From the outside, I could see how this trajectory may appear to be very traditional: woman gets married, woman has baby, woman stays home with a baby. I totally get it. There’s a reason why the old jump-rope rhyme follows that same order: It’s safe and common and is chock-full of implications about conventional gender roles. That said, I was often questioning my feminist beliefs when making many of those choices. In my case, even though I technically followed the same path, the reason it’s not as simple as it seems (or at least, why I tell myself that it’s not as simple as it seems) is that there were plenty of things happening in between those major milestones, like moving across country (twice), moving in with my partner, taking specific career steps by traveling, and pursuing passion projects on the side. In other words, I had options and opportunities, which made my choices feel less like "going down the obvious heteronormative path" and more like "choosing what I truly wanted, regardless of whether or not it would lead people to believe I was going down the obvious, heteronormative path."
And, while the definition of feminism often varies from person to person, my personal belief is that it comes down to opportunities and freedom. So, for this reason, it means I feel ever-so-slightly conflicted when, despite the choices available to me (and I’m lucky to have these choices; I fully recognize that), I still find myself in those so-called “traditional” roles at times. Here’s a sampling of the what kind of "feminist identity crisis" this can bring on:
When You Only Want To Be With Your Kids
I mean, sometimes there is nothing I’d rather do than hang out with my family, and let my kid ride airplane on my feet. And while I wouldn’t go as far as to say I feel guilty about it (because I definitely don’t), it’s not lost on me that one aspect of feminism is having the option to want more than just a fulfilling family life. And I do want more...most of the time. Even though I know I should feel any doubt, in the moments when I'm feeling like, "Wow, I really don't care about anything except my kid," there's a part of me that's also like, "Ugh, am I squandering everything that feminists before me have fought for me to have?"
When You Put Your Own Goals Aside
Surprise! When I had a baby, all my other hopes and dreams didn’t just magically go away. I still have them, they just feel slightly distant when I’m snuggling with my kiddo, with my face buried in his soft hair (arguably the softest hair on the planet). On a small scale, sometimes this looks like skipping a few things on my to-do list to hang out with him, and on the large scale, sometimes it means rearranging schedules and long-term plans to make room for him and his needs. (This is not a complaint. It’s totally fine. It’s just something worth mentioning.) But on the days when the rest of my non-kid goals feel especially far off my radar, there's definitely a bit of self-doubt.
When You Swoon Over Your Partner’s Efforts
I believe that one of the less-amazing side effects of equality is that it also applies to the stuff I don’t want to do. Like, I can’t necessarily rejoice that my partner regularly cooks dinner but then insist that he always be the one to take out the trash, too. So, that said, we share a lot of chores around the house, which means that I'm often doing some of the dirty work. As a result, I love and appreciate it even more when he steps up and covers the stuff I don't want to do.
When You Buy Your Kid Something Super Stereotypical For Their Gender
Every time I buy my son a truck, I feel like I want to shout throughout the checkout line, "I did not push this on him! I gave him a well-rounded sampling of possible toys and stimulating educational activities with as much effort as possible to circumvent the gendered advertising applied to children's products, but this is what he chose! I have to respect his choice! He chose a truck! I'm a feminist!" (I feel better by telling myself that, if we ever have a daughter, we will totally give her the option to wear his dinosaur shirts and play with his trucks.)
When You Slip Into Traditional Gender Roles
How much of a feminist can one be when changing a diaper as her husband ties a tie and gets ready for his work day? I ask myself this question often, even though I know the answer is "totally and completely a feminist because diapers and ties are not innately symbolic of oppressive gender dynamics in a domestic context."
When You're Too Tired To Step Up
Shouldn’t I be thanking the scores of the women who fought for my rights by actually getting out of bed and enjoying them? One might argue that, yes, this would be a good way to show my appreciation. One might also say that parenting is hard and naps are great, so naps occasionally win.
When You Don't Have The Energy For Conflict
I mean, I could speak up against these anonymous Internet people who are spouting sexist nonsense...or I could direct my attention toward things that actually matter. A while ago, I would have been able to manage both but now? Yeah, my toddler wins.
When You Aren't Sure If You Should Be Leaning In Or Not
My ability and desire to “lean in” or “step up” or “be a girlboss” ebbs and flows depending on the day. Part of being a feminist is recognizing that women are human and that not every day is going to look the same, and not every opportunity is going to be responded to in the same way (or, even at all).
When You’re Actually Stopped In Your Tracks By Pregnancy Or New Mom Side Effects
Like, I would have loved to have made it to work on time, but I was dry-heaving because I'm in my first trimester and that's just how it is. I don’t think either of us want to know what would have happened if I dragged myself in before I got through it. After generations of trying to rid men's heads of the idea that our uteruses do not, in fact, stand in our way of doing work with the full capability, focus, and clearheadedness of any non-uterus-bearing human, seeing ourselves knocked back — even for a moment — by the physical demands of pregnancy can be a tough pill to swallow (which is cool since we'll probably just puke it back up anyway).
When You Wish For A More Family-Friendly Work Situation
Lamenting the fact that you can’t be in two places at once, like at the office and at preschool pick-up, or at home for dinner and in a super important meeting, is totally legit. Being a feminist doesn't mean that we can't still want to be devoted moms and partners at home, but it does mean that we sometimes have to reassure ourselves that it's totally OK to way those things in addition to all the other things we want.