My grandfather has, adorably, always described me as "a real Women's Libber." The other day I casually mentioned something about feminism (as is my wont) and he asked me, "Are you a feminist?" The way he asked it sort of reminded me of the way a narrator in a scare-tactic "educational" film of the '50s would ask, like "Is Your Neighbor a Communist?" I can't necessarily blame him, though: Even people whose cultural associations with feminism stopped at Women's Lib have a very particular idea of what a feminist looks like. A "feminist" is a probably white, probably middle class, college-educated, young, "bitchy", radical, and quite possibly a lesbian. She enjoys burning bras, holding hand-painted signs while shouting, and, of course, castigating any man unfortunate enough to cross her path for the crime of being male. If even half of this picture lives in my grandfather's brain, it's not surprising that he would have trouble fitting me into it.
I'm guessing all self-identified feminists have to clear up misconceptions about who they are and what they believe at some point, but feminist mothers have a particular slew of questions they will face from an unaware segment of the public. For many, the very idea of feminism as they perceive it (angry, radical, and singularly self-interested) flies in the face of similarly stereotyped views of motherhood (warm, "traditional," and self-sacrificing). But I assure you: We exist. And just so you know...
This is really more a clarification for feminists in general than feminist moms specifically, but I think it bears mentioning...
I can't believe this is something I have to explain in 2015, but despite what MRAs would lead you to believe, feminists don't actually hate men. (Tell them that male feminists exist and their heads really explode. It's adorable to see them get all flustered and indignant at the same time.) Sure, there are individual female feminists who hate men, but that's not proof that feminism is a evil coven of man-haters — it's proof that those people are big jerks and they're couching their hatred in feminist terms. Sort of like how jihadists "justify" their actions in the name of Islam or abortion clinic bombers claim to be "true Christians"; they say they are enacting the will of God, but they're actually just massive, festering boils on the face of humanity. So no, feminists don't hate men. Feminists can be married to men, raise men, be friends with men, or be men themselves. So rest easy, male humans! We're not plotting against you.
This is such a distressing accusation. I've actually heard the words "Oh, you're having a boy — are you disappointed?" and the subtext was, "Obviously, feminists prefer all things female so that they can indoctrinate them into the Feminists Club, so this penis growing inside of you must be quite upsetting." What the what?! No! For one, I have totes indoctrinated my son in the Feminists Club, so that's not even an issue. And for another, it's not like feminists moms are out to create an army of little girls to stick it to The Man. We're moms, first and foremost, and moms love their children. That's kind of our thing (at least any mom worthy of the title). And feminist moms have big and exciting plans for all their children because there are some things feminist moms do differently than other parents, regardless of their children's genders.
With popular books like Cinderella Ate My Daughter and the fact that many moms do actively try to sway their daughters from the #PrincessLife and Disney movies, this is an understandable misconception. Understandably, a lot of us really don't care for princesses and really hope our daughters don't want to play princess or (perish the thought) strive to actually become princesses. But some of us are pretty chill about it. Myself, for example. You know why I'm cool with princesses? Princess Leia is a princess. Merida from Brave is a princess. There are even real life princesses that could inspire our girls, like firebrand suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Sure, most of them are sort of vapid and boring, but even those more stereotypical damsels in distress are ultimately harmless, I think, if...
I'll say it, dudes: It is fun to dress up in a princess dress and pretend to be crazy rich and live in palaces with a hot spouse. While fairytale princesses weren't created in a vacuum and we should therefore be aware of the values they are mired in (spoilers: not great ones), I don't think they are in and of themselves damaging. It's when that's all a little girl is seeing and seeing the same themes reinforced in non-fairytale settings. If princesses are just one part of her cultural experiences, I say let them be fun.
Nope. It's not harmless to tell a boys' soccer team that they're "playing like a bunch of girls" and that they have to "man up." I'm not over-analyzing things by suggesting that maybe there's something wrong with the fact that female teens and adults are equally likely to be shown in sexy attire onscreen and I'm concerned about what message that is sending to my children. These things are problems: Maybe it's time for you to be more sensitive and critical.
Look, if our daughters want to wear frilly dresses and have a tea party and our sons want to wear a football jersey and go jump in mud puddles, we're not going to raise an angry fist and be like, "NO! THAT'S LETTING THE PATRIARCHY WIN! BOBBY! YOU GO PUT ON A TUTU RIGHT NOW AND READ THE SECOND SEX UNTIL YOU UNDERSTAND THAT! JANE! YOU NEED TO LEAN THE F**K IN, SO HELP ME GOD! AND PUT ON SOME SENSIBLE SHOES!" Feminist moms are going to let kids be themselves; some kids happen to conform to gender norms while in the course of being their authentic selves, and that's fine. Where feminist moms differ is striving to ensure that their kids feel completely empowered to be anything they want by not keeping anything off-limits just because something is "for boys"/"for girls."
I mean... I'm angry kind of a lot. There's a lot to be angry about when you're a feminist, because there's so much misogynistic bullshit out there. But just because I'm prone to being righteously angry doesn't mean I'm joyless. I've got loads of joy! My daughter's name even means joy, so at the very least I've got about 27 pounds of giggling, dimpled joy in my life. Being angry because you have beautiful ideas about how the world could work compared to how it currently does does not preclude happiness or even friendliness.
Feminist moms don't always wear it on their sleeve. They live quietly among you. They could be the lady you talk to at preschool pickup. They could be your kids' teacher. They could be your rabbi. You could go for years, not realizing, until one day someone brings up the wage gap, and then the feminist mom tears off her glasses, ducks into a phone booth and emerges in her Fem-Mom superhero uniform. It's only when she starts going on about the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that you learn that she's been a feminist all along. MWA HA HA HA HA!
Oh, and of course considering the definition of feminism is (once again)...
the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men
...you probably know more feminist moms than you (or maybe even they) realize.
Images: Nickelodeon; Giphy(7)