NO ONE “Does it all!” Alone

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“We might be mutually co-dependent”

“I believe we call that socialism.”

 

I spent a lot of time this weekend at a wedding mostly hanging out with powerful, smart accomplished women who spend a lot of their time caring for powerful, smart, accomplished dudes. Whether its remembering the sunscreen or ensuring promptness, these dudes, all of whom hold white-collar jobs and are successful members of society relied deeply on the women in their lives to make them functional. In the case of my husband, and I, this dependence runs two ways. Together we make one fully functioning adult. For any of my girlfriends in a healthy relationship, this is true for them as well.

 

I’m told this is supposed to be problematic for a feminist but I sort of think the whole “complete independence” thing is a lie we tell ourselves to justify a system that is exploiting our labor. No one lives in a vacuum. In a million ways we rely on each other, and in working class communities, we know this well. The jerk is the one who doesn’t get to borrow eggs for breakfast to feed their kids. At no point in my life have I ever felt I didn’t owe my position to the hard work of a lot of other people, even though my relationship with my family is horrible. There was still my friend’s mom driving me to the SATs and teachers teaching, and a whole alternative community around me that has supported me over the years. So I’m not really bothered by the idea that we are mutually co-dependent on each other, I think it’s what brings communities together and I think the idea that we can do it all alone is a sham.

 

This mythology really doesn’t serve to benefit anyone, except to provide an excuse as to why we don’t provide social services when people are in need. The feminists who promote this ideology are coming from a good place. Working class women know too well what a death trap marriage can literally be if you marry the wrong man, but there isn’t a working class woman alive who hasn’t relied on her other (mostly) female community members. We’ve made it such that women have come to feel guilty about needing help or asking for help, which is contrary to our very nature as a species.

 

The only human lone wolf story that is ever real is the one in which the wolf is dead at the end. The entirety of human civilization, indeed every advancement ever made, has relied on our ability to cooperate. Our entire species relies on the unique labor that women have historically provided to their families and communities and yet we act as though those who continue to provide that labor are somehow intellectually or morally inferior to the women who employ them. That’s not feminism, that’s just classism.

 

And it’s not good for upper class women either! So many of my higher income friends are struggling with issues that would normally be solved by a community of women around them. They are alone. Disconnected. Stressed. Burned out. Some of us do this for a period of time, but all of us end up crashing and burning at the end because it’s not sustainable to act as though we exist without the help of others.

 

So yes, I am dependent on my husband. And my friends. And my family. My husband is also dependent on me, and his friends and his family. We co-operate in a mutually beneficial way that allows us the freedom to be our best selves. We always know we will have help in our goals and are therefore free to take more risks. We take actions to support each other because the success of one partner is good for the others. This is the basis for strong relationships in general, even if marriage isn’t your thing. So it is fine if you work really hard and still need to call your mom for help. And its fine if your friends fill that role. And its fine if it’s your immediate family too. The point is that no one should be alone or feel alone, and that community is essential for our survival.

 

The idea that we have to “do it all” has not been used to liberate us, it has been used to keep us in a trap where we constantly run on a hamster wheel trying to achieve unattainable things. It confines us, restricts us, and divides women into camps that have no reason to exist. There’s always been working mothers and they are great, and stay at home moms are too, and we need childless women too, and shouldn’t we just let people do what fulfills them and makes them happy? They’ve covered up the bare reality for most women that don’t feel like they have much of a choice. Many stay at home moms are mom’s that realized that to work and get childcare, she’d have to give up her whole paycheck AND miss out on raising her kid. Many working moms are supporting their families wholly and don’t have the choice to stay at home. We’ve constrained all of these women and then told them it’s their fault if they fail to measure up. That’s not love, that’s not liberation.

 

Real love is liberation.

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Women’s Work is Real Work

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I’ve been in activist circles my whole life in some capacity or another, so it continuously frustrates me when we don’t acknowledge the unpaid and often female dominated labor involved in the struggle. We hold up and praise those who have participated in more public ways but not only do we not acknowledge the other contributions behind the scenes, we also shame women who participate in traditionally feminine ways.

 

I was a pretty fragile and sickly kid. There are four of us total. I’m not saying we didn’t get some problematic messaging but my mom makes more than my stepdad and chores were assigned based on interest and ability and not gender (my older sister is like so much stronger than I could ever hope to be). Given that I was so unhealthy all the time, I ended up with what you might call the more traditional tasks like cooking, light housework and childcare. My older sister however, being much healthier than I, often had to do the heavier chores. The end result of this is that I’m a pretty femme looking girl with a pretty femme set of skills that I’m supposed to think is worth less than my masculine skill-set. I like to cook, so does my brother in law, guess which one of us gets feminist lectures about cooking?

 

There is so much work that has to be done in the struggle. So much work that goes unacknowledged. As an actvist and member of my community I have done all of the following without payment or acknowledgement

 

  • provided childcare
  • fed people
  • emotional support
  • networking
  • editing writing or otherwise supporting other people’s projects
  • teaching
  • mentoring
  • crisis intervention
  • caretaking of the ill
  • organizing

 

I really hate that I had to put together this list, because in my worldview, it is wrong to take on these tasks and then expect acknowledgement. You don’t get gold stars in my universe for doing the right thing, you just do it. So I’m listing this for a very specific reason, which is to remind all of you that the movements aren’t just built by powerful speakers. The Montgomery Bus Boycott took a year to plan, a year in which the women of the community got together and organized and made sure everyone’s needs were taken care of. The fact that we value MLK more than those women is a byproduct of sexism and the patriarchy.

 

If you’ve bought into the idea that the only way to be a feminist is to behave like men, you are discounting the importance of female labor. That labor has been absolutely necessary for our species to survive. I personally don’t care who does those jobs, but I will say that if men were doing them we’d treat them with a lot more respect instead of condemning the women who have taken them up. We forget that the women, like say Sheryl Sandberg, who have been successful in traditionally masculine ways got there the same way the men do, which is that they had a underpaid or unpaid feminine workforce behind them that allows them to pursue their goals in the public sphere. So if you call yourself a feminist while looking down on the women that it make possible for you to have a career, then you then you are the one who needs to be educated.

 

I learned the hard way from previous generations and my own burnout, that because my disability, I can’t have it all. I have very limited energy reserves and I participate where I can. I haven’t exactly gotten past the burnout stage and into the
“thinking about my next move” stage of this process, but I know when I do, I will have to make some hard choices. I know this because I’ve watched all my other girlfriends have to do it and they ultimately made the choice that was right for their family, whatever that choice may have been. There are ways though that you could work to free up more women.

 

 

  • Acknowledge that feminine labor is real, difficult work and then pay them like you mean it
  • Provide a universal basic income that acknowledges that the work stay at home mom’s and dad’s do is valuable and real. This also allows poor men and women to pursue artistic and intellectual interests that they might not otherwise be able to do
  • Stop being judge-y about how other women manage these competing interests, if you would praise a stay-at-home dad while calling a mom who doesn’t work lazy, you are the one with the feminism problem
  • Find ways in your communities and organizations to acknowledge behind-the-scenes work that has been traditionally done by women
  • PARENTAL LEAVE. Like seriously, we are one of two countries that doesn’t have this. It’s almost more embarrassing than Trump.

 

My feminine labor has been absolutely essential to the movements I’ve been part of, and I don’t need thanks for it. What I do need, though, is for us to come together as a community and fight for policies that will support and reward the work women have been doing to keep our species alive.