As a little girl growing up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I knew without questioning that I had a smorgasbord of opportunities in front of me. I could be ANYTHING. I could play with any toy I liked, be friends with anyone I chose, read any book I wished, and dream of one day being in any career that I felt drawn to.
That freedom was something I very much took for granted. It was not until later in school that I began to hear about “feminism” and “Women’s Lib” as a social movement, and that it hadn’t been very long ago that it was considered improper for young ladies like me to just read any book they wanted, or play with any toy they liked, etc. I learned, from my own relatives and community members as much as from the textbooks, that a woman’s dress, speech, and even life goals prior to this movement had been fairly proscribed, a beaten track which you simply had to walk. The recent documentary on PBS called Makers describes the feminist/Women’s Lib movement in detail, and has in part spurred the following post.
It was downright odd to learn about the Women’s Liberation/feminist movement, especially in the context of my own life. Keep in mind, I was (and still am) the type of girl who played with Barbie dolls one minute and Micro Machines the next; I would play sports with the boys at recess and yet still play at “teatime” with my dolls at home. My toybox was a mishmash of traditional “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys,” dressup clothes and dollhouses right alongside Legos and basketballs. If it was fun to play with, I played with it, basically. I had no idea of the “gender lines” I was crisscrossing; to suddenly learn that these choices I took for granted had once been forbidden to girls was a shock.
But this very way of life, the way of life I adopted even before school-age, is what I believe the Women’s Liberation movement was really all about, and what feminism is still about today. Yet the movement has its fair share of detractors as well as people who don’t really understand what its purpose is…and I’m sad to say some of its proponents seem to have lost sight of what the movement is really about. (More on that in just a moment.)
This issue is really big and unwieldy, so I’ll simply try to describe what I believe the movement is about in the context of what it’s meant to my life: a certain freedom of choices.
What Feminism/Women’s Lib Isn’t: A Movement for Dominating/Getting Rid of Men Altogether
Many boys and young men sneer at or don’t like talking about the Women’s Lib/feminist movement, saying that they feel threatened or even belittled by it. Some wonder about the femininity of women who join or believe in such a movement; others question why women felt the need to break out of a social role that seemed perfectly fine.
I admit, feminism does seem pretty militant sometimes, especially looking back at its history. And the imagery of a woman doing battle is somehow more frightening to society as a whole–somehow, she’s an uncontrollable, unpredictable force. (People in America have fought militantly for the rights of many other social groups over time, though–why is fighting for the rights of women still so alien to society even today?) Feminism, however, is in my opinion not about getting rid of men entirely, nor is it about absolutely dominating men the way that women were so often socially (and physically) dominated.
I am a feminist and a liberated woman, but that does not mean I want to crush male anatomy beneath my heel and crack a whip over men’s heads. All I want, as a feminist, is for female human beings to be treated as socially, economically, and personally equal to male human beings. (That particular fight is still not over, by the way, since working women still make less than working men, often at the very same jobs.)
What Feminism/Women’s Lib Isn’t: A Complete Destruction of “Homemaker” as a Career Option
This is where many of my fellow feminists slip up in their definitions of feminism. I have heard too many “strong liberated women” disparage girls and young women who have gone on to become wives and mothers rather than take a “real career” out in the world. One of my Facebook friends actually received some nasty messages about her personal choice to become a homemaker–one of them said, in part, “I guess you just want to live in the nineteen [bleep]ing fifties if that’s all you’re gonna do with your life.”
To me, this is another perversion of what Women’s Lib/feminism is about. If you look down on a woman for not taking a career outside the home, then you are in effect telling her that her personal life choice is invalid, the same way society used to tell women that their life goals to work outside the home were invalid. As any wife and mother will tell you, homemaking is most certainly a career in and of itself–a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, decades-long career with no vacations and no paid leave, requiring physical strength and endurance as well as nurturing and patience. Feminists fought for women to have the freedom to make life choices–who then are we, as feminists, to attack another woman based on her freely made, personal life choice?
What Feminism/Women’s Lib IS: A Movement for Social/Economic/Personal Freedom
I believe this movement is, at its core, about CHOICES–the choice to live our own life dreams and to use the spiritual gifts that God has blessed us with. Not all women want to be homemakers, wives and mothers, for instance, but some do and some are. Not all women want to be career women, but some do and some are. The point is, we have that choice.
Women’s Liberation was and is just that–a liberation from absolutely having to choose “public school -> marriage -> kids” (or just “marriage -> kids”) if a woman wanted to do something else with her life. Just as men as human beings were free to choose their careers and life paths, I believe the feminist women of the Women’s Lib movement wanted and still want that same freedom of choice for female human beings. I know I certainly do.
Now, being “free” does not mean that all of us will choose out-of-the-home careers and cast off the apron forever. Nor does it mean that we will eventually do away with men completely, except as occasional, dominated sex partners. We will simply be as free as men to choose our life’s path, and to use our God-given gifts. (That day has not come yet, either–there are still many subtle social hurdles to jump before we get there.)