Sunday, October 20, 2013

We Need a New Women's Movement

It took 72 years after the official start of the women’s movement for women to get the vote. 72 years. For 72 years groups of women came together to fight for the rights of one another. Women were threatened, beaten, arrested, jailed, and force fed through hunger strikes, but they stuck together. It was important. They were women – sisters in a cause – and they fought to ensure those of us now would have rights that would make us equal citizens. We all attach the suffrage movement with the right to vote but, they were fighting for so much more than just a chance to join in at the polls. They saw the need for equal wages, better education and fair career opportunities for women. To wax poetic, they wanted to be able to live out their own dreams. And while the individual members of the movement changed through time, the heart of the movement remained the same for 72 years until they succeeded in gaining the vote.

We still had a long way to go after that. While we could vote, and some opportunities improved, I don’t know anyone who would say that women in 1920 suddenly became men’s equals. There was still plenty to fight for and women did indeed continue the fight. Women started running for office where they could, they went on to higher education, they went to work. Still, by 1960 women were only making 62 cents for every dollar made by a man in an equal position, prompting women to come together again for the Equal Pay Act in 1963. On a side note; women in the state of Utah made 72 cents for every dollar made by a man in an equal position in 2012 which was also the national average in 1992. In Louisiana it was 62 cents last year, so I would say we still have some fighting to do on this one. My point is that the women of that time were again coming together to try to make things better for one another.

They found more to fight for in the 70’s. Big issues like Roe v. Wade and little issues like whether or not public schools could require girls to wear dresses. It’s sad to me that a girls right to wear pants had to be decided by a court and even that didn’t happen until 1972. Did you know part of this fight in the 70’s also gave us the right to have a credit card? No one was required to give credit to women until 1974. Before that date the credit companies assumed if a woman needed a line of credit either her husband or her father would get it for her. No need to worry our pretty little heads over confusing things like credit accounts. Even though we could go to work, until 1978 you could be fired for getting pregnant and until 1977 the courts did not recognize sexual harassment as a real thing. Ladies – it was 1985 before all states recognized the need to grant “no fault” divorces so that women didn’t have to get permission from their husbands to get divorced. It wasn’t until 1993 that all 50 states recognized marital rape as a crime. I had almost graduated high school by then. Again, these were issues women came together to fight for.

I’m afraid that the women in my generation and younger have stopped fighting for one another and seem to be spending a lot more time fighting with one another. As women, there are things we face throughout life that our male counterparts do not and one would hope that these would bring us closer together as a diverse community of sisters. Instead, we keep finding ways to remain in the high school-esque world of “Us” and “Them”. Unfortunately, the “Them” is other women. We pick each other apart for everything from body size and clothing style, to mommyhood and work-life; the very things the suffragists of the 1900’s suffered through police beatings to ensure we would be able to strive for. Seriously, read some words from Alice Paul. It breaks my heart that we use the rights those women suffered for as cause to divide ourselves now. We should be working to see how much further we could take ourselves, our families, and our communities, if we came together again as sisters.

Part of me blames the World Wide Web for the divisive attitudes these days. We are able not only to share our opinions but we can judge and disparage and ridicule strangers we don’t agree with, all under the anonymity of a cute screen name. We separate ourselves into cliques: The Breast Feeding Moms, The Working Moms, The Stay at Home Moms, The Organic Moms, The Fast Food Moms, The Non-Moms, Married Women, Single Women, and at the end of the day we forget that one delightful thread we all have in common. We are all women. We are all picking our way through the world and each of us will experience joys and hardships and embarrassing moments, and thanks to some brave women that started a movement in 1848, we can do it all wearing our favorite jeans. We should be honoring them by sharing these experiences with one another, rather than judging how well each of us pulls it off. Let’s talk it out…

The first time I faced true divisiveness that put me in a Me and Them situation was at the age of 19. I was pregnant and stubborn; not because I was preggers but because I’ve always been hardheaded, and I was going to bottle feed my kid. For me the discussion ended there and immediately put me against “them”. There was more than one in the “them” camp that had to make sure I knew I was making the wrong choice. It was not ever presented that breast feeding was a “better” choice, just the only right choice and I wasn’t prone to agree. I had been bottle fed and not only survived but am completely attached to my mother, so none of the arguments they presented to me held much water. And the approach of attacking with “you’re doing it wrong” doesn’t usually get people far with me either.

This would be the first issue I would say – as women – we can back up a bit about. Women have been breast feeding since the beginning of time. I don’t think anyone alive doesn’t understand that reality. I truly applaud women who breast feed their children as I think most women do. I have no problem with women breast feeding in public or breast feeding when their kids are old enough to ask for it, the only problem I had was for myself. I couldn’t do it. I don’t blame it on age or maturity because I can say with all certainty that if I were pregnant right now the bottle would be my best friend and my kid would get a bottle too. I can also say that my kid grew up healthy and well fed and suffered no ill effects from being fed Similac or rice cereal or the Earl Grey tea that he loved so much in his Playtex "bah".  

There is no need for us to stand in different camps on this issue. Instead, all women with new babies to feed need to be supported with encouragement and understanding, regardless of how they chose to feed those new babies. They have new babies! Isn’t there already enough for them to worry about without being attacked for deciding the bottle is what works for them? Also all women should support the idea that those breast feeding mommies should not have to shuffle into a bathroom stall so that their new little one can have supper. That’s a toilet! Bottom line is that women should not be shamed for feeding their child whether it’s with their body or with a bottle and they shouldn’t be forced into the restaurant bathroom if their choice happens to be the first one listed. We should be able to agree to this, right?


In what some consider the good ol’ days, women were expected to stay home and take care of their children. It was just the assumption of all that all women wanted to be mothers and therefore, that would be enough for them. Part of the women’s movement was to get society to recognize that women were more than just mothers. Women were intelligent and curious creatures. The idea of women only being caretakers – too feeble minded to function outside of the home – was something they wanted to see abolished. There is so much to life and so much to being a woman that motherhood does not need to be the only thing that defines us all. For reasons as varied as our current hairstyles, there are women in our world who don’t want to tackle motherhood and all that comes with it. Their choice is decried by some as selfish, their lives are classified as “unfulfilled” and these admonishments are being handed out by other women.  

There is a sadder side to the world of women without children. Some women, for medical reasons completely out of their control, cannot have children. When I found out I was infertile years after I had my one and only biological child, the news was sad but a little less sad because we had no real intention of having any more kids. I can’t imagine what my heartache would have been had this news come before having my son. I did always want kids, as many women in this exact position did. I have watched a truly dear friend come to terms with this news; a friend who did not set out to be in the childless camp, and have been repeatedly outraged by some of the comments she’s had to deflect. I can tell you that as much as the questions of “When are you going to have kids?” and “You’re going to regret this decision later on” might annoy a woman who has made the choice; they are straight up painful for the woman who found herself in this group by chance.

It is time to embrace the fact that some women will enjoy a life that doesn’t include poopy diapers and the teen years. It doesn’t change their womanhood status, it doesn't make them less womanly, it doesn't make them selfish and it certainly doesn’t mean they hate children. It only means she doesn’t see kids as part of her life or that her biology made the choice for her.  So, here’s my proposal on this one; “When are you going to have kids?” should fall right in the taboo line with “When are you due?”. We all know not to ask that one, right? Just group them together. There are few subjects as personal as the decision of whether or not to become a mother, so let’s just agree to tread lightly here, and offer privacy and respect.

While we’re talking about mommyhood, let’s jump right to the big one. The one that makes my blood boil each and every time I see it in a headline. The one that since the inception of the “blogoshphere” has been in the forefront of internet discussions on a daily basis. This one subject has created a divide online and in the real world that is so big it can only be fixed if the comparison game is stopped all-together. The ridiculous argument I’m speaking of is working mom vs. stay at home mom. Growing up I had both – my mom was at home when we were little and worked as we got older. In my own life, while a young single mom and today as a married mom with teens, I have always worked. I can say I don’t remember the debate over who was better being so popular in years past. Now, it’s hard to click through the internet without coming across a few articles a day focused on the fight. Who has it better? Who does more work? Who ends up with better kids? Really? This is the level we want to bring ourselves to? This is what Alice Paul had raw eggs poured through her nose for?

Here’s the bottom line ladies, being a mom is fucking hard. There is absolutely no other way to put it. It doesn’t matter if you have perfectly behaved angels or if you’ll admit that “Junior” can be a little asshole sometimes, being a mom is hard. You get through the morning sickness and the stretch-marks and labor pains and delivery and end up with a tiny human being. That tiny human being is completely defenseless and needy and stays that way for years. And for years, you don’t sleep, you worry, you glow with pride, you laugh, you cry, you play and if you’re anything like me, occasionally you scream. Every mother has had that breathtaking moment when it sinks it that the survival of another human being is resting on your shoulders. And not just their survival either. We are responsible for everything from making sure they know how to use a toilet and hold a fork, to making sure they know how to accept a date and pick out flowers for a girl. There are so many lessons that you have to cram into their heads before someone on the outside does, that motherhood all by itself is a grueling, never-ending job.

In today’s world, women have decided that that alone isn’t enough stress. Oh no. Besides worrying about the science projects and dirty clothes piles that exist in every one of our homes, now we must also worry about who is doing it “better” and there is just no reason to add motherhood to our list of competitive sports. There has been this line drawn in the sand between mothers who work and mothers who don’t and it’s time to kick the dirt over that line for good. I can’t – because I’m a realist and a skeptic by nature – say that ALL moms are good moms. Sadly, not every mom is a good mom but, the actions that make them bad moms have nothing to do with whether they work outside of the home or if they are home with the kiddies all day every day.

The two biggest arguments in the WM vs. SAHM debate are who’s kids are better off and who works harder so let’s dispel both arguments together. For every study you can find and site that says kids do better when they are home with mom 24/7, someone can find a study that sites the benefits of early socialization in children when parents work away from home. I have friends who are great stay at home moms and I have friends who are great working moms. We all know people in both camps. And while the stay at home mom idea was never a real thought for me, I never thought of criticizing those who did it in my younger mom years. I didn’t get passionate about the debate until I started tripping over it on a regular basis. My first reaction was to yell and fight online. I started jumping to point out the cases of the most miserable SAHM I was too familiar with as an example for all, while women on the other side all but accused working moms of neglect. The rate of speed that the claws come out in some of those “discussion” boards can be frightening if you haven’t seen it for yourself. (Honestly, don’t look. They’re scary.)

If we all step back we should be able to see how ridiculous the argument is to begin with. A mom is a mom is a mom. We all have the responsibility of little humans resting on our heads and we’re all making our way through what it takes to see those tiny humans to adulthood, where we get to worry about them in a different degree and for different reasons. We all have the science projects, the dirty laundry, the menu planning and grocery shopping, counseling and refereeing that comes along with being a mother. Some of us do this with the help of a partner; some of us do this on our own. Some of us make this our “career” and some of us work in addition to mom duty. Some who work outside of the home do so by choice, some by necessity and the same can be said about those at home, but the hard fact at the end of the day is that we are all moms. We all understand how hard that job is, so why is it we want to tear another mom down when really what we need is encouragement, applause, and the occasional offer of a cocktail?

I hate that the finger pointing here is coming from other women. Instead of championing for a woman’s right to stay home or go to work, criticism is thrown out from both sides. This was one of the biggest fights those brave women who came before us took on. They fought for our right to make the choice of stepping out of the home or staying in, our own choice. Maybe that is part of the problem? The protests of 1913 happened so long ago, and the freedoms we have now have always been a part of our lives. We don’t remember when it wasn’t a choice to wear pants to school. We don’t remember when women weren’t considered sensible enough for higher education, or (gasp!) a credit card. It’s time to pick back up with the attitude of the women of our past. It’s time to start championing for womanhood and all that comes with it. We need to be celebrating with one another the choices we have in front of us and what it now means to be a woman. We can look around and see what they were able to accomplish, imagine what we could do today if we came together again.


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