Monday, May 5, 2014
I am a feminist. Before you assume that you know what that means, however, please read on.
As a child, I was interested in everything. I was smart, and was frequently told that I could "do anything". And, oh - how I wanted to! I wanted to be a doctor, a psychologist, a writer, an entertainer, and a mother. In my young mind, that was completely reasonable. I could do everything.
I watched my own mother carefully. She had married at 17. I was born when she was 18, and she had postponed many of her own dreams to stay home and raise my sister, my brother, and I. She was smart, capable, funny, and so beautiful. I wanted to be like her in every way - except for the "putting my plans on hold" part. I asked her on occasion why she had done that. Her answer was always the same - we were the most important thing to her, so she put us first.
Although I still planned to do "everything", by the way she valued being a mother, my mom instilled a deep respect for the value of motherhood in my heart.
In high school, I continued on my accomplished path. I was an honor student, news editor of the school paper, and student body vice president. I decided to attend Brigham Young University after graduation, and was beyond excited to get out on my own.
One morning near the end of my senior year, one of my teachers pulled me aside, and shared that he was concerned about my college choice. As BYU students tend to marry and have families younger than most of their peers nationwide, he was afraid that I was going to "go out there, get married, and waste yourself." I was stunned. Even at 17, I knew that his statement was ridiculous. Even though I still held tight to all of the things I hoped to accomplish, I knew that raising a family would never be a "waste" of my talents. How could teaching my children the things I knew be a waste? Wasn't that multiplying my talents? I don't even remember what I said in response. I may not have said anything. I thought about it good and hard, however, and became even more resolved that no matter what else I did, when I had my own family, they would be my first priority.
College was every bit the amazing experience I had hoped to have. I loved it. I had wonderful friends, and was challenged and enriched by the education I was receiving. My faith grew tremendously, and I continued to succeed. Once again - my grades were good, I served in my church congregation and in the community, and I was an officer in the student association. I had my fingers in a little bit of everything and felt completely in my element.
At the beginning of my junior year, I began thinking deeply about what I wanted from life - what I truly wanted. I had an opportunity coming up that would give me the chance to use the gifts I had been given, and that would have a far-reaching influence on the rest of my life. I thought it over carefully, agonizing over the decision, and praying for direction. In a moment of clarity, it became clear to me that the reason I was considering this opportunity was because I knew I could do it well. Not that it was my heart's desire - simply that I knew I could succeed, and therefore I felt obligated.
That was simply not enough. So then, what was my heart's desire? As I examined myself internally, it became clear to me that what I wanted most in life was a family. I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I wanted to love and serve others. I wanted to teach them what I know, and raise amazing, capable people that would make this world a better place.
For years, I had pushed aside that desire to nurture out of an obligation to accomplish. Society told me that nurturing wasn't valuable, that I had to aspire to more, and I had believed that to some degree. However - it conflicted with what I knew of my own mother. Even as a teenager and young adult, I needed her and was so grateful for her love and guidance. Nothing could take her place.
As women, we are innately nurturing. We have desires to be kind and tender - to care for the people we love. However, we live in a world that tells us to set this aside: to be tough, to get out there, and to DO something - anything - else. Can you imagine a high school valedictorian stating in her speech that her number one goal was to nurture her future children? What would the response be? If a young woman has these hopes, she has to keep them to herself. She has to have other, "larger" goals - something to tell people when they ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Motherhood is ok as a "side goal", but not as a "main goal".
We have been told that femininity is worthless - that to have value, we have to be like men. Don't get me wrong, there is much to admire in men, but I don't need to be one! Simply put, I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of my role as a woman. I believe that femininity has value.
I am not saying that women should not work outside the home, or that they should forfeit all of their dreams. Far from it. Every woman has the right and ability to choose what is best for her, and those decisions are to be respected.
What I am saying is that it is time to stop telling our girls that femininity has no value - whether that message is overtly stated as in the case of my teacher, or is passed along more subtly. When we tell a young woman that she has to have a career goal, what we are in fact telling her, is that motherhood is not important enough to stand on its own as a worthy aspiration.
A few years back, I chatted with another mom. Our sons played on the same football team and she was struggling with a big decision. She was up for a promotion at work, but wanted desperately to stay home with her baby daughter. Obviously conflicted, she told me "They need me at work. I don't know how I can walk away." She asked for my opinion. I told her that she needed to consider it all carefully - that it was a terribly hard decision, but in making that decision, she needed to remember that she wasn't going to get these years back. The career could possibly be resumed later, but her daughter would only be little once. Our conversation gave her the courage to do what she wanted to do. She set aside the expectations of her co-workers, and put her time where she deeply desired.
That tenderness your little girl shows her baby dolls? The world needs more of that. Teach her to be smart, strong and self-reliant. Teach her to get an education and how to think for herself. But in doing so, remember to respect that part of her that is distinctly feminine. We are in desperate need of women that care deeply, and that teach through their example the virtues of selflessness, tenderness, and kindness.
And that is exactly why I am a true feminist.