Thursday, September 06, 2007

What we talk about when we talk about feminism

My teammate’s thoughtful post, “What Wheels on the Bus Do You Sing,” has got me thinking about how I am going about raising a confident daughter. We usually resort to (or react from) our parents’ techniques, I suppose. Mine taught us by making us do chores.

According to the chores-based-feminist-upbringing (cbfu), feminism meant taking responsibility for one’s privileges and choices. If you want choice, you have to have knowledge and skill. It also meant not exploiting people by making them do your work for you. It also means not allowing yourself to be exploited. Even if social structures made such exploitation pretty easy, even expected.

My brothers and my sister and I were given the same chores. We all took turns with dishes, vacuuming, dusting, bathroom cleaning, mowing the lawn, gardening, garbage, window cleaning, and everything else.

We were also given the same opportunities. When I learned to drive, my father made sure I understood how a car engine worked. We even took one partially apart and put it back together. It goes without saying I learned to change the oil and the tires. Likewise, we all learned to sew.

Also, cbfa teaches that work is not inherently gendered; consequently gender played no role in our career choices. We understood that there are no inherently “feminist” or “anti-feminist” careers. My mother could be a stay-at-home feminist/seamstress/baker. The problem comes when you aren’t given a choice because of your gender.

According to cbfu, if you call yourself a feminist, but then expect women to serve you because you’re just “not that good at dishes” or cleaning or cooking, etc. and women inherently are, even if they’ve asked you for help, then you are not a feminist. The whole thing assumes that sometimes sensitivity calls for practical knowledge.

Yes, because women bear and breastfeed babies, there is some biological essentialism (one thinks of Monty Python’s trans-gendered Loretta in “The Life of Brian” who didn’t have a womb) but that shouldn’t breed thoughtlessness or insensitivity.

But now I’m in a totally new situation: it’s just me and my daughter. So I guess the concept of gendered work will be less relevant. I’d really love to hear from other parents about their practical strategies for raising confident daughters.

1 comment:

Miriam Erez said...

I have three daughters, ages 10, 15, and 17. I dont' want to sound smug, but I think I can safely call the older two feminists.

I never let an opportunity go by to use the female pronoun, even going so far as to edit my storytelling (which drove my husband crazy). Why can't the three little pigs be females?

I also let them see me lift heavy things, drill holes, pump up my bike tires. While I'm not much of a DIYer, any little fixit thing will do. The point is to start playing the tape early, and laugh off partners and friends who make fun of you.

My first reward for my efforts was when my oldest was seven. She was playing cards and wanted to know why, if there's a *nasich* [jack], how come there's no *nsichah* [princess]? My heart sang. Now that same girl, ten years later, reads Fallopian Felafel, and even contributed an article!