Saturday, April 14, 2012

E is for Equality.. or is it?

Four times recently, I have had my 'feminist'ness challenged and frankly, it's becoming tiring.

Let me start by saying I have never, ever described myself as a feminist. I like to think that actions speak infinitely louder than words, sort of along the 'Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car', but with labels. If, from my life, you can derive that I do not believe in any gods, must I really label myself an atheist? If I speak of, and act on, my attraction to both sexes, do we really need a label to firm that up? Despite never proclaiming myself to be one, being called un-feminist is deeply unsettling to me, much like how I don't believe I've ever outwardly proclaimed to be 'homosexual-accepting' but being accused of being homophobic would jolt me to my core. You can believe in things, and stand for things, and strive for things, quietly, in your own way, and mean it every bit as much.

Sorry, I'm getting wildly and drastically off-message. Suffice it to say: I believe, deeply, in equal rights for women, in all spheres of life. And that is what feminism is... right?


Or did I miss something?

Let me list the things I have done to have my feministity (what a wonderful word) challenged:
  • I said that I appreciate people (including men) holding doors open for me
  • I said that I would love to be a housewife
  • I said that I would consider altering my weight for a partner
  • I considered/am considering passing up a financially rewarding and career-enhancing opportunity in favour of my relationship
If you do not believe that these things are indicative of some sort of anti-feminist agenda, then thank you, kind and rational person. You are free to go. If you read any of those items and thought 'Well, clearly she DOES hate women and want them marginalised', then please, stick around for a minute.

When a man holds a door open for me, my thought process is this: 'Oh, good, I don't have to push the door'. That's it. I do not think 'I bet that man thinks my weak, flimsy feminine arms are incapable of managing that big, manly, door, even if my silly female mind could figure out how to open it, and I bet he just wants to look at my bottom as I go past because that's all I am to him, a piece of dim-witted meat with ineffectual arms'. Because, well, if we're all being honest with ourselves, that second one is probably not true. He's probably just being nice. I mean, we'll never really know, will we, but I think we can fairly safely assume. I'll concede that there's a small chance he may be doing it to make himself appear more attractive to me, but whether or not I jump his bones following this small act of human decency is entirely up to me and therefore his thought process is none of my concern. Note that I called it human decency, not chivalry. I would equally expect a woman going through a door moments before me to hold on to it for me as I would a man, and I'd do the same for either gender*. Surely, if we're allowed to do it for each other, men are allowed to do it for us as well? That's, um, kind of what equal means.

I would fucking love to be a housewife. (Quick side-note: when I say 'housewife', for some reason, people hear 'stay at home mother'. No. No, that is NOT what I mean. Being a stay at home mother is fucking HARD. Like, way harder than being a psychologist. I'm talking just me, and a husband or a wife, who goes away to work all day and leaves me alone to do my housewifing). If you know me, you will know that some of my favourite things to do include, in no particular order: sleeping, reading, baking, walking, watching terrible television, eating and writing. You name me a job where I would get to do all of those things all day that isn't being a housewife and I will do that job instead. I fail to see how wanting to spend my day doing the things I like best is un-feminist. Don't get me wrong, I am hell excited to be a psychologist and I'm incredibly grateful I had the opportunity to become one. I'd just rather be a housewife.

This third one is the only one where I may see where someone may be coming from, but hear me out. When a man, or a woman, looks you in the eyes and tells you he or she wants to be with you, that's something wonderful, and it's something that should always be treasured rather than ever be taken for granted. I would never change my weight to get anyone to commit to me, but once they have, I believe that I have a responsibility to that person to a) not change in any drastic way without consultation with them, and/or b) be the best me that I can possibly be. If I am an important part of somebody's world, and they have a vested interest in me being around for a long time, I believe I have the responsibility to take care of myself. And, if that person 'signed up' to me when I looked a certain way, I do not believe I have the right to demand them to feel the same way about me no matter how how drastically my appearance changes. That is all I really want to say about that.

The last one relates somewhat to the second one, but is a lot more serious and personal, and being called un-feminist for this is the one that hurt the most of all. I am anti-feminism unless my career is the most important thing in my life? How do people automatically perceive this as making a sacrifice for a man? No man is asking me to do any such thing - in fact, the man in question is mildly devastatingly pro-my-career-path. But it's not up to him. If I simply turned to a man and asked him to make the decision for me, then yes, perhaps that would be un-feminist. Even if I gave his opinion more weight than my own, I may see where people were coming from. If I was saying 'Oh help, I want to further my career but my boyfriend won't let me', then yes, okay, label me as you will - although given that he wants me to choose my career, it seems the 'real' feminists would be more happy with me taking his directive than my own un-feminist dilemma. But when I am saying 'I am torn between two things that will make me happy in entirely different ways and I don't know which to choose', I do not see the slight against feminism. A man in my position would have to make the exact same choice. And that's what we were fighting for, wasn't it? Isn't it? Don't you dare tell me a man has never thought about putting his relationship ahead of his career. I am in a position where I can make this decision, and that, that is beautiful, but it doesn't make it any more of an easy decision to make.

Does the fact that wonderful, strong, magnificent women have fought so far to get me the right to make choices mean that I must always make the choice that I didn't always have? There is so far left to go, so many challenges left to face.. we do not have the time, the energy, the luxury, to turn on each other. 

I do not want to be forced into any decisions, whether by men or by militant 'real' feminists. I want to be equal, and in these situations I do not believe I have I compromised either my equality or the right to equality of women as a whole. 

*Seriously, though, if you don't hold doors open for people, you're a bit of an asshole.