As a feminist, I struggled with my disappointment when I had to consider my child could be a girl. I didn't necessarily want a boy, but I had some indiscernible reluctance toward raising a girl. It wasn't apparent to me why I felt that way and I felt extremely guilty. How can I, a feminist, an advocate for the equality of women, not want a girl child?
In reality, it wasn't that I didn't want a girl. I just felt some reluctance to raising a girl; not the child herself. This became clear immediately when I saw her on the screen during my sonogram. It was love at first sight. I was in awe of her and even more in awe that in a few short months I'd be able to hold and cuddle and talk to her. I immediately realized that my reluctance wasn't to her, it was to my own ability to raise her.
On the surface, I knew that raising any child (but even more so a female child) was going to be more difficult as a feminist parent because of the societal pressures and reactions. It is the societal opposition that was indeed the problem and NOT my style of parenting or that she is a girl. So, why still the reluctance to raising a girl?
I had started to formulate an answer to that question as I read an article for my domestic violence class, but the devastating answer came when I opened the door at the domestic violence center for a walk-in at about quarter to five one evening. The woman was of East Asian decent and well dressed as if she had just come from an office job. Other than this crude purely observatory description, I know nothing about her; not even her name. I asked her how I could help her and she opened her mouth a couple of times in an attempt to speak and then took a deep breathe in. As she exhaled, she began to cry as if something inside of her broke. Her tears released in a flood of mixed emotions that she had been working so hard to contain. I asked her if she wanted to talk to someone and she shook her head yes. After helping her to a chair and trying to assure her that we would help, I went and found a counselor to help her.
The whole encounter was less than 3 minutes long but it has stayed with me since. My heart was heavy and something inside me was sad and furious. It made me think about how every week on Tuesday (when I intern at the DV center), I see at least one walk-in (usually at the crisis stage) and numerous women coming for appointments or support groups (usually in the escape or rebuilding stages). I don't know the stories of any of the women but I do know that every one of them is a woman who has been subjected to violence in her own home by someone she loves and is supposed to love her. (Home, how easily we associate home with safety and comfort and relief. How easily someone took that away)
I fought back tears that day as I got on the train. The reality hit that I had no way to be sure my daughter would be safe. My mother couldn't (or wouldn't) keep me safe. At times, I haven't been able to keep myself safe. How can I keep her safe? And then, the answer was clear. This is it. This is the source of my reluctance.
I'm sure that many will say that this is just paranoia. I'm a victim, so, of course, I only think this can happen because of my experiences with domestic and sexual violence. I study violence against women, advocate for victims of violence, and belong to anti-violence organizations. I must be obsessed with violence, consumed with an abnormal, exaggerated, and unnecessary fear that bad things happen to women and girls.
Sure, that's it. I'm just paranoid! Why didn't I think of that? This fear is unrealistic, I don't really have anything to worry about. I should just feel better now that I know the problem is just me. Thank you society for letting me know it's me, not the violent offenders or societal reinforcements, that is the problem. WHAT A CROCK!
The facts: women are nearly 10 times more likely than men to be harmed by someone they know. They are more likely than men to be harmed in their own home. The types of violence that are more prevalent against women are horrific, life altering and intimate; domestic and intimate partner violence, sexual violence (rape, assault, harassment and trafficking), women's bodies used as battlefields of war (DR of Congo, comfort women), violent traditional practices (genital mutilation, body alterations, infanticide). There is no arena in which women can feel that the odds of being safe are in their favor.
Then their are the institutional/societal/structural practices and ideologies that provide the environment that is conductive to violence: discrimination, xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, deviance, hierarchy. This is the big picture. This is where it all stems from. This is the source of the problem and the direction of my advocacy, activism and feminism.
Without going into the long explanation of how society factors not only cause but encourage violence, and without providing the research and statistical basis of this theory (we'll save that for future posts & more detailed writings) I'd like to address how this relates to parenting, particularly mothering, and feminism. It is not only important for us to prepare our children to navigate and survive in this world but to parent them in such a was as to evolve humanity as a species.
Feminism, in its simplest definition, is the belief in the equality of men and women. But, Feminism is not just a belief. It is an ideology, a practice, a study, a movement, a revolution, a culture and a lifestyle. True feminism requires more than idle discourse. It requires an aspect of activism to radically change these societal factors to encourage an environment that is not hostile to our daughters, our children of color, our poor, our gay sons, our transgendered, our elders, our marginalized, our "others."
It is necessary as a parent to lead by example. To show our children what their efforts can do to change this world and not simply tell them that they have this potential. We must become their inspiration, their mentors by modeling the behavior we want them to learn. We must use our feminism and our activism as vital tools of parenting to raise children that can think critically about the world and are not afraid to challenge the dominant power structures in the name of justice and equality. We must parent in such a way as to produce adults that are open minded and see all people as deserving of respect and a peaceful living. We must parent to raise children that do not feel that the needs and desires of one person, not even their own, are more important than meeting the needs and desires of another.
So, if I am to be a mother, I must also be a feminist. The former is reliant on the latter. One cannot successfully be a mother without also being a feminist. And, one cannot successfully be a feminist without being an activist. Feminism must be my ideology, my practice, my study, my movement, my revolution, my culture and my lifestyle.