Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Am I Doing This?

I have not long been interested in all this stuff about women. I have actually spent all of the years I've been cognizant of feminism associating the word with anger. I've only ever seen students of the theory as entitled, self-righteous, victims, martyrs, and full of hatred.

Just over a year ago, I started dating a wonderful guy named Greer. I was smitten immediately, but when things started to look like they could potentially take a serious turn, I started to look at what the prospect of marriage would mean for my own life. It meant the end of my independence. The end of my freedom to have an exciting career, to have adventures, to be reckless with money, to be spontaneous, to be the center of attention, to climb to the top of something and thrive, to engage with intelligent and driven adults. It meant me shrinking into the background to be the silent supporter of my husband. He would forever be the receiver of accolades, paychecks, and promotions. I would have no choice but to erase my every dream from the drawing board and turn my attention toward supporting his. His ideas would determine the course of our lives. Everything I'd worked so, so hard for had been pointless - grades, jobs, resume, knowledge, savvy now meant nothing to me because I was to be a wife.

Why are women raised the same way men are? Girls and boys are educated the same way, compete for the same places in schools and jobs, taught the same lessons about following their dreams, instructed with the same skills by the same teachers, taught to evaluate success in the same terms, strive for the same goals.

And yet - if a man is truly going to be the head of a household, it looks like the leadership qualities lauded in many young women must somehow be altered to fit into that construct. But how?

And in all of this teaching, no girls are ever told that if they want to stop working to focus on a family, they have about eight or nine years total to make it all happen. And that is impossible. Just when a career would start paying off, maternity interferes with a biological requirement to bow out - at least temporarily.

I am 24. I looked at the remaining years before I would need to start a family if I wanted to have one, and I saw about seven years left to make all of the dreams I'd ever had for myself come true. All the travel, the exposure, the experience, the engagement with community, the education - not to mention the fulfillment I was sure these things would bring - had to happen now or never.

I am ashamed, but it made me really, really angry. I felt like I'd been tricked into working like crazy for something I would never be able to attain simply because I am female. There were times I even got mad at Greer simply for being a man (which is so ridiculous). He would spend the rest of his life getting to tell people, "I'm a lawyer." "I'm an officer in the U.S. Army." I would say, "I'm Greer's wife. I get out of my pajamas before noon most of the time." He would never go to a cocktail party and say only, "I'm Catherine's husband," and then listen while all the people with careers went into the other room to talk shop. I would never want that for him!

But I also don't want it for myself.

I have to mention that Greer has been remarkably understanding about this. He's been beyond encouraging about me going to grad school and finding countless ways for my own ambitions to not just coexist with but genuinely be supported by his own. He's agreed to move and work anywhere I get into school. Greer is wonderful.

But I am not satisfied with the conclusion that this is the way it is and it just happens to suck for women. There has to be more to this conversation.

I am convinced that any real problem one human can face is a problem that every human can face in some way. Here I look at the way I expected to be able to live for myself for the rest of my life and spend my days chasing my own dreams. While yes, women often give up a lot on the front end, there are few men with a wife and children who can keep on after their boyhood dreams. The burden all of the sudden becomes enormous when they realize just how much provision is actually necessary, and how many alterations and sacrifices must be made. And they don't have the option of bowing out. The fact of life for men and women alike is that if you choose to have children, they become the full and complete focus. Period.

And I've read enough books to know that men who pour their lives into career and ignore the love and family aspect of life are not the happy and fulfilled people we might imagine them to be. While it stings for a woman to put an end to professional dreams, it is much easier for her to focus on "the important things" - children, family, friends, community. Women are allowed to make people their priority, which will always be a much more fulfilling pursuit than a paycheck. Not as interesting at cocktail parties, to be sure, but who cares. I am sure we will both wish Greer could spend as much time with our kids as I'll be able to.

And this is probably the most important thought I've had yet about the issue - the antedote to the anger and frustration is so simple. It's about love. Of course it wouldn't make sense for me to put a halt to everything I've worked for unless there was something better. And there is! Being in love with Greer is the best possible scenario for my life. It calms my spirit, and, thankfully, makes me stop just thinking about myself. Marriage is a structure that beautifully models the way we should always be self-forgetting - think how much happier we would be if we could do that all the time! I know I would be. Being in love with a man you want to marry might be the only way any of this makes sense. And outside of that, it might be impossible to understand.

So why do I want to write about this topic? Because the categories have gotten narrow for both men and women. CS Lewis says (as I quoted in the first post here) it is arrogant of men to think of "masculine virtues" and arrogant of women to think of "feminine virtues." If they are virtues at all they are surely universal. I think we, Christians and non-Christians alike, need to take a closer look at the feminine; perhaps if we stop looking at her as a victim she will stop feeling like one, and, most important, stop acting like one. I want to clarify what role the Lord intended women to play in society and in the household. I want to understand what he hopes for her character, her passions, her leadership. Where and how is she to be humbled, and where glorified? And by whom?

I determine that it is not sad to be a woman. And I want to explain why.

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