Isn’t it always shocking when you realize that your parents in fact DID do something correctly in your up bringing? I had one of those shocks this morning about 2 AM when my insomniac brain was racing away, while my not so insomniac body was trying to sleep…
I’ve been reading some feminist writings lately because at every review I’ve had in the last year, faculty will insist on asking me what feminist “stuff” I’ve been reading. It has always (even in undergrad) irritated me to no end, when, in my opinion, people start forcing a feminist perspective on to my work. In only very rare occasions has feminism been content and concept in my work. It’s just not how I roll. (I’m sure I’m getting eye rolls from my imaginary readers right about now.) The story that my work addresses is much more of an internal personal/psychological one Please don’t take me wrong. I am by all means about equality and believe that women should have the choice to do whatever they damn well please in their lives. To me, that is the point of feminism, yes?
In any event, feminism has come up in my reviews on multiple occasions, and I’m always a bit puzzled as to where those connotations come from in the majority of my works, or rather how others interpret it into my work. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of it right now…that’s something for another day, BUT my overactive little brain was pondering on this in the wee hours of the morning today. Suddenly it occurred to me that my failure to recognize feminist content in my work is largely a product of my upbringing and childhood.
Sounds negative right? In this case not! My parents actually accomplished something quite wonderful! Shocking, I know. Anyway, while my parents did/do have their failings as parents (and whose parents don’t?), the one thing that I think they pretty successfully accomplished was a childhood in which gender roles were amazingly non-specific, and fairly fluid.
Growing up, my three sisters and I had “boy toys” (ie Legos, wood blocks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stuff, etc) as well as “girl toys” (Barbies, paper dolls, tea sets, etc), and we played with them equally. We were also, for the most part, allowed to dress as we pleased, and played with other girls, as well as boys. Our father wrestled with us like we were boys, our mom did crafty things with us, and we were encouraged in all of our interests/pursuits, regardless of whether they were a “girl thing” or a “boy thing.” My youngest sister did taekwondo and basketball, and was a Girl Scout for years. I took Home Ec as well as Shop in junior high. As I think about it, I don’t ever remember being told that I could or could not do something based upon the fact that I was a girl.
The other remarkable thing, was that between my parents, the gender roles were not strongly adhered to. Both of my parents worked full time outside of the home, but as I understand it, my mom actually had the higher paying job by the time we were in high school. On the other hand, my dad was the one that cooked dinner daily, and the one my sisters and I ran to when we were crying, needed help with home work, or just wanted some plain old cuddling. He also gardened and built things in his workshop. My mom sewed, but as a hobby that she truly enjoyed. She was the one that did the grocery shopping, but my dad was in charge of making up the menu that she would be purchasing. They both shared the responsibility of shuttling us back and forth for extra curricular activities, and both volunteered as Band Parents (two of my sisters and I participated in marching band and color guard). We were ALL responsible for household chores, and we were encouraged to be independent as girls as well as human beings. (This is something that my father takes great pride in to this day about his daughters…That we are all fiercely independent, probably to a fault…)
In short, what I saw growing up was feminism in action, without ever knowing it. To me that was life, the way that everyone lived…it was normal. So in my mind, there is no politic behind who does the dishes, despite the very real fact that there is. In this way, while my work may allude to battles taken up by feminism past and present, this is not how I view it, and that’s where I get myself into trouble I think. I don’t necessarily directly relate to what some of these faculty members are bringing to my work (hence the obsessive reading and research). So thanks to my parents for most awesomely bringing up four daughters with out forcing them into the society prescribed gender roles. I will leave you all with this quote that no doubt triggered my realization last night:
The ideas for this book began to unfold around that table, and the questions that came up at these gatherings confirmed its premise: that feminism is out there, tucked into our daily acts of righteousness and self-respect. Feminism arrived in a different way in the lives of the women of this generation; we never knew a time before “girls can do anything boys can!” The fruits of this kind of confidence are enjoyed by almost every American girl or woman alive, a radical change from the suffragettes and bluestockings of the late nineteenth century, and from our serious sisters of the sixties and seventies. We also have the benefit of knowing from recent history that consciousness-raising must precede action, just as research precedes a breakthrough. In exchanges with one another, women learn that we are the real experts–often more so than the paid experts, who have studied but not experienced the subject at hand. If a woman has gone through a divorce, for instance, researched the best way to get an abortion, asked for a raise, or is having sex at the age of sixteen, she knows something that could help another woman. For these women, and for anyone born after the early 1960s, the presence of feminism in our lives is taken for granted. For our generation, feminism is life fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it–it’s simply in the water.
– Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future