Is your feminism different from the patriarchy?

Girl Aisle

I grew up in a sexist family.  They subscribed to an extreme sexism that justified rape and torture of little girls and women.  It was the worst kind of sexism.  My father was very clear that all things feminine were not just bad, but evil.  Of course, his idea of the feminine was fed by society, so even his choice of what to hate was distorted.

He let me know that my body was evil.  My body caused him to rape me.  My body caused him to have desires that he could not control.  My body was a source of shame and guilt because I was a girl.  Keep in mind that I was younger than 10 years old at the time.

He assured me that my feminine strengths were useless in the real world.  My intuitive, creative and nurturing instincts were forced down deep inside of me.  I was ashamed of them.  I was told that I must figure out how to succeed at the traditionally male-dominated school subjects and careers.  At the risk of sounding condescending, that wasn’t that hard.  My left brain works just as well as my right brain.  I mastered math, science and all the other logic-based fields in our society.  It wasn’t an issue for me.

But I had no balance.  I had been told that my feminine characteristics were evil and dangerous.  I had learned to hate them.  So I refused to use them.  I faced life with logic only.  I was shut off from my heart.  As anyone can guess, this served me well in my career, but the rest of my life was a disaster.

I shunned all that was feminine in all aspects of my life.  My only female friends were those that had learned the same techniques.  Mostly, my friends were men.  I hated everything society called feminine.  That included pink.  That included dolls.  That included babies.  That included housework.  That included fashion and decorating.  I swore to myself that I would never embrace what I hated.

And then, I gave birth to a little girl.  In the early years, I taught her how she could be anything she wanted.  I taught her that she could be a scientist, an astronaut, a mathematician or a doctor.  I taught her that she could like any color she wanted.  I thought I was giving her the best possible options in her life.  She would grow up to be a powerful woman knowing that anything was possible.

But there was a problem.  She was a girl.  She loved pink.  When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up (which should never be asked of small children), she answered me truthfully.  She wanted to be a princess.  The first time I heard that answer, I was shocked.  It was the last answer I expected.  I didn’t know what to do.

And then it hit me.  I didn’t have to do anything.  I wasn’t leaving all the options open for my daughter.  I was telling her she could be anything she wanted as long as it didn’t involve the feminine.  My version of feminism was no different than the patriarchal oppression of all that is feminine.  That’s not feminism.  Feminism is not about demonstrating that women can be more like men.  Feminism is embracing everyone for who they are.

I have been reading some backlash about the GoldieBlox toy recently.  Some say they won’t buy it because it is still pink.  Some say they won’t buy it because the stories are promoting traditional feminine roles.  I bought it for my daughter a year ago.  She likes pink.  She likes princesses.  She does not like these things because she was told to like them.  Believe me, I didn’t encourage it.  She likes these things because deep down inside, some aspect of her being is attracted to them.  But she also likes building things.  She likes making things move.  She likes creating new things from scratch. And she loves stories.  And so, I will let her embrace all of her strengths.  Not just the strengths that work for or against our societal norms.

One day, my daughter may decide to be a princess doctor or an engineer with a closet full of pink sweaters.  Or she may become a nurse or a social worker with a propensity for wearing black.  I will support whatever she wants to be.  To me, that is feminism.

6 thoughts on “Is your feminism different from the patriarchy?

  1. Well-written and balanced. I’ve read the backlash and the praise and I agree with you. It’s okay to like princesses and pink, if that’s what you like. That’s not the same as liking them because you are told to or that girls must be princesses and can not amount or aspire to anything else.

    Giving our daughters choices in life means accepting whatever the choice they make.

    http://thedoubleparent.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/its-much-more-than-just-a-film-more-than-just-a-toy/

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  2. What a powerful powerful post. I know it’ll stay with me for a long time.

    Relating to your mention of GoldieBlox, my annoyance with the product has nothing to do with pink or femininity. Their recent ad is a great example of excellent marketing, but doesn’t do a good job of representing the product. There’s so much praise for GoldieBlox based on that ad that one commentator said he was launching an effort to get scholarships to Stanford for the three child actors, as if those girls had created the ad set-up. Ironically, giving kids free reign to repurpose household objects to make things, such as that Rube Goldberg devise, is exactly the kind of open-ended fun that builds engineering interest and learning. But the product itself isn’t all that open-ended. A project is built based on a storyline. To build other projects kids need more GoldieBlox sets. It’s a step in the right direction, but doesn’t go far enough.

    Pink, by the way, is my oldest son’s favorite color. By the time he was six it was impossible to find him any shirts that had even a smidge of pink. I had to start sewing again to keep pink in his life.

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  3. Wow. Wonderful post. It is powerful to feel your growth, while helping your kids to grow strong. Funny how you allowed your daughter the freedom to express herself, and then didn’t know what to say when she expressed herself in the most natural way. But, nice that you have come to understand and appreciate her “girlie” choices.
    My ganddaughter is one tough little kid. She can’t be held back, and has no shortage of bumps and bruises, as she tries to be involved in whatever older brother is doing. Yet, her bedroom is drowning in pink, and dolls abound. Seems a healthy dichotomy…

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