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Saturday, May 5, 2012

I was that girl.

I was her.  You know, that girl who claims she's "not really a feminist."  Yep that was me.  My #1 priority, for as long as I can remember, was to have children.  I wanted to stay at home with them, because paying for childcare meant letting someone else raise them for 8 hours a day, and I certainly wasn't having kids to let them be raised by someone else.  I watched my mother raise my five siblings and I, so I had no delusions of glamorous motherhood.  No, I knew there were endless loads of laundry, sinkfuls of dishes, errands to run, babies needing to be fed, rocked, nursed, changed and played with.  I wanted to be super involved, possibly homeschooling and definitely being involved in their lives as much as possible without being overprotective or socially crippling them.  I was going to read to them, garden, sew, compost, cook and just generally be a great, environmentally conscious stay-at-home-mom.

I did go to college, and get my Bachelor's in Art with a minor in Religious Studies, before marrying my boyfriend of 6 years.  We started our family about two weeks after the wedding, and I gave little real thought to this strange concept of "feminism."  After all, we have the right to vote, right?  We have contraceptives and thus can decide whether we want to have families or careers, and abortion, though controversial, is legal, and now women can be CEO's and judges and even run for president, so why are we worried about feminism anymore?

I really went through life thinking that the issue had been resolved.  Looking back now, it had been taken care of for where I was, socially and emotionally, and for what I wanted in life at the time.  Nothing I wanted or needed was challenged by inequality, and so I was content to stand on the shoulders of my foremothers, and assume that we were done, and that I could now relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The birth of my first son, oddly enough, was the first sign that all was not right in the world.  I went through the pregnancy giddy with anticipation at finally getting to do what I'd always dreamt of doing: raising my very own baby.  I was on cloud 9.  I was a newlywed, we'd just bought a house, I graduated college and my life was really damn near perfect.

When I went into labor, we went to the hospital and it became clear pretty quickly that there was something amiss.  Women in the maternity ward are second class citizens.  They are really just breathing incubators who need to have their contents removed as quickly as possible, with little concern for their desires or comfort.  Never in my life have I had decisions made about me, right in front of me, without my consultation and with a complete lack of caring as to how I felt about those decisions.  I thought having a female ob/gyn would've helped, too.  But alas, no.  From what I've gathered from other women, she was worse than most men.  I will say this, I was at least capable of advocating for myself enough to avoid an unnecessary cesarean section.  A lazy nurse, who clearly did not like me, was marking my chart and telling my doctor that she had been checking me for dilation when she had not.  I had had an epidural, and a VERY effective one, at that, and so I had no idea how ready I was to deliver.  They prepped me for a c-section and I insisted that they check me one last time, for my own piece of mind.  The nurse's eyes popped open and she informed that I was fully dilated and ready to go.

So, I was about to have major abdominal surgery, in addition to all the other dehumanizing treatments I'd received in my stay at the hospital of horrors, because I was no longer a person, so long as I carried another human being within my body.  This started my research into abortion and the pro-choice movement.  I mean, if I was being treated this way carrying a baby I wanted to term, how were women who needed an abortion faring?

Not well, it turns out.  It's clear that, although 1 in 3 women in this country will need an abortion in her lifetime, no one ever talks about it.  It's still taboo.  It's still not an acceptable choice, although it's a legal one.  And on that note, I saw just how "legal" it still was.  Sure, Roe v Wade was still the law of the land, but the anti-choice movement had gotten smarter in their tactics.  Challenging Roe directly was, and still is, nearly impossible.  There's no point in wasting their resources on that dead end.  So they found a much more effective route: enact much smaller pieces of legislature in individual states to make abortions less accessible.  THAT strategy has proven incredibly effective, mostly because those of us who are pro-choice, but didn't really foresee ourselves ever needing an abortion, failed to act.  We were complacent for decades.

When my first son was less than a year old, I was invited to go with a couple of friends to hear Gloria Steinem speak at Arizona State University.  Honestly, I just wanted to spend some time with my friends and I had no idea who she even was.  That evening changed my life.  I'll admit, I walked in there afraid of hearing a "feminazi" condemning my desires to stay home and raise a family.  I thought I was going to hear that women like me harm the movement, and draw feminism backwards, lessening the gains we have made over the years.  Instead, I heard how important choice, in all walks of life, is for women.  Honoring a woman's choice to become a mother, a CEO, a lawyer, a homemaker, a secretary, a cop, a member of the military infantry, a woman working from home or a political activist is paramount to the movement.  Judging women for their choices was working against us, and that applied to ALL their choices.  Removing roadblocks to freedom for women was what we all needed to work against, and attacking the homemakers and stay-at-home mothers was counterproductive.  Most importantly, we needed to make sure those mothers were raising empowered girls and feminist boys who understood that they were equal, and didn't fear living in equal partnership.  How would that be possible without embracing the mothers among us?

I now consider myself a "Steinemite."  I have been converted, and there's no going back.  I can't look at the world without thinking about how women are better off, in every scenario, being educated to make their own decisions, their own choices, in all aspects of life.

Education is the key.  When women are educated, they have fewer children, have them later in life, and provide better lives for them.  When they are educated, they also tend to understand what feminism REALLY means...just like I finally do.

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