My interest in feminist perspectives began in graduate school, when I took a Feminism & Literature course that made me feel as though a veil had been lifted from my eyes–a student of primarily canonical literature, I never realized the power that a male-dominated world held over me. At the time, the term “feminism” connoted “bra-burning-man-haters” and other ridiculous associations that were remnants of my limited exposure to what it meant to be a feminist. My mostly-male teachers, instructing with mostly-male-authored materials, narrowed my scope of what it means to have a feminist outlook on life. Obviously, if I had the desire to find out more about feminist philosophies, I could have forged ahead on my own. My ignorance prevented me from realizing how pervasive the male-dominated culture was in my life. I had spent years defining myself–my “SELF”–through a gender-biased lens.

During my graduate course, I started to evolve as a more feminist thinker, and my feminist perspective continues to this day–about eight years later. I investigated how I parented my (at the time!) young son, and worked to expose him to female authors, artists, and thinkers. Once, during his elementary school years, we were talking about mothers and fathers. At the time, I was a single mother, and I raised him without a traditional “father-figure” presence in his life. For twelve years, I filled the role of the mom and the dad. So I was surprised during our conversation when he delineated which tasks are for “the dad” and which were for the “mom.”

“Moms do stuff in the house, like cook and do the laundry,” he explained, “Dads are the ones who go to work and make the money to take care of the family.” I was really surprised–how did he, as a second-grader–come to decide this is how the roles worked, especially when he had a mother who went to “work” and “earned” the money to care for us? I said, “But honey, I go to work and make money, and when I’m home, I cook and do laundry. See how Moms can do both things?” He shrugged his small shoulders and said, “That’s just different.”

Evidently, children discover at an early age that there are certain “tasks” that are considered masculine and those that are feminine. Where did he learn this–at school? From a relative? On television? Why are these antiquated roles still around in the twenty-first century? Scary stuff.

I made a commitment to teach my son through example–to show him what a strong woman could accomplish, even “solo” (i.e. without a helping-hand from a man). When he was younger, we had a ritual of reading together–I worked to select a balanced authorship of men and women in our youth literature library. I steered clear of stories that categorized women into rigid stereotypes–the damsel in distress, the evil witch, the homemaker who never leaves the kitchen.

How did this parenting turn out? Now, as a fifteen year-old, my son is constantly bombarded with imagery of sexualized women in the media. Because we still discuss the need to respect one’s body as well as one’s partner, he is able to distinguish between what he sees on television and the life he wants to lead. Predictably, he has posters in his room of WWE Divas (women who wrestle, often scantily-clad, for the World Wrestling Entertainment) and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition calendar proudly hanging on his wall. He has an appreciation of the female form that is appropriate to his level of physical and emotional development. Yet he is a sensitive, kind, and respectful person–he still has much to learn but as I discovered about myself, so do I. Living and parenting as a feminist is a continual learning process.

As a high-school teacher, I try to teach my students as balanced a curriculum as I can. So many of the stories we are mandated to read are authored by men and feature women in stereotypical roles. While teaching 12th grade Humanities, I explored female stereotypes in myth and folklore. I wanted to open my students’ minds as mine had been opened in my graduate course–we discovered how in early human history, the creator being was a female. Makes sense, considering that women give birth. Yet with the advent of male-dominated societies, the creator being transformed from female to male.

The Venus of Willendorf--A goddess/ fertility charm from 30,000 BCE

(The Venus of Willendorf–A goddess, fertility charm from 30,000 BCE)

The once-powerful woman who created and sustained life was fragmented into more manageable, predictable roles, such as the “crone,” “the virgin,” and “the seductress.” These stereotypes are featured prominently in myth and religious texts–forming beliefs that are still the foundations of our modern society. My goal as an instructor was to take some time to explore not only how women are depicted in literature, but WHY they are depicted in this way. Coming up on twelve years of teaching, that goal remains the same, and it has carried over into my parenting as well.

Personally, feminism is a viewpoint that I take to expose long-standing assumptions about the feminine role (especially in America). Women in the United States have many opportunities to achieve goals in relation to other countries around the world, and yet philosophically, I wonder just how progressive the US is when it comes to feminism? The Chicago Tribune featured an article on April 29, 2007 stating that women make .77 to the $1.00 that a man earns. (The information is cited from the source: The National Committee on Pay Equity.) According to the article, much of the disparity between what women and men earn is due to a woman’s desire to stay at home, take a pay cut (perhaps by working part-time), and care for her children. The article explains that women and men who do not marry and have children do not suffer from any sort of earnings gap.

Perhaps my son’s young view of male-female roles was once derived from this–that women “stay home” and men “work.” Child-rearing is not something that is necessarily revered in my suburban world–the SAHM (Stay at home Mom) is not perceived as a professional. If one were to conjure up stereotypes concerning the SAHM, they would feature sweatpants, diapers, strollers–or the opposite–a nanny, a cleaning person, shopping sprees, nail appointments. A feminist thinker needs to move beyond these stereotypes and stop categorizing women into rigid roles.

Anne Taintor Image

(Artwork by Anne Taintor)

I consider a feminist to be an individual who is a part of a community. Perhaps that feminist is outspoken and fights for women’s rights, or perhaps, the feminist is teaching her children to respect themselves and the people around them. Whatever the case, a feminist is conscious–aware of discrepancies, misrepresentations, and social stereotypes. She (and he!) is aware and works to expose them to the light, in whatever way suits the individual.

As a person with feminist ideals, I am not perfect. I recognize my flaws and still feel empowered in my femininity. I embrace art and philosophy from Eastern cultures, such as in the Hindu tradition, where women in art are powerful and divine, while questioning the presence of women in my own scriptures, such as Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary. Overall, I will keep feminism in the forefront of my life–for I still have so much to learn.

 

Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth

Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of wealth

 

Find other essays and perspectives about feminism at this link: http://peggys-musings.blogspot.com/2007/07/pegs-bloggingwriting-contest.html 

Thanks, Peg, for the inspiration! 🙂

 

 

Advertisements