Shortly after having the baby in December, I was up in the middle of the night nursing, also known as catching up on social media. An acquaintance from my college days sent a message out of the blue on Facebook congratulating me on our new arrival. We exchanged pleasantries and briefly caught up and then as we were saying our goodbyes things went like this
him: Your husband is a lucky man to have three beautiful women around him all the time.
me: He certainly is. And we are lucky to have him, he’s been taking such great care of me.
him: Hmmmm…seems like a feminist wouldn’t want to brag about her man ‘taking care of her.’
Isn’t it nice when you get a reminder of why you lost touch with some people? No, but really this guy is a nice guy, a husband and father himself, and probably thought he was being…funny? Insightful? My frustration with his comment is less with him and more with this example of the way feminism is consistenly and constantly misrepresented. That if you are a feminist you have to be militant and angry and unshaven and uncompromising and independent in all ways. Can we please, for the love of licorice, move past this? PLEASE.
That portrayal of feminism is more than inaccurate, it’s damaging. It takes away from what feminism really means and the nuances that are contained under that large umbrella of a label. It alienates possible allies or potential feminists who haven’t seen through that facade just yet. On the most basic level, I like to think of feminism in the way bell hooks described it when she said: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” And beyond that we can argue until we are blue in the face, but I can tell you one thing, for sure. Being a feminist does not mean you cannot appreciate being cared FOR. Even by a…MAN!
The problematic portrayal given by the patriachry and internalized by all of us (to different extents) is that women NEED to be cared for, can’t take care of themselves, depend on men for strength. Princesses need to be saved by knights, Katherine Heigel nees to be saved by whoever that guy with dimples is, and so on and so forth. The problematic reality is that women are caretakers, for children, spouses, their own parents, the children of others, etc. and that is most often in ADDITION to the work they do that the market recognizes as ‘valuable.’ So you can’t take care of yourself (read: need a man to do it for you) but have the responsibility to care for everyone else around you (with no compensation and often without recognition). And while this obviously makes no sense when I write it out that way, we all accept it and play into it to different degrees. This weird contradiction is met with the additional and very strange expectation that women who identify as feminists cannot have a male partner on whom they rely lest they have nullified their feminism membership.
FALSE. Human beings rely on other human beings. Men, women and other. When someone is sick or vulnerable, one of the greatest benefits of being in intimate relationships, whether that be a marriage, other familial ties or friendships, is that you can call on those who love you to help you. To CARE for you. Not because you are weaker or lesser, but because at that moment in time you are in need. And in those relationships the expectation is (should be) that you will reciprocate that kind of care when the time comes. Ya dig? Example: I grew a human being then PUSHED IT OUT OF MY BODY in the most literal sense, and then the person who co-created said human and who, by his own admission, loves me then helped care for me while I recovered (not that I will ever be recovered) from that event. Also, I’m a feminist. Feels normal. Doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it?
Implying that relying on a man, being cared about and cared for by a man, makes a feminist less of a feminist if another trick of the patriarchy. By making a mockery of equitable relationships and underestimating the importance of accepting assistance when you need it, this concept shifts the responsibility to women for everything…to make sure you are caring for everyone (fulfilling the expectation of society) but not allowing a person, especially a male person, to care for you (to fulfill the imaginary rules of feminism). A lose-lose, really.