For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a feminist and a politico.
I was the geeky high school girl who watched the Watergate hearings on TV, who got excited about going to the mock political convention at the local college and reveled in the belief that I could choose to do more with my life than the mainstream options that limited my mother and my grandmothers.
Even though my mother wanted me to major in something “safe” like physical therapy, I knew in my heart I was meant for a degree in Political Science.
As a teen growing up in 1970′s rural America, I was aware of all that was changing that would make my life different from my mother’s. It was exciting to know that I could choose to be whatever I wanted to be and, hopefully, achieve it with much less difficulty than those who publicly, and not so publicly, forged the path for those of us just coming of age.
The thought of a “sisterhood” — an informal network of women who were out there to help others benefit from the advances they were making — was eye-opening and exhilarating.
As I worked my way through college and law school, and started climbing that corporate ladder, I, naively, had no doubts that if motherhood became part of my life that I would take off a couple of months, find a nanny and head back to that nice little office with a view and the name plate with the title, life neatly wrapped up in my vision then of what modern womanhood and motherhood was supposed to look like.
Of course, as you chuckle reading this, you know that life throws all sorts of curveballs and that’s not what happened in my career path. But, as I thought about what my next chapter would be, I was still motivated by the thought that I was lucky — lucky because in the 21st Century, we had come so far that a multitude of options would be open to me, even as I, for a variety of personal reasons, decided to be a work-at-home mother instead of forging my way back to the world of office dwellers, power suits and pantyhose.
What I didn’t count on was being attacked for making choices that I thought had been the whole point of the feminist movement. Had the face of feminism changed at some point from one of acceptance to one of alienation?
I didn’t expect Linda Hirshman to like me because an editor asked me to include her name on a list called “10 Women Who Make Us Cringe,” as an example of a woman whose actions or views make us scratch our heads. I understand that no one likes to be questioned and it’s fair to be upset when that happens. But does it really advance anyone’s cause to mock and ridicule someone’s personal choices as a way to try to silence questions about the validity of a theory?
Hirshman is a strenuous proponent of the idea that women should be encouraged to forego choices that work for them and their families for feminism’s purported greater good. And, based on the flames she has thrown my way, suggests that her choices and education were superior to my own, so my choices, contributions and comments should be summarily dismissed as questionable and worthy of mockery.
If feminism in Linda Hirshman’s world requires living a life by her rules or opinions only, and means that we should all be free to engage in ugly, personal attacks on those who disagree with us (and as I’ve learned, I am hardly the first to fall victim to such vitriol), then maybe we need another word to describe the rest of us — yes, we agree with you, Linda, that our spouses and partners should share in the load of daily life, but we also believe we are smart enough to choose a fulfilling life and career path on our own, whatever that looks like for each individual.
The T-shirt (thanks to the Being Jane website) sums up what I believe a feminist looks like — “Powerful, compassionate, balanced.”
This feminist chooses to believe that most of us don’t mock each other’s lives or whether one person’s contributions are better than, more accomplished or noteworthy than another’s.
Belittling another woman’s choice of college, career path, level of success or motherhood status is not part of the face of feminism as I know it.
Let’s get back to being supportive of each other and find that network that I believe did exist when I was that starry-eyed, Gloria Steinem-worshipping college girl. As a mother of a daughter, I know I want it to be firmly in place and working like a well-oiled machine when my first-grader starts making life choices on her own.