Thursday, May 14, 2009

What this feminist looks like.

My mother is mad at feminism.  

While this is somewhat troubling to me as a feminist, I can't say I blame her.  For better or for worse, sometimes one bad experience is enough to sour us on something that is otherwise wonderful.  My mother happened to become a mother in the midst of the second wave of feminism, when women were divided over whether to choose mothering or to choose career.  Her children grew up in the midst of debate over "superwoman syndrome" as women attempted to re-forge the divide between work and family and "have it all."  My mom spent time in both camps.  As small children, we were lucky to have her at home with us.  As we grew older, she went back to school, got her Masters degree in education, and went to work a second job (the first being mother) as a teacher.  I know that all of these decisions were difficult and the result of careful thought.  I know that no decision was without sacrifice.  So I can understand why this woman, very much a feminist herself, was hurt when the implications came that women who stayed at home to mother were doing a disservice to women by leaving the workforce.

As a proud third-wave feminist, I know that whether she identifies as one or not, my mother is still very much a feminist.  I've tried to explain this to her.  I've encouraged her to make up with feminism - to cozy up with a nice glass of Cab and Manifesta or to hang out at and see for herself that things have changed.  

But doesn't this point out that beyond the obvious work that still needs to be done, feminism needs to reach out and make amends?  Toes were stepped on in the getting to today - and crushed toes aren't likely to go running back for more.  Feminism needs to reach out and make up.  As a mom to two sweet boys, both future feminists, I have a role to play here.  All feminists have a role to play here.  The third wave is fabulous - all third wavers (and hopefully most feminists) know this.  But me knowing that I'm great only takes me so far.  At some point, I need others to recognize it, too.

One of my favorite shirts is one that says, "This is what a feminist looks like."  Shouldn't all feminists make a pact to wear this slogan once a month, all on the same day?  I've had this shirt since my college days as a member of my school's Feminist Collective group.  Back then, my favorite way to wear it was with a mini skirt, killer heels, and some trashy makeup.  A few years out of school, it became my favorite shirt for chores around the house; a second and equally important manifestation of my feminist identity.  Eventually, paint stains rendered it inappropriate for anything other than manual labor and trips to the hardware store.  

As a mother, my "what a feminist looks like" shirt has come into use again.  Clothes designed to make breastfeeding convenient and discrete do no favors for women, in my opinion.  Don't we want to make breastfeeding at least a little bit obvious?  Is it so shameful that it must be covered up by matronly dresses with discrete flaps for ever so careful latch-ons? And let's not discuss the inequalities of cost associated with nursing wear.  Shouldn't clothing with holes cost less?  Isn't it bad enough that women pay more for clothes than men?  With nursing wear, aren't we just financially sticking it to breastfeeding mothers a second time over?

I decided to design my own clothes for breastfeeding.  Out from the bottom of my drawer came my feminist shirt.  With a pair of dull kitchen shears, I cut a ragged hole over each boob for easy access.  I was quite satisfied to find that my craftiness didn't require cutting over any of the text. So now my shirt reads: (boob) "This is what a feminist looks like" (boob).  And since I burned all my bras, all I have to do is layer a shirt on top, and when it's time to nurse, I have an easy access, ready to go, insta-meal.

A baby on each boob, paint stains on my shirt.  That's what this feminist is looking like these days.


Daryl said...

And its looking smart! I now want a slogan shirt like that of my own ... but w/o the holes

Deb said...

I keep waiting for an apology letter from Gloria but it has never arrived. Just wish I had had more of a spine and thicker skin back in the 80's. I think you might be onto something with your holey t-shirt idea!