Thursday, May 5, 2011

This blog is about being a mom, and a feminist, in a post-feminist world. It is about the difficulties of managing work and family and the ways in which the promises of feminism have yet to manifest, as well as the ways in which they have. It is also about encounters with post or anti-feminist worlds in my role as mom. And it is about trying to raise kids, a 7 year old boy and 9 year old girl, as they encounter gendered assumptions about the world. Though I am an academic, this blog is not about my academic work, except insofar as I teach gender studies and frequently bump up against the assumptions of a post-feminist world in class and in discussion with students, both male and female, as well as among colleagues.

What do I mean by feminist and post-feminist? By feminist, I mean that I believe in equality for men and women, and also between heterosexual and homosexual worlds and for all LBGTQ people. Feminist issues include equal pay, child care, health care, education, and other material issues. But it also encompasses discourse and culture, the way we speak of women and men, and gay and straight, and the way we are all represented in the culture. It includes ideologies of sex and gender, and the taken for granted assumptions that guide our lives. By post-feminist, I mean many things. In part, the post conveys a sense that some people believe feminism is over, that the battles have been won. Post also suggests a postmodern feminism, more youthful and playful perhaps, but also potentially more superficial. It includes promising ideas like girl power, but can slip into ideas about self-exploitation being empowering (girls gone wild, e.g.).

In my own life, I have changed over time from being a post-feminist to a feminist. I went to college in 1982. At that time, I thought most of the battles had been won. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I could assume that I could go to any college I wanted (depending upon my scores, not my sex), that I would have a career, that my career would not be limited by my sex, that I could choose to have a child or not, that I could choose to marry or not, that I could get my own place to live, my own bank account, a car, and whatever else I needed to live. I knew that I did not need a man for financial security. So, I felt grateful for the feminists who came before me and figured I was all set. And that was sort of true, until . . . once I became a wife, and people talked to me differently -- gave me more respect in some cases, assumed my husband was boss, in many others, thought they had me pegged. Then, the decision to have children, a decision my husband and I shared. But dealing with pregnancy and coming up against the way in which "our"decision to have kids affected me -- my health, my job (as I took time off to care for the child, thus losing salary, benefits, time to do research and writing) -- made me begin to feel the pressure of difference, and the imbalance of motherhood vs. fatherhood, even with a great feminist husband. Now, increasingly, I feel the tension between motherhood and work -- my need to get to a meeting vs. my schedule of driving the kids to school, the school's assumption that I am free in the middle of the day to attend field trips, my boss's assumption that I am free in the late afternoon for a meeting (when I have to pick up my kids). I also feel the pressure of trying to raise kids without gendered assumptions, kids who will be open to non-traditional families, non-stereotypical ways of being boys and girls or whatever they want to be, knowing that their friends and teachers are not always as open or cognizant of difference as they might be (kids more than anyone police each other and let boys especially know what is expected of them). These pressures are not mine alone. My husband shares them. And that makes me feel the need for feminism more, to create ways for all of us to manage the realities of family and work better.

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