Recently, I have read some books which have gotten me FIRED UP. Add this to the current political climate where women are being demeaned and dehumanized, and I have to say, as it turns out, I am a feminist.
Definition of being a feminist: advocating women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.
So yeah, I am a feminist.
My takeaways from the book: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
You may know Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook (the Chief Operating Officer) or her popular TED Talk. I am not a fan of Facebook and I let this be known, but I have mad respect for this lady. In a nutshell, her book has made me think quite a bit and now whenever I worry about how my professional ambition comes across to others I ask myself, “Would a guy do this?” NO.
Sandberg peppers each chapter with excellent anecdotal stories (often personal accounts), as well as hard data and published research. One study found moms who work full time (at least 40 hours a week) spend nearly the same amount of time actively parenting their children as stay at home moms did in 1975! So mommy guilt no more – I have never really worried about being a good mom because I know it takes a village to raise children and I know I am doing the best I can (which is all we can ever ask for). BUT, I have heard people make comments about women and me who have a lot of kids (anything more than 2) and working full time. These women expected me to stay home because my uterus has produced more than 2.5 children. Also, I have heard people say I don’t really parent my kids because I work outside of the home and our form of child care is a nanny. As if working means I am not an active parent?! I found this offensive.
I once fell prey to the same stigma of having a nanny. Even I have pictured a less engaged mom because she had a nanny, but now I have learned through life experience, there are many forms of child care. The type of child care which works best for us is a nanny. Full time daycare for three little kids is too expensive, and we do not live near family to have them help out, but my husband and I are very fortunate to have more flexible work schedules where one of us is always home on Fridays. Moreover, no one said to my husband, “Oh, you’re having twins! So you’re planning on staying home now?” WTF.
Men can be feminists too
Gender roles are put in the spotlight in Lean In and this made me simultaneously super annoyed and incredibly proud and thankful for the relationship I have with my husband. Super annoyed because it cites all the “traditional” roles men and women played and how the dynamic must shift in order for society to change for the better. Why are we not there yet?!
I am super proud because upon discussing these points with my husband, I learned my husband already knew a lot of the stats and data Sheryl cites from his own personal and professional development. I knew I married a good one, but I am continually surprised and impressed by this guy. Also, this is more important to me now more than ever because we are raising three little girls together. I want them to grow up in a home where they see two parents supporting one another’s professional decisions and modeling how both parents can work outside of the home and still be incredibly involved in the home too. I think we are on our way because they pretend-play going to work and my oldest says she wants to work with me when she grows up. Nothing would make me happier, but I know she’s only four and I don’t expect her to have the same professional passion as me, but the fact she wants to have a job and be a mom is meaningful.
My mind has been blown by:
- How antiquated today’s relationships are when the men do not participate in the home. I did a mental checklist of how my husband and I divide household labor from cleaning the bathroom to paying bills and we really do split the work equitably. I may do more cooking, but he definitely does more dishes. Some men outright refuse to change their traditional role and Sandberg talked about a need for men to just be conscious of the need for help around the house. If you see your partner struggling, and they ask for help – don’t be a jerk. This day in age, we can no longer accept “that’s just how it’s done” anymore. Couples need to be self-aware of their duties and remember we are on the same team, so making an effort to vacuum the carpets and defrost the chicken for dinner is not outside of the realm of possibility.
- How do people get married without ever thinking about what their future will actually look like with their spouse? How did I avoid falling into an archaic gender role trench? My husband and I talked about our relationship very early on and determined together what we wanted from the very beginning. The topic of my career came up on our third date, but we did not move in together until after we were engaged.
I met my husband right after applying to graduate school (in another state). After a month of dating, I knew he was the one, but I also knew I was moving nearly three hours away for the next two years to further my education and professional career. I did not know if he would be interested in a long-distance relationship, and we had only started dating, but the thought of pulling my application from the program crossed my mind. Then I thought, “If this guy cannot handle me going to graduate school to get a better job and build a career I am truly passionate about, then he’s not the one for me.” When he fully supported my acceptance to the program and even helped me move (U-Haul and all) into my small apartment, it just further confirmed what I already thought of him. He’s a keeper.
Sandberg encourages women to date lots of guys and find the one who will support you, and help you get there too, which could mean changing some diapers. My husband and I talked about the kind of home we would want to raise our children in, full of love, laughter, culture, Jewish traditions and mutual respect. Then when it came down to the nitty gritty, we talked about how we would create bedtime routines, who would be responsible for feeding the baby (my boobs for the first 13 months), cooking meals (more me because I enjoy cooking/baking), doing dishes (more him because whoever cooks doesn’t clean up), changing diapers (both) and handling last minute changes to the child care schedule (we figure it out together and each move our work schedules around accordingly). It’s a dance and we are constantly creating new steps and moves, but we are doing it together.
When asked, “How do you do it?” I answer, “I don’t.”
I have a husband who really is a partner in keeping our household running. He prioritizes our family as much as I do and this is reflected in his work schedule just as much as mine. We each have our strong suits, like he researches which computer to purchase next and I arrange appointments for the kids and home repairs, but if we had to flip our roles, we could. The only thing I could do which he could never do was breastfeed and my kids self-weaned over a year ago.
Sandberg also encourages women to treat men as “equally capable partners” at home and cautions against nagging and patronizing men about how to change a diaper or clean a dish. Social scientists have a name for this (which I cannot remember for the life of me right now, thanks twin mama brain), but it comes down to this: Praise your partner for pitching in. I recall many woman complain about how their husbands do not do enough around the house or with the kids, but then when their husband does get more involved, they complain about how they did it all “wrong” aka not how they would do it. He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t! If your partner does not do the morning routine, play time, meal time, bath time or the nighttime routine exactly the same way you do it, but the end result is the same (quick gut check: the kids are alive and the house is still standing?), then DO NOT COMPLAIN. Are you ever motivated by someone criticizing how you do everything wrong? Not me. Are you more motivated to do something if you receive praise and thanks? YES! This works the same in the home. My husband and I do things differently, but the kids are happy, clothed, fed, clean, changed, etc. It’s a win-win for everyone. Let go of the control. STOP being a nag.
My feminist advocacy
I am advocating for women to do the following.
- Really think about what kind of relationship and home life you want with your partner and communicate your expectations with your partner. Equal distribution of chores and running a home doesn’t “just happen.”
- People do not change once kids enter the picture. The roles your relationship was founded on will not magically morph into something more equitable under the added stress and pressure of children (trust me on this, I have lived this in hyper speed after birthing three babies in less than 3 years).
- Don’t complain about how your husband helps around the house. You are inadvertently creating a hostile environment where it’s easier for him to just not do anything at all than risk getting yelled at for doing it wrong (my husband confirmed this sentiment).
So ladies, being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to work or stay home, in my mind, it’s about being equally respected. Don’t be afraid to go for what you want, whether it’s a more traditional home life, or more modern lifestyle by having a career too. If this is what you want, you deserve to have a fulfilling career and happy home life. It’s not about “having it all,” it’s about making your life work for you and I know I cannot do it alone. As a feminist, I lean on my husband just as much as he leans on me.