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Pickle Me This

September 19, 2007

My song remains the same

(On her website, writer Rona Maynard has written an interesting post in response to my reading of her book. I’ve responded there, but her ideas have brought to mind arguments I’ve made before. My song remains the same, and so why don’t I reprint it? This post was first aired in 2004 on my early-twenties dirty-laundry angst blog which, thankfully, no longer exists.)

Longer than I’ve been alive, women have arguing for their superior lifestyles, zealously attempting to convert the masses in order to justify their own choices. This debate is not so much meandering as a run-around, and the fact of the matter is that it continues because cat fights sell papers. Those who balk at feminism are surely pleased by the civil war in the ranks, and their cause is furthered when the women inevitably fail to come to any conclusion or truce. This is by no means cause to stem debate, but perhaps a good reason to examine the debate more carefully.

The false dichotomy is the first issue. Women talking about choosing not to have children vs. mothers of many; working women vs. stay-at-home moms; women opting out of careers vs. women who never had one in the first place vs. women who choose not to have have children. There is a sense from every one that she is being let down by the others. We see already this is more than a two-sided issue, but then you have to realise also that all these women are talking about the very same thing. Women are not always free, do not always have the appropriate support, to make the same life choices that men can. This is not simply a natural burden of femininity, but rather an injustice that severely compromises the potential of half a nation’s population, and thus the potential of the nation itself.

External forces have to change. Companies have to adopt more family-friendly policies- free childcare, flexible hours, parental leave and such. People who happen not to be women, or who are women without children have to not look upon these changes as a threat. Women have to stop throwing accusations of selfishness at each other, because making lifestyle choices is inherently selfish regardless of your choice. Further, the right to these choices is something no woman should abase or take for granted.

Women without children have to realise that someone has to have them, and that these women are altogether noble for instituting the next generation- surely a a necessary process? Women who have children but work are no less noble for this, and every family works differently and so there is no reason why their arrangement is inferior. Women who stay at home with their children have to understand that working women are doing them a service while they exercise their noble choice. Women who opt out of work in order to raise their families owe something to all of these women and their blazed trails which have allowed for their own choices, and the “opt-out women” themselves are blazing a trail no less important. Finally, women who are privileged enough to be making these choices at all have to realise how fortunate they are.

So the dichotomy looks just as two-sided as it ever was but now it’s man versus woman and it’s certainly easy to see it that way- a man will never be asked if he can handle the double burden of a family and a career. His choices will be made so much easier and without the layers of guilt most women wear like a girdle. However this polarity is equally false. No man benefits from a society in which half the population is underutilized and undervalued, and most men realise this. Most men today were raised in families where the mother’s capabilities were not compromised as well, and in fact all sons and daughters have benefitted from that vantage point. So there is hope after all, more than there ever was.

Women need to stop being threatened by others who choose differently than they. It is paramount that they support each other, and understand the richness and importance of a wide range of lifestyles, in order that women in the future have such a wealth of options still available to them.

3 thoughts on “My song remains the same”

  1. The Chapati Kid says:

    Brilliant response. It seems that Maynard thinks that what you’ve written in your blog equals all your life. She weeds out the more protean details of your life to fuel her argument. It is unfortunate, because it misses the point of what her own book appears to be talking about: the nature of womanhood today.

    In my opinion, any woman who isn’t a doormat is a feminist. Just because she bakes pies doesn’t make her any less of a strong woman. And it’s thanks to the feminist movements of generations before us (men and women), that we can benefit today. We can revive knitting and sewing and baking without fear of being viewed as non-feminists because a generation before us earned that right for us. Just because XX is a senior partner in her law firm, does that mean she shouldn’t bake her own bread or join a knitting circle? Maynard seems to be calling on stereotypes she fought so hard to avoid herself.

  2. Kerry says:

    I like your description of feminism. Though I also think it’s quite natural to be wary of those who come after you. When I look at women even five or ten years younger than I am, sometimes, I am seized with fear at their own lack of awareness. But I suppose everyone comes of age at their own time, and priorities shift. Perhaps pies and thongs are only details, distracting us from more important issues at hand.

  3. rona says:

    Of course baking pies (or growing tomatoes, or knitting socks) does not make a woman less of a feminist. I might as well admit I’ve always wished I could bake a really fine fruit pie, as nothing in the world is more delicious.

    But I was one of those women who, back in the 70s, walked away from all things domestic as if by doing so we were asserting our freedom. It was an extreme reaction, at times downright self-defeating. I’m not surprised at all that younger women want more pleasure in their lives. We didn’t make a lot of room for pleasure (except for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in our footloose years). Our world was a pretty hard-edged place. The biggest mistake that some prominent feminists made was downgrading the importance of children and family (along with everything classified as “housework”). My God, we were a grave bunch. I wasn’t setting out to show this in my book, but who would want to live the way I lived while building my career?

    That said, I’m bemused to see so many young women (of whom, Kerry, you are clearly not one) rejecting feminism as the new f-word. Feminism, as I understand it, was always about a woman’s freedom to live her life her way–not her mother’s way, her friend’s way or her partner’s way. We’re still not there. And sadly, the higher a woman rises on the ladder to so-called “success,” the more apparent this becomes.

    Another irony: I, for one, have more time to reflect on these things now that I no longer strive to meet a corporate standard of success. I’m becoming a more passionate feminist in my sixth decade. If a woman wants to bake pies, more power to her (especially if she wants to bake an extra one for me!). I can’t help but worry, though, when a young woman revels in domesticity to the point where she compromises her ability to support herself.

    It’s not easy for me to see the world through your eyes, and I’m sure the opposite is also true. But I think it’s worth the effort. There are enough people out there who don’t support women’s efforts to live authentic lives. So let’s not make it any harder than it has to be.

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