Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Reluctant Feminist

"Boundless" by Steve Hanks

I've always resisted the label of "feminist." In the past, it always conjured up images of bra-burning women who hate men and resist the beauty of home and family. Not only did I see "feminists" as angry, volatile people with a chip on their shoulder, I also didn't get it. I have been fortunate enough to mostly enjoy equality in my interactions with men, something only occasionally challenged in my male-dominated first degree of neuroscience (think "well-meaning man tries to explain difficult concept to woman, not realizing woman is perfectly capable of understanding difficult concept on her own"). Not only did I not feel a need for more equality, I also didn't find womanhood on its own particularly interesting. I liked men. I loved dating, and male attention was a constant goal. I had experienced a lot of drama in my interactions with female friends and often had more satisfaction in my friendships with boys, even platonic ones. I had no idea why anyone would choose "Women's Studies" as a major or minor in college -- I didn't see how isolating the subject matter to women only could be very interesting.

Other than my vague ideas of brash women rejecting many of the ideals that I myself held dear, I didn't know much of anything about feminism. I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" and studied critical texts about the pen as a phallic symbol in my literary criticisms class during my one semester as an English major, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Nevertheless, I was often considered a feminist in the atmosphere of BYU. I loved school and had high ambitions. I remember telling a boyfriend as we helped address wedding envelopes for another couple that when my children got married, the wedding announcement would read, "Mr. and Dr. so and so are pleased to announce..." That relationship didn't get far. Fortunately I found a man who was impressed instead of scared off by my goals.

However, I never felt like a feminist until I became a (for several months, stay-at-home) mother.

Let me pause and explain what I mean by being a feminist. The best definition that I've found that resonates with how I feel about being a "feminist," is found in the Call to Womanhood blog series by Meg Conley. I'm going to quote her here so you understand what I mean when you read this rest of this post:
Feminism is bigger than the men and women that would make it small. It is not owned by any one person, any one ideology, any one movement. Feminism belongs to every girl that hoped to make her life better. It is the birthright of any woman that has looked into the night sky and felt the heat of the stars reflected in the chambers of her heart. It belongs in holy places and in the workplace and around kitchen tables. It isn’t radical. It is right. It is the belief that as a woman I have infinite value and a desired place. It is the fervent need to help other women believe the same thing. It is so much of what I was born to be and a truth I hope my girls fold up into that delicate place where soul and mind touch.
So the answer is, Yes. I am a woman therefore I am a feminist.
There you have what I am trying to reach in words much more eloquent than I could ever devise. Keep that in mind as we proceed. 

I'm not saying you have to be a mother to appreciate womanhood, but for me, it all began with motherhood. I'd never been that interested in womanhood. I was interested in marriage, and family, and finding true love, but I'd never spent much time thinking about how being a woman related to me in God's divine plan, or how as a woman I had certain privileges and power that were unique to my femininity. I never cared much for hearing about childbirth or reading about motherhood or reading books about sisterhood and female friendship. But suddenly, after going through that ancient, universal, and yet utterly private rite of passage of childbirth, I became interested in my identity not only as a wife, mother, sister, daughter, but as something more essential than all that -- as a woman.

To me, feminism isn't about asserting superiority or gaining ground, per se. It is about respecting the beauty and power that are inherent in us simply because we are women -- the differences that enable us to do work that is specific to us as women. For me, that work has many facets -- caring for my son and teaching him to be a good person and live a happy life; loving my husband and doing all I can to be his partner and his best friend; working as a nurse to care for the sick and heartbroken, as well as provide for our family; being a friend and ministering to those around me with love, nurturing, and compassion; being a disciple of Christ and a daughter of a Heavenly King as I develop the attributes that prepare me for the eternities.

I can't write this post without making a side note about Ordain Women, the group of LDS women that believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood. While I believe they have good intentions, I don't agree with their views or their strategies. I think women's role in the priesthood is different than ordination (if you have questions about how women and men's roles interact within the priesthood, read Elder Oaks' talk, which explains things very clearly). I still have plenty to learn and understand about this subject so I'm not going to go into a detailed monologue about it -- just wanted to make a mention of it as it is on so many people's minds these days.

I know I am lucky to live in a world where women are respected and appreciated for our strengths and unique roles. I'm lucky to know the stories of strong women who throughout history have fought to decrease inequality, to protect the vulnerable, to widen the pathways of opportunity. I'm lucky to be married to a man who sacrifices his own time to support me in working at my dream job, who cooks and does the dishes sometimes, who changes dirty diapers, gives baths, and reads bedtime stories. He makes sacrifices to help me reach my full potential, just as a make sacrifices to lift him to his. I'm lucky to be the daughter of a mother who is a high-achiever as well as a nurturer.

I never wanted to be labeled as a feminist, but as I've searched my heart and as motherhood has stretched my soul, I'm realizing that it isn't the epithet I've always thought it to be. I may not be a feminist in the traditionally non-traditional sense. But here is what my heart looks like: I love being a woman. I love being a mother, a wife, a member of the workforce. I may not fit in everywhere (or some days, it seems, anywhere). My body doesn't always do what a woman's body should be able to accomplish (I wasn't able to deliver a baby naturally; I didn't produce enough milk to feed my baby exclusively on breastmilk; my brain didn't take kindly to the tumult produced by postpartum hormones). My abilities don't always match up to those considered "womanly" (I'm not crafty, my cooking skills are average, and I am not good at thinking up clever little games to keep my child entertained). I'm not fully traditional or untraditional (I work outside the home but fantasize about staying home with my child, a scenario I'm sure would be reversed if I was at home full-time). But despite my foibles and contradictions, more than any of the things I'm not are the things that I am -- grateful for the privilege of being a woman, seeking constantly to increase not only my own joy and power but that of the other women in my life.

So yes. I am a feminist.


  1. I love this, Lorren. You have the exact attitude and tone I strive for. I want to portray the idea that 'I don't have anything to prove, and I don't have anything against men. I love being a woman and have confidence in the strengths I have because of it.' We really should talk about this in real life sometime. :)

  2. I love this, Lorren! Thank you for sharing!


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