The other day my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me if I considered myself a feminist. I hesitated. Not because it’s a difficult question, but because I could see that nothing about my life looked "feminist" from where she sits.
So I admitted to thinking of myself as a feminist, and my girl asked: “What, besides keeping your own name when you got married, have you done that was feminist?” Hmmm. Now there is the question I was dreading.
Three university degrees. Moved all over the country by myself. Lived by myself for 8 years, and with roommates of various descriptions for 7 years before that. Had a career. Travelled several continents by myself and/or with friends. Got married late. Had just one child (her) even later. Made the choice to be a full-time mom when she was little. Edited an art magazine. Developed an art practice centered around women’s lives and women’s bodies; how one informs the other. (Much of which she hasn’t seen; she’s not ready to see yet. Or maybe I’m not ready to show her.)
And yes. Some of this has been my privelege and my great good fortune. I had a father who supported me when I was a child; and a husband who supported me while I raised a child. Who continues to support me (in part). I had a mother who always had a mind of her own; who worked for a living when she didn’t “have to,” and when none of her friends did. Who stayed with my dad long enough to give us kids a sense of stability, but left him when their marriage achieved toxic levels of unhappiness. And some of my self-proclaimed independence has been the result of being in the right place at the right time; of being able to find jobs in my field when I needed them.
Much of my life, particularly the parts my daughter has been witness to, have not been visibly feminist. My career (at least the one that pays for my lifestyle) has been in elementary teaching. Grade one, no less. I live a middle class life style, and I make compromises with my husband on a daily basis. I lost interest in politics and world events because I couldn’t bear to watch them when my child was small and vulnerable. I have done little to stop injustice and intolerance. I have made choices out of fear. I have failed to live up to many of the ideals of my youth, feminist ones amongst them. I “stayed home” when my daughter was small, and have done all of the typical volunteering that most moms do (with no pay and little acknowledgement) in their communities. I’ve consistently taken support roles rather than leadership roles, valuing flexibility and having choices over having status or power or influence or money.
So nothing in my life seems very radical to my daughter. It’s her normal. Independent women are her normal. Women making decisions, making choices for their own lives; not asking permission. This is her normal.
I guess that means the world is a better place.