Sometimes I think that being raised the way I was I notice things that others don’t. Sometimes it seems like I see mainstream American society miming the beliefs of Christian Patriarchy in uncomfortable ways. It’s like there are these damaging gender blind spots that no one notices and everyone buys into. Take, for example, Michelle Obama’s recent email promoting her campaign group, Women for Obama.
As I have traveled across the country, I have had the privilege of meeting incredible women from all walks of life. From young women paying their own way through college, to moms working the extra shift to keep food on the table, to women struggling to make ends meet during retirement.
So far so good, but brace yourself for what’s coming.
We talk about their bills, their children — how they’re constantly striving to strike that balance between work and family. And no matter what kind of challenges they’re facing, they don’t complain. They just work harder.
Oh my word. Women don’t complain. No, sorry, this is one woman who absolutely does complain. When things are unjust, I complain. When I see discrimination or someone being hurt, I complain. I don’t just suck it up and “work harder.” I’m tired of being told I’m not supposed to complain and I’m tired of being told to just put a smile on whatever life hands me and keep on going! But unfortunately, the next section isn’t any better.
This is what we do as women. We persevere. Because no matter our ages, backgrounds, or stations in life, we are determined to leave a better world for our children and give them opportunities we never even dreamed of.
Wut. Not “no matter what, we are determined to achieve female equality.” Not “no matter what, we are determined to lead fulfilling lives.” Not “no matter what, we are determined to make this world a better place for humanity.” No. Instead we get “no matter what, we are determined to leave the world a better place for our children and give them opportunities we never even dreamed of.” Because, you know, apparently all women ever do is sacrifice for their children (which, apparently, every woman has). Do you have any idea how tired I am of being reduced to an appendage of my (present and future) children? Do you have any idea how tired I am of the idea that I should exist solely to give my daughter a good life? How about, instead of simply giving my daughter “opportunities I never even dreamed of,” I go out and grab those opportunities and dreams for myself? Because that’s what I’m working my butt off trying to do! If every generation of women spends all of their energy making their kids’ lives better than there own are, which generation of women gets to actually start living? Life isn’t about the future, it’s about now.
I realize that I’m being a bit nit picky, but like I said, I think growing up the way I did makes it so that I see things others generally just gloss over and don’t notice. I think Michelle Obama is a wonderful, strong woman and I admire her, but I think she has some of the same gender blind spots that many other (most?) Americans have:
1. Women shouldn’t complain even when things are bad.
2. Women exist to fulfill the needs of their children.
I got these messages loud and clear growing up. Don’t complain about having to do more chores or about having to watch your siblings instead of spending time with friends; just work harder.When your father dictates your love life, don’t complain; trust him. Your duty as a woman is to be a wife and mother. The more children you have, the more you are to be praised.
These blind spots are not just wrong, they’re damaging. They may seem innocuous, but they have served over the years to dehumanize women and rob them of true equality. You see, if something is wrong or unfair, I will complain, and so should every other woman out there. This idea that women shouldn’t complain has been used for centuries and longer to oppress women. Because you know what? If people never complain, things will never change. Complaining is the first step to making things better. And you know what? If women had never complained, we’d still be little more than property. The truth is, if we don’t dump this “women don’t complain” meme we can’t achieve complete equality.
Furthermore, I love my daughter Sally dearly, but I do not exist simply to fulfill her needs – or anyone else’s. I am my own person with my own hopes, dreams, longings, and desires. I reject that meme of the self-sacrificing woman who puts everyone else before herself and works until she drops. It’s not that I wouldn’t jump in front of a bus for Sally, it’s just that I want to live too. I have needs too. I’m a person too. I exist, I didn’t just disappear when Sally was born and become sort of extension of her. If we really want to achieve equality, we’re going to have to drop the self-sacrificing woman meme.
It’s weird that something as simple as a campaign email from a progressive woman could bring all this up for me again, but it has. Am I the only one who sees these things? How can we hope to dismantle things like Christian Patriarchy when mainstream society jumps up and down to parrot its main tenets?