After reading last week’s editorial by Jane Hornsby, I knew I wanted to respond. But in order to make my response a bit more comprehensive, I believe I should give a little bit of personal background.
I am from a rural town in Missouri. I grew up being told by my parents that I could and should do whatever I want with my life. I was encouraged to read books over playing with Barbies; I was told to go play outside or work and be productive. I was not coddled; I was not treated like a “girl”. I had an older brother and sister, and the expectations of all of our responsibilities and capabilities were the same. My parents taught my sister and I how to split logs, bale hay and use power tools; they taught my brother how to cook and clean and take care of his siblings. They were firm believers in true gender equality, and they practiced what they preached. We learned how to be well-rounded people, not well-rounded boys or girls.
Moving forward to my college career: I love learning. I was naturally drawn to the sciences, and here at Mac, I am pursuing a double major in Chemistry and Biology, with an emphasis in biochemistry, on a premed track. I’m very much a girl of the sciences. I am smart, capable, sharp, discerning and driven. If academia was what I wanted to do with my life, I have no doubt that I would be able to succeed at any path I choose.
But you know what? Confession time: I want to be a stay at home mom. It was a hard process, coming to that realization. I spent all of high school and my first two years here working my ass off, creating a foundation on which I would be able to build a medical career. Even though my parents have instilled in me the knowledge that I can do anything, I felt the outside pressure of society, including feminist movements, telling me that it was my duty to make progress for the sake of my gender. And honestly, it worked.
I have reached an age, though, and a point in my maturity, where I am ready to embrace that I want a family. That’s not to say I will never pursue a career or have a job, but simply that I want to have children, and I want to be home with them while they’re young, raising them with all the love and time I have to give to them. The strongest lesson I learned from my parents is how important family is. When I am dying, I will not regret the minutes I spent with those I love the most.
And now for a response: How dare you.
How dare you, to think that you have the power to throw around condemnation of a woman’s personal choice. How is telling a woman she can’t do something (based solely on her gender) any different from how things used to be, i.e. telling a woman she can’t do something based solely on her gender? I don’t want a society that would condemn me for wanting to stay home with my kids any more than I want a society that wouldn’t let me pursue the professional career of my choice.
The movement of gender equality is about personhood. It’s about striving for a society where people are looked at as people first, not some other categorical characteristic. If they have the skills, the knowledge and the passion for a specific calling in life, then they should damn well be able to pursue that. The best part about this is that it doesn’t even have to fit a gender binary. It’s about the abolition of gender roles entirely. But if you dictate to women that they can’t pursue a certain lifestyle due to antiquated gender roles, then you are the one guilty of perpetuating those gender roles. Telling women that they must pursue a profession to prove we can take on traditionally male roles in society is claiming that to do anything else is a sign of weakness or inferiority. The freedom of decision here is paramount, and to tell women what they should be doing just imposes a new form of imprisoning gender role.
The fact is, some women will always want to stay at home to care for their children, and, likewise, so will some men. A movement asking people to deny themselves their dreams rather than fulfill them is doomed to fail. The decisions of some women to stay at home might be influenced by lingering patriarchal values, but many others will make this decision from their own desire to be with their children. People overwhelmingly love their children, and they have an instinctual drive to be close to them and care for them. Your condemnation of this will not be productive; it will just be harmful.
Choosing to be a stay at home mom? Choosing to be a porn star? I’d love to think that someday we will live in a society where those choices are made solely because people love to do that with their life, with no external pressures shaping those decisions. We can only truly achieve equality if decisions are made free of all pressures, and that applies to the other side of the equation as well.
However, we cannot get to this point in society if there continue to be movements that attempt to dictate how women make their choices, especially if that movement is made on the basis that women are incapable of making their own independent decisions. The assumption that all stay at home mothers have just “surrendered to the brute force of sexism”, rather than reached this life decision of their own accord undermines the tremendous progress women have made in proving our capacity to make equal and respectable decisions for ourselves.
The assertion that women’s minds and decisions are merely reproductions of a patriarchal axiom raises the issue that, by that logic, all decisions a woman could make are controlled by the patriarchy. If a woman is supposedly incapable of disconnecting her decision making process from a previously existing framework, then you are implying that women never have, and never will, be able to make independent choices.
If feminists, people who are supposed to be the ones advocating women’s rights, keep implying that women are unable to be independent, critical thinkers, then we sure as hell won’t make any headway with those sexist members of society who still have not realized that women are not subordinate.
I will never stop being a passionate, outspoken proponent for the fact that women are just as capable as men and can do anything they want to do with their life. It’s not like once I become a mother, I will simply toss all of my other facets aside. I’m not going to start allowing myself to be silenced by men, or ‘put in my place’. I will continue to speak my mind; I will continue to share my beliefs and reinforce the notion of gender equality with all people that I meet, through my words and my actions.
This is how progress will be made.
The defense of choice is never a bad thing. We are all individuals with autonomy in a progressing society, working towards true equality for everyone. We all want people to have the right to pursue their desired lifestyle, career and loved one(s), regardless of economic status, race, orientation, gender or background. To achieve this, attitudes need to be changed, minds need to be opened. But true acceptance is never gained by trying to limit people’s options. So don’t you dare try to make women like me feel guilty for pursuing what we want in life.