Why I Was Late to the Sisterhood

100_9209Facebook informed me that today is International Women’s Day, much in the same way it announces other “special” days (I have more to say on this, but that will be the subject of a separate post). I saw several posts celebrating women and talking about this year’s call: “Pledging for Parity.” Maybe it is the fact that it is a big political year, but it seems to me that posts on this topic are more frequent, repeatedly causing me to think about my own feelings about gender relations.

I recently wrote about my coming to grips with being a feminist, but this morning my ponderings went a different direction. I thought about how I am a relative newcomer to the sisterhood, that unlike many young women today, I grew up with few female friends and never belonged to a group, complete with a cute name, such as the Fabulous Five or the Stupendous Seven.

When I was very young in fact, most of my friends were boys. This was in part due to the demographics of my neighborhood, but also because I had no interest in “girly things.” In fact, I was rather snobbish in my disdain for frilly clothes and makeup. The boys played outside and were more accepting. I don’t remember a boy ever calling me bossy; plenty of the girls did.Things were simple and where you stood was obvious. Like all kids, I sometimes disagreed with my friends, but with the boys, it never felt like a fight; issues didn’t linger and fester. Things usually resolved themselves, most of the time rather quickly.

As I approached tweendom, I changed my mind about the clothes and makeup, but still distrusted groups of girls, finding them cliquish and gossipy. I had no desire to be part of a group that said that some people had to stay on the outside. I believed this about these girls (looking back, with little to no evidence that it was true) and distanced myself. I wanted no part of a group that was all girls, and none of the traditional activities for girls (such as dance or cheerleading) interested me.

This is not to say I had no girlfriends. I had a few, but for the most part, time spent was one-on-one, not in groups. At this point, the boy friends dropped off (lest they be referred to as boyfriends) and I felt no need to increase my social circle and compromise my values. I had a few close friends, that was enough.

This didn’t really change until I became a mom. The first few years were isolating. When our oldest started school and we got involved in our local community, I realized what I had been missing. I found my village. Before I knew what had happened, I was swapping birth stories with strangers, as well as tips and struggles about parenting. Many “me toos” later, I realized I had joined a sisterhood. As my children and I have grown, those relationships have grown as well, to the point where I have several friends who are as close as family. I can honestly say I don’t know how I would have coped with the challenges life has thrown me without these women by my side.

Now I look at young women and almost wish I had discovered the concept of this sisterhood sooner. I know that their relationships will change over time, and some friendships will not last, but it must be nice to have a group who can say they knew you “back when.” I watch them gathering as they get older. Their interests and activities have changed, but the giggling and affection (and even a bit of the competitiveness) is the same.

Though shared history is a glue that can hold people together, having similar experiences can work in the same way. I find that even growing up in different places and sometimes slightly different times, some things were just the same: fashions in hair and clothing, school experiences, navigating the social waters as an adolescent and figuring out (to use today’s terminology) how “to adult.” I have found that the sisterhood is not as exclusive as I once thought.Though I am late to the party, I have been welcomed and now am happy to be here.

A Reluctant Feminist

IMG_7542I have an uncomfortable relationship with feminism. It has sort of grown up with me. As a young girl, I saw women taking the stage, speaking forcefully, making themselves heard and refusing to sit down. While this is in part admirable, I found their demeanor often offensive. The feminists of my youth struck me as being men haters, as rebelling against an oppressive force, as rejecting femininity. They seemed to imply that if you liked traditional girl things and roles, that you were somehow less in their eyes. The message was that men only wanted to rule and control women and that we should rebel.

This made no sense to me. I simply did not feel that oppression. I have always really liked men. The men in my life told me that I could do anything, that my career choices were only limited by my own motivation and ambition. Yes, I saw that women earned less and were less represented in high paying careers, but believed that these things would be overcome.

Those early feminists also seemed to take every courtesy as an affront. The act of a man holding a door open was interpreted as “He thinks I am too weak to do this myself.” Offering a hand or arm to hold was saying “You are fragile and childlike.” Paying for a meal or a movie indicated that a woman needed a man, that she could not do things on her own. I call BS on all of this and honestly resented those feminists for making a man question whether he could be polite and courteous to me. I think that they are responsible, in part, for the confusion we see in gender relations today.

I have always been one of those girls who was “just one of the guys.” I have been the only female in the room in more circumstances than I can count. The times when I have been made to feel insignificant or unimportant in their company has been rare. As a child, I had more male friends than female, due in part to neighborhood demographics. This naturally influenced my opinions on the war between the sexes. There is no war.

That is not to say that I haven’t seen sexism firsthand. I have. I have had male co-workers engage in conversations with my chest and talk to me as if I had no intellect at all. Or even a pediatrician who, when I asked him to repeat something I had not heard over my child’s crying (about the temperature of our water heater), telling me to just tell my husband, that “he would understand.” These instances however were rare and were more than balanced by the men I worked closely with every day who valued my skills and treated me as just another person.

When I quit my job to stay home with my kids, I felt ostracized. I was “Mommy-tracked” by those in power at my company (both men and women). With my job, it would have been possible to continue a professional relationship that would have been mutually beneficial, but I had committed an offense, I chose my children over my career. As time went on, the power brokers changed and the professional relationship was rebuilt, funny enough, by a man who respected both me and my work.

This is the main gripe I have with feminism. Life is not men versus women. When I left my editorial job, it was my choice. It was not something thrust upon me by a male-dominated industry (actually I would have liked to have seen them try such a thing). I did not do irreparable damage to womankind by choosing full time motherhood over a career in journalism. I think this is where feminism went wrong. I believe that having the choice is what matters, not which choice you may make.

I recently shared a post on Facebook in praise of women helping to empower other women. I was almost immediately chastised for this, as it was interpreted as women promoting other women, ONLY because they are women. I don’t believe this is the case at all. Women who work to support others are making things better for all. Too many women get caught up in the rush to the ceiling, scrambling over others in the process. For decades we have heard about the Mommy Wars, between working and stay at home moms. Then there is the great breast feeding debate, the co-sleeping debate and on and on.

When we acknowledge that we all want a better world and that not every solution is right for every person, we become stronger as a community. We should be making things easier for each other, not more difficult. If we were all leaders, who would follow? We need people who are willing to do different things, to take on different roles in order to survive as a society.

I still harbor that feeling of distrust for feminism, much to the dismay of my daughters. I am coming to understand that the feminism of today is different and we are seeing men declaring themselves feminists. Using the definition of feminism I have most recently seen, the belief that people should be treated the same without concern for which chromosomes they were born with, then yes, I guess I am a feminist.

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