I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers. Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.
Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:
Froggie chose this week’s topic: Feminism.
I’ve never liked the word feminism. It confuses me. I’ve never even known what it means. I looked it up, and Wikipedia defines feminism as “a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.”
I grew up in what many consider the heyday of the “women’s rights” movement, and I spent my early years watching ERA rallies on television. I have vague recollections of watching busy haired Gloria Steinem on the news, and I know many of the words to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman. I watched perfume commercials about bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, and never, ever letting some guy forget he’s a man. You might think that would have affected me somehow, pushed me down the feminist path, but it didn’t. I was too young to understand. And I could not stand the sound of Ms. Reddy’s voice. Or the smell of Enjoli perfume.
But more than that, I simply did not feel “inferior” or in need of equality. Which is a bit astounding, given the world in which I was raised. My parents embraced traditional roles: my Dad worked two jobs so my Mom could stay home and raise my sister and me. Mom cooked and cleaned and shopped, using the money my Dad gave her each week. My Mom didn’t even drive a car, having never learned. My Dad hadn’t wanted her to, and she concurred. At my Catholic school, girls and boys were treated rather equally, except girls had to wear skirts and boys got to be altar boys. Perhaps I didn’t care enough to feel these inequalities were oppressive. More likely, I was too young and too distracted to weigh these things in any meaningful way.
Later, when I could understand equal pay for equal work, etc., I still opted not to embrace feminism as such. I believed the best way to fix a broken system was from within, and so if I wanted change, I believed I needed to become part of the system to facilitate that change. For my second career, I chose one dominated by men: the law. Law school enrollment was creeping up near the 50/50 mark when I started, but it wasn’t quite there. My professors were overwhelmingly male (though, ironically, one of my professors was Catherine MacKinnon, a well-known feminist). Law school felt even and fair, at least so far as gender – and even though I completed law school while taking care of a young child. But the actual practice of law proved, indeed, to be a man’s world. For every one female judge, I faced fifteen or twenty males. In the overcrowded Daley Center elevators, I was usually the only female attorney (though female office staff abounded). At the last firm at which I worked, no women has ever made partner. Ever. Misogyny runs rampant in the law, and believe no male who tells you differently. Women are seen as “less than,” even the most brilliant. Hell, when I was interviewing for jobs after graduation, I was told – more than once – to wear a suit with a skirt and not trousers. Nice, huh?
And yet, still, I feel no pull toward feminism. Instead, my fellow female counselors and I learned to use our “weaker gender” status to our advantage. I have been condescended to many, many times. I have former female associates who have been treated like children or, worse, like Barbie dolls. I’ve been called, “Honey” – by a judge. I’ve been flirted with and underestimated. And I say, bring it on. Because, truly, there is nothing better than stepping from a place of perceived weakness and raining holy legal hell on my opponent, who never saw it coming. My opponent’s flawed perception of me doesn’t hurt me, not at all. I know my worth, both as an attorney and as a woman. And the longer I step up and fight back, within the system, the sooner that change toward equality will be effected.
Do I think women deserve equal pay for equal work? Of course, and I can see that happening in my lifetime. But I understand male resistance to this doctrine. After all, women can do everything a man can do, but that doesn’t work both ways. Men cannot birth children (not yet, anyway); moreover, although many males choose to stay home and raise their children while their wives work, this role reversal is hardly completely embraced by society. For these reasons alone, many men cling to the “traditional” roles foisted upon them. In that way, women are at an advantage, as society no longer thinks twice about a woman who chooses a career – indeed, we raise our girls to make such a choice – and we are equally supportive of those women who opt to stay home. The ball field is a little murkier for women who attempt to juggle both, and perhaps that is the cost of “feminism.” Having it “all” – be us male or female – comes at a price, not because of gender, but because there are only 24 hours in a day.
For my own children, all girls, I will support whichever road they choose: career, stay-at-home parent, a combo. I do hope they will take the time to learn a skill, just to have something to fall back on because life is unpredictable and it isn’t always wise to depend on one’s spouse in the way my Mom has done. What matters to me is that my daughters know they are equal to men, regardless of what society tells them, regardless of any judge who calls them “Honey.” Go ahead, girls: Roar!
Bonus content: One of the worse commercials ever made: Enjoli