Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Guest Post: Avoiding the Easy Narrative

Emily Mills Burkett Photography

By Amanda

I just got back home to Starkville, MS after spending the weekend in Tennessee with my mom. My mom… she taught me empowerment and independence from my earliest memory. Our mother-daughter mantra was “do not get married or have kids until you finish school.” This desire for me stems from the fact that she married at eighteen, had me at nineteen, and divorced at twenty one. At that time she was the single mother of two with only a high school education. She chose the nursing career because, as she told me this weekend, she needed to learn something fast that would allow her to care for my brother and me. She has since become a nurse practitioner, owns a beautiful home, and is finally able to have some grownup fun now that her children have flown the coop, and I could not be more grateful for the role model she has been for me.

I’m telling this story to contextualize my own feminist ideology. I have always believed that women are strong, capable, and awesome. I knew that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I always imaged that I would find my future self being totally independent, successful, and in some interesting, rewarding career. But…

I met my fiancĂ© Matt when I was eighteen. I am now twenty four, and we have been together ever since (that’s six, long years, people) and will be married on May 7, 2011(yay!). I will also finish my master’s degree in English exactly one week before we wed (thanks, mom). I am thrilled to spend my life with Matt, but our engagement has been challenging for me because it is taking me down a very different road than the one I imagined as a girl. I’m having to wrap my mind around a lot of big issues that have nothing to do with flowers or dresses or cake flavors (although I’m dealing with those too).

Matt will be the bread winner of our family because, let’s face it, America just doesn’t really prioritize its teachers, and he’s an electrical engineer. Therefore, when we move from our little college town, it will be to wherever Matt finds the best job. I am also choosing not to go for my ph.d right now because our mini-family needs the flexibility of being able to relocate anywhere.

And here’s the kicker: I recently realized that I really want a baby sooner rather than later now that I have found the person with whom I want to raise it.

With that shocker comes other, still more mind-spinning realizations. I know that, if possible, I want to be with our child during its early years which means staying home from work for a year or two. That puts me square into Mad Men territory, folks and seriously challenges my ideas about what a modern woman should be and do. I can’t be a housewife, dammit! I’m a feminist who went to a women’s college and is writing a paper on Jeanette Winterson’s application of second and third wave feminism for my Irish women’s lit class this semester.

I’ve cried a lot and have felt so conflicted over what being a wife and a feminist woman means to me. Then, I would feel so wrong and guilty for being so sad about getting married and living a life that I was in other ways passionately yearning for. It feels like I have literally been on a roller coaster ride of emotions these past seven months since getting engaged. Some days I want to walk around with my left hand acting as a banner that says, “Hey! Something incredible is happening to me!” and other days I want to sit on that hand and wear really long sleeves because I’m confused about what that attached banner really says about me.

Then this weekend I was reading an old More magazine that my mom had lying around, and in it was an article called “What the new feminists look like.” The women interviewed were between the ages of seventeen and thirty-ish, and I was blown away by how different every one of their ideas about feminism are. Why they label themselves that way, what they do to participate socially and politically, and their race, age, and ethnicity were all completely different. Yet, they were still a group. This realization helped me contextualize another experience from my week in Tennessee.

On Saturday, Mom, her two friends, and I went to lunch then shopping. One of the women is recently divorced, and the other has been married for thirty six years. Over lunch, my wedding was a topic of conversation, and this transitioned into a discussion on marriage and their differing ideas of what that means. I didn’t really see myself in any of their definitions, but what really stuck out was the sense of oneness I felt being a part of the conversation with these older women at a tiny table in a crowded restaurant. I felt like no matter what my marriage will look like, I have a voice at the table. I am entering into a club of sorts. I will be a wife, and this ties me to all the women who have filled that role before me. I felt like a woman, not a girl for the first time in my engagement period. Instead of being unsure and insecure, I felt analytical and confident. I feel like my engagement has acted as a sort of rite of passage into this new community where I am finally an adult to other women, and this was a powerful moment for me because instead of feeling like I was breaking ties to the strong, awesome women of the world, I realized that I am becoming something just as interesting, complex, and wonderful.

One of the women in the More article, Tracy Clark-Flory, said her goal is “to resist the easy narrative and think critically.” This statement resonates with me as I think about my future. The easy narrative of my life is: young woman marries early and fills stereotypical role of southern wife, but I’m resisting that. My life may look traditional, but it is the life that I am choosing and creating for myself. I am not losing anything by this choice. I am gaining happiness and a family, and that is finally starting to feel like a compromise with, not a sacrifice of, the other life I had once imagined.



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18 comments:

Elaina said...

This is so, so good. It echoes so much of what I think and feel, in a much more eloquent way. I think as long as we are making conscious, purposeful decisions about how we live our lives that we aren't compromising our values or identities. At least that's what I'm telling myself anyway. ;) Thanks for sharing! It's nice to know that there are others in the same boat.

Sara said...

What an awesome post! I'm also in the process of completing my first year (of two) of master's degree in English. My husband and I have been married for seven months, and for me, I'm also planning on putting off the PhD to have job flexibility and to hopefully have a little one. Thank you so, so much for sharing your story; like Elaina said, it's wonderful to know that someone's in the same boat as me. :)

hitchdied said...

I loved this post! I love that I'm not the only feminist theory nerd who's feminism, at its core, is most about "I've always believed women are strong, capable, and awesome."

Roxanne said...

Thank you so much for this post!! It's so good to know I'm not alone in this thought process. It is often hard for me to reconcile "wife" and "feminist", not because I don't know what these things mean to me, but because society puts such rigid expectations on certain things.

kzaback said...

Thanks you so much for this post, it is so nice of you to share this perspective with others. And for me, one of the biggest effects of feminism is that we now have conversations like this and get to make decisions. It sounds like you also probably have a large collection of feminist philosophy but I have a book on my shelf I'd love to recommend, its called Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk About Living Feminism by Christina Looper Baker and Christina Baker Kline, it shares the journey of feminists and their daughters/mothers from many different time periods. It's a great resource for me on those days when I question whether my own path matches my beliefs.

Kathryn said...

I have a mother with a message much like yours, except her's included "you never EVER follow a boy for any reason." She had seen too many girls give up college scholarships and fantastic jobs for relationships that never worked out. So I found an incredible guy, and I didn't follow him. I moved somewhere else for grad school, and when grad school didn't work out I stayed put. Four hours away from him. And I think it hurt us (and him) a lot. It seemed as if I wasn't committed at all. And now I know that in the end, we make the lives we want. Our mothers (or other influential persons) are smart and helpful and wise. But so are we. And we are the ones who live with the choices we make. Thanks for sharing this... (My hometown is just down the road from Starkville, shoutout to the Mississippians)

Carrie Dee said...

Great post, and I completely agree with all of it! I struggled in a similar fashion about changing my name. It was a difficult decision because I (and I think many women today) struggle with identifying as feminist while still wanting some things that are "traditional." But, I think you said it exactly right--You're not losing anything by this choice. What makes taking even the most traditional-esque routes in life feminist is that you *chose* to do it. I believe it is choice that empowers women, regardless of whether it's a decision to become the breadwinner, or to stay at home.

To me, feminism is having the ability to decide my path, as an equal partner in my marriage. The actual path followed is less important.

Julia said...

I've always thought the problem with a lot of feminist thought is that, to be a real woman and to fiulfil your potential as a woman, you HAVE to get a PhD, you HAVE to avoid the traditional elements of society, etc. and that to me has always seemed really oppressive. I think they beauty of feminism is that it gives (or at least should give) the freedom to do WHATEVER an individual wants. I think your situation is so interesting, because you seem to be right in the middle of a transition. I can empathize with how you feel, but I really want to encourage you: doing what you truly want and what will fulfil you most deeply and what feel the most authentic to you, that's what you need to do. And don't ever feel guilty for that! You should be so proud of yourself for following your earnest wants and needs, instead of what someone else (either the traditional, rigid society rules or the idea that feminism can't include marriage or motherhood) thinks you should do. I totally applaud you!

By the way, I come from sort of the opposite end of that spectrum, and your post really helped me to understand another point of view a little better, and I really appreciate that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This post is right on! Feminism has evolved and it means different things to different women. It is not anti-man. It is not anti-marriage. It is not anti-stay-at-home-mom. The one thing that is carried through history is the concept of a woman thinking for herself, making her own decisions, it is advocacy for women's rights.
Even as mothers, there are many important issues to focus our minds on: lack of access to affordable childcare, unequal pay for women still after 50 years, lack of paid family leave at most companies...

A-L, said...

I felt like no matter what my marriage will look like, I have a voice at the table. I am entering into a club of sorts. I will be a wife, and this ties me to all the women who have filled that role before me.

This is what hit home for me. I couldn't have articulated it, but since my wedding a few months back, I am a part of this "club" that now allows me to connect with people on a totally new level. And I like it.

Alyssa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carrie said...

Your last two sentences hit the nail on the head. I don't think "feminism" is tied to any specific list of qualities or characteristics. It's all about choice and feeling empowered to make those choices (even if they seem like "traditional" ones). I think being married is great, and so is having a kid. I'm a married lawyer (married to a lawyer) with a toddler and one on the way, and I am very proud of the "traditional" (wife and mom) parts of my life--way more so than the grad degree and good job part most of the time.

Oh, and I've heard lots of people say that grad school is actually a GOOD time to have a baby/young child. Depending on what you want to study, your days can often be quite flexible, actually. Just something to consider.

Ms. Jackson said...

Great post. Don't beat yourself up or question yourself as a feminist because you want to stay at home with your children. I think of the women's liberation movement was about choice, which includes the choice to stay home with your child for a year or for 18.

Blablabli said...

Thank you very much for this post, it's a very nice feeling to see that we can benefit from other people's thoughts when trying to create our own life. I totally agree with what has been said on the fact that you should not question yourself because you want to stay at home and postpone your phd. The only thing I'm challenging is that question of choice. Is that a choice to make such a clear cut decision? so black and white? What I mean is that, does it has to be you're a home maker and he's the breadwinner? Is there not a way you can still pursue your interests and aspirations while being married and having a baby? It seems that you don't seem to see it as a sacrifice at all but i don't think you have to put aside what's meaningful to you or to limit this "meaningful" to your family if you don't want to. When talking about choice, I just wish there was a wider range of options available.

Anonymous said...

Great post! This is something I struggled with when deciding to move to another state post-undergrad with my then-boyfriend. It was difficult to grapple with the "following-him" feelings, but I also agree that maybe the choices don't need to be black and white. :) I was able to get a job in my career and now I'm getting my masters degree. During school I planned a wedding (I wouldn't recommend that haha but it's doable!) and now we are married. Many of my fellow classmates are having babies while in the Masters/Ph.D program. :) That being said, I do not think my husband and I would be able to afford having a child while one of us was in school, and that choice would be really difficult for me!

sarah said...

thank you for this post! it really resonating with me too. i'm in the same boat as kathryn above who's mother was independent to the point of "you dont need a guy, any guy" and when i made decisions for us as a couple and got engaged, i felt her disappointment in me. :( i really appreciate her teaching me to stand on my own two feet, but the situation has caused tension between us and hurt my fiance. i still struggle with how to balance the voices in my life that i respect and recognize my own. it is true and exciting that in getting engaged, getting married, having a baby -- all the upcoming life experiences we join the unbroken string of generations of women who have done these same things. it's like we're part of something bigger and eternal and that's kinda cool :)

amanda said...

Thank you all for the support and understanding. I truly appreciate your comments!

Allison said...

I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I too met my now husband when I was young (19) and married him last fall at age 25--two events I did not predict as a young feminist. (Weirdly, I am also finishing my MA in English!) I really appreciate your thoughtful reflection. Don't feel guilty about having kids! It is so not your fault that our culture values electrical engineers over teachers... Have those babes and enjoy. No guilt necessary. :)

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