How French are you?

Subtitle: Feminism, Part Two (ish)

{Preface: This is not actually about French people… per se…}

One of the first posts I wrote for this blog was about Christianity and feminism. I would say go and check it out, but after reading and rereading it, I’m going to say that it wasn’t my best work. I hadn’t even thought about that post until one of my very dear (and rather educated and out spoken) friends mentioned that he was a bit disappointed in some of the views I seemed to be espousing concerning women. My first thought was, “dude, please,” followed quickly by “wait, what did I even write?” I tend to write like some people talk: quickly, fluidly, but without much thinking ahead of time; its kind of in the moment. Sure, I read over what I’ve written when I finished, but usually just for grammar and such. But the content, the ideas, those I rarely edit. So I went back over it, and I wasn’t all that impressed. It started out well and muddled in the middle, like our best intentions.

The lovely thing about writing? I can issue an addendum or corollary or clarifying statement. I’m not going to take back what I wrote, because I don’t think it was all bad. But I want to make it better. I want to make it more me.

To be completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have even written this if I hadn’t come across two articles and had one heartfelt conversation. Since all three came on the heels of my friend’s thoughtful criticism, I figured I would just go for it.

Important event #1: One of my roommates showed me an article on the new line of LEGO’s that caters to young girls. The new LadyFigs (because they aren’t boxy like the LEGO men) can play in “a hot tub, a splash pool, a beauty parlor, an outdoor bakery and a ‘cool convertible,’ as well as an inventor’s workshop.” Feminists were displeased, to say the least, due to the hypersexualization of the figurines’ shape and the stereotyping of the activities girls would prefer. Others, however, question why its wrong to provide these sort of traditional girl-focused toys for the consumer. Shouldn’t the parent have the right to decide if they want to purchase traditionally masculine or feminine toys for their kids? {My thoughts: nothing is more hypersexualized than a Barbie doll; LEGO dolls are the least of my worries.}

Important Event #2: In an uncharacteristic move, I bought a women’s fashion magazine (Marie Claire to be specific, because I watch Project Runway and two of their editors have appeared on the show). I don’t like fashion magazines, because its all pictures with few articles. But I picked it up out of boredom and read out of curiosity, and I came across an interview with French philosopher Elisabeth Badinter on her new book The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women. (Sidenote: good title; you can’t really pass that without wanting to know what the heck she’s talking about.) Her first point, “motherhood is a choice, not an obligation.” Second, women shouldn’t give up economic independence or sacrifice their “intellectual dowry” to stay at home with their children. Third, it is better for children to have a mother who works. Four, something about breast feeding (I’m not all that prepared to weigh in on that one). And five, French women can be mother’s without losing their identity as a woman (a sex life is key to this, apparently). {My thoughts: mostly I don’t agree; she talks first about women needing to make their own choices, then tells women why choosing to be a stay at home mother isn’t the best idea; also, who says the French have mastered any of this… seriously.}

Heartfelt Conversation: Today I was riding home from work with my close friend (who really is more of a sister), and we were talking about all of these things. She is married, works full time (probably more than full time to be honest), and wants to have children. I told her a bit about the article I had read in the magazine and my own thoughts on women and motherhood and marriage, and asked what she thought. She said she was tired of being told what to do. She was tired of people telling her that quitting work to be a mom was a stupid idea. She was tired of other people telling her how to live her life and what was socially acceptable. It was her life, her choice. {My thoughts: I agree… yeah, that’s it.}

We live in a society that knows things. We are educated, aware, capable of learning just about anything because of the information technology at our fingertips. With that knowledge eventually comes the feeling that we know best. That we know what everyone should and should not do. We know your mistakes before you make them and have no problem saying “I told you so.” We like to be involved in everyone’s personal business. We like to know what’s going on.

So we, as a society, love to tell people how to live their lives. We love to look at women and say, “This is what you as a woman should aim for. This is what you should want. This is what you need to have.” We have society, tradition, religion, philosophy, education, and history all telling us different things. We are torn, pulled in all directions, without really being able to sit down, take a breath, and decide which path is best for me. Which path mirrors what I need. Which will make me happy.

My friend who was less than impressed with my writings on women reminded me that feminism is about choice. It is about women deciding what they want to do and choosing to do it. It is about giving women the power to act on those choices. Its about me choosing to be a mother or choosing to pursue a career. Its about me choosing to go to school or stay at home. Its about me choosing to be on my own or to share my life with a partner. Its about me choosing to be my own person or to be what everyone tells me I should be.

So when the ultra French Mme Badinter says that motherhood is a choice not an obligation, I agree. Motherhood is a commitment; its difficult, messy, and stressful. But many also say its fulfilling, meaningful, and a blessing. Women who choose to take that on, who want that life shouldn’t be looked down upon, mocked, or ridiculed because of that choice. Its their choice, not society’s or Badinter’s.

Likewise, women who don’t want that, who don’t need it, who look at motherhood differently shouldn’t be shunned for their choice. Women shouldn’t feel that they have to have kids, that they have to give up their career or education to stay at home. If its not something that you want, something that will make you happy, it isn’t worth it. Some women aren’t even able to have children. Their identity isn’t determined by their reproductive ability. Its determined by what they make of their life, what they choose to do with the gifts and talents they have.

I hope that nothing I’ve written in past implies that woman should take the traditional role in their lives. I don’t believe that women need to have children and stay at home to be a woman. They don’t need to get married young, or ever, and settle down to have kids. They don’t have to give up their academic dreams or career goals. They don’t need to be anything other than what they are. A woman’s purpose isn’t being a mother or being a housewife or being a businesswoman or being an intellectual. Its about being you, full time, no matter what society tells you.

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3 thoughts on “How French are you?

  1. Important Event #1: I’m glad that they make girlie Legos. I wish they had them when I was a kid, because while I loved Legos, I could only play Star Wars for so long.
    Important Event #2: Yes, motherhood is a choice, not an obligation–there are too many options, including adoption, which mean it’s even more true.

    HOWEVER- I know plenty of intellectual women who have decided to postpone their education or career to enjoy being a mother. More power to them. My mom stayed at home after getting her degree. I am blessed to get the best of both worlds in many ways with getting a summer off and such. But I have a different calling than my mom–and that’s ok.

    Either way you go, there are sacrifices for EVERYone–not just you (the mother). You have to do what YOU are called to do. Being in God’s will is the safest place to be–the hardest and may sometimes seem to be the most dangerous–but the safest because you are doing what you’re supposed to. Then God will not only be able to protect you, but also your family.

    Sorry this comment is so long!!! Just definitely passionate about this!

    • Nothing wrong with a long comment :) Its something I’m passionate about as well. And I agree with you, that many women choose to postpone education/careers for motherhood. And I don’t see anything wrong with that. Its a choice they make, and no one should tell them they are making a mistake if that is truly what they want to do. I know women who have gone both routes; some who leave their education/work to stay at home and some who continue to work after their children are born. There is no one right way that will suit everyone. And no one should be telling these mothers that they are making a huge mistake in whatever choice they decide. That’s between the woman and God.

      Thank you for reading and commenting! It means a lot.

      Cassi

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