This One’s for the Mothers

No matter how it might seem sometimes, feminism is not a movement for the young. Historically it seems that so long as feminism has had a name, the following generation of women has wanted to exclude her parents and older women in general. There is a misplaced belief that becoming a mother gives into the patriarchal system. Under this belief, mothers cannot be feminists.

This is one of the largest problems feminism still grapples with because although there are critics of feminism for being straight, white, and middle class, motherhood is discussed far less often. If each new generation of feminists is content to believe they are the only ones who are oppressed, and that because they are young and radical they are at the core of the movement, then feminism is limiting itself.

I understand that motherhood is a slippery subject with feminists asking questions such as: is giving birth and settling down accepting your biology? and Can this choice ever be a feminist statement? A woman named Kathleen M. Streater wrote a feminist critique of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in 2007 and summed up feminism in perhaps the clearest way I have ever heard: “Today, more than ever, feminism is about choice.” Without going too much into detail about Streater’s critique, I need to point out that choice is exactly what feminists are fighting for. We want the choice to be engineers, executives, or athletes. At the same time, what about the choice to fall in love, be in an equal relationship and raise your children as feminists?

Motherhood is often mislabeled as unfeminist, without anyone really understanding what unfeminist means. Does anyone stop to consider that motherhood does not kill feminism? I want to praise the mothers who want a better world for their sons and daughters. I want to praise the mothers who live in a world that dismisses them once they have fulfilled their biological function and given birth.

My mother has been influential in my life, and I know that she has has always put my brother and myself first, before any career options, and that employers are never happy with this. Women are supposed to raise families, give birth, and put aside their identities for the role of mother. The commonality of woman-as-mother puts her in direct opposition to feminism. But it shouldn’t be this way. If feminism is for equal rights, keeping mothers closeted as the uniformed generation of the patriarchy is not going to bring any unification.

The next step for feminists needs to be accepting mothers as the strong women they are, understanding that we are all women, and finally dismantling the stereotype that mothers are only identified by their children.

 

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What we are taught about sex and gender

Until last year I did not know there was a difference between the terms sex and gender. I feel foolish to say so now, but I’m wondering how many others were just as shocked to learn the two words were not synonyms? I was in a class on how to write history and we dipped our toes into gender and feminist criticisms of historical practices. At the time I was angered by the entire interlude of feminist criticism. Why would I want to learn about feminism? What could feminism teach me about being a woman that I didn’t already know just from being alive? In my mind at the time, women were not oppressed.

When my teacher asked us to define gender and sex I was amazed at how many people were able to contribute to two very distinct definitions. I was even more amazed that two definitions was nothing like I had been taught. Gender as a performance of cultural norms and sex as biology was a new concept. I was raised with such a strong aversion to the word sex that until that moment, it had no other meaning than procreation. Gender was the neutral word my family could say and use comfortably. We never referred to sex to refer to sex organs.

I can’t be the only one who was raised this way. Although I know that it is up the parents to decide when and how they will teach their children sex education, why is there such an aversion to the word sex? If it is more accurate to describe one’s sex then why do we substitute gender?

I wonder if my education on sexuality would have been different had I known that sex was not procreation. If I had known and had been less afraid to explore what sex and gender were, I might not have grown up wondering why I didn’t like men, but that I didn’t like women either. I might not have struggled to find a word to identify myself. I might not have waited until tenth grade to become a comic book fan and buy shirts from the boys’ section. My gender and my sexuality would have been mine to explore earlier in life.

When gender and sex have the same meaning dialogue between parents and their children can never be exact and the crucial stage of questioning sexuality becomes more difficult to reach.

I do not pretend I would have been comfortable if my mom or my brother had used sex as a term for biology, but I would have learned to accept it. I would have grown accustomed to adult language and adult ideas. I would have grown up around feminist ideas whether anyone in the house knew so or not. There is no greater gift to identity than the right words to use and a no-fear attitude toward approaching sexual differences.