What Feminism Got Wrong


Since its very inception (or shall we say modern inception), the Feminist movement has focused almost exclusively on equality for women in the workforce.  Equal pay for equal work is a phrase we’ve all heard countless times.  I have no problem with this idea of course, but the more I ponder the state of modern women I’m coming to realize that perhaps feminism lost a great deal of its purpose by focusing itself far too narrowly.  Should not the greater goal of feminism be that women be viewed & treated as the intellectual equals of men in all aspects of society?  Notice that I said INTELLECTUAL equals.  I’m not one of these disillusioned idiots who tries to argue that men & women are physically equivalent.  Duh, of course we’re not.  (If we were, that would be pretty boring!)  But it’s like comparing apples & oranges; both are fruits but they are physically & biologically quite different.  Yet neither of them could realistically be argued to be better or worse.  Same goes for men & women.  Physically we are quite different but life isn’t a competition & neither gender is inherently better or worse.  Now that we’ve covered the most basic premise, let us carry on to greater ideas.

feminism

A theme I read & hear about frequently nowadays is the trend of well-educated women, often with high-powered careers, opting out of the workforce in favor of staying home with their children (or even occasionally without any children).  Old-school feminists often view this as a severe failure & bemoan how modern women could make such “selfish” choices after all they did to pave the way for opportunities for women today.  And yet if one is to be logical, one cannot help but realize that these women have legitimate reasons for leaving behind even successful, rewarding careers to raise their children full-time.

What I’m trying to argue here is that the greater goal of feminism ought to be making it acceptable for women to choose any path in life.  A woman shouldn’t feel the need to justify her choices, no matter what they are, every time someone asks “What do you do?”  If one woman wants to be a doctor or a lawyer or a CEO of a powerful company, great.  But if another woman wants to be “just” a stay-at-home mom, that’s great too.  The point is that we have that CHOICE.  It’s all about having the power to DECIDE what we want to do.  And having the humility to realize that there isn’t one “right” path for all women to follow.  Indeed there are many equally valid paths in life that we may choose, & what’s even greater is that throughout our lives we can choose to walk various ones at various times.  For example, right now I’m focusing on my nursing career.  I love my job but I also know it’s not going to be the center of my life forever.  In fact my therapist recently challenged me to consider whether having a career as the “center” of my life is ever a healthy idea.  She stated that regardless of age or gender, a career really shouldn’t be the main focus of anyone’s life.  And I’m inclined to think she’s right.  Having a career you love is wonderful & truly enriches the quality of your life.  But it shouldn’t be everything.  It shouldn’t be THE THING that defines you.

I’m straying from my point, but what I am trying to say is that right now I am more career-focused.  But somewhere in the next three to ten years I very much believe I will become more family-focused.  I already know that I don’t want to work full-time, if at all possible, when I have young children.  I know some women can handle that & that’s great.  But I know that my mentality couldn’t handle it, & I feel that being a nurse & being a mom are both far too important to potentially screw up by stretching myself too thin.  Thus, when I have young children I hope to work only part-time if at all possible.  If you should ask why I would choose my children over my career, it’s because I know that I have the rest of my life to work.  Excluding major health problems, there is no limit on how long I can be a nurse or when I can go to grad school to advance my career.  However, there is a very limited window in which my children will be young & very much in need of my care & guidance.  And even though the prospect of raising children is something I still cannot imagine I am up to, I know I would never forgive myself for missing that window of time with them.  Later when my children are a little older, there is no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to work full-time again & even go back to school to advance my career.  Again, the point is that at various points in our lives we can choose various paths that serve us best.

While traditional feminists often resent the fact that more women choose to stay at home with their children than men, I see no problem with this.  Stay-at-home dads are great, but the fact of the matter is that no matter how “enlightened” we are, most men just aren’t going to want to do that, while plenty of women would jump at the chance to raise their children full-time without the demands of another career.  I see no problem with this at all.  It’s just biology, folks.

I read a great blog post (raisingkidswithoutreligion.net/2014/02/03/what-women-do) recently that questioned whether staying at home with children while they’re young sends boys (& girls) the message that women are inferior.  It was a great question but the conclusion the author came to was that the lessons she was able to teach her sons while at home with them & the example she & her husband set for them in their own relationship actually taught them quite the opposite: that women are very much intellectually equal to men & that making career sacrifices for the sake of family in no way reduces a woman’s intelligence or intellectual capacity.  After all, even if we may achieve “less” in our careers we have not achieved less in LIFE.  As previously stated, your life isn’t (or shouldn’t be) defined by your career, regardless of your gender.

I’m in no way trying to argue that all women should be stay-at-home moms.  And to be clear it makes me sick to think of the times when women were viewed as child-like creatures who could never think rationally or independently.  Hell, no.  Indeed, from my experiences thus far in life, I continually come to the conclusion that men & women have far more commonalities than we have differences.

What I am saying is that maybe feminism should focus less on belittling men & achieving 50/50 ratios in government & other traditionally male-dominated fields.  After all, no one seems to be arguing that traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing or teaching should be 50/50, though I certainly think greater balance in all fields would be a good thing.  Instead perhaps we should focus on empowering women to realize the full realm of options we now have.  And to understand that any of those options are valid as long as they lead to a rewarding, enriching life.  And that, greatest of all, we can choose different paths at different times in our lives.

Regardless of your gender, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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5 Comments

  1. I don’t have anything immediate to add but I would like to thank you for emphasizing that feminism is primarily about equality of choice. Too often people use perceived social status to measure equality, even if that means penalizing those who choose to exercise their freedom of choice rather than just follow along with public dialogue.

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    • Thanks for reading & responding! I get tired of some of the common “feminist” complaints nowadays, such as that on average women make less than men. Well, duh, most women don’t WANT to work a lot of the higher-paying jobs. There have been very few, if any, studies that show that women & men working ACTUALLY EQUIVALENT jobs make less money. Now could you argue that a lot of jobs that women traditionally do, such as teaching, our underpaid? Certainly! But again it’s all about having freedom/equality of CHOICE & I think we’ve pretty well achieved that, at least in the U.S. Certainly in some parts of the world there is great work to be done as in some countries in the world women still face great persecution when trying to become educated or even drive a car. Perhaps that is where we should be focusing our efforts instead of whining about not yet having a female president.

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  2. Wow. So many great insights in this post. First, I like your focus on “intellectual” equals. While men and women are not physical equals, they both have their strengths (women, perhaps, have been balance and flexibility). But they are definitely intellectually equal.

    You address many of the issues women have had with feminism, and the reasons why so many have declined to identify as feminist (for example, Susan Sarandon). The negative associations with the movement have really turned a lot of women from it. It’s too bad; it’s just a minority that usually catches the attention of the media. I think feminism has positive goals overall.

    I love what your therapist said. Should a career be the center of our lives? My father used to remind me that, although he lost sight of this for a while, family is indeed the most important. On the other hand, a career is an important part of our lives, too: it shapes our identity and allows us to have the proverbial “room of our own.” The problem, as always, is finding balance.

    Taking time out (or part-time) to raise a family can be a great benefit to everyone, although I understand it is not always an option.

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