This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

The Mamafesto is running a cool series of profiles titled This Is What A Feminist Looks Like. Jen’s profile is featured there today! The profiles offer a thought-provoking look at how a really diverse group of folks understand and live feminist identities.

Here’s an excerpt, and please click through to read not only Jen’s profile but the other fascinating, inspiring posts in this series!

“Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?

In some ways, I think I’ve changed very little: the center of my feminism has always been about understanding systems of oppression, struggling to confront the ways I’ve internalized those oppressions, and making choices that disrupt rather than perpetuate those systems.

That said:  I’m not the same person I was when I was 18, or 23, or 27, or 30. I’ve grown out my hair, but I still don’t shave my armpits. I’m not any more tolerant of sexism or other forms of oppression, but I’ve learned how to pick my battles. I have fewer opportunities for guerrilla activism and more opportunities to leverage my identity as a prof and push people to see the world on different terms. I have a much more nuanced understanding of issues like sex work, thanks largely to students and friends who have continued to challenge me. I have a keener sense of my own strengths and limitations,and a deeper appreciation of the role of feminist mentors.

And of course, becoming a mother to three girls has shifted my perspective and experience. Pregnancy and breastfeeding changed my relationship to my body. Just living my everyday life with little girls in tow provides ample opportunity for people to say sexist bullshit to me: I am still amazed that people think it’s okay to say things like “So does your husband want to keep trying for a boy?” Do they think I’m going to say, “Yes, because he finds our beautiful daughters who are STANDING RIGHT HERE inadequate.” And parenting girls has meant navigating popular culture and consumer culture on different terms: how do we feel about princesses, My Little Ponies, Barbie? What my partner and I want most is for our girls to grow up safe, healthy, and strong, and we’re raising them in a world that does not share those goals.”

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6 responses to “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

  1. Perhaps being male, I’m just less attuned to some of the sexism inherent in certain statements, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think of the “trying for a son” statement as sexist. When I was growing up, I wanted a sister. When my youngest brother turned out to be a boy, I was horribly disappointed, and hoped my parents would have another (and another?) until I had both brothers AND sisters. I’m not saying there was anything inadequate about the siblings that I did have, but I was aware that brothers and sisters were different, and I wanted both.

  2. I hear what you’re saying. Having grown up with brothers and sisters, I definitely feel the difference you’re describing.
    People sometimes ask me whether we will have more kids, and that doesn’t bother me, generally speaking. I think where the “trying for a son” comments sting is when they are so focused on T wanting/needing a son. People rarely ask if I want to keep trying– they ask if T wants to keep trying, or if I will keep trying for him (?!).
    I wonder if people who have all boys get asked if they want daughters?
    It just seems to me like these questions are based on the assumption that gender is a primary, defining feature of our relationships with our kids, when from my perspective, there are so many other pieces of that puzzle. T and I are raising 3 girls, but their personalities, the way they approach the world could not be more different from one another. Those personality differences (and our personality differences!) shape our relationships with them more than gender does. At least at this point.

  3. Well, my parents were trying for a boy- and yes it does make you feel inadequate. But they are sexist as all get-out. If you don’t like not being part of the sexism party, be a woman for one day. Then you won’t want to be. But there is always one whiny male- “that is not fair.” “You don’t have it right.” Yes, that is what it is like to be a woman- things aren’t fair- that is the point. People aren’t sensitive to your feelings. So quit your whining- if you are a feminist- it isn’t helpful. Try to be a woman, where if you said your mind to a man you are a ball-buster- ESPECIALLY about something that is typically male-related. Keep quiet and listen, like a woman is “supposed to.” You MIGHT learn something.

    Great blog, Jen!

    • Thanks for reading and commenting Andrea!
      One of the reasons I like hooks’ definition of feminism is that she focuses on systems of sexist oppression–and those systems are harmful to men and boys as well as women and girls. Our experiences of sexism (and privilege) are different based on gender, certainly, but ultimately, I think feminism has to be about creating the opportunity for everyone to live outside/beyond traditional gender roles.
      I’m interested in conversation on these issues, but let’s keep it respectful in tone.

    • Andrea, just to clarify, I’m not whining or disagreeing with Jen. I read this blog not because I MIGHT learn something, but because I do every single time I read it. My point was that before reading the post, I hadn’t seen the sexism inherent in what Jen observed. As you pointed out, and as Jen’s post pointed out, such comments (“trying for a boy/girl”) could indeed be quite hurtful and be motivated by sexism. This is obviously something that has caused you pain, and that truly sucks.

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