An odd title for a post written by a man, I know. But this post comes after years of conversations with my wife, and was spurred by an editorial that appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune a few weeks ago. In the article Elaine Gale reflects on her experience as a feminist in the face of a heartbreaking miscarriage. She writes:
I now had the experience of my own biological power as a female. I knew I would likely trade my two decades of focused toiling on a successful career for the ability to carry a healthy baby to term and raise a biological child with my beloved husband.
I knew, for sure, that I wanted to be a mother. And not just to check it off some list.
Instead, I was faced with the inability to do the one thing I was genetically built to do as a woman.
Feminism was always going on and on about the importance of having choices. But I found that my biological choice to have a child was snatched away from me while I was being liberated.
The place of healing, for her, came with a renewed sense of the feminine: the nurturing, life-giving force that grows deep in the hearts of women. She ends with this insight:
Can you be devoted to Feminism and the Feminine at the same time? I guess you could say I’ve become a Feminine-ist. That extra syllable changed everything.
When women get pregnant, it is the Feminine nurturing us and connecting us with the essential life force on the planet. But when we take a maternity leave, it is because of Feminism’s hard work that we have that opportunity.
When I read that article I immediately thought of my wife. I guess you could say she’s a feminist; she values equity and fair opportunity for women. She gets sincerely irked by off-hand sexist jokes and doesn’t ever pretend they’re harmless or cute. In college she carried a double major (History, Biblical and Theological Studies), and for her senior history thesis she researched the changing roles of women in WWII, inspired by their strength to succeed at “man’s work” while the men were off at war. She played college hockey and soccer, and even now she’s the only girl who gets invited to play pick-up hockey with my college buddies at the neighborhood rinks. She skates with the boys. She got game.
But here’s what’s been so frustrating for her at times in her life: Unless you know her really well, you may never sense her feminist impulse because, at a glance, she seems so…girly. She’s given birth to two kids and raises them well. She really enjoys crafting and sewing. She loves flowers. She’s a wizard with the mixing bowl and spatula – her desserts are well known in our apartment hallway. She admits, it’d be great if she had lofty corporate aspirations or wanted to go to school for 7 more years for a PhD, but she doesn’t.
She’s a feminist, but in most ways, she’s simply feminine. And her femininity might make it appear like she’s oblivious to the culturally conditioned gender roles and stereotypes that feminists rail against. But she’s not oblivious. She knows what it means to be a woman. She knows the importance of choice and freedom. And she’s free to choose to be feminine.
Liberation movements in their many forms are important for society; they critique the status quo and chip away at structures that oppress. But like any power movement, they run the risk of becoming just like their oppressors: Excluding and silencing the voices of anyone not “like us.” Does feminism as a liberation movement have room for feminists, like my wife, who choose to be feminine? It better.