Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just A Girl

Today is International Women's Day. I didn't know there was such a thing. Here in the US it's feeling like the Season of Degrading Women At Every Opportunity. Politicians of a certain flavor have decided that since they have nothing remotely positive to contribute to the great ongoing American conversation/debate/social experiment/whatever you prefer to call our national discourse, they are going to instead attack various demographics in the hopes that they can make an Evil Clown Scary Boogeyman out of … somebody, anybody … as a distraction. Gays have had their turn, Latinos have had their turn, blacks and non-Christians are always targets, and now - this is so exciting! - it's us girls' turn. Ladies, don't you feel privileged to finally get a turn to be dunked in a tank of haterade? I know I do.

I wasn't raised a feminist. There are so many different interpretations of what it means to be a feminist, I'm not sure if I'd qualify as one now. Not with anyone who might worry about a strict interpretation of the term, anyway. I think in my own way, though, I have become a feminist. How so? Here's a list that is by no means comprehensive: Being sexually harassed in the workplace, including by a supervisor. Having men treat me like I was stupid because I'm female. Having women encourage me to be stupid in order to attract a man. Having my knowledge and opinions overlooked because they don't carry as much weight as a man's. Having books I read and things I care about scoffed at because "that's for silly women." And conversely having books I read and things I care about scoffed at for not being appropriately feminine (generally by the same type of people that think attracting a man is a woman's main goal in life, even if she has to pretend to be something she's not).

The biggest thing though is the pervading sense that to a great many people my worth as a human being is directly tied to my vagina: what I do with it, what I don't do with it, and how many children come out of it. What's between my ears and what happens there is not near as important as what's between my legs and what happens there. And the really crappy part is, it's not even personal. Nothing about me, who I am on a fundamental level, counts or is even noticed by the people that think that way.

A lot of people who normally don't have much to say to me got chatty when they found out I was pregnant. As I began to notice this it felt really weird. I am thrilled to be pregnant - this was planned and the baby very much wanted. But it still feels weird that this is the thing that certain people notice about me, that makes me worth talking to. I don’t want to minimize the importance of motherhood at all, it's just that it kind of goes back to that feeling that my worth as a person is tied to my gender rather than my actions, my beliefs, or the content of my character. And that having a baby makes me worth more than I was before getting pregnant. We tried to conceive for a year and had pretty much given up - if I'd never been able to get pregnant or just never wanted to have a kid, would that make me somehow worth less? One person flat out told me, now you and DH will be a real family. Because the seven years we've been together have obviously meant nothing without having reproduced!

I have worked and supported myself, managing my money and my life fairly well and avoiding some serious pitfalls that I saw other women fall into. I think seeing the mistakes made by other women was very educational. A lot of those mistakes had to do with attaching themselves to losers just to have a man, instead of learning to be happy alone and take care of themselves. Instead of learning what really made them happy and fulfilled. I gave myself the chance to do that and I think that made it all the sweeter when I finally found the right man for me. I have also been laid off, been a student, been a housewife, and will be a stay at home mom. Seeing both sides of that equation - working woman and homemaker - has also been educational. When I worked it was a job, not a career, so partly because of that I can honestly say staying at home works better for me because I have more of a chance to write and have had some success with writing. I'm glad that I've experienced both so that I can tell my daughter one is not better than the other, it's what's better for you that counts.

There are a lot of things I want to teach my daughter, big things, small things, silly things. I think about the fun stuff a lot but I also think about the big stuff. Like, your body belongs to you and no one else. You have the right to be respected and treated with dignity, in the workplace, in your private life, in your doctor's office, wherever life takes you. You have the right to live life on your own terms, whether that means getting a job, being a homemaker, having kids, not having kids, getting married, staying single, whatever you want to do. I hate it that I'm going to have to teach her that there are people who won't respect her, especially if she makes non-traditional choices, if she stands up for herself, if she refuses to be treated like less than, but she will encounter those people. The best thing I think I can do is prepare her for it by teaching her to be herself and be confident enough that if - when - someone decides she is less than, she realizes she doesn't have to take it. That she can fight back and even walk away from them if she has to, whether its an individual who won't accept her for who she is and tries to make her change, a group of politicians who try to convince her she doesn't deserve the full rights of citizenship, a supervisor that can't keep his disgusting comments to himself. I want her to know that it doesn't matter how many babies you have, how many people you choose to sleep with, whether you like to scrapbook or motocross, whether you're married or single or straight or lesbian or an astronaut or the bass player in a punk band. What's in your heart and mind, what is the core of you as a human being, is what's important. I want her to know, you're a girl, but you'll never be just a girl.

These are some random messy thoughts I've had today, on International Women's Day while pregnant with a daughter.

Note: I'm tagging this Blueberry because that's what we've called the baby since the fourth or fifth week of the pregnancy. One of the those weekly fetal development sites said "your baby is the size of a blueberry at this point" and it stuck as a nickname. This will be how I refer to her on the blog and how I tag any posts about her, parenthood in general, and what I hope to teach her. Hopefully the next one will be more fun, perhaps along the lines of "Team Han versus Team Luke: Mommy Breaks It Down For You" or "Buffy versus Starbuck: Who's The Bigger Badass Female Role Model?"

5 comments:

  1. Congrats to you Sonya, thank you for this blog.

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  2. Sonya

    Great post. So much I could say, suffice to say I agree with you in many levels. I speak from the perspective of a woman who chooses not to have children - so many people I have encountered assume there's something wrong with me because of this life decision. I've repeatedly requested my doctor for sterilisation and been refused, because as a woman of child bearing age I "might change my mind" and therefore cannot be sterilised. I won't change my mind, yet still others decide they know better than me on this matter.

    The only way we can defeat this constant prejudice against women is by challenging it at every opportunity. It feels like an uphill struggle much of the time, but it's important to keep at it.

    We won the vote. We won the right to be doctors, mechanics, whatever. We can make a difference.

    Sara

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    1. I'm dismayed to hear that even in the UK you'd come up against that attitude, as if you are not capable of making your own decisions. That is absurd, especially in this day and age. But now here in the US we are having to fight to protect our access to contraception, something I never could have imagined happening in the 21st century. It's scary and appalling but I have to believe we'll win this fight, like women have won so many others. We just have to remind the people trying to make these laws that we are in fact half the population, and the best way to do that is to get out and VOTE.

      Thank you for commenting, Sara.

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  3. Unfortunately the UK has been influenced by the US in recent years and everyone is now frightened of being sued, especially on the NHS, where healthcare is free (I daresay if I was prepared to pay for private treatment I could get the procedure done with no questions asked). To the extent that the assumed capability of the average human is reduced to the lowest common denominator.

    We do get free contraception on the NHS, however. And abortion is legal. At present these rights are available in the UK, and hopefully they'll stay that way.

    What really annoys me these days is women who can't be bothered to vote. We had to fight very hard for that right - it should not be taken for granted.

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