"I'm a stay-at-home mum. Does that mean I can't raise my children as feminists?"
This mum asks, "When you think of a feminist, do you see a successful, independent woman? I'm a stay-at-home mum. Does that mean I can't raise my children as feminists?"
My daughter was about eight months old when she took her first steps. She stood up and clumsily put one foot in front of the other. It only took a few seconds for her tiny legs to give way. I knew exactly when she would fall.
Parents everywhere know the breathlessness of that moment. It’s exciting to see your child reach such a significant milestone, but it’s also terrifying to see them stumble. She pitched forward and landed on her hands and knees.
“Strong girl,” I crooned out to her, despite the loud thudding of my heart. I repeated the phrase until she understood that I wanted her to get up without assistance.
My daughter is about to turn five and “strong girl” has become part of our vocabulary. Strong girls don’t lose their temper when mummy says no. Strong girls don’t cry when she must stay with the babysitter. What does a strong girl do when her baby brother knocks down a block tower she just built? She uses her words to teach him how to play properly instead of getting angry.
Feminism at the Forefront
It is impossible to miss the rising chorus of strong girls in our society today. Feminism is a hot topic seen in countries like the Philippines, where bills specifically for the protection of women’s rights are introduced by female politicians, to halfway around the world where millions of women recently marched in Washington, D.C.
Even pop culture has no shortage of female empowerment. Beyonce told us 'who run the world' and Emma Watson refused to wear a corset for Beauty and the Beast.
You can call it by many names. It has been referred to as the women’s movement, female liberation, and even the Spice Girls-reminiscent girl power. Whatever it is called, there is no denying that feminism is here.
Am I not a feminist?
When you think of a feminist, who do you see? I see someone who shuns the traditional roles imposed upon women. She is intelligent and well-spoken, with a certain degree of influence. Most likely, she is driven in her career.
If this is the picture of a feminist, then I am as far from it as the sky is to earth. I quit my job to stay home and raise the kids. I’ve embraced the most traditional of roles, so much so that I have friends who have jokingly referred to me as a 1950’s housewife. I am the one who makes sure dinner is ready when her husband gets home from work, washes and folds the clothes for the family, and shuttles the kids to soccer and ballet.
As I read celebratory articles on the accomplishments of women, I can’t help but wonder: am I even a part of this conversation? On what moral ground do I stand on to show my kids that women can be anything they want to be, if I am doing exactly the kind of thing women have tried to prove they can do more of a few decades ago?
If some women choose to break the glass ceiling, I am the person who has chosen to stand with a broom in hand ready to sweep the shards off the floor.
I Chose This Apron
Many sources define feminism. From Merriam-Webster to Urban Dictionary, they agree on this: it is the belief that men and women should have equal opportunities. If I am to teach my children, my daughter especially, this concept, then I have to overcome my own biases. The picture in my head of what a successful, independent woman is, has to change.
Feminism provides the opportunity, but it doesn’t dictate choice.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to what pursuits make a person feel fulfilled. It is a lesson that I am constantly giving myself, when I bite back the word “just” right before I say that I stay at home with the kids. I learn it again when an old friend says that she won’t have any more kids because she wants to return to work.
The thread that binds these differing circumstances is that we are given the opportunity of choice. When a door opens, we as women get to decide if we want to walk through it. No one shoves us in or keeps us out.
In my case, I crossed over a threshold of my doing. Who quit her job? Me. Who had the final say? Also me. Let me rise or fall by my choice. In the same way that another woman, who may make a vastly different decision, rise or fall by hers. I think, this is ultimately the goal of feminism – that no option feels less valid, and no woman feels marginalised.
Recently, my daughter has been going around telling everyone that she wants to be a doctor and a mummy when she grows up. She’s still in pre-school so that is still a long way off. But right now, I want to lay the foundations so that she knows that she can be a doctor and a mummy, a doctor or a mummy, or neither. It’s all up to her.