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 fiancé 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.