My Gift’s Essay on Feminism

Through my Mother’s Eyes: The Progression of Feminism

Women’s rights and feminism are constantly changing. Each generation of feminists follows in the footsteps of the last, and picks up where they left off. My mother, a self-proclaimed feminist, has graciously shared her experiences and memories with me. Through the eyes of my mother, I see where feminism comes from and I catch a glimpse of where the movement might be going.

While many people who support women’s rights do not actively consider themselves feminists, my mother’s first sentence in this interview was “Yes, I consider myself a feminist. Why? Because I believe that women are equal to men.” This stance in the woman who raised me has greatly influenced my life and beliefs. While she had to deal with a far-reaching discrimination against women in her younger years, I have never experienced oppression like she did. Despite the fact that I was born into a culture that is more aware of discrimination, her experiences affected her parenting, and I was always raised to respect myself as a person and a woman. I was a feminist before I even knew what that word meant and I have my mom to thank for that.

In college, my mother chose her major specifically because it was unusual for a woman: “I did my undergraduate work in sculpture; specifically, I made welded steel and cast metal sculpture. I was interested in these materials, at least in part, because they were not traditional materials for a female artist.” From the beginning of her career, she consciously challenged gender norms, taking her interests and expanding them beyond what was expected of her. While I did not choose my major, Library and Information Science, to go against stereotypes—in fact, I am actually feeding one—I did choose it because it is what I love; my ability to choose careers based on my interests, as opposed to gender, is thanks to the feminists who came before me. These feminists, like my mother, challenged what was accepted at the time and paved the way for future generations to choose their future without obstacles.

After working a series of “artsy” jobs, my mom entered the technology and computer industry in Silicon Valley “because the industry was pretty progressive and paid people according to their skills.” As a single mom, she needed to make enough money to provide for her family, which consisted of her and me. Because of this need to provide for us, she left her artistic lifestyle for a more pragmatic career that would earn enough money. She said, “I didn’t want to simply remarry, because I had this very strong sense of not wanting to compromise, of not wanting to set a bad example for you.” Her choice to pursue a new career, one she was less passionate about, was in no way a compromise. This decision was very strong, instead of continuing to do what she enjoyed and remarrying, she stood on her own, without a man, and made a change in her life. Her unwavering strength and her dedication to her ideals, namely not to be dependent on a man, has taught me that feminism is not just about equality; it is also about independence.

When questioned about her family life and choices, specifically if she felt her duties would have been better served at home—as opposed to work—and if she had ever doubted her decision, she admits to doubting whether it was right to go back to work or if she should have ignored her urge to work and stayed with me, as I am sure many women with children experience. She stayed at home with me for the first three years of my life, ignoring the feminist fear of becoming a housewife and deciding for herself what was right for her and her family. Although she wondered whether she should have spent more time with me, my parents divorced when I was young, so she was busy being a single mom and staying home was not an option. Again, this shows the truth of feminism: independence and the ability to choose are more important that rejecting traditional gender roles.

The progression of feminism in my mother’s lifetime is extensive. She remembers when women had to take typing classes in high school so they could become secretaries. There are many more options available to women now, no longer are we limited to secretary or wife. She also remembers when, even if a woman did get a “man’s job,” she was doomed to work as hard, or harder, than men in the same position, but make less money. Women still tend to make less money than men in the same position, but the gap is closing and there are companies where this has been reformed.

While the women’s rights movement has made huge strides, a woman’s life is not perfect. Women fought so hard for equal rights, and now the pressure to be everything a man can be, but also raise a family and be feminine, is exhausting. “I would like to see women able to relax a bit. It’s been hard on people, to be high-powered and strong and able, to have a career and a family.” In perfect world, women will be able to have a family, a career, or some combination of the two and not feel guilty about that choice.

Hopefully there will come a time, perhaps in my life, when women will be able to freely choose what they want to do, without feeling guilty for betraying either the feminist movement or their family. My mother, a progressive feminist in this sense, has spent her entire life ignoring both gender roles and the expectations of feminism. She chose a major that stretched beyond traditionally female art, she stayed at home to raise her child, and then she became a single, working mother so that she would not have to remarry and be dependent on a man. Women’s rights is constantly moving forward, and women who move out of predetermined functions, like my mother has done, help the movement progress and excel beyond the limits of stereotypes.

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Feminism and the Horror Beanie

Hard getting started this morning. I was up a little late emailing My Gift. A week or so ago, she told me that for her Women’s Studies class they were all required to interview a woman at least a generation older, about feminism. Yesterday afternoon she asked if we could start the interview. Then, at about 6:45 PM, she texted me to say she’d checked her syllabus and the interview was due in a couple of days. She was going to skip her workout (she goes to a weight/aerobics/abs combo class at the rec center) in order to finish it up. I immediately called her. “Why are you going to skip your workout?” “Because I don’t want to keep you up late.” “That’s no problem. Go to your class. We can work afterwards.” “But you get up at 4 AM!” “Go to the class! GO!!”

So she went to class. I am charmed that she was thinking of me and my rest, and I wanted to laugh. Keeping me up an hour late has nothing on the nights I stayed up all night when she had a fever, or was barfing, or whatever. An extra hour spent on an email interview? Piece of cake!

It was interesting to answer My Gift’s questions about my feelings re: feminism. Many of the answers involved choices I’d made in order to survive as a single Mom while she was growing up. Her assignment is to interview someone, then compare her feelings/beliefs to theirs. I am looking forward to reading the final paper. I don’t really know what My Gift’s thoughts are on the issue. It’s kind of interesting: I’ve tried to expose her to lots of views, but I haven’t tried to influence her too much one way or another. I figure my example is the best argument I might make. Plus, she’s a smart person: she can make her own decisions. I don’t have strong feelings about what she should feel/believe: whether she identifies as a feminist, what religion she feels akin to (or no religion at all), her political views, even if she ends up — gulp! — a Republican 😉 Seriously, though: the only “rule” I had was that she must be tolerant of other people, and that she must understand that others might not be tolerant in return. She just has to carry on, though, regardless, and do what she thinks is right. And so far, she’s always done very well.

Okay, so admittedly, I was kind of off this morning. Hard getting going. I stayed up late with My Gift, and then at around 2 or 3 AM, I heard The Cop get home from his swing shift. Apparently he was in the middle of one of his horror movies, and he decided to watch the end of it when he got home. I think it is very funny that when I watch movies on my own (stuff we get from NetFlix that only one of us wants to see), it is usually accompanied by a quiet soundtrack of Japanese music or the faint murmur of a language other than English. The Cop’s movies, on the other hand, are a soundtrack of screams. Occasionally he’ll watch a documentary or foreign film with me, and once in a while, I’ll watch a horror movie. Generally, though, if we pick a movie to watch together, it’s more middle-of-the-road.

So this morning I was a little tired, a little distractable, and when I finished my usual reading, I headed over to Amazon for some Japanese novels and a book by Richard Serra, who is one of my favorite sculptors. I guess that’s my rather pathetic version of retail therapy.

Once that was done and I had nothing else to do but get to practicing, I decided I should put some oil in my hair, as it’s been really dry. Yes, I knew this was just my mind amusing itself with more and more ideas, but it felt cheerful and lively, so I indulged it a little. What to put over my oily hair, though? The last thing I need is to be rubbing oil onto my mat during the prasaritas or supta konasana, etc. Oh wait! An opportunity to dress strangely around the house! My Gift left behind a black mesh beanie, which would hold my hair in place and prevent it from messing up my mat. And the beanie has sequins!

So today’s fashion ensemble included regular yoga clothes covered by an inside-out sweatshirt and a black sequinned beanie. Rock on!

Practice was nondescript, except for the hanging back thingies after urdhva dhanurasana. I decided to be extremely sporty and non-yogic and use my watch to time them. I did three standing hang-backs for 30 seconds each (turns out, 30 seconds is a LONG time!), then tried three from ustrasana position. The standing ones really seem to dig into the hip flexors, and the ustrasana version seems to get more into the quads. Not sure why that is yet. The nice thing about the ustrasana version is that there’s a shorter distance to fall, if it comes to that.

Okay, gotta go wash this oil out of my hair. Need to get rid of the black beanie before The Cop wakes up and thinks he’s in the midst of another horror movie 😉