Flailing Feminist Every Day

Credit: Natalie Parker, https://flic.kr/p/eRTZCA

Being a feminist in the everyday is strange and messy. I find I’m looking at my own actions and words with a more critical eye, wondering if I’m being “feminist” enough. This most often comes up when I engage in what are perceived to be more traditionally “women’s activities” or “women’s roles.”

Women being women

For example, I’ve been teaching myself how to sew. Properly, with a sewing machine and everything. My reasons for doing this are to learn a new skill and resist the impulses with which I grew up to just buy new stuff; while I haven’t yet done anything more complicated than hemming my own jeans (which felt like a triumph in itself), I do have the goal of one day being able to make my own clothes.

But when I started, I wondered about the implications of participating in a “woman’s activity” and, more specifically, how other people would perceive me. Having grown up in a conservative evangelical context, mixed with the Mennonite influences of my dad’s side of the family, I was worried about being seen as just a “woman doing what a woman should.”

And then I thought, Why do I even care what other people think? And, Doesn’t being a feminist mean I can choose which hobbies I want to take up?

Or, every so often the topic of who does the housework came up among my friends, and I realized that I would usually say something like “my husband helps me with (insert chore here).” I was inadvertently implying that the housework was primarily my responsibility when, in fact, we both do our share. So, I promptly stopped saying “my husband helps me with the dishes” and started saying “my husband and I both do the dishes.”

A new layer of awareness

I think it’s a matter of perception. My best friend is a stay-at-home mom who takes care of her young kids and all of the housework (and I do mean all of it) while her husband goes off to work. She is very much a “traditional woman” in that sense. It baffles me most of the time because to me, feminism means having the freedom to not conform to gender roles so strictly. But, she chose to take on these roles because they work for this stage in her life. And she loves it. She once told me that she sometimes has to stop herself from telling other women to live this way because she recognizes that they also have a choice. If feminism is about women having the freedom to choose how they live their lives, then my friend is absolutely within her rights to be in the home if she wants.

I wonder if it seems like I’m afraid of being identified as a woman at all, which is certainly not the case. And, why does who cleans the house matter? Now that I’ve opened my eyes to the socially-prescribed notions of womanhood that have been so often perpetrated by my faith, and society in general, I’m wary of aligning myself with them. I am a woman, but being boxed in this certain set of ideals as to what that means doesn’t sit well with me. I clean my house, not because it’s my “job,” but because I want to live in a clean house. I sew, not because sewing is something a woman does, but because it’s a valuable skill to have.

So this is a mess, but I’m okay with that. I’m learning how to move in the world with a new layer of awareness.

Those of you who are more seasoned feminists: how do you come to terms with how you interact with the world and deal with unhelpful perceptions, either society-based or self-induced? Let me know in the comments or email me at kyla [at] geezmagazine [dot] org.

Kyla Neufeld is a poet and the Managing Editor at Geez. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

See Part 1 of this series here: Flailing Feminist: What the Heck am I doing?
See Part 2 of this series here: Flailing Feminist: Patriarchy Problem

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  1. I have been swimming upstream my entire married life. A sense of peace came when I decided to swim with the cuuent. Kyla, you will know the context of my statement….

    Leona Winnipeg May 8th, 2015 10:51am

  2. That should read “current”

    Leona Winnipeg May 8th, 2015 11:06am

  3. It sounds so simple an explanation of feminism—equality with men. But the nuances and shadows form abundant resources to muddle up the simplicity. What about equality among gender identities? The right to do or not to do what other’s perceive as ‘right’,

    For me it began with finding Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” among my conservative Republican family’s book collection and wondering why, yet never daring to ask. I subscribed to Ms., would have joined a “consciousness” raising group if someone asked me, believed I could do anything I wanted to and relished the fight along the way to prove it. I remember a friend in college saying, “I’m tired of reading about ‘first woman this and first woman that,’ when is it NOT going to be a news story. Slowly it’s become better. We never did get the ERA passed and still we became more equal. So now I wonder when are we going to stop wondering/worrying about our life choices and do what feels right, for us without all the feminist feuding?

    But 40 years after I began my journey as a conscious woman, I worry lately about how often I hear women refer to friends, colleagues, bosses, as “girls.” My office is filled with women who hold graduate degrees and yet this one colleague who is nearing 50, refers to us as girls. Finally one day I became brave enough to not care if I hurt her feelings, as I realized she was hurting mine, each time she said it. I asked her how she could refer to all these grown women as girls and how we fought long and hard to be respected enough to be called what we are, women, with all the implied knowledge and strength it empowers us with. She had some vague answer and then once in a while would attempt to correct herself if she was in my hearing range, but I had no doubt outside the office she reverted to “girl.” After that I realized I was hearing it more and more in everyday conversation. Not to mention the very popular cable TV series of the same name. Why? I don’t know.

    But maybe I shouldn’t worry. My “almost 4” year old grand daughter was being encouraged to play with the other 3 1/2-year-old boy across the street. It was suggested “he could be the prince.” Her life affirming reply in a whining “I want, what I want” voice was “I don’t need a prince.” Maybe girls are smarter.

    Deirdre May 11th, 2015 1:43am

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