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In search of my inner feminist

Last night I saw an article via Twitter that really piqued my interest.  Is Modern Motherhood Opressive? on a website called Gender Across Borders.  It’s an article written in response to Elisabeth Batinder, French feminist, who voiced her views in The Guardian recently.

Her general premise is that women today are subject to many restrictions on their lifestyle, from pre-pregnancy (diet, exercise etc) through to motherhood.  She states (and I paraphrase badly here) that women take on the majority of childcare and child related labour in the home which in turn forces them to compromise their lifestyles and choices further.

I quote here from Gender Across Borders:

It’s easy to be distracted by Batinder’s statements about smoking and drinking while pregnant, or shipping your children off to boarding school, but I know several new moms who identify with Batinder’s broader point about the struggle to find a balance between being a mother and a woman. These women want to make healthy choices for their babies, but the pressure to be supermoms can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of guilt or failure. While I agree that many women want to have a career and a family, and so choose to wash diapers and cook organic vegetables, our ever-expanding checklists will inevitably force women to sacrifice one role or the other – or run ragged trying to do both. And, like Batinder, I worry that the women of tomorrow will stay at home. 

I think this is a fair point, and one I felt strongly about and decided to comment.  As soon as I hit ‘submit’ another comment showed up too (damn I thought I was the first), from a man.  He has some interesting views, some of which I thought were valid, some of which had me replying.  Specifically about breast v bottle which just makes me angry, given my own issues here.  I think, though, his general point seemed to be that being a good mother was as much about saving the environment (cloth nappies) as it was about protecting your child’s health (powdered milk is bad for them).  You can see why I replied.

Anyway there is a point to this ramble.  Clearly many of you will have read Batinder’s interview already, so as ever I’m behind the curve.  But the real reason I’m writing this is because I was forced to ask myself a question last night.  Am I a feminist?

I asked my husband what he thought (probably answering my own question right there):

“Well if you mean do you believe that women and men should have equal rights, then yes of course you are.  But isn’t the word a bit redundant these days?  What are feminists fighting for now?”

I have to say I sort of agreed.  Until I then saw that a blogger whom I respect greatly, GeekyMummy, had also replied to the GAB thread.  I then noticed that on her blog she calls herself a feminist.  Actually come to think of it, quite a few bloggers I enjoy give themselves that label.  They seem to be the sparky, witty, intelligent sort of blogs I like (probably because mine is none of those things).

I also read an article several weeks ago in The Independent about the re-issue of The Female Eunuch.  Germaine Greer’s treatise on sexual liberation as the key to women’s liberation in 1970.  Is that still relevant today?  The reviewer felt it was rather tame.  But others feel it still has a point.  I promptly went out and bought a copy.  It sits on my bedside table with the rest of the pile, awaiting time to be read.

So back to my question, am I a feminist?

I believe women and men should share the childcare load, I don’t believe because I gave birth I should be the only one in the house who knows how to load the bottles in the dishwasher, or put on a nappy, or get the girls ready for bed, or prepare their food.

I believe women should have equal pay to men, I believe women should be able to attain a seat at the ‘top table’ career wise.   Whomever is best for the job surely, woman, man, black, white, gay, straight.

I believe women who choose not to work in the traditional sense (lets face it bringing up children is much harder than going to a paid job), should be given due respect and recognition for that choice.  They should be allowed a day off every now and then.  They most certainly do not have it any easier than a mother who works.  Let’s just be really clear on that.

I want my girls to grow up believing they can achieve whatever they put their minds to.

But you see then I run into problems.  I believe women should be allowed maternity leave, and I believe they should take it.  But what about men in this mutual childcare utopia?  Well I believe men should also be allowed maternity leave.  I really do.  Give them 6 months off too to help share the childcare.  This would reduce the dependence on the woman when she then went back to work and it would, hopefully, create a special time for the family to bond.  Setting it up for a better start in life.  But I can also see the economic problem here.  So I think, sadly, it’s flawed.

But that said, I don’t believe that common manners should fall foul of the feminist debate.  I do think that if a man wants to hold a door open and a women likes that, that doesn’t make her an antichrist to the feminist cause.  Surely that’s just good manners?  Similarly men standing up when a woman walks in the room, is polite not demeaning.

I suppose in some ways I want my cake and eat it, and I can see the difficulties with this.  I can see how feminists find people like me irritating.  But at the same time I think we should all be allowed to be who we want to be.

On paper I am a feminist.  I have worked hard to be at the top of my career.  I have had 2 children and with a bit of jiggery pokery I balance the two.  I am more than happy to fight my corner regarding my role in society as a women, and I think women are incredibly powerful for their ability to multi-task and persuade.

But until now I’m not sure I’ve been ready to be branded a feminist.  Maybe now I am.

‘My life as a working mum; babysick on my top and a laptop in my nappy bag.  It’s fun, it’s busy but it’s not always pretty.  But as a feminist I believe in it.’

No, I’m not sure either….

Tell me what you think,  would you call yourself a feminist? Or has the question not really occurred to you much before now?


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