Monday, June 24, 2013

Why I Prefer the F Word: A Letter

Confused? Click here to catch up.
Dear Person-Who-Supports-Equality-But-Isn't-A-Feminist,

I want to talk about the F-Word. (No, not that F-word.) Specifically, Feminists. And I'm going to get a little serious -- but this is important, and I really want you to hear me and understand that this is coming from a place of love.

If you live on the internet and frequent (gulp) feminist blogs like I do, Taylor Swift's declaration that she isn't a feminist is ancient history. OLD NEWS. So why am I bringing it up now? Two reasons: 1) I had a fantastic discussion with some beautiful and passionate people about what feminism is, at the end of which we all went away satisfied and fired up and ready to group hug the world, and 2) I'm really getting tired of having that discussion, because it focuses my energy on the wrong part of problem.

Feminism, like any other movement or school of thought, has multiple facets and ideologies -- denominations, if I may bring my Presbyterian upbringing into play :). The broadest school of thought within Feminism is one concerned with equality for all. Within the current incarnation of feminism, known as 3rd Wave Feminism (Wikipedia is good for a quick catch-up on the waves and general history of the movement), the concerns have have broadened from the too-limited, overwhelmingly white, discussion of women's rights in the 60s and 70s to a fight for the rights of all racial backgrounds and nationalities, all sexualities and genders, all belief systems, and people from all socio-economic backgrounds, etc. etc. -- essentially, the 3rd Wave takes the 2nd Wave's idea of "personal integrity" and seeks to actually apply it for all people.

Some people who identify as feminist choose to continue to focus their energy causes that are female-specific, and this decision can lead onlookers to characterize feminists as only being interested in advancing women's rights. I disagree. Someone's decision to focus on certain issues doesn't mean they're disinterested or apathetic to the other struggles out there - it could be that their chosen issues are where they feel their voice will matter most. Other people choose a more broad-based approach, following their passions across a variety of fields. I fall into this second group - though I focus primarily on abortion rights, body and information integrity, systematized inequality (race, gender, fiscal, social, etc), and obstruction of civil rights, I'm also passionate about preserving the environment, supporting the arts, pursuing world peace, and increasing global education rates. I flit from issue to issue, depending on what speaks to me at the time. Many of these causes take me outside of female-specific concerns, but I still consider myself a Feminist first and foremost - and I believe that all of my causes, and indeed all battles for equality and respect for the individual, can be grouped under the umbrella cause of Feminism. Why? At its core, Feminism is about redefining the way we distribute power in society, and therefore is applicable to many, many systems outside of those thought of as relating to women.

This leads to the question of whether to all people who are passionate about equality should band together under one banner or remain as separate groups. Let me be clear -- a huge aspect of feminism is allowing people to form their own narratives and identify how they want -- and I will never be the person saying someone has to identify as Feminist. I do believe that we are stronger when we come together to support each other and fight on many fronts together, and I'd like us as a culture to get to the point where we're not in the business of tearing down one identity in order to define another. Take Ms. Swift's original comment to The Daily Beast back in October, in response to being asked if she considered herself a feminist: "I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life." I'm not going to get into the history of feminism being maligned or miscast, or how Taylor Swift is likely to continue being a problematic role model. To put it in one sentence, I think Taylor Swift fell victim to a incredibly common misconception, the same misconception that's making me tired of having this discussion: Feminism doesn't mean what many people think it means. Opponents of the F-word have defined it as the opposite of equality, as opposed to a synonym. Even when dealing with the female-specific issues raised by feminism, I think this us-versus-them mentality is a huge mistake. Highlighting one group's suffering doesn't automatically minimize another's, or set one group up as "more worthy" -- it's simply the necessary identification of one specific issue to tackle in order to break down the system piece by piece.

In fact, feminism is arguably the main engine behind men gaining greater freedom, as they are allowed to embrace their whole selves and adopt the non-traditional gender role of nurturer, just as women have become more empowered to adopt roles outside of homemaker and caretaker. My favorite pop culture manifestation of this has been the shift in advertisements I've noticed over the past few years -- Huggies, in particular, has been rocking my world with their depiction of Daddy as a caretaker, without any "Mr. Mom" jokes worked in. More dads are demanding schedule flexibility to take care of their children while more moms are able to hold jobs actually capable of supporting a family on one salary, and more companies are responding to this shift by offering parental leave regardless of gender. Our society's concept of parenting is just one zone to observe feminism's effects, of course, but it's one where I've seen some huge developments firsthand.

As the great Gloria Steinem said,
“We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
We're just at the beginning of that arc, of raising sons no longer limited by their own gender constraints, who are capable to not only perceiving their own privilege but actively working to reach out beyond it to share that power with others (beautifully exemplified by the father mentioned in this TED talk), but I really do believe we're going to get there. While I know that the F-word "feminism" sounds awfully a lot like it's only working for the benefit of women, especially with all the connotations that have been forced on it, I believe that true Feminism is working for the greater good and equality of all.


(Feminist-and-Proud-of-It) Mrs.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Can't A Girl Just Be A Housewife Already?

This past week's PostSecret featured one card with particular relevance for me:

"What  do we want?"

"More oppression!"

"When do we want it?"

But in all seriousness, there's something about this sentiment that really gels for me. Ever since quitting my remaining "real job" back in April (I have since picked up a bartending gig one night a week, but that's not exactly what I got my college degrees for), I've been spending a lot of time around the house. Some of it's spent working to grow our design business, some of it's spent blogging for The Art Abyss, and some of it's spent wrastling the fur babies. Okay, more than some.

The view from my office chair. How do you not wrastle that?

But business grows slowly, and blogging can only take up so much time. Fur babies aside, that means I end up engaging in the selfish acts of
a) working out (which is justifiable as good for me, but feels like stolen time)
b) reading books (possibly justifiable because all great writers should be great readers (right?))
c) attempting to clean house (justifiable if I actually get something done - therein the rub)
d) browsing endlessly on the Internets and making too many Facebook posts (tangentially justifiable under the heading of "the more you know," but highly suspect on a productivity scale)
a significant portion of the time. And then my husband comes home from his 9 to 5, and I wonder how I can make it look like I actually accomplished something that day.

On a blog titled "Mrs. Degree," you might be surprised to find such angst about semi-housewifehood. But let's remember, that title's a send-up of something my grandmother said to me when I was going into college. I have every intention of having my own career, making my own living, creating my own arc independent of that of my husband. And please believe me when I say I know I wouldn't be able to be making the go of things the way I am if it weren't for his emotional - and financial - support. And that's where it gets sticky.

Right now, I am a woman with the capabilities to make a living on her own -- perhaps not my ideal living as a self-supporting artist and writer, but a living that supports a solo apartment, some nice dinners, the occasional vintage hat splurge -- but because I have the support of a gainfully employed spouse, I'm able to pursue my ideal professions without having to freak out about where the next paycheck is coming from. Sure, since switching to freelance "full time," we've had to tighten our belts and go out less, but hey - it's all in the name of pursuing a dream, right?

Yet until I have our business chugging along, until I start seeing my writing and my painting bring in regular paychecks, I still feel like a housewife playing work. And though I absolutely respect the women and men who have chosen to care for their household full-time while their partner works (there's even evidence that such arrangements may be more efficient), for me personally, I feel like I'm not living up to my full potential -- even to my full obligation. And that leads to some very real feelings of guilt.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

10 Things I Learned From Leaving My "Grown-Up" Job

"Hold on guys - which one is mine?"
Congratulations Graduate!!

Remember May? You ripped off your robe and threw up your cap to celebrate your first real taste of freedom. You enjoyed the slew of parties, binge drinking and awkward conversations with people your parents insisted on inviting to your graduation party, and now a bunch of people are getting ready to ship off to grad school, and a bunch more will be shipping off to careers they've had figured out since December. This post is not for those people.

This post is for you, person-whose-degree-and/or-career-choice-requires-significant-DIY-work-post-college. I was you, two years ago, and I was lost as all hell when it came to what I was going to do next.

Technically, I'm still figuring that part of it out, but along the way, I have learned a crap-ton about what NOT to do. So strap in, hold on, and get ready to hear about the three times I've left behind a "grown-up" job in the past two years. With any luck, you might be able to skip making a couple of these mistakes in your own life -- but, if we're being honest, probably not.

Life's all about the journey, right?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pinterest Guilt: This Monster Must Be Stopped

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is an epidemic in this country. An epidemic of unrealized dreams, quashed ambitions, wages squandered chasing impossible goals. It is what keeps women up at night, what leaves infants to cry unattended in their cribs, what causes men to go bald ten years earlier. It is the scourge of our society, and it must be stopped.

What is this beast, you ask? I give you Exhibit A:

My feelings of inadequacy tripled simply by reading that headline.

You can read the entire article here, but you may become afflicted by the dreaded "why is this news" syndrome: eye rolling, name calling, lashing out irrationally at overly-nice strangers who sit with legs politely folded in perfect little dresses on slightly too-high benches on morning television (WHY MATT LAUER WHY???). You have been warned.

But back to the epidemic: as one mom says,
“We have a hard time enjoying our own experiences because we feel it’s not worthy of this invisible judge,” Andersen said. “It’s so easy to get depressed. You start to feel like your entire life has to be like a magazine all the time.”
Ah yes, that common overwhelming pressure to be perfect. I believe it's what my mother's generation called "Martha Stewart."

In all seriousness, it's not that hard to understand where these moms come from. I mean, just look at my friend Kadie's obnoxiously perfect Memorial Day BBQ:


I know it's hard to believe from these pictures, but did you know Kadie is a professional photographer? (More importantly, did you know Kadie and I started a kickass blog together called The Art Abyss? You really should go check it out.) It's true -- and what's more, she happens to be a trained artist, with years of experience, no kids, a work-from-home job, a very supportive and very helpful husband (the rumors are they stayed up incredibly late the night before in order to get everything done), and - most importantly - this is the only party she has thrown in the last couple of years. Don't get me wrong -- I wish something fierce I could have hopped a plane and attended what looks like the best ding-dang BBQ party on either side of the Mississippi EVER -- but she didn't just roll out of bed with her backyard looking like that, and she certainly doesn't throw events like this on an everyday basis.

The moral of the story: MOMS OF THE PINTEREST, STOP FREAKING OUT. There will always be at least one actual real-life Martha Stewart in the world, but the reality is, most of us are sweating, scrambling, stressing, and stuffing all the junk we didn't get cleaned up in time into some back room before the party just as much as you. And that's really, truly okay.

Also, TODAY Show? Get a lower bench. Your news-conversationalists look ridiculous.

Seriously. Dumbest. Set. Ever.