As a little girl, my mother's constant refrain was, “Leave the boys alone. They'll always be lurking around. Get good grades, get into a good university, complete a graduate degree and get a good job. Then, think about boys…"
After accomplishing all of these things, imagine my mother's surprise when I met a wonderful man in my early 30s, and I chose to leave my job, sell my house, travel the world with my husband and start a family.
Before I quit my job, got my tenants out and sold the house I'd purchased as an independent woman to become a wife and an expat in the Dominican Republic, my mom tried — unsuccessfully — to persuade me to keep my life as is. She didn't want being married to derail my life. After our first little one was born, well-meaning family and friends asked me — rather sincerely, I might add — when I planned to go back to work.
As I tried to figure out if I had indeed become a 1950s relic, I had the following realizations.
After stressing myself and my family to figure out how to go back to work after a few months of maternity leave, I realized an upwardly mobile career does not a feminist make.
To me, feminism is fighting for and having the right to make choices that help us to live the lives we want.
I have the utmost respect for working mothers. Getting to the top of your career and providing love, nourishment and support to your children and your partner is a huge commitment. As is often the case, mom's needs come last. I watched my mom run herself into poor physical and mental health by trying to be everything to everyone. Don't get me wrong. She’s amazing, and as an empty nester, she's spending her time rebuilding her health, but it’s not what I want for myself.
When I chose to stay at home, I was really choosing not to be a superwoman. I had no desire to be at work all day and into the evening, as well as occasionally on the weekend, only to come home to work even more.
I watched my mom do it, and she watched her mom do it. I see my friends do it too. When my husband and I found a way for me to stay home for a while instead of going back to work, I leapt at the chance.
If there's one thing I've learned in the last 30-some years, it's that it's hella nice to have options. Choice is the most luxurious first-world amenity a girl could want.
Now, I totally understand that in most instances, the choice to work isn't really a choice for most women. They get to choose — to some degree — where they work, but that's it. For many women, there's no question that they need to work to be able to provide for their families. They "choose" to go back to work because if they didn't, life would be increasingly difficult.
In other instances, there are women who choose to work because they couldn't imagine staying at home. They feel an obligation to themselves or women — writ large — to contribute to their family's income. And possibly more importantly, there's an overarching desire to have a life that means something, so they can show their daughters and sons what a successful woman looks like.
I go back and forth about this whole choice thing. At the end of the day, I decided I didn't want a nanny or some daycare staff raising my child five days a week for upwards of eight to 12 hours each day. I decided that I didn't want to run from work to home and function on little to no sleep. I chose to forgo the professional accolades in favor of more personal time and extended quality time with my young children and my husband.
This brings up two big questions for me though. First, does choice equal feminism? Second, does a feminist choose to stay at home? The answers matter to me because I want to be an example to my daughter. I want her to have the same freedom to choose that I have and to exercise it on a regular and consistent basis. So what do you think?
I get that I'm lucky in the sense that I have a choice. I get that this is a blessing of paramount magnitude, but does my right to choose to live my life the way I want make me a feminist or instead does feminism require me to be suspicious of men and hell-bent on maintaining my own independence?
Yes, I think she does.
I have a wonderful relationship and a beautiful little munchkin. I’ve had the opportunity to live for two and a half years in the Dominican Republic, and I’m now living in Taiwan en route to China for three years. I get consulting gigs when I can, but I’m totally enjoying life.
If given the chance to earn a graduate degree, reach the height of her career, buy property, become a landlady and be gloriously independent — or to make any other decisions with her life — a woman decides to opt-out of employment and to simplify her life to play a more traditional gender role, is that feminism at its finest or the return of the solemnly dependent 1950s housewife?
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