Saturday, March 24, 2007

Back Link Feminism versus Activism: Personal Or Political

Bindi from the epossums blog

This is a synopsis of a conversation I had with a young woman in my book club a couple of years ago. She was twenty-two at the time and had recently been married. We were discussing the book ‘Anything we love can be saved’ by Alice Walker at this particular meeting. Alice Walker is a feminist activist and the book focused on issues such as female genital mutilation, and her active role in its prevention. Feminist were portrayed in this book as activists.

Older woman: I enjoyed the book. It made me reconnect with feminist issues.

Younger woman: Do you mean that you took up feminist issues or that you reconnected? Were you already a feminist or did the book start you thinking along feminist lines?

Older woman: Um, I mean reconnect.

Young woman: Well, I don’t think feminism has had an impact on my life!

Older woman: But, things have changed a lot for women as a result of the feminist movement. Have you spoken to your mother about it?

Young woman: My mother stayed at home with her children. I think it’s perfectly natural for a woman to stay home with her children when she has them. This is what I intend to do also!

Older woman: When you have children, the power relations in the family can subtly shift. I took ten years off to raise my children. Despite the fact that we feel like we are free to choose, I have found that when you become a mother, power relations between couples can shift. Women can feel as though they are in a less powerful position and that their options do become limited.

When I married and had children I held the belief that parenting roles in my marriage would be equitable. I acknowledged that I was the one who could breast feed and took it as my duty to stay home with the children in the first years of their lives. I believed that my husband could take over the full time parenting role when my job was done, or that we could alternate some how. This never eventuated, partly because we had subsequent children. I ended up either pregnant or breast feeding for eight years. After that time, if I chose to go back to my teaching job, I would have been on the same salary I was on prior to taking leave. However in those years, my husband had become a senior manager in his field through a series of promotions. To afford to be able to pay our mortgage and feed four children on my salary, we would have had to sell our house, down size and move out of our inner city area, which by this time had become our community through associations with playgroups, kindergartens and primary schools. It just did not make sense to do this. My husband became the breadwinner and I became the house wife. This was stressful for both of us for different reasons.

A month later, at book club again, the conversation continued. The younger woman had been thinking about things in the meantime:

Younger woman: I had a chat to a friend of mine who has had children and she agrees that she feels less powerful in her marriage because she is no longer earning her own money and she feels that when decisions are made about how money will be spent she consequently has less of a say than her husband. So I do agree with you now that there is an issue there, but I don’t know what the solution is.

I don’t know what the solution is either, but I think this snippet of dialogue does raise a few questions about feminism and its project. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  1. Why was the young woman oblivious to the ways in which her life has been shaped by the feminist struggle from a historical perspective?
  2. Who can call themselves a feminist?
  3. What is the project for young feminists in modern western society?
  4. Does the feminist project need to move beyond the woman as an individual and look at social practices, such as work place practices and conditions, parenting norms and different way to do parenting, measures in society that support parenting options?
  5. Does the feminist project need to broaden? For example, should fathers be enlisted in the struggle?
  6. How does it and how should it affect our lives as women?


Anonymous bindi said...

A bit sad to be the first to comment on your own post, but anyway, I wanted to add that despite the fact that I became the stay at home parent, I feel privileged to have had this experience. Now that my children are all at school, I have ventured back into the workforce and contribute in a small way to things I'm passionate about (education).

Also, I believe that attitudes to parenting and motherhood in our societies in general is an issue that would be worth reassessing. I just don't think parenting is generally valued enough in modern western societies.

30 March, 2007 12:24  
Blogger lia from luebeck, germany said...


I loved your article and wanted to try and write something in answer to your questions in the enxt days.

30 March, 2007 20:07  

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