothers, expectations we have of ourselves and then mix in a load of boiling reality, you get a coagulated mess. It can’t work.
The only thing that can work to open this trap of judgment we set for ourselves is to believe in loving mothers — mothers who are doing the hard job, whether they straddle the worlds of career and family, or root themselves in the home. Isn’t women choosing their own life path the thing for which feminists fought so hard?