A day in the life…of a feminist

I want to start this blog with a brief anecdote about something that happened in my Spanish class recently. I overheard two classmates in conversation and the female student said, “Don’t worry, I’m not like a feminist or anything” and the male student responded, “Phew. Thank goodness”. At this point I asked the female student what she thought a feminist was and she responded with the typical, bra-burning, man hating, hairy arm pitted angry woman response. Several other female students chimed in with similar comments. When I challenged her with my belief that feminism was merely believing and advocating that all human beings should have equal rights and access to opportunity regardless of gender or sex, she claimed that this was not feminism and that she believed in those things, but would never identify herself as a feminist.  The scary thing is that this attitude is not uncommon.

Unlike my classmate, I consider every day in my life a day in the life of a feminist and I think if you asked anyone who knows me well they would not hesitate to identify me as one. However, recently my fiancé and I bought our house and it has been a bit of a struggle to reconcile my feminist perspective with society’s expectations of me as the “woman of the house”. In response to reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work I thought I might reflect on this personal challenge a bit.

In “Women and Economics” discusses the traditional division of labor, as in the male is the sole breadwinner and supporter of the family, while the wife remains at home and tends to the house and children (242, 247). My fiancé is currently working full time to support us. I work only part time and I am a full time student. It has been a struggle for me to accept that as the primary breadwinner Josh does in fact wield a certain amount of financial power in our relationship. I am lucky to be engaged to a man who is an extremely vocal feminist and has no desire to abuse this financial advantage, but we are both very aware that it exists. In this piece Gilman asserts that in this position though it becomes very easy for the man to abuse the relationship and he assumes the role of employer, while his wife assumes that of employee (247).
In exchange for the goods and care provided by the husband, it is implied the wife will repay him with household labor, but this work is not fairly compensated and is seen as a part of her “functional duty” (248). I can relate to this somewhat because as much as I tried to incorporate my feminist philosophy into our new household routine I found myself taking to heart society’s message that it was my duty as the woman to keep our house clean and tidy, to entertain our guests and to be certain that there was always food prepared to eat. The most upsetting part was that I was fully aware that these expectations were unrealistic and outdated, but I still couldn’t totally silence society’s not-so-quiet whispers about what made an ‘adequate’ woman of the house. I think this consciousness (and some pep-talks from Josh about partnership and assuming equal roles around the house) is what saved me from totally giving into the lifestyle that Gilman discusses in “Women and Economics”.
Fortunately society has progressed a lot since the time of her writings and I have many more opportunities to work outside of the home and to pursue my academic interests, but I think that even today women still feel the pressure of trying to balance their “functional duties” in the home and their success and responsibilities outside of the home. While men experience this pressure to some extent I do not think they have as much pressure on them as women to “have it all”, the family, the perfect home and the successful and rewarding career.

Evidence of this pressure and the perceived incompatibility of home and career appear every day in our society that reinforce these negative images of feminism and female empowerment not only to those who don’t identify as feminists, but also to women like me who do but still feel the pressure to have it all.

And just so the feminist perspective gets to have the last word in this posting I will end with a Gloria Steinem quote that I find relevant to this topic.

“I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career.”

One Response to “A day in the life…of a feminist”

  1. Dr. M says:

    Nice Steinem quote, and excellent video clip–man on street.
    Your personal reflection on the problem of heterosexual partnerships in an unequal society reminds me of hooks’ reflection on her own relationship with a male partner in college–I believe we read about it in Where we Stand by hooks, last semester in Stratification. She has a nice discussion about how the problem is inevitably located within a social context of male privilege–there was no way around that for her, and though she was very intentional and thoughtful about how they set up the household expenses, etc., it had to be resolved through their splitting eventually. Some of us live with the contradiction, though, and day-to-day it can work out. But when it doesn’t work out, it’s really not pretty.