What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?
Some key themes emerge, including:
- Professional advancement
Wonderful. What about key themes from previous times that continue to play an active role in the definition of womanhood today?
- Home making
- Spiritual devotion
Women are, as nature would have it, highly complex and adaptable beings. They are capable of absolutely anything. Yet, even in this generation that prides itself for its revolutionary admiration of women, society is severely lacking in its approach.
Every woman I’ve spoken to has a story to tell about exclusion, prejudice, judgement, stereotyping, abuse and marginalization. Yes, some of these situations are imposed by men, but this is no longer the global sentiment. More often than not, stories of microaggression are pointing to… other women.
You may have read my previous post On Feminism that addressed this matter. I feel compelled to write about this again after a small incident that occurred yesterday at my local bulk grocery store.
I was at the cash register with my husband, and I walked over to the end of the register to grab our cart of groceries as my husband paid. The cart was full of family oriented products: meat, vegetables, paper towels, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc. The cashier, a woman, pushed the cart towards me with a smirk on her face, then dished out this line: “Oh! Let me just slowly move away from the cash register so that IIIII don’t have to PAY!”
She laughed. At first, I wasn’t really paying attention and just smiled back at her. Then I looked at my husband’s face, and quickly registered what this woman had said to me. He bit his tongue and I bit mine. We don’t owe anyone an explanation about how we run our finances, and we don’t indulge in conflict as we run our errands.
We both walked away from that exchange feeling appalled. He was taken aback, and I was angry. “What is it with other women?” I asked him, “Why do they have to be so cruel? What’s it to her who pays for the groceries? Do her parents split the bill on everything? Do people not understand what family is anymore?”
He pointed out that people who pick faults in strangers typically have an inferiority complex. Fair enough. But that doesn’t excuse the behaviour.
I hear women, every day, insisting that women have the right to freedom. They insist that women have earned the freedom of profession, of faith, of association, of expression, of thought, of choice, and of opinion. Right? Yet, I also see women, every day, judging other women and attempting, typically through microaggressions, to suppress those freedoms.
Feminism is not about preventing men from designing our lives for us. It is about taking ownership of our own lives, and preventing anyone else from designing them for us. Letting other women coerce us into particular trends of behaviour and lifestyle is not feminist.
Moreover, men cannot be left entirely out of the picture, and leaving them out is not feminist either. We have to coexist with them in this world, and barring them from playing any role in our lives is counter productive. A relationship is a give and take, and marriage is a partnership. Anyone who says otherwise is either single or in a failing relationship. No marriage/relationship can succeed between two people who can’t fight the fight together. A family that splits its finances splits its mission, vision, and values. Any professional woman who understands the tenets of successful business knows that such a model would be unviable.
To the cashier, the intricate details of my family life are invisible. All she sees is a handsome man extending a hand to pay for a bill. She doesn’t see how hard he works. She doesn’t see how he pours his sweat, tears, and blood into the soil of our lives, for us to prosper. She also doesn’t see me running from morning to evening between my office and home, working late at my kitchen table after the homemade dinner I whipped up.
Would it be worth explaining it to her? Would it be helpful if she knew that my husband and I are strategic, that every dollar is budgeted, that we don’t walk through life letting things happen to us, and that his paying for the groceries is an intentionally determined process we designed together?
Perhaps. But the real question is, why do women have to explain themselves to other women in the first place?
In just the last week, other women have demanded an explanation from me for:
- Why I cook so often, “since I work,” as though work and feeding my family are mutually exclusive responsibilities.
- Why I haven’t had children yet, followed by a lecture about how my time is running out.
- Why I got married, with the insistence that my marriage is unlikely to succeed because “most marriages fail” (for the record, the divorce rate is raised disproportionately by people who have repetitive divorces).
- Why I still wear my engagement ring post-wedding, and why I’d even let my husband spend money on a ring despite this being an “archaic tradition”.
- Why I haven’t hired a housekeeper. Another woman smugly retorted to this conversation with her opinion that women who hire housekeepers are failing women.
- Why I would spend any money on a wedding.
- Why I work in my field when I could be making more money in another.
- Why I’m eating that.
You get the picture.
Women never give women a break and, instead of drawing a line and saying NO when other women take a stab at them, they tend to turn around and indulge in the same behaviours.
Feminism is not only about saying NO to men, it is also about saying NO to other women. No, I will not allow you to tell me who I should be. No, I won’t allow you to define types of women and categorize me accordingly. No, I will not answer to you, I will not explain myself to you, I am not accountable to you.
Every one of us plays a fundamental role in protecting the freedoms of fellow women. It is our duty, our sisterhood, to raise each other, and to strengthen each other against forces that seek to break our spirit, whether the source of the offence is a man or another woman.
So, what will you do today to make the world a little bit safer for women? I’ve written this post. The cashier who took a stab at me will probably never read it, but so many others will, and maybe it will prepare them for a better response when they, or someone else, faces unnecessary prejudice. This time, my response was silence… next time, it certainly will be louder.
And remember… we design our own luck!