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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7 Responses

  1. What an excellent essay! I’d be surprised if she doesn’t get an A! But beyond that — how wonderful that she is so able to analyze, articulate and appreciate the values with which you raised her. In fact, I’m ready to send you my children…look for a very large box with airholes in it on your doorstep 😉

  2. LOL! It’s a fluke that she turned out so well. Actually, she was born like that. It amazes me, how people are born with their personalities pretty much intact.

    I told her that I laughed when I read the term “oppression” in the essay, since I didn’t use that word in our interview. Her reply was funny:

    “I know, I hate the word oppressed, at least in the context of feminism. Oppressed seems so harsh, but my teacher says it a lot, so I figured I’d go with it. She thinks we are oppressed.”

    It reminds me of your son’s comment on “all systems being go, except the eyes.” I love how kids have their own delightful clarity about themselves and the world around them!

  3. Wonderful writing – and great story about you! Thanks for sharing this.

  4. What a great read – she’s inherited her mother’s gift for the written word.

    I’ve been doing some consumer insight work recently and we’ve uncovered some interesting differences between boomer and gen x moms. where boomer moms “wanted it all” and many came to realize that it was an unrealistic goal full of unforeseen sacrifices, many gen x moms are simply looking for “good enough” – and making choices that reflect themselves as individuals and mothers – a conscious choice not to have it all…regardless of society’s expectations for women, mothers or feminists.

  5. Great essay. Isn’t it a great feeling when the kids shine like this?

    How about donutzenmom summer camp?

  6. I’m a boomer, but a slacker boomer! I love the idea of “good enough.” Actually, one of my favorite parenting books is Winnicott’s “The Good Enough Mother.”

  7. what a beautiful essay. thanks for sharing!

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