I wasn’t going to join in this argument. I read The Retro Wife and then I read the resulting bloggy furore and I thought well yes, that’s how it is now: we align ourselves to one mythical cultural group and those who would rather boil their heads than do the same thing, come out hissing at their so called sisters. Welcome to modern feminism.
So I wasn’t going to add to the noise. I really wasn’t. But then last night as I lay in bed entertaining the sniffy irritation that is a Spring cold, I started to get a little sad about the way women treat each other and how feminism as a notion is now used as a weapon in defense of individual choice and I realised how very much it pains me that a movement intended to make our lives better is now the property of those who want to rank womanhood and don’t care who they hurt or how they hamper feminism itself in the process.
Here’s the thing: we women are way to keen to give ourselves a label. We want to be considered “feminists”, because the alternative is unthinkable and so we manipulate our personal circumstances to suit the refrain and along the way invent labels like “feminist housewife” so that we do not have to declare ourselves out of line with modern political ideology. Even when that very ideology is dying on its feet.
Yes. I said it. Feminism is dead. If it ever really lived. Fly down from the pinnacles of the ivory towers that the likes of Sheryl Sandberg dwell in and come tickle your toes at grass roots level. In the suburbs where one man after another bales on his marriage just because he can. Where school playgrounds are still full to bursting with women weeping on each others shoulders because their own expectations of themselves as wives, mothers, daughters and women have left them exhausted. Where university lectures and doctors fight over entry level classroom assistant posts at their own children’s school because family life just does not allow them the headspace to do anything more fulfilling. Where the women I know who have full time professional jobs still have no choice but to try to maintain full time domestic ambition alongside it. Where ten years after Alison Pearson published “I Don’t Know How she Does It”, it is still the Mommy of the household who is up till midnight baking cakes for the school bake sale because Daddy left five years ago and has no clue just what it takes to parent a child day in and day out.
Do I sound angry? I am a bit. I am angry that our rejection of all that feminism stands for, has contributed to a society where we have to do it all, and then some. I am angry that day after day I see women dumbing themselves down in order to do it all: to contribute to the family coffers while bringing up kids and remaining the trophy housewives so many men with the teeniest bit of professional power demand. Men who all too often dismiss women’s efforts with the kind of throwaway disparagement that chips at our hearts for always.
I am frustrated by the lack of truth-saying: mystified by the way women continue to lie to each other, pinning on smiles after they lose it in the aisles of the supermarket, weeping into the frozen fish fingers over who knows what, then packing their recycled carrier bags with pain and downright misery and never alluding to their breakdown again.
I can barely tolerate the relentless push to be thinner, healthier, glossier versions of ourselves and the fashion for enhanced breasts , eyelashes and almost everything else makes me feel sick. We are still censoring ourselves aren’t we? Still covering up the truth about our bodies and our needs and our desires and our ambitions. Still sanitising our souls to keep men who barely scratch our hearts surface at our sides. Still lying to all and sundry about the choices we make and still forcing ourselves to believe that we are happy living lives that compromise everything we are.
I believe that feminism at it’s heart is simply about choice. The choice to live life on equal terms with men and the choice to work and parent as we see fit as individuals. Indeed the earliest definition of feminism has it as “the capacity to choose independance”. But women are not helping themselves by judging each other when those choices are made and though I am loathe to bite the hand that feeds me, the blogosphere is not helping either, merely serving instead to remind us that it doesn’t do to wash our dirty linen in public and that we still prefer to fill our minds with the kinds of lies perpetuated by successful bloggers determined to whitewash their lives to such a degree that only whimsical floss is left, where there could be opportunity for the sort of truth that says, I don’t know how I do it either or even, look I can’t and don’t do it all.
It is too simple to say lets give up trying, declare ourselves “feminist housewives” and set up an Etsy shop for pin money. At the same time we are patronised by the kind of advice that says “lean in” to work, while expecting men and children to fall into line behind us just because we say so. None of this takes our instinct to Mother and nest into account. Nor does it address the demands of a society obsessed with image and celebrity culture. A society still too willing to support male ambition at the expense of his female counterpart, while excusing the lack of responsibility and obligation many men now feel and thrusting upon women increasingly rigorous commands for perfection in all all aspects of our being, while we egg each other on with more and more fanciful instructions for living, and never dare to look each other in the eye and ask of ourselves anything truly meaningful.
It’s a mess. And throwing in the towel to become a so-called “feminist housewife” is only the answer if it suits our inner life as a human being. If we make this choice not because our senses are dulled to such a degree we have no choice, or because society is too quick to dampen the spirit of female ambition with obligation and financial threat. Let us not fool ourselves that by adding the word “feminist” to a label Betty Friedan had women of our Mothers generation fleeing, we are not in fact falling back in line with the very patriarchal society feminism has long fought against. Nor should we go on perpetuating the myth that any kind of sisterhood exists, when it is increasingly obvious that whether we are competing to own the prettiest vintage apron or the kind of smooth nether regions that undermine everything feminism stands for, that we are in exactly that- competition with each other, pinning our lives away and denying our own frustrations, to ourselves and to each other.
Enough already. Lets see where kindness can take us. Let’s hold each others hands and re-join the march.