We are not dead. We are just moving across the country. I’m so sorry we have sucked at blogging. Here’s a blog post I wrote a few weeks ago for just this occasion—when I felt bad for not posting but didn’t have the time to write something new!
As I mentioned recently, engagement was a turning point for me as a feminist: I realized in a new way that I couldn’t escape sexism, and I had to consider what it meant for me to be a feminist and a bride, a feminist and a wife. This experience, I must admit, left me a little paranoid about my future. I hadn’t “felt” my gender in this way in a while, and I started to imagine that various frustrations I encountered as an engaged woman were only the beginning of a much more traumatizing period of life. If being a bride was tough on me as a feminist, wouldn’t all of the annoying assumptions that come with “mommyhood” culture be even worse?
As a preemptive strike against what troubles may come, I was excited to get my hands on a copy of a feminist book about having a baby called Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself. It was recommended to me by a fellow Fuller graduate who served as the All-Seminary Council VP for Women & Gender the year before I did, and I really thoroughly enjoyed the book. I don’t care to simply summarize it, and I’m not really in the mood to analyze it either. (Though perhaps I will dedicate some future posts to some of the issues it raises.) I did, however, want to post one of the sections that meant the most to me:
With motherhood, it’s easy to lose your perspective and confidence, and to believe there is one lived experience for every “good” mother. My big post-pregnancy fear was that I would no longer feel or be considered sexual. I had been convinced that women don’t have time for sex after children, and even if they do, men don’t find them attractive after they’ve watched a baby come out of them. I also assumed that I would lose all connection with the outside world. A month before I was due to give birth the first time, I stocked up on household supplies—toothpaste, contact lens solution, ink cartidges—convinced that I would hunker down for a long and lonely few months. I was shocked that, after being home from the hospital for only a day, I was out for a walk, out for a beer, able to read the newspaper. I had overprepared, but more than that, I had overidentified with other women’s experiences. This is what other women had told me, and I assumed that one woman’s experience was every woman’s experience. I extrapolated from friends’ post-pregnancy lives and applied it to my own without considering elements that already made my situation uniquely mine: for instance, I work from home and have a partner who works fewer and more flexible hours than I do.
The common retort “Just wait until you are a mother” explains some of how I came to this perception. Parents offer opinions based on their lived experience, which is invaluable, but what they may also be expressing is the belief that no one can do or experience what they didn’t. If parents put certain things in the realm of impossibility—combining work and family, traveling, taking your kids to restaurants—then their choices may narrow yours. Sharing your own experience can be helpful, but it can also be alienating. (p. 222-223)
I appreciated these words immensely because several of her fears echo mine: kids supposedly demolish your sex life (women’s more than men’s somehow? not even sure how that works…), isolate you from the “real world,” and transform your relationship into something from the 1950s. Now, I’m pretty certain that my life doesn’t have to be like that, since the people saying many of these things aren’t necessarily even anything like me. Some of these women didn’t care much for sex before babies, don’t work, and don’t have husbands committed to taking an equal share of childcare and housework—is it any wonder that they aren’t having any sex now, are stuck at home (where many of them are generally happy despite occasional feelings of isolation, I should note), or doing more baby-related things than their husbands?
Still, I struggle to not let their experiences color my imagination about the future. Like Richards, I think I have a tendency to hear other women’s stories and think that they will inevitably be my own, which of course rather freaks me out, since I don’t want my life to go that way. Of course, I have no way of knowing specifically how things will turn out for me—there is always a lot of unknown when you enter into a totally new experience of this sort—but it is comforting to know that Richards had very similar fears to mine and yet experienced things quite differently from many women she knows. And it’s also always good to have some sense talked into you about why you’re letting someone else’s story determine your own to begin with. The fact is everyone is different. I know myself better than some of the people who might want to tell me what my life will be like, so while they may have had certain experiences I have not yet had, there is no telling whether I will experience these same things in a similar manner.
If anyone wants further ponder about feminism, pregnancy, motherhood, and how to feel comfortable making one’s own decisions in such realms, I highly recommend Opting In! And if you’d like to think about feminism, engagement, and weddings, go back and read my on-going post series on that topic, as well as I Do, But I Don’t, which inspired it.