Thursday, November 13, 2014

Am I Not Feminist Enough For You?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a very personal piece about my struggle with being “just a Mommy.” I got a ton of positive feedback from other stay-at-home/work-at-home moms who felt equally as conflicted, defensive, and marginalized in their new role as a mother.

And as the piece made it’s way around the web, I also got brutally slammed by other women who made judgments about my choices, made assumptions about my financial situation, accused my husband of being a chauvinist, and accused me of being a spoiled brat. That was awesome.

Luckily, the voices of the real sisterhood drowned out the scattered boos from the angry mob. Still, it left me with a clear impression of some of the folks I’m dealing with here in the blogosphere. Judgmental types with an ax to grind, a narrow view of the world, and knee-jerk reactions to any stance that falls even slightly out of their bounds. For all of their self-proclaimed liberalism and progressiveness, they’re about as black-and-white in their perspective as the far right, conservative types.

When I was little, my liberal parents lauded my brains, my athletic skills, my writing, and made me believe I could be whoever I wanted to be. My mom would say things like, “I think you should be a Supreme Court judge one day,” and I’d think, “Ugh, law, boring,” but never, “Who me?”

They enrolled me in an all-girls school where we were encouraged to speak up, be heard, and reach high. Ultimately, the school became co-ed, but it never lost its feminist spirit. The teenage boys who sat right beside us were taught to embrace the same egalitarianism as well.

I mention this because I was truly raised a feminist. The idea that I could be anything and do anything and fight for the rights of other women was ingrained in me from a young age. I was the little girl in Ms. Magazine T-shirts, I was the pre-teen marching for women’s reproductive rights in Washington D.C., I was the 16-year-old volunteering for NARAL.

After graduating college, I wanted to be a journalist, and so I went after it and got a job at Cosmopolitan Magazine. Oh yes, you read that right. Cosmopolitan Magazine. The magazine we threw darts at in my women’s studies classes. The magazine we wrote letters too, attacking their sexist ads.

I’m not going to deny the fact that there was a focus on appearance and pleasing your man. But between the pages, there were also articles on sexual health, politics and, yes, pleasing yourself. Of course, most people never got that far. The audible gasps and passive-aggressive attacks from other women began seconds after I mentioned where I worked.

And I would sit there, listen to their snarky remarks, and then calmly explain my job because I was, shockingly, smart and confident enough to defend myself. I worked with some of the smartest women—and men—that I’ve ever known. These women were breadwinners and high-achievers and philanthropists and activists, not silly things, flipping their hair and bemoaning the scuffs in their fuchsia high heels. Our goal was to give the readers what they wanted, while also giving them information about their sexuality, their health, and their rights. Working there taught me that feminism is not a one-size-fits-all label.

Thank God, because now look at me: I’m a work-at-home mom, with two young kids, and my husband is the breadwinner. I do the cooking, I do the grocery shopping, I organize our lives. I made this choice for myself and for our family, and we are lucky it was an option for us.

But why should I have to explain myself? Who am I explaining myself to? Ultra-radical feminists who think a woman’s only value comes from working full-time? Who marginalize and belittle my life choices because they are different from their own?

Hey, I thought the whole point of the feminist movement was to encourage women to be whoever they wanted to be, to do whatever they wanted to do, and to not allow any man to stand in their way. Perhaps, I should have been looking out for the self-righteous, all-or-nothing, know-it-alls who throw shit all over my path.

I will still proudly call myself a feminist because I am one. I am one! Maybe I’m more of a mainstream feminist. Maybe my views aren’t perfectly aligned with the far left. Maybe I am able to, whoa, see both sides of an argument, and embrace other’s choices and politics. I don’t have to agree with them, but as long as they’re not spewing hate or intolerance, I can respect their views.
Even if I’m not exactly some kickass example of women’s rights in action, I am a feminist. And screw anyone who says otherwise.

It’s a tough thing, hanging out here in the middle, because the far left and the far right have gotten so loud and so angry, we’re afraid to speak up and tell our truth. We want to be heard, but we’re also terrified of the repercussions.

And we wonder why feminism has gotten such a bad rap. Maybe because a small radical contingent has gotten so rabid and intolerant. Maybe because as soon as anyone voices anything outside of a certain purview, the fired-up online activists leap onto the comments section, guns blazing, fists flying.

To those trolling the Internet looking for a fight, I’m just wondering, what are you trying to prove? If you’re so comfortable in your own politics and lifestyle, why do you have to shred apart everyone else’s, including those who are on your side? One wrong word, one moderate stance, one admittance of “well, I can see their point,” and you’re ready to go to battle.

Don’t you see how dangerous this is? Don’t you see how intolerant? As women, shouldn’t we be lifting each other up and respecting each others' choices, rather than ranting about how our way is the only way?

Because really, what happens in my little life has nothing to do with what happens in yours. It’s my story, my rights, and my feminist identity. So what do you gain by tearing it to shreds?

Is Shame A Woman’s Default Emotion?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day was earlier this month. I wouldn’t have known, if not for the fact that my Facebook newsfeed included several shares from friends and acquaintances who I never knew had lost pregnancies or babies. I had a miscarriage myself four years ago, before I became pregnant with my identical twin boys. We never saw a heartbeat and I was only nine weeks along, so some part of me thought it was indulgent to mourn the loss. But mourn I did.

For months, I couldn’t even look at babies. For months, I could barely face the day. Every morning, I’d wake up and wonder if I’d dreamed the miscarriage, if my baby was still in there. Sometimes, I’d wonder if I’d dreamed the pregnancy. It was real though, and that baby was gone. I often did have dreams though about a little girl, one with caramel-colored eyes and dark, curly hair, like mine. I’d think I saw her in butterflies that flew too close or hummingbirds that would linger outside the window. I couldn’t seem to make those dark clouds pass, so, ultimately, I went to see a spiritual healer, and asked her to help me clear away the darkness and let my baby go.

Even now, recounting that time, I’m embarrassed at how maudlin I was. The pain was so real, and yet, I felt like I wasn’t really allowed to be as sad as I was. I felt like I was supposed to be stronger, put on a brave face, and not mourn for a baby that never could have been. That was really just a cluster of screwed up cells, really.

For so many reasons, I couldn’t talk about it, except with a handful of people who had been there themselves. I didn’t really want to talk about it anyway. Besides, what was there to say? I either felt badly about being such a downer, or felt silly for making such a big deal about it. My pain—this very common, very real thing for many women—was shrouded in a thin layer of shame. Shame over my own honest, raw feelings.

Of course, as many women who’ve suffered pregnancy loss know, I also felt another kind of shame—guilt. Even though I knew better, I felt responsible for the loss. I remember frantically calling my doctor one day, over and over, trying to get him on the phone. When I finally reached him, I was tearful and panicked, begging him to tell me the truth, “Did my body do this? Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault this happened?”

No, it was nothing I had done.

As I read some of these women’s confessions on my Facebook newsfeed, or just “liked” their acknowledgement of the day, I noticed similar language being used over and over. This idea that those of us who had suffered pregnancy or infant loss should, in a sense, “come out of the shadows.” As though we were hiding this part of ourselves. As though there was something shameful in what had happened to us.

How sad is that? That even our tragedies make us feel embarrassed and ashamed.

As it is, we’re ashamed of our bodies, whether too big, too small, too voluptuous, too skinny. We’re ashamed of our sexuality, whether we flaunt it or conceal it. We’re ashamed when we’re too assertive, and ashamed when we’re too meek. We’re ashamed when we accept praise and ashamed to receive it. We’re ashamed that we’re not better mothers, and ashamed if that’s all we are. We’re ashamed for not wanting children, and ashamed if we physically can’t seem to have them. I could go on, but you get my point. It’s as though a woman’s default response is to bow her head down, curl inward and let the shame in.

It has to stop. We have to just stop. There has to be a more useful emotion to help us navigate through the highs and lows of our lives. Pride? Steely resolve? Acceptance? I know, I know, it’s all easier said than done, especially since the shame response seems to be ingrained in us.

I do have one idea though: That we women talk to each other more. Not about our job woes and partner troubles and shaky friendships—I think we’ve got that covered. No, I think we need to tell each other the tough stuff, share those stories that are hard to tell. When women reveal themselves to one another, honestly and openly, we realize we’re not alone. That whatever it is we are feeling is normal. That someone else has been there before.

Our stories are what unite us and when we share them, we free ourselves from whatever shame we’ve attached to them. When the women around us say, “Yes, yes, me too,” we suddenly feel justified in whatever it is we’ve thought or felt, we are able to take ownership of our own experiences. And just like that, we don’t feel quite so sad or angry or guilty. We realize that whatever we have been through, whatever trial or tragedy or test of will, we have nothing, nothing to be ashamed of.