The Story Of A Square Pegged Feminist

Feminism is more than a single story.

After a class during graduate school I sent an email to a female classmate with the subject line “Recipes, and feminism.”

Did you notice that the guy in class basically assumed that the computer wasn’t working because it was two “girls” trying to make it work rather than the fact that the computer wasn’t working? He only decided it actually wasn’t working when he’d checked it out himself. He couldn’t trust two “girls” to know anything about technology. Guys like that don’t win points with me.

Some of the things I’ve cooked: …

When she replied that she loved how the email went from a rant about a sexist idiot to recipes, I told her, “That’s just the kind of feminist I am. :)”

But what kind is that? What type of feminist am I? While I self-identify as a feminist, a great many people I know do not consider me to be one. In a world full of round holes, I appear to be the square peg.

All of us are more than a single story. Feminism is more than a single story. It is the thousands of stories of women who stood up in their own ways in the past. It is the stories of the thousands of women standing now. And it is the stories of the thousands of our daughters, and sons, who will stand in the future. Trying to make all feminism fit a single story, a single shaped hole for all the different pegs, will never tell the whole story.

What story of feminism do I tell? Where do I fit? What type of feminist am I?

I’m the type of feminist who has never burned a bra (not many feminists have actually) and doesn’t hate men (why do so many people I know think feminists hate men?). I didn’t put off marriage and children while I established my career. In fact I thoroughly enjoyed being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen while getting the food ready for the graduation party when I completed my PhD. And then I gladly chose the life of a scholar (unemployed smart person) to be with my child full time. Yet I refuse to accept the label SAHM because I prefer acronyms that are words.

I’m the type of feminist who believes that just as teachers who claim to be “color blind” to the ethnic differences of their students are actually more racist in their behavior than teachers who openly acknowledge their students come from different backgrounds; people who claim to be “gender blind” are actually more sexist than those who acknowledge and celebrate the differences between us, our unique strengths, our individuality. I am a woman. That makes me different than men in innumerable ways. It does not make me worse than men. It does not make me better. I have value as a human. I do not need to be a man, or even be like men, to have value.

I’m the type of feminist who is a conservative leaning, pro-life Mormon who believes in the divinity of my feminine nature. I’m the type who wants people to look at our marriage and not know who “wears the pants” in our house because my husband and I equally lead out in our marriage, playing to our strengths, complementing each other, walking side-by-side. But I also wait in the car for him to get the door for me because his father taught him to respect women (and all people) and that’s one way he shows it.

I’m the type of feminist who lettered in computer science in high school (I’m also that much of a nerd) and had to explain to a male friend back then how offensive his comment was that I was “pretty good for a girl” (especially considering I was chosen for the competitive team and not him). I’m the type who learned to knit from my dad, who learned to knit from his mom. I’m the type who likes to quilt because it is pretty math and never really liked cooking until there was someone else to cook with/for. I’m the type who’s worked chains at high school football games the past two seasons with my husband (a life list item of mine) and stands on the sidelines breastfeeding this season.

I’m the type of feminist who learned from my mom that boys who were intimidated by me weren’t worth my time. She never dated anyone who couldn’t handle being beaten by her, a girl, at chess. I won’t dumb myself down for anyone.

I’m the type of feminist who believes research on women’s health issues should be done on women. That idea that pregnant women need to keep their heart rate under 140 bpm? Based on research done on men (um, hello? no uterus) and cows (only a few steps above sloths on the activity level scale). And why did it take so long to get knee replacements that have the correct angle to them?

I’m the type of feminist who hopes my daughter grows up admiring Amelia Earhart for wearing pants when girls weren’t supposed to, Helen Keller for her love of life, Marie Curie for her curiosity and drive that meant she had to work at a place where the nearest women’s bathroom was blocks away, and Christa McAuliffe for her bravery.

I’m the type of feminist who hopes my daughter recognizes the sacrifices I make for her, the ones my mom made for me, the ones my grandmas made. I hope she appreciates our sacrifices but does not feel burdened or constrained by them. I hope she finds her own place to stand, her own sacrifices worth making. I hope she grows up secure in who she is as a woman, as an individual, and lives all of her untold stories to the fullest, never letting the world peg her into stifling holes.

I am a feminist. It is one of my stories. I tell it my way. What story will you tell?

Photo from Lisa’s personal collection

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Claire

    I’d like to stand up and start a slow clap for this piece here. But first I’ll (sheepishly) admit that I would likely have judged someone like this ( conservative leaning, pro-life Mormon, etc.) as not a feminist, without taking the time to learn more. Thanks for schooling me. All feminists do not have to share my views and that’s okay.

  • Lindsey d.


  • Can we “exactly!” a whole post?

    • Class of 1980

      Yes. This is so beautifully written.

      I’m not a member of mainstream religion, but I identified with much of this post. Especially this part …

      “I am a woman. That makes me different than men in innumerable ways. It does not make me worse than men. It does not make me better. I have value as a human. I do not need to be a man, or even be like men, to have value.”

      • That was my husband’s favorite part as well.

  • TeaforTwo

    Thank you for this. It is always a breath of fresh air to hear about feminism from religious women, particularly from women in more traditional/conservative communities.

    I live in a large city, am queer, and minored in women’s studies. All of my friends are feminists. We all share a set of feminist assumptions, and we call each other out when one of us starts to betray them by being catty about other women’s clothing or sexual choices, or negging our own bodies. I am surrounded by really strong, wonderful feminist ladies.

    But I also grew up in the church, spending summers at a very conservative the-earth-is-6,000-years-old kind of Christian camp. And the voices of strong women that I heard there are the ones that I remember best, and that meant the world to me then. In a culture that was full of women who would say with a straight face that they didn’t believe that women should speak in church, or work in leadership positions, it was always so refreshing to hear someone speak up about how the rules shouldn’t be different for boys than for girls, or to meet women who were going to graduate school, or listening to Ani Difranco.

    These women all “passed,” and were credible members of that community, so when they spoke up as strong and thoughtful women who were determined to have a say, people listened. And while I couldn’t hack it there, and it wasn’t the world for me, square pegs in round holes – people who can live through the contradictions and share their stories without apology – are the only way the world will get more inclusive.

    • Jacky

      Came here to say this about square pegs in round holes “passing,” but you said it so much better. I’ve heard people express surprise at me identifying as a feminist: “But you’re NORMAL! Those people are all angry, bra-burning types.” A lot of this surprise came up when people found out I’m not changing my name when I get married in June. I was pleasantly surprised that a few people started to reconsider whether taking your husband’s name is “how it should be” when they saw that a so-called “normal” person was doing it. When anti-feminist types see “normal” people– people who are otherwise just like them– do feminist things, it makes feminist things seem more normal to them.

      • Jaya

        I think this also speaks to the skewed idea of what feminism is in the media. We’re not generally man-haters, or bra-burners, and we’re only angry when we see unfairness in the world. There’s no reason why a “normal” woman with a husband and kids and a job can’t also be a feminist.

        • MK

          Plus the bra-burning thing is a total myth anyway! The only folks who did it were DJs trying to rile people up!

          I read this — “I’m the type of feminist who doesn’t hate men. I’ve never burned a bra. I didn’t put off marriage and children while I established my career.” — and thought, “well, isn’t that 99% of feminists?

          The conservative and Mormon parts were the first things that stood out to me as “unusual,” and even then, given context, seems less unusual.

          • Jessica B

            Thank you for wording that thought much more eloquently than I was able to come up with! I completely agree with you.

          • meg

            Of course that’s most feminists! Lisa and I debated the wording of that section quite a bit, because of possible interpretation, but hey! We have the comments for even more nuance. Her point is: that’s the myth of feminism, not the truth of feminism. But it’s a powerful myth.

            We’ve had plenty of women in the comments this month say that they can’t identify as feminist for one of two reasons—One: the negative re-writing of the term feminist has been so throughly done, that people have a hard time separating the myth from reality. Two—There is not enough conversation about the fact that feminism is a personal thing, as much as it’s a movement. Plenty of feminists are pro-life (I’ve known many of them in my life, and many of them were the baddest ass women I’ve ever known), and we don’t talk enough about how feminism isn’t a checklist. It’s something you are, and something that does not require you to follow anyone else’s rules (pretty much by definition).

        • So true!

      • I think that’s the case in a lot of situations. In my liberal, urban circles, I get a similar reaction when people find out I’m pro-life, or Catholic, or so-forth. “But you’re NORMAL! And SMART! Those people are all knuckle-dragging women-haters!”

        • Daisy6564

          Word to this. I too am Catholic and pro-life and a feminist. I have been met with the same reaction before.

          A lot of more feminist leaning press tends to write from the voice that anyone who disagrees with their stance on abortion or other reproductive issues is a total moron. It can be very off-putting. I finally stopped reading Jezebel for that reason.

          The 2012 presidential election cycle really drove home the point for me about how much both feminists and anti-feminists want to force feminists to be and think a certain way. I think if I heard the term “women’s issues” in the media one more time I would have screamed. The press, both feminist and mainstream, seemed to keep insisting that as a woman I need to be mainly concerned with issues that affect my reproductive organs.

          I view feminism more as defending and siding with marginalized populations, who are marginalized for reasons of race, class, religion and sexual orientation as well as sex. That and calling out privilege, first and foremost my own as a straight, Christian, white, middle-class woman.

    • meg

      “square pegs in round holes – people who can live through the contradictions and share their stories without apology – are the only way the world will get more inclusive.”

      This exactly this exactly this. Is my life motto, maybe. I’ve spent so much time living in the inbetween, not quite one thing, not quite another, in so many ways (and I can pass in so many ways), it’s my worldview.

  • moonlitfractal

    “I’m the type of feminist who believes that just as teachers who claim to be “color blind” to the ethnic differences of their students are actually more racist in their behavior than teachers who openly acknowledge their students come from different backgrounds; people who claim to be “gender blind” are actually more sexist than those who acknowledge and celebrate the differences between us, our unique strengths, our individuality.”

    ::stands up and cheers::

  • You are so good at the words!

    This: Yet I refuse to accept the label SAHM because I prefer acronyms that are words.

    Plus, I’ve never been able to articulate why I am SO drawn to quilts before. It’s PRETTY MATH. DUH! Thank you.

    • Jess

      I like knitting for the same reason. It’s pretty math AND sculpture. :)

      • It’s amazing to me how I can turn a basically two dimensional line into a very three dimensional a hat or elephant.

        • Jess

          I want to see your elephant! I knit a lot of the mochimochi stuff and lots and lots of cowls. I’m imafry30 on ravelry if you wanna find me!

          • I LOVE Mochimochi! I’m PrincessGiggles on Ravelry.

        • Jess

          can’t reply to your last comment so I’ll comment here.

          Mochimochi are totally the best! Have you met anna ever? She’s a total sweetheart.

          • I have not met her, but I can only imagine how genuinely kind someone who designs so much cuteness must be.

            It was her that got me back into knitting after almost ten years of not (except the scarf I knit for our wedding). I love the instant gratification from knitting the teeny tiny Mochis and finishing them so fast. And their cuteness has pushed me to learn skills I might have thought were beyond me. I’m a whiz with DPNs now.

    • Bryna

      “I refuse to accept the label SAHM because I prefer acronyms that are words.” is about the best thing ever!!!

      • I prefer to make up my own acronyms. :)

    • Becca

      Upon reading that sentence, I felt vindicated in my love of cross-stitch. Simple math, but still math!

  • Kelly

    “I’m the type of feminist who is a conservative leaning, pro-life Mormon who believes in the divinity of my feminine nature.”

    This. Switch out Mormon for Catholic, and there I am. Fiscally middle of the road-to-conservative, pro-life, but liberally leaning for pretty much everything else. There have been times I have felt judged by fellow feminists for my stance on abortion. It’s frustrating, but you are right. My feminism doesn’t have to look like others’ feminism. Great piece.

    • Jessica

      Hey, me too! Yay!

  • Kat R

    As a fellow “square peg in a round hole” feminist I just want to say that I LOVE this! The story you tell is so important.

    • 39bride

      What Kat R. said! I admit I’ve chickened out and said I’m not a feminist, strictly because so many feminists say my behaviors are not welcome or people assume that the expression of my values will look just like theirs. But as Lisa as so beautifully explained, we are very feminist.

      Lisa, I cannot possibly express how much I love this. We could almost be twins (right down to my love of sewing quilts and my father being the one who taught me to cook; different but still marginalized religion, too). Thank you, thank you, thank you for standing up and saying with such clarity and passion that not all feminism expresses itself in the same way!

      • Kat R

        I can relate to chickening out about calling myself a feminist – but I think what this posts proves is that when we are vulnerable and brave and call ourselves that, there will be a lot of people who say “Me too!” That makes me feel so much more confident. The posts on APW have really shown me that this month!

        • That’s a big reason why I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut sometimes. I want others to know they aren’t the only one that feels “that” way. I draw strength from those who have said what I wanted to say in certain situations and didn’t/couldn’t. I don’t think any of us are ever as alone as we think we are.

  • Girl, this post is the shit.

    I can’t even put in to words how I feel about this post. My only coherent thought is this: can we be friends?

    • Friends. Especially because you love “Ella Enchanted.”

  • This post is marvelous. You are articulate and wise and voice many of my reasons for being a feminist. Thank you for sharing.

  • This is great, but can we PLEASE retire the “feminist who hates men” yeti? Yes, I’m sure there are two or three individuals out there who fit the bill, but this is like having to specify that you’re not the kind of anti-racism activist who hates white people, or not the kind of Mormon that hates Presbyterians (or whatever).

    By continuing to insist that we aren’t *that* kind, it implies that there are enough of them out there to need to specify, which is simply not true.

    • Hannah K

      yeah, putting those “hate men” and “bra-burning” (stereotypical, not so much real) images out there kind of rubs me the wrong way. if even feminists are perpetuating those stereotypes, how can we expect people to understand they’re not real?

      (and frankly, “put off marriage and children to have a career” is something many people of our generation, both men and women, are doing for totally nonpolitical reasons having to do with the economy and changing social mores about who’s “ready” to have kids. i truly wonder how many people do that on principle, like, “i’d really like to get married and have a baby tomorrow but i have to wait in order to advance the cause of women’s equality.”)

      • lady brett

        re: putting off marriage and children – i think a lot of people do it on principle! just not conscious-decision principle like your last quote, but a more ingrained principle. in the way that many of us were raised under the *assumption* that we were going to be strong career-women, not wives and mothers (not that we couldn’t also be wives and mothers eventually, but that those would not be our identity).

        with that heavy cultural narrative, many people simply assume that getting married and having kids is not even an option when they are younger or not established – or at least is an option that will be heavily derided by people who, politically, personally or socially they respect and want to be respected by (there have been some great post here in the past on some of the trials of getting married young).

        • rys

          I don’t know. From the outside, that’s what I look like: the mid-30s career (well, academic) lady who is single and childless, who absorbed the narratives that I should work, get educated, get settled (as if that’s possible as an academic but that’s another issue) and then think about marriage and children. But the truth is, I’ve spent my adulthood doing all that stuff (work, education, etc) *and* looking for someone to date/partner with/marry. I haven’t found that person. But plenty of people in my social circle (of career-minded folk) have — and when they did, they got married, and most of them have had kids.

          Maybe people aren’t jumping to marry the first person they date, but I honestly don’t know anyone who has put off marriage because they were young and unestablished. Everyone I know who has married “late” or is single simply hadn’t found the right person for them in their early 20s.

          And the flip side of lamenting the career-woman assumption (with all its baggage, productive and bad) is an implicit blaming of women who aren’t married by age 30 or 35. To be clear, Lady Brett, I don’t think you’re blaming anyone, but I get a ton of implicit and explicit pressure to “be more social” and “stop being so intellectual” as though those are the reasons I’m unmarried instead of, frankly, crap luck in the dating department. Or men who don’t want to date/marry an academic. Or men who think I’m too smart for them (what?!). Or men who have told me that I’m not what they’re looking for because I have no plans to stay home (yep, was told that to my face, fun times).

          • I wrote a piece for another site several years ago about how I was single and 30 because I wasn’t married yet. End of story.

            I was 31 when we got married, but it wasn’t because I had waited till certain ducks at least headed in the same direction, that was just when our relationship reached that point. I was not quite 35 when our daughter was born, but that’s not for lack of trying (I believe that story will be on APW later).

            I always wanted to be a wife and mother. But I did keep that rather quiet while working on my PhD though because I didn’t want to risk not getting the department support for my degree if they knew I’d probably never publish and bring acclaim to the university. Which stinks that I had to do that, that they wouldn’t have seen raising the next generation as a worthwhile use of my education.

          • rys

            “I was single and 30 because I wasn’t married yet. End of story.” Love.

          • Sarah

            While we are retiring the myth of man-hating, bra-burning feminists, can we also please retire the term ‘career woman’?? It just perpetuates the idea that women have to choose to either have a family or a career. No one ever uses the term ‘career man’. As someone from a middle-class background, I feel like there is a stigma against marrying and having children young, because you are seen as ‘rushing into it’ and unlikely to ever do something with your life other than being a wife and mother. But on the other hand, there is also pressure to not put off having children for too long. Admittedly I think there are some good reasons for both these perspectives (maturity, biology, finances ,etc). But that seems to leave us with a pretty narrow window, say from the ages of 25-35, in which you are not too old or too young to have children.
            I am 29, and I would love would to be getting married and starting a family right now. But a) my partner and I just don’t have the finances to do this, and b) we both recently decided to go back to study because we were unhappy with our different work situations. The idea that someone would label me a ‘career woman’ because of my decision to focus on my career right now feels offensive because our situation just isn’t that straight forward. I regularly struggle with the fact that we probably won’t be able to seriously start thinking about having children for at least another 3 years, which at the moment feels like an age away.

        • Gina

          I would agree a million times over. I was raised thinking I would be a strong career-woman and that everything else would be secondary. Now, recently married and two years into my chosen career, I worry that having kids now will result in, as you put it, derision from those I want to be respected by! Isn’t that crazy? But it’s a real thing.

          • One quick aside- I was REALLY worried about not being taken as seriously once I had a kid (though I only had a vague sense of what I even meant by that), but eight months in, and so far it hasn’t happened!

            Granted, I work in a pretty non-serious field to begin with (graphic art, game industry), and I’m sure it varies depending on your field and co-workers, but I just wanted to throw an instance out there where that fear totally didn’t come to pass!

        • lady brett

          rys, i definitely agree that very few people actively decide not to get married if they feel their relationship is ready, but i do think a lot of people simply don’t bother looking for someone to marry (or a “serious relationship”), or don’t feel they can *pursue* a family in the way one would pursue a career – even if they would really rather have a family. (and that is in many ways a sign of huge progress on the feminist front, but i also think it is a problem, and i think what you’ve said is spot on in that most folks fall somewhere in the middle.)

          and, yes, we have a crazy cultural narrative set up where women can reasonably be blamed for *any* decision and/or life circumstance. (also, people can be jerks, good lord!)

          • I definitely think people approach relationships differently when the narrative they’ve been raised with is career first, marriage/family second. Which isn’t to say that if the right relationship comes along that she’d hold off … but there’s a lot of information out right now about the changing landscape of relationships that people have in their early twenties, with women entering casual flings with much greater frequency than was historically the case.

            When we lessen the stigma of being the girl who will have those flings and approach relationships in a more casual manner, there’s less pressure to search for the serious relationships, especially when we’ve already been told to put our careers first. A lot of factors play into it, but still.

      • KH_Tas

        “put off marriage and children to have a career” is something many people of our generation, both men and women, are doing for totally nonpolitical reasons having to do with the economy and changing social mores about who’s “ready” to have kids”

        Yep, that’s me, although I also need mat leave (though it’ll take a while after I qualify for it (soon at this job) me to be actually ready)

    • I don’t think there’s any casual correlation of Feminist and Man-Hater.

      • never.the.same

        Lisa, you’re right. There is no casual relationship between the two. There is an INTENTIONAL relationship between the two that is encouraged by anti-feminists who want to paint feminists in a negative light.

        Giggles, I think Meaghan is arguing that we, as feminists, need to stop humoring people who think that feminism is about hating men. Defining yourself by what you do and who you are is great. Implying that there is a brand of feminism that is about hating men kind of throws a lot of other feminists under the bus (as it suggests that you don’t support all feminists, just the kind who identify as you do).

        • meg

          There was a final edit in the post that got lost in the hosting mess (go check). No one is humoring that idea, what we’re doing is dispelling that myth. It’s such a strong myth that readers of APW (lots of them) think it’s true.

          I don’t think any feminists are about hating men, so commenting that it’s not a thing is not throwing anyone under the bus, except the right wing that re-wrote the game to be that.

    • It would be great if it could go without saying that as a feminist I’ve never burned a bra and I don’t hate men. However those are the two most common reasons people give me when telling me I’m not a feminist. First off, where do they get off thinking it’s their place to tell me what I am and what I am not?

      There’s still plenty of work to be done to fight that stereotype.

      • Sure there is, but personally I see no reason to bring it up myself – if someone says “oh, so you hate men?” I can smile innocently and say, “oh, I know you’re too smart to believe that old trope about feminists hating men!” But pre-emptively stating you aren’t *that* kind confirms that there IS a that kind hiding somewhere.

        Then again, it’s not something I’ve encountered that often in my circles, so maybe I’m way off base. But it irks me that this myth should be acknowledged as a legitimate portrayal of feminists.

      • meg

        I think it IS important to bring up (here, at least), because plenty of people in the comments of APW have given a reason like that as their reason they are not feminists. So within the context of this particular conversation, it’s super relevant.

    • meg

      See my comment above. We worded and re-worded this so you guys wouldn’t be like “BUT FEMINISTS DON’T HATE MEN.” Because of course they don’t. That’s the point of that sentence: it’s just a myth. (A powerful one though.) And we have to address those myths.

      • meg

        Ugh, due to hosting issues last week, the most recent edit didn’t make it in. Updated!

        One day we’ll re-launch this site and it’ll be back to functioning smoothly.

  • Gina

    BOOM. You rock at writing and rock at life and thank you. Thank you for dispelling with the stereotype that checking the feminist box means you have to check all these other boxes. Real people and real feminists are so much more nuanced than that, and as a fellow conservative-leaning, pro-life feminist, I would go so far as to say there is no contradiction in that label. Nor is there anything shameful in saying, “hey, I want kids and marriage, and I want them sooner than later, and I’m not going to become an acronym you can put in a tidy box just because of those choices.”

    P.S. can we be friends?

    • Friends! Life’s too short to spend checking all the boxes.

  • Natalie

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! for posting this.

    I identify so much with this. (like other ladies have done, switch out, “mormon” for “christian” and you’ve got me).

    I agree that we need to celebrate each other’s differences, and recognize that while we are not the same, we are equal. I am not a man – which is both excellent at times (I can empathize better to people and situations than my guy can), and not so excellent (he can pee while standing). I think in a marriage, feminism to me means that we are partners, mutually submitting to each other, and complimenting each other through our strengths and weaknesses to lead our (right now) baby family.

    • I would love to be able to pee while standing too! I don’t have penis envy, I just want to be able to pee while standing. Perhaps I could practice??

      • Amber

        There are devices, disposable and not, that women can use to pee standing up. I’ve never used one, but it seems like it would still be pretty messy.

        • lady brett

          i know a number of people who have had great luck with the “go girl” (which is the only one i’ve seen that is silicon and therefore fully sterilizable). it absolutely does not work for me, but everyone else i know swears by it for camping. either way, practice in the shower where failures are not a major problem =)

      • MK

        Check REI or another sporting-goods store: there are *ahem* “devices” to help you do this! ;)

      • Peeing while standing up may come in handy for nasty bar bathrooms, but on the whole, I’d rather be able to text while I pee.

      • Luc

        I use she wee, it’s great when you are in the outdoors, especially when it’s cold and you don’t want to strip!

    • Amy March

      I’m not sold on the idea that empathy is an ingrained trait. To the extent women may, on the whole, display more empathy than men, is that because women are expected and encouraged to do so, while men who display empathy are called weak? This is my general issue with the concept of a specific “femininity” as distinct from male traits. It’s no coincidence that the traits identified and cultivated as feminine are also the kinds of traits that aren’t rewarded outside the home to the same extent as more masculine ones. For me, being a feminist requires looking not just at how men and women act, but what outside forces encourage them to behave in specific ways.

      I’m with you on the peeing while standing up though.

      • Perfectly said. Including the part about peeing.

    • Yes, but can he pee in the dark without making a mess of the bathroom?

    • Robin

      This is a small small detail but I can’t let it pass: Mormons ARE Christians, there’s no swapping needed! (You could swap for a different sect of Christianity, like Episcopalian or Roman Catholic or whatevs)

  • Daniella

    I love this blog. I don’t even know where to start. I feel like I found a place where my differences with other women are highlighted but not shamed.

    Great post! I echo what other people are saying – can we be friends?!

    • This site is all about the shame blasting, right? Friends!

  • Amber

    You don’t hate men? How can you be a feminist!?! /sarcasm
    Anyone who thinks that’s a prerequisite to being feminist doesn’t have a clue.

    No one under 40 has ever burned a bra in protest, so you’re no square peg there.

    There’s also nothing that says a feminist can’t have kids and get married. Sure you don’t have a corporate career but you’ve certainly put a lot into your academic career. That’s the same thing.

    Pro-life is pretty square peg. It is hard reconcile feminism with the idea of taking away a woman’s bodily autonomy. There are plenty of conservatives who do not like abortion and would not get one themselves, but who recognize it is not their place to say what is right for another person.

    • Amy March

      This. The ability to control when and if you will have a baby has been one of the most fundamental ways that women have been able to move from the home and the pink collar and the blue collar jobs that used to be the limit of “feminine” ambition into independent lives in the boardroom. I have no difficulty reconciling a personal objection to abortion with feminism, but I can’t see how taking options away from other women is feminist. And as a rich white woman who has enough wealth and social capital to know that I’ll always have options (oh hi Switzerland) it strikes me as arrogant and patronizing to presume to know what’s best for the underprivileged. Melinda Gates was recently asked about her foundation’s decision to support contraception and replied that when she went to Africa, women were begging for the ability to control their reproductive lives, and she felt it was inappropriate to deny them that agency.

      • Amy March, I’m just going to follow you around the comments section today because you keep saying everything that I want to say but in a MUCH more eloquent, sensical way.

      • Lauren

        Thanks, Amy March, for putting into words the really uncomfortable feeling I’ve had about reconciling feminism with “pro-life” since reading this. The difference you highlighted between a personal objection and a larger political movement that takes rights away from women who want them is key.

      • KC

        I’d note that not all pro-life people are anti-contraception-in-general. It primarily tends to mean anti-abortion (sometimes including “morning-after” pills, sometimes not).

        Obviously, people who are anti-contraception are generally also anti-abortion, and other people feel that contraception is a “lifestyle choice” such that the person making the choice should be the one paying for [like Viagra, except apparently not, and ignoring the categories of women who take hormonal birth control for non-birth-control reasons, ahem], but mashing the categories of “anti-abortion” and “anti-contraception” together impedes constructive dialogue.

      • Rachel

        I am pro-life and feminist, and here’s how I get there.
        I am 100% for contraception, and equipping women to prevent pregnancy however works best for them. I want women to have control over their own bodies, and they can do that by using contraception.
        Once they create a baby with another person by having sex, just because that baby is contained in their body doesn’t give a woman the right to end that life. I want women to take control of their bodies by using contraception, and by choosing to have sex when they have accepted the risk that it might result in a baby. In my view, the baby’s right to life trumps the lady not wanting to deal with pregnancy and caring for the baby. I know most of you reading this will not agree, but perhaps it will help you see another perspective on how feminism and other values intersect.

        • MK

          And how does that hold up in the following cases? (not trying to antagonize, just legitimately asking)
          – rape?
          – failure of contraceptives?
          – risk to the mother’s life?
          – serious complication where the fetus will not survive?

          • KC

            I’ll bite. ;-) I’m pro-contraception with the exception of abortion-as-contraception (and the exception of all the contraceptives that have been pushed to market and later proved to be terrible for/fatal to women). I’m definitely against third-trimester abortions (with the possible exceptions of your 3 & 4).

            1. This is a bad situation all around, but you’re still talking about whether a life should exist or not, vs. challenges/hardship/additional-trauma for the mother. Pregnancy and childbirth is no picnic; pregnancy that continually reminds you of a traumatic incident seems like it would be pretty horrible. Not sure.
            2. Similar to #1, minus the major-additional-trauma of the rape.
            3. Life vs. life, I’d generally say that the out-of-womb life existing takes precedence over the in-the-womb life existing, unless there are other factors (i.e. if terminating the pregnancy will give the woman an extra month of life, but no more, then it’s a trickier/weirder situation).
            4. I’d want to be *really* sure that there’s no chance of survival. There are a surprising number of cases where children who were expected to die upon birth actually didn’t have any problems, or had comparatively minimal problems.

            One difficulty with 1 & 2 is that you can’t medically separate them from the rest of abortions very well (if you decide to get an abortion and know that the only way to get it is to say you were raped, then… some people do that sort of thing. And since many rapes are unreported, it wouldn’t be “fair” to require a police report from around the time of conception, either.).

            To toss the ball back – with abortion-is-fine feminists, I assume that abort-females sex-selection abortions are not cool, even if having abortions until you “get” a boy means greater likelihood of prosperity for the rest of the family? What about genetic-defect abortions (like Down’s Syndrome)?

          • Amy March

            @KC. I’m an abortion-is-fine feminist, but I don’t think any abortion is “cool.” Rather, I think all abortions are personal, reflecting unique circumstances that outsiders don’t get to know. So no, I’m not “cool” with sex-selective abortion, but the way to fix that is by making women’s lives more valuable (for instance, giving them the right to an abortion so they can control their own lives). I think abortion is a pretty terrible means of birth control, but again would solve that by giving more access to birth control. There will always be abortions that I personally disapprove of, but I wouldn’t solve any of those cases by banning the procedure, or even by increasingly fine limitations beyond the establish viability line.

          • Brittany

            I can’t speak for the original commenter, but as another person who holds both feminist and prolife views, since you asked an honest question, I’ll give you an honest answer. Abortion is an extremely difficult subject for me, and an opinion was not reached lightly. I wrote my thesis under the direction of the editor of the Margret Sanger papers, yet I’m Catholic. My friends range from campaign pals who I lived and worked with running a congressional campaign on Chicago’s South Side to my Latin Mass traditionalist friend who just entered seminary, and everything in between. I work in the middle of a housing project where I teach at a school for those who are formerly incarcerated or are teenage parents, or in some cases, both. I’ve lived with my views and I’ve seen the heartache that the influence of my principles can at times result in. I’m not naive to it, like I once might have been. Here is where I land (with the full understanding that rational, caring, considerate and compassionate adults may full well have seen similar situations, or other situations and come to different conclusions).
            -Rape: In the case of rape I feel abortion should be legal as long as the woman is concurrently receiving some form of counseling. I don’t mean scary “don’t have this abortion” with forced ultrasounds and guilt tripping, I mean real, you just went through an entirely traumatic experience that was compounded further by yet another traumatic experience and now you have to make a life altering, scary, emotional decision that will follow you and the world owes it to you to help you get in a frame of mind to be able to make that decision and continue with your life either way, kind of counseling. Also this should be of no cost to the woman, and attendance should be the only measure that decides access to the medical doctor (as in once the woman makes her decision, the counselor does not have a right to block her final choice and it doesn’t have to ever be justified to anyone for any reason, ever.)
            -Failure of contraceptives: This may sound harsh, but if you are old enough and mature enough to choose to have sex, you should be prepared to deal with the consequences. One possible consequence is that contraceptives may fail, and in that case you may become pregnant. Sex is in part reproductive, and if you knowingly and willingly participated in an act that can create a life, even if that wasn’t the intention, I think that is a consequence you need to be prepared to deal with. I truly believe (and again, understand that others might not) that an unborn baby is still human, and humans have souls. Convenience is not an acceptable reason, in my view, to end a life. This is not reached lightly or coldly. I feel the agonizing pain of this in my daily life. So many of my students are in the situation they are because of contraceptive failure. But we work hard to help them understand and accept that they made choices and all choices have consequences. This consequence involves another person’s life and that can’t just be erased.
            Risk of the mother’s life- I’m pregnant, and if told giving birth to my child presented a threat to my own life, I would choose the life of the small person inside me. But that’s a personal choice. I don’t know that doctors or patients or humans can ever effectively be good judges of who should live and who should die, but in situations like this, I think it needs to be the decision of the people involved on a case by case basis. There’s always a chance of dying in childbirth. What is enough of a chance to allow or disallow abortion? I don’t think that can be determined in a broad sweeping way.
            -Complication where the fetus will not survive: I’m honestly not entirely sure what you mean. Do you mean the fetus won’t survive long after birth? Do you mean it might be severely disabled and have low quality of life? Do you mean it will be stillborn? In these cases, not really knowing fully what you’re asking, I would say that what is going to happen is going to happen. The child has a soul and pain is a part of being human. In this case I would fall on the side of not allowing abortion. The other thing here is that doctors can be wrong. One of my dad’s patient’s parents was told that their child wouldn’t live past six months, and he just turned 17. I have a friend who was told her child would likely be born with Downs, and she had a healthy baby girl. Obviously, that’s anecdotal, and certainly there are as many, if not more, stories that go the other way, but the ones that go the happy way justify this position for me.
            In the end, where I fall is this: We all make decisions. Sex is a decision that can lead to the creation of a human life. Excepting cases when a person didn’t make the decision, we are responsibld for our choices, sex included. The life created has a soul and no human soul is less valuable than any other. It doesn’t matter if that soul is young or old, male or female. It has dignity and purpose because it is, and no other reason.

          • KC

            Sorry, I should have used “not feminist” instead of “not cool”. :-)

            I’d note that the viability line keeps moving due to increased medical technology, which is interesting. (unless you mean strictly average age of viability without any medical interventions beyond those typically used for full-term babies; but if including possible viability with medical interventions, I know a baby who came out at 24 weeks and is soon to head home from the hospital, which is just *boggling*)

            I’m not honestly sure that much of positive value can be accomplished by legally banning all abortions. Not banning abortions is, in my mind, a bit like having needle exchange clinics – okay, so you’re potentially giving *some* stamp of approval to a thing you would prefer to cease entirely (abortions or injecting illegal drugs), but it’s unlikely to stop entirely, and you’re preventing a lot of deaths, so… which does more harm in the long run? Not sure.

            But I am against societal messaging of “abortion is only about the body of the woman involved”, because (to me) we are not talking about a minimal elective surgery just done due to a preference by the person involved, like getting an unattractive wart removed, but something that potentially affects two lives, one of which doesn’t have a voice in the matter (and the other of which would be otherwise having to deal with pregnancy and childbirth and all the life complications from that, not just an unattractive wart, so that shouldn’t be portrayed as minimal either!).

          • rys

            I really appreciate the respectful engagement in this discussion, abortion is so rarely discussed and debated with this level of thoughtfulness.

            I realize many people have different stances on all the scenarios MK raised, but this piece by Emily Rapp is perhaps the best I’ve seen on the complexity of terrible choices and the problematic co-optation of genetic disorders as a rationale for anti-abortion politics. It’s beautiful and harrowing and nuanced all at once.

            {Full disclosure: I am pro-choice in the ways Amy March is and while this piece supports my politics, it also offers a distinction between beliefs and rights that I think is useful for this kind of discussion, given the dilemma ART points out.}

          • MK

            As other people have responded with their answers, I’ll explain mine: I agree with the original poster in that I wish we did not EVER have need for abortion and that we should expand contraceptive accessibility so it will hopefully one day be a non- issue.

            But I would fall under the “pro-abortion-rights” umbrella because a) I believe it should be a medical decision, rather than a legal one (in all the scenarios I laid about above) and b) because of a history class about Victorian women — abortion was illegal and highly punished, but it happened anyway, and killed a lot of people (fetus and woman). That was an eye-opener for me.

            Someone else said: “I’m not honestly sure that much of positive value can be accomplished by legally banning all abortions. ” — And that’s where I fall. Because in countries where abortion is illegal, it still happens. It just has worse consequences, making it illegal will just make things worse.

        • meg

          Thank you very much for being brave enough to clarify (and to the rest of you to debate without screaming).

          I, personally, think that by equating feminism with one’s personal stance on abortion (the world’s most complicated issue, if you ask me), the movement has done itself a disservice.

          End of the day, my feminism says that I have NO business telling other women what they have to believe to be feminists. I also find abortion so complex, that I understand why people have a huge variety of views. I get that not everyone feels that way, but that’s my jam.

          • ART

            but – does your (or others’) feminism say you have any business telling other women what they can/can’t do with their bodies? it sounds like that is what’s getting the hackles up about the statement of a pro-life stance: it implies a belief about what others should do, not just about what the believer should do.

          • Rachel

            ART – many people have beliefs about what others should and shouldn’t do, regardless of if they share values.
            For example, many people believe that murder and stealing from another person are wrong. So many people agree on this that there are laws punishing people that murder. Even if the murderer says “Hey! its part of my belief system that I have a right to kill people!” I am guessing you wouldn’t think they have the right to go on killing people.
            I think we are allowed to tell people what to do if their actions harm others.

          • rys

            But for some of us, abortion is so complex, if not impossible to work through, because what constitutes harm is so different, if not fundamentally irreconcilable.

            In the Talmud, the rabbis debate whether life begins with breath or a heartbeat, but either way do not consider a fetus (or a very young baby) a viable life; in fact, it’s only after 30 days out of the womb that a baby is considered a full person. (In part this comes from the Bible, where feticide is not a capital crime and leads the rabbis to discuss why the status of the fetus differs from the status of an independent human; I’m not sure of the origins of the 30-day thing, but traditionally, one doesn’t have a funeral for or ritually mourn an infant who dies before 30 days.) This obviously doesn’t account for very real (and tough) emotions, but it has real consequences for thinking through abortion.

            In fact, the rabbis consider a fetus a “rodef” (a pursuer), the same word used to describe an attacker who one may legitimately kill in self-defense. In Jewish law, the life of the mother is always considered more important than the life of a fetus, and that encompasses physical and mental health. While abortion is still a subject to debate, especially in terms of justifications and limits, it doesn’t map on to the contemporary abortion debates because it starts from a premise of permissibility and then works through situations that provide guidance, albeit always subject to continued interpretation and debate (as with most things in Jewish law).

            For all of these reasons, I don’t think abortion is immoral; I think it should be legal and I think it can be an ethical and compassionate choice (though not in every situation). To that end, I certainly hope people make thoughtful decisions, but I don’t see myself as the arbiter of what counts as acceptable/thoughtful or what situation warrants it or even who is potentially harmed by it.

          • meg

            My kind of feminism isn’t about telling you want to do with your body (on this issue. I’ll tell you not to do lots of things with your body, steal, hit people, etc.) But for other people it’s not so simple. I respect that. I know not everyone feels like they can respect that, but that’s honestly where my feminism lives. On an issue this complex, I HAVE to let other people have opinions that are very different from mine. Because you know what? While I’m pro-choice, my opinions on the subject are complex too.

        • Meg

          I’m on the same page as Rachel – or I think I am – but this is a position that is very difficult to take out loud.
          In reality, I’m pro-contraception as in “I fully support the right of women to have full agency over whether they become pregnant or not.” Once you create another person – because to me, pregnancy includes growing a little person – it makes me overwhelmingly sad/horrified to end that life. I think this is how the “pro life” advocates have built public support, but I also think a lot of “pro choice” people think this way.
          Those of us who really support contraception but want to limit the number of abortions as much as possible – without taking away legal access – are trapped between two sides we feel don’t represent us. Dig under the surface, and some of the loudest pro life voices are really anti woman – any sort of family planning or encouragement for a woman to decide to do anything with her life other than/in addition to raising children is “anti life.” On the other side, we have a myriad of women’s health issues that remain unsolved (no more ED for men, but I still get a sick day once a month thanks to dysmenorrhea!), but the loudest voices focus on keeping abortions legal. Even if we agree on legality, shouldn’t we be focusing much more on helping women avoid getting to that point? It seems such a disservice to women’s rights and women’s health more broadly that the argument has been reduced to such black and white.

          • Kat R

            I’m so glad you wrote this. I feel very similarly. Even though I believe that abortion is immoral in almost all situations, I am against restricting it legally. I can absolutely see why someone would take the pro-life stance, but this is just where I landed. I think there are more effective ways to reduce abortions that also keep the mother safe (contraceptive access, better childcare, affordable/better prenatal care, longer maternity leave, equal pay, reduced sexual assault, etc…) but I get frustrated because I don’t see those things happening enough. Abortion is an important issue, but I think prevention should be the main conversation.

          • Lauren

            I agree that many women have not been fairly prepared and then end up having to face the hard choice of abortion. I think it would be more productive for both sides of the abortion debate to help women prior to that point. There are many women and girls who are given misinformation about pregnancy prevention and contraception through schools, religious institutions, parents, friends, etc. They are told it doesn’t work, is against god, means you’re a slut, abstinence is the only way, on and on. Additionally, many women have trouble getting access to the proper resources. Thankfully the Affordable Care act has done a lot to rectify the issue of access. But the issue still remains women’s equality is being subverted by people trying to make sweeping decisions about what they are allowed to know and do with their bodies. I think all feminists would agree we have a right hear the accurate and full picture where it comes to our reproductive health without political coloring.

        • Lauren

          Pregnancy is the result of two people having sex- a man and a woman- and yet only ONE of those people is required to carry the resulting fetus to term and give birth, which results in, usually, that same person raising the child. That is what makes abortion a feminist issue for me. The argument that “you chose to have sex, so you accept the risk of pregnancy” is far too evocative of the rape-culture response of “you chose to go out/wear a short skirt/have some drinks” for my taste. Two people “chose to have sex” and yet only one person is biologically held responsible for the resulting pregnancy.

          As the child of a man who I have not heard from or seen since I was 3 years old, I cannot reconcile a viewpoint that takes the choice about raising a child away from women with a feminist value system. Personal beliefs are one thing- abortion is sad, and complicated, and hard- but working within a larger political system to take away abortion rights does not intersect with feminist values.

          • Brittany

            I get that. It is unfair and true that because we have uteruses we bear the brunt of the built in responsibility for a child, but I’m not sure I think comparing consensual sex and the fact that it can result in pregnancy to the acceptance of rape culture and victim blaming is quite fair. A woman who is raped didn’t make a choice. Her agency was stolen from her. A woman who chooses to have sex with a partner of the opposite sex is in a different position. It’s not fair that a man can more easily walk away from a child they fathered. It is reality. It’s a harsh and unfair reality, but for me it doesn’t outweigh the personhood of the child created in an act of consensual sex. I don’t think that negates my ability to call myself a feminist. I work every day to empower young women, to help them expand their opportunities and their views of what their lives can be. I invest in developing their skills and competencies. I encourage them to think beyond a job towards college and career. I push them to move towards independence and self-reliance. On the other end, I fight to find them opportunities. I advocate for them in numerous ways- finding scholarships and mentorship programs, writing letters on their behalf, calling and emailing and writing to elected officials to encourage them to support legislation that gives my girls and others that will come after them better access to education and resources. I support women owned businesses. I write and study and research the roles of women and impact of women in education in American history. I also ask my students, male and female to accept responsibility for their choices. My views on abortion and my work with my students stem from exactly the same value: Every person has dignity and a right to be treated with dignity as a result. I’m a feminist and anti-abortion, and for that matter anti-death penalty and pro-universal healthcare and a huge number of other social justice issues, for exactly the same reasons, so it’s hard to imagine one doesn’t intersect with feminist values.

        • Amber

          I am married. I never want children. I use contraceptives. So even though I’m doing everything I’m “supposed” to be doing, I should still be forced to be pregnant, give birth and raise a child I don’t want and never have wanted?

          I don’t think a non-viable, unwanted, clump of cells triumphs over a fully-developed autonomous (until she gets pregnant in your world) woman with X number years of living. I don’t believe in forced pregnancy.

          • meg

            I get that. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m very glad that you do have those rights. But I also know that other strong feminist women I’ve known are not on the same page. I’m totally unwilling to cut them out of the movement, or challenge their self definition of feminism because of it.

          • Brittany

            I respect your opinion, and believe you have a total right to hold and express it. I think it is unfair in expressing that opinion to imply that I, and possibly others who may agree, live detached from reality (“in your world” and phrases like). I believe that two educated people can look at a complicated, fraught, emotional and moral subject (or in this case, subjects- abortion and feminism) and come to different conclusions, while both being grounded, still, in reality. It’s not an easy question to answer, and I’m not claiming to have the correct answer. I’m only speaking to how I reconcile the issue for myself- how I come to the values I have and how they relate to each other.

        • Allison

          Sorry! Meant to “exactly” on my phone and reported instead!

    • amc

      Full disclosure: I am a 100% pro life feminist.

      It’s interesting to me that there are two sets of comment strings on this post. One that thanks Giggles for showing her type of feminism, as many women identify with being a pro life feminist. Another that says that you can’t be a pro life feminist. To me, the latter seems to have missed the point of the post. Feminism comes in many forms.

      • Kestrel

        While I can certainly see your point, I don’t believe that feminism comes in an infinite amount of types. You can’t say you’re a feminist if you believe that women are stupider than men, for example.

        I agree that abortion is tricky, and I totally see both sides to this. So, for me personally, I believe that someone can be anti-abortion and still be feminist.

        But for some people, it seems like not allowing abortion is as anti-feminist as saying that women shouldn’t be allowed to work outside the home. It’s a different perspective, and that’s why the tension exists in the comments.

      • meg

        Since I went on the record this month as saying that we run posts that I don’t agree with all the time, I feel like I should clearly go on the record as saying I’m 100% behind what Lisa is saying here (not my personal views, but I agree with the ideas of the piece), and I asked her to write it.

        That said, I’m just happy that this debate is going on in the comments in a civil way, and it’s a safe enough space that pro-life feminists feel comfortable calming explaining their views.

    • KC

      Re: bra-burning, entirely irrelevantly, there’s a bit in a Louisa May Alcott book from the 1870s where the guardian of a girl is about to toss into the fire a tight-lacing corset (which he considers as unhealthily restricting breathing abilities) that her aunt has bought to try to get her to wear for fashion’s sake, and someone else says, effectively, “I’ll dispose of it, but for goodness’ sakes, don’t burn it! Burnt whalebone reeks!”

      I think modern bras with all the different plastic components and materials might be the same. Except possibly more toxic. :-)

      • Brittany

        I’ve never heard this quote before, but when I was a teen this is what I always thought when people talked about bra-burning, “Wait! But doesn’t that stink? And doesn’t decent portion of said bra just melt? How impractical…” To which my mom would reliably reply, “And expensive. I think a better protest might be just not to buy the bra at all.” Cuz my mom believes in thrift above all other principles. :)

        • KC

          Seriously, moms and thrift. I’ve got stories.

          (Also, I’m totally, totally against book burning, but at least it makes chemical sense? But bras… you’d need a serious fire already going to get modern bras to actually melt, I’d expect. Maybe they were more flammable back then?)

        • KC

          (oh, and the bit I paraphrased [badly] from memory is in Eight Cousins, in this chapter: )(seriously, Louisa May Alcott, champion of women-being-allowed-to-wear-functional-instead-of-restrictive-clothing!)

    • Kat R

      I think abortion is such an emotionally charged issue that it’s hard to see the other side, but I think it’s important to try to understand things from the opposite perspective. To you denying abortion rights is taking away a woman’s bodily autonomy. But a pro-life feminist believes that the fetus is a complete person, and a religious pro-life feminist believes that person has a soul. She may be expressing her feminism by trying to protect the bodily autonomy of the fetus, or it may not be a feminist belief at all. Instead it may be a religious or a moral belief. I don’t think any of us lives entirely by the philosophy that is “feminism” (if that is even a thing), we all have different motivations and backgrounds at play in our lives and sometimes they are or seem to be in contradiction. That is difficult and uncomfortable, but I think it’s something we all experience.

      • Well said. People are messy creatures.

      • Sarah NCtoPA

        Abortion has become such a hot button political issue. In my mind it’s a medical issue. We aren’t debating being “pro” or “con” elective mastectomy for early detection of the BRAC gene or being for or against hysterectomies. I’m tired of women’s health focus being mainly contraception/abortion (said as a PRO contraception and choice woman).

        • Kat R

          This is so true. Women’s health is a lot bigger than pregnancy, but unfortunately that’s what the focus immediately goes to.

      • meg

        This is possibly the most beautiful and articulate statement about feminism that I’ve ever read.

        • Kat R

          Wow, thanks so much!

      • Gina

        Really well said. Because the starting point for these opposing views is so different, “bodily autonomy” really can be used to defend either view. I’m of the opinion that scientifically, human life begins at conception in that there is now a unique human being with individual DNA deserving of some protection. If you start at that point, bodily autonomy requires protection of that person, and that bodily autonomy needs to be weighed against the mother’s bodily autonomy. From there, it’s all value judgments about whose bodily autonomy is more important.

        • Glen

          I recently read an online article (can’t remember where) that put forth the argument that pregnancy is the only condition in which a person can be required to use their body to support another person’s life. The counter-example was if a child needs a kidney transplant to live and a parent is a match, the parent cannot be forced to donate a kidney. Interesting perspective…

          • Marie

            Glen, this is an interesting analogy but doesn’t exactly work in this circumstance. As you said, ending a pregnancy actively ends another person’s life. Not donating a kidney simply allows that person to die (but they die directly from the disease). Not surprisingly, these are similar to arguements for and against assisted suicide, and why many people draw the line between actively causing someone to die (lethal injection), and allowing the disease to take their life (“pulling the plug”, so to speak).

            As a pro-life feminist (and survivor of rape), I am actually very offended when people assume I want to take away women’s rights or tell them what to do with their own bodies. This is absurd! I would never want to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies. I believe that an unborn child is NOT the woman’s body, however, and that it is never ok to kill, no matter how much of an inconvenience it may be. Someone above mentioned that we restrict other’s “rights” to murder, steal, etc., when it is harmful to another person, and I would put abortion in with there too.

            I also think we need better sex education and options for women with unplanned pregnancies, but that is another rant for another day… :)

        • Amber

          Unless there’s implantation, that’s never going to develop into a human, so a woman isn’t even pregnant at conception. She will never be pregnant if those 8 or so cells never implant, that’s the problem with that jumping off point.

          A fully-formed, living, breathing, thinking human female deserves much more bodily autonomy than some cells living in her body that are completely reliant on her for survival.

          Ireland has changed it’s abortion laws after a woman died, because anti-abortion laws kill women (which usually also kills the fetus that was worth letting the woman die over, so now it’s killed two “people”).

          • Gina

            Oh totally. And a woman doesn’t even know she’s pregnant until about a week after implantation. That doesn’t really change my jumping off point that I don’t think there’s another place, in the course of pregnancy, where I can draw a line in the sand and say “now, now you’re a human.”

            The best I can tell from Guttmacher Institute’s research, is most surgical abortions take place between 6-12 weeks. So if you’re ok with abortion in the first trimester, this is the actual stage you have to defend– not when a zygote is 8 cells, but when an embryo has a beating heart. Obviously there are chemical abortions that take place before 6 weeks, but I still can’t find a solid line to draw in the sand there.

            I agree with you that the bodily autonomy calculus is different when a woman’s life or health is at risk. That’s actually the point I was trying to make. If you view the bodily autonomy of the woman and the zygote/embryo/fetus as two conflicting interests, as you must when the woman’s life is at risk, then the outcome of that equation changes.

    • Laura

      I’m not sure if people are still checking out this thread, but here are my two cents.

      I consider myself firmly pro-life (in that I respect the sanctity of human life from its beginning to natural end), but support the legalization of abortion.

      In my perfect world, there would be very, very few abortions, because there would be very little NEED for abortion (I understand that rape and medical complications would account for some small number of abortions, even in my hypothetical perfect world). Abortions are primarily obtained by economically disadvantaged women, many of whom already have one or more children.

      I find abortion morally repugnant on a personal level. But what I find even more morally repugnant is the idea that we should restrict contraception to women, prevent economically disadvantaged women from getting comprehensive medical coverage, and make it challenging for women to get the prenatal support, paid maternity leave, and reduced-fee child care they need.

      Abortion is a direct consequence of unintended pregnancies. In my mind, there are two ways to reduce unintended pregnancies: 1) improve contraceptive availability so that fewer unwanted pregnancies occur or 2) change the cost-benefit situation so that carrying a pregnancy to term isn’t an enormous burden on women who already bear many of society’s burdens. Again, there will always be exceptions — rape and serious medical conditions spring to mind — but I simply can’t understand the mentality that making abortion illegal is somehow a societal good. Restricting abortion doesn’t reduce the rate of unwanted pregnancies. But reducing unwanted pregnancies would certainly drop the abortion rate.

      • I am firmly pro-choice, and I really appreciate your comment.

  • Thank you so much for the depth you have added to this community (or for bringing out depth that’s always been here but not appreciated). Your essay touched me and made me feel empowered.

    • Thank you for your comment. It means a lot to me.

  • Sara P

    Fantastic post, thank you!

    And thank you, Meg, for this blog – I am neither married nor planning a wedding, and this is my favorite place on the internet.

  • I’m an atheist who is terrible at math, but the only thing I dissent from, in this entire post, is the term, “Pro-Life.” That’s some of the language I think we need to get away from, as it puts us all into fight positions from Day One.

    I support the right to abortions, carefully, meaning with caveats, but I don’t call myself “Pro-Choice.” I’m pro-life AND pro-choice, for goodness’s sake. (Who on earth would call themselves pro-death and pro-shut-down-restricted-imprisoned, after all?) Neither intent has anything to do with my opinions on abortion. Perhaps we could move on from the language imposed by people who wanted to market themselves for elections, and on to a more clearly defined set of issues.

    • Meghan

      Yes. This this this.

    • KC

      Clearer terminology would be useful.

      (see also: the PATRIOT act. Seriously, people?)

    • meg

      That’s super interesting. I wonder if we could come up with terms that both sides could use without throwing stones at the other. Right now we have pro-life (throwing stones at the pro-choice camp), and Anti-choice (throwing stones at the pro-life camp).

      Possibly better language would let us have this conversation at less of a scream. Conversations are almost always more helpful when held in a civil tone, that possibly allows the other person to actually hear you.

      • MK

        Can use “pro-abortion-rights” (Pro-choice) and “anti-abortion” (pro-life), per AP Style.

        • Brittany

          My problem with that is I’ve never really met so many people that are “pro-abortion” so anti-abortion doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as a term. I mean, most people who are “pro-abortion-rights” would prefer abortions not happen. It’s never really a happy, fun-time thing. I think that’s the problem with finding short terms for people’s views on abortion. There aren’t just two, and it’s not a for-or-against kind of issue. One isn’t “Yay abortion” and the other the opposite. Semantics are tough, and they complicate and feed into the charged debates. And like the issue itself there’s no easy, and probably no perfect answer.

          • meg

            I think this is probably right. The fact that this is such a messy issue (at least for a lot of us), is part of why I have to respect people’s rights to disagree. Women having the vote: that’s pretty cut and dry. Abortion: there may be no other single issue with as much nuance and complexity for people, no matter what your final thoughts on it are.

          • Emotionally it’s more nuanced, sure. But in terms of political positions? That’s pretty cut and dried. You either do believe abortion should be a legal option, or you don’t.

        • I think AP Style actually now does “pro-abortion rights” and “anti-abortion” because, as mentioned elsewhere, “pro abortion” is quite misleading. I’d vote for using the updated terms on APW!

      • Jennie

        I vote for “pro-restricted-abortion-access” and “pro-full-abortion-access.” Just for the record, I’d align myself with PFAA.

      • Meg, feel free to Ed. Note this into the post that I wrote for you. The post that I don’t know if I can look at again because it makes my eyes hurt now:).

    • ElisabethJoanne

      The advantage of the present terms (pro-life and pro-choice) is that they are what those camps have chosen for themselves. I think it’s fair for each side to call the other what it wants to be called. Alternatively, we could use terms neither side has chosen. I know the AP’s terminology doesn’t fit that bill.

  • Kate

    Amen to everything in this post. You have such a way with words! And such a sense of strength that comes through every line. Reading it just now was like a warm hug. I’m really glad that APW showcases so many kinds of feminism, because like you said:

    “Feminism is more than a single story. It is the thousands of stories of women who stood up in their own ways in the past. It is the stories of the thousands of women standing now. And it is the stories of the thousands of our daughters, and sons, who will stand in the future. Trying to make all feminism fit a single story, a single shaped hole for all the different pegs, will never tell the whole story.”

    And I think it’s easy for us to forget that. (It’s easy for me to forget that, when I look at the world through my own opinions and identify them as feminist. But they’re not the only feminist opinions.)

  • KC

    I loved this, but especially:

    “She never dated anyone who couldn’t handle being beaten by her, a girl, at chess.”


    “I’m the type of feminist who hopes my daughter recognizes the sacrifices I make for her, the ones my mom made for me, the ones my grandmas made. I hope she appreciates our sacrifices but does not feel burdened or constrained by them.”

    1. because that’s just a good life rule in general for anyone, and 2. because even “nice” gifts with heavy conditions often result in suffering, not freedom.

    Thanks for writing this!

  • AshleyMeredith

    “people who claim to be “gender blind” are actually more sexist than those who acknowledge and celebrate the differences between us, our unique strengths, our individuality. I am a woman. That makes me different than men in innumerable ways. It does not make me worse than men. It does not make me better.”

    This. This is the single biggest problem for me and the main reason why I don’t identify myself with the label “feminist.” I used to. But the more I read APW and the more I heard the viewpoints of smart, fun, wonderful women who embraced the feminist label, the more uncomfortable I became because this was not something I ever heard expressed. I’m sure Meg thinks it is and if I think about subtext, yeah, it’s kind of there, but I’ve actually been avoiding the site a little during feminist month because a lot of the pieces and opinions make me feel judged and uncomfortable.

    The arguments about dads walking their daughters down the aisle, or wives taking their husband’s names, and the fact that a lot of self-identified feminists seem to think these are bad things that must be fought against so that no woman will do it… sorry. You’ve lost me there. Walking your daughter down the aisle may have started as a property thing (or it may not – I hate to make assumptions about things I haven’t studied up on) but I don’t think that’s the way it’s viewed now – I think it’s about being with your daughter as she takes the next step and the natural desire of fathers to protect their girl. I think it’s important to men (in general, by nature, but not all men are the same here) to have their wives and children take their name and to feel that they provide for them. I see how my husband lights with pride, and feels more a man, when he can tell people that I let him have the final say on how our lives and marriage will go. Not that I don’t have a say, because I do (and I was enormously flattered when a man recently complimented me, “You’re one of the strongest women I know”), and not because my husband doesn’t respect me and view me as equally valuable, because he does. I don’t think a woman can allow men to be men, as “primal” as we might see their “me big man” urges as being, unless she is strong and confident in her femininity and value as a woman. Just as it takes a man confident of his manhood to respect women. Opinions expressed under the label of “feminism” have so often come to sound to me like the worst kind of insecurity and playground bullying – men can’t be big and important because it’s in the way of women being big and important.

    Sorry, that got a bit more rant-y than I intended.

    Of course it’s fine not to do these things for yourself if they make you uncomfortable. But to hold up Spain and say, “I wish we had this system here” – well, that’s taking away my ability to choose what I want to do for myself, which is the opposite of what this should all be about.

    Anyway, thank you, Lisa, for writing something that validates the more conservative choices a woman may make without being anti-feminist. I think this is just as important in the overall discussion as talking about rape culture and other injustices that remain.

    • Amy March

      It sounds like you’re uncomfortable with the feminist label because you’re not a feminist. I’d rather see the position of “no, I’m not a feminist, but yes, I do care about women in these specific ways” reclaimed than argue that its possible to both be a feminist and believe that it is in men’s nature to want their wives to change their names (which to my mind is clearly not true. Naming conventions are cultural and there have always been societies where women do not change their names).

      • KC

        I’d note that a *ton* of APW comments have been basically “you like the right to vote, own property, and wear pants? Then quit the see-sawing and call yourself a feminist already.”

        So… it is, perhaps, complicated.

        I don’t know, but would guess, that the “inherently wanting name change” is more of an “inherently wanting predominance/recognition as expressed by the surrounding culture” and culturally, we’ve generally changed names, so the latter ends up potentially meaning the former. I’m not sure that “inherently wanting predominance/recognition” *is* a biological rather than cultural thing, but that would be how I would expect that one to play out.

        Note: I do think a ton of “average” gender differences are nurture rather than nature, though, and even more are cultural expressions of things [for instance, I can’t think of any cultures where being physically attractive was not very important for women; what that has actually looked like has varied ridiculously, though, even just over time within the same culture], which might have some practical/biological basis or might be solely cultural. (things like ability to breastfeed and, potentially, average maximum number of pull-ups are, um, probably biological, however)

        • Liz

          I think the difference for me is that there are often threads wherein women say, “Yeah, I think women are equal with men, but I just don’t like that term,” versus, “I don’t relate to that term because I think men should be in charge of women.” Very different. For that first set, I’ll argue that I’d lovvve for you to use the term because of the solidarity it represents. For the second set, I’ll beg you not to misuse the term.

          • meg

            Exactly this. If you want men to have the final say in your life, you’re not a feminist. Sure, I wish you were. But that’s because I wish that you believed that men and women should be in egalitarian partnership, not because I want you to “reclaim” the term.

      • Lauren

        Amy March, you are KILLING IT today. Well said.

      • While I do agree that name changing is cultural (In Mexican culture for example, women keep their names, and I’m Mexican which is one of the most patriarchal societies out there), to say that she can’t be a feminist just because she understands why some men would want their wives to take their last name, is defeating the whole purpose of the post and trying to place a square peg in a round hole.
        I’m a feminist, and I took my husband’s last name. That was my decision because I wanted to share that with my husband. Each feminist chooses which battles to face, and to mean, a name was not the one I chose to battle for. I’d much rather concern myself with making sure my husband does his fair share of the housework.

        • meg

          I think this is totally true. Feminism isn’t a checklist. Of course you can be a feminist and: change your name, etc, etc. We don’t pick all the fights to fight, personally.

          However, if you want your husband to have the final say in your life, and feel more like a man: you have every right to want that. But it doesn’t make you a feminist. Feminism is about equality. (NOT that men and women are all inherently the same. But equality.)

      • Agreed – complementarian marriages (which is if I’m not mistaken what you’re describing in saying that your husband has the final day in “how your life and marriage will go”) are BY DEFINITION incompatible with feminism because they perpetuate a power imbalance and strip women of agency in their marriages – in short, feminism at the very minimum promotes an egalitarian view of marriage.

        If you’re interested, Rachel Held Evans is an evangelical Christian author who runs a great blog that frequently addresses the complementarian / egalitarian issue from a much more informed stance than I can ever hope to – you should check her out!

        • JMS

          I second the Rachel Held Evans recommendation. She’s great.

        • MK

          Furthermore, AshleyMeredith may be interested to read up on the history of complementarianism, which didn’t really get established as a concept (women and men are separate but equal, to paraphrase — the “separate spheres” concept in psychology also evolved at this time (and has since been disregarded)) until the Victorian era in England and America.

          It was a reaction to the industrial revolution, which suddenly freed up women from doing “just” home tasks because of the vast and sweeping technological and cultural changes.

          This progression was new and scary, so a new dogma was created encouraging this kind of “complementary” model for the way men and women should act.

          If you are interested in learning more about the history, that is. If you aren’t interested in the wiki rabbit hole, then Amy March has summarized things well, too.

        • AshleyMeredith

          Sounds like a good recommendation – I will check it out. But based on what MK says below about complementarianism, that sounds like something different.

          Where I’m coming from is: whenever two people are planning something together (are we going to move? should we buy a new car? etc), ABSOLUTELY both people should contribute to the decision, both people’s needs should be accounted for, as much as possible both people should be completely happy with the decision. And I would NEVER for one second be with a guy who didn’t believe that and act accordingly. But sometimes two points of view simply can’t be meshed and you have to pick one. For instance: my husband is from Detroit, and multiple members of his family earn their livelihood from GM, and he only wants us to support American car companies. I like BMW, which is not American. The way I view it, there are only two possibilities: we can fight about this until the end of time and destroy a lot of peace and goodwill in our marriage over something which is important to him but not to me. Or somebody gets the final say. And my choice is: “A company needs a CEO who gets the privilege of the final say, or there will just be chaos. A family also needs a CEO. I choose to allow my husband to be that.”

          I don’t believe that me making that choice deprives me of agency. There’s nothing preventing me from changing my mind and making another choice if situations change.

          But if that makes me not feminist… okay. I won’t worry about it any more, because I’m making the choices that work for me without suggesting that anybody else needs to make the same choices. Which I wish is what feminism would be about.

          • MK

            Sorry, I’m a history nerd, and knowing the background of my beliefs (where they originated) is something I enjoy. Don’t let what I said stop you from your investigation and your understanding! I just wanted to share what I had learned.

          • I would draw the line here. Deciding your husband is the CEO is not feminist, in my book. Unless you get to change your mind ANY TIME YOU WANT.

          • meg

            I’m really with Lisa here. Sure, some days I’m stressed and decide my husband should be CEO for the day. And then tomorrow, I decide I’m the CEO. But feminism is about equal access to power, and a husband as CEO is not that.

            I’m unclear about why you want to be a feminist. I think it’s cool that you do, mind you. But if you just want to make good choices for you, that’s just living life, not fighting for women’s equality and access to power.

          • Sarah

            “But sometimes two points of view simply can’t be meshed and you have to pick one.”

            Definitely true. But I’m not sure why my partner’s opinion should always trump my own; I don’t think it’s that black and white. Either we come up with a third option that both us can live with, or we agree that the issue is more important to one person or the other and let them decide.
            For example, we are currently talking about moving across town to be closer to my family, but he really likes that our current place is next to the beach. In the end, he said that the decision is largely up to me – me wanting to be near my family is a higher priority than him being near the beach.
            If we were having a disagreement about what car to buy, he would most likely have the final say. He drives a lot more than I do, and at the end of the day I’m not that interested in cars.
            To me, being in a relationship is about learning to pick your battles. Sometimes its important to stand up for what you want, and sometimes its better to let go. If you are truly equal, then it has to go both ways.

        • KH_Tas

          Not particularly central, but I remember the first time I heard about complementarian-ism in a class, I barley had time to get out how unfemanist it was before getting stuck into the teacher for pretty much stating outright that a marriage had to be heterosexual to work

      • AshleyMeredith

        When I embraced the feminist label, it was because I had heard it very broadly defined as, “Wanting every woman to have just as many choices as men, and be able to make the choices that work for her, and not being demeaned or abused because she’s a woman.” All of which I can totally get behind. And still would say is my mantra.

        It’s a good point to say that name changes are cultural. But if I want to change my name, why shouldn’t I be allowed to? If people who call themselves feminists are going to look down on me for changing my name because that’s not what a “woman who’s pulling her weight for the sisterhood” would do, then isn’t that just as confining and unfair as a patriarchal society saying that I have no choice BUT to change my name?

        • MK

          I think the perception that many or even “most” feminists would look down on you for making a reasoned choice is likely overblown. Lots of feminists do change their names. Some don’t. But all can generally agree that you should be able to.

          • meg

            Yeah, I don’t think most feminist have a problem with you personally changing your name. Lots of feminists change their name. I don’t know that it’s a feminist choice, but we all make lots of not particularly feminist choices. That’s not the issue. Power balance in a relationship (believing a man should have it because he’s a man), THAT I take issue with, and find totally incompatible with feminism.

            I mean, I’m glad it works for you, great, have at. But that doesn’t make it a remotely feminist viewpoint.

        • Amber

          The issue makes me so upset because it’s expected of women and not men. It’s not even a question for them. No man is ever assumed to have changed his name after marriage. No one asks a man if he’s changing his name and then balks if he says no. No bride’s family keeps calling him and addressing letters by the wrong last name because they don’t accept he doesn’t have to take her name. Men didn’t have to fight to be allowed to keep the name they were given at birth.

          So when I don’t recognize half my Facebook friends because they change their names, I think of all the injustice perpetuated by that tradition.

          • k

            “So when I don’t recognize half my Facebook friends because they change their names, I think of all the injustice perpetuated by that tradition.”

            This made me smile just a little, because although I didn’t change my name and never even seriously considered it, I have to admit the biggest *attraction* of name changing to me was the fact that — cool! — it would be like entering the Witness Protection Program! No one would know who I was or how to track me down!

    • Kestrel

      The problem I have with these arguments is that they’re mostly purely cultural. A dad walking their daughter down the aisle is one. I agree with you in that now of days it doesn’t have the same connotations of property that it might once have had (although I do take issue with the “who gives this woman” text – particularly because there’s no male equivalent to that one). However, it’s simply a cultural expectation.

      As for the ‘male as protector and provider’ – I firmly believe that is also greatly cultural, and is currently hurting a lot of men. They feel disillusioned when things don’t go well and they can’t provide for their families even when there’s a perfectly capable woman who can help. It’s a reason why men can struggle in child custody (they had to provide – so they didn’t spend time with the kids). I’m not saying it’s 100% cultural (testosterone is a weird thing…) but I do believe our culture overemphasizes it.

      Everyone wants to be able to help their family. Culture has told men the way to do that is to make money and be the breadwinner, and shames them if they have difficulties with that.

      So in your personal relationship, it’s perfectly fine that your husband has the final decision if that’s both what you’re ok with – but really don’t try and apply that to all women and men. I think you’re overemphasizing the amount of feminists who think that women definitely shouldn’t be walked down the aisle or change their names EVER. Rather, they want there to be equality there – for it to no longer be a stigma if a man changes their name to their wife’s, or for a woman to keep her name, or for a woman to change her name to her husband’s. So there aren’t stigmas of men being failures for being stay-at-home dads, or career women being cold and unfeeling. Equality is the name of the game.

      The idea that women and men are incredibly varied is, in my opinion, the biggest proponent of feminism – that everyone deserves to have unbiased choice because everyone is different, and what works for one person (say a more traditionally structured marriage) will not work for another. Women and men can be incredibly different, but if you look at nearly any test/measurement that can be numerically quantified, the variation among men and the variation among women is far, far greater than the average difference between men and women.

      • CBB

        Right! I think the feminist argument is against the expectation of traditionally patriarchal practices (like name change and the giving away of daughters), not necessarily against the practices themselves.

        • Exactly. Had to write it out because I really meant it.

        • meg


      • My exactly button isn’t working, so exactly X 1 million for this comment.

      • Tamar

        My exactly button isn’t working either, but this resonated with me so deeply. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly, Kestrel. Thanks for this comment.

    • Anonymous

      “but I’ve actually been avoiding the site a little during feminist month because a lot of the pieces and opinions make me feel judged and uncomfortable.”

      Ditto. Except I went one step further mentally – Is this my problem and not APW’s? Maybe. My theory is that this isn’t my website. It’s owned by someone else and this is the way they want things to be framed. When the owner of the site tells me I’m wrong to feel the way I feel about feminism and my connection to it, I don’t have to agree, but I have to respect that it’s not my website so I don’t have any rights here.

      Has it made me feel less welcome here? Yes. Have I refrained from commenting all month because I don’t just feel, I’ve been told my stance is not welcome here? Yes.

      But there’s a whole internet out there. Instead of getting down on APW about the way they choose to run the conversation on feminism, I’ll go elsewhere for the more open discussion of woman’s rights I desire and I’ll come here for other things. This can be a website for relationship talk or family talk or marriage talk. It doesn’t have to be the place for feminism or equality talk for all of us, because not all of us feel the same way. And that’s ok.

      • meg

        No one wants this to be a website without a point of view. Our point of view is pretty broad, but you can bet that we have a point of view.

        And you’re totally right. It’s not for everyone (which is sort of the deal with a POV), and it’s a wide world out there. Yay for that. And and even bigger yay for feeling like you can take what works for you from APW, even though there is some other stuff that doesn’t work for you.

    • lady brett

      i don’t have a problem with most of the specifics of what you’re saying, but i really don’t buy the gender-specificity of all that. my queer relationship has power dynamics, my queer relationship has personality differences, physical differences, gender differences, my queer relationship aims to have a “provider”. i think the differences between my spouse and i are (mostly =) brilliant and amazing, and in many ways stark, but they are not differences of sex. and i think that is the case for many people in many sorts of relationships.

      also, i am not arguing that there are not differences between men and women, just that the differences between individuals are so much greater and more relevant.

    • meg

      I’m with you on some of this, and we’ve been editorially behind some of these ideas: of course you can have your dad walk you down the aisle and be a feminist. Also: of course you can have a problem with it and be a feminist.

      That said, this sentence jumped out at me, “I see how my husband lights with pride, and feels more a man, when he can tell people that I let him have the final say on how our lives and marriage will go.” I seriously disagree with all of that. My husband doesn’t have the final say in how our lives or marriage will go (nor do I). And I/we don’t do things to make him feel like “more of a man.” Feminism is about equality and humanity. And while we both find roles that make sense (he broke the glass at our wedding, because he wanted to do that, and I wanted him to do that, rad, we found the right roles). In our household there are not things that make us feel “more like a man” or “more like a woman.” Because we’re… people. And some of our cultural gender roles are terrible (Men can’t cry? Bullshit.)

      I’m not raising my son to be a good man. I’m raising him to be a good person. And that means respecting the women in his life as equals, and not getting the final say.

      • Sarah

        Hmm… yes. I think there’s a fine distinction between doing something to “be a man” and doing something to “be the man you want to be”. In one you’re living up to an external standard that’s mostly fabricated and in the other you’re acknowledging the person you want to be through the filter of your gender. For example, my husband loves when I cook for him because he gets home late and he’s starving and he doesn’t have time to cook even if he knew how. And I love cooking for him because I know he sees it as a demonstration of my love. Not because I’m a woman and he’s a man, but because I’m a good cook and he likes to eat. Score. If it makes him feel manly for me to cook for him, well, good for him. I think it just makes him less hungry.

        My grandmother was excellent with math and to her dying day used to balance her cheque-book to the penny. But it wasn’t a woman’s place to do the finances in her day so my grandfather did. It took years to work out the mess he left after her passed away. If my grandmother had been allowed to used her talents in that marriage who knows how wealthy they could have been. I wonder if my grandfather would have felt like less of a man if he got rich from my grandma investing his money.

        • Class of 1980

          Hmmm. This is curious to me. My grandmother would have been over 100 years old now if she hadn’t died in 2005.

          She was a stay-at-home mother, but she always handled the finances. My grandfather had nothing to do with them.

      • KC

        So I agree on the can-we-please-toss-cultural-gender-structures-that-don’t-work-for-us (and on this one in specific), *but* if this was rephrased by the husband into “I see how my wife lights with pride, and feels more a woman, when she can tell people that I think she’s beautiful even when she has the flu.”, what kind of reaction would it provoke?

        I guess: there’s gendered cultural stuff that sometimes boosts self-confidence or that makes you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot (or, alternately, um, not). Some of this could be phrased “feeling like a real [or nat-u-ral] woman” or “feeling like a real man”, but more or less boils down to “matching up with the implanted cultural expectations for the ideal”. Where this doesn’t work out equally is that the cultural expectations for ideal men are… um… not like the cultural expectations for ideal women.

        How much can you comply with these gendered cultural expectations while still being feminist, especially where it comes to ceding specific power in specific areas of life to a specific male? That seems like an interesting (if somewhat academic) question to me. If someone has this sort of husband-as-CEO marriage at home and is a fan of name-changing and maybe even garter-tossing, but also boosts female-owned small businesses and pounds the pavement to get tutors and childcare for teenage mothers and works for pay equality measures and for better opportunities for education and work and childcare and healthcare for impoverished women around the world, is she a feminist? Or does the husband-as-CEO-in-her-specific-marriage thing cancel out all the rest of her views and actions in this “area”?

        (I personally like the marriage action model of “we each do the things we’re best at, and try to go against the cultural tide, gender-wise, on any odd things out like oil changes”, but that’s my semi-contrarian history. And still looking to the average thread results here to see whether I can hold a view against third-trimester abortion [and apparently hence be against women’s bodily autonomy and wanting to make everyone SUFFER and also be lumped in with people who are against contraception of all kinds…] and still be an APW feminist.)

        • I would say the Husband-As-CEO, all-men-are-more-“manly”-than-all-women is a non-feminist view. However, any given woman and any given man can organize their personal relationship however they choose, and still operate in the sociopolitical system with a separate agency.

          I think you’re right, it’s more useful to talk about acting feminist than being one.

          • KC

            I hadn’t quite gotten to that point of articulation – thank you! Acting vs. being.

            (and if anyone actually thinks that every last man is more “manly” than every last women, I’ve got a good assortment of mind-blowing people they should meet. Unless they define “being a man” as having a penis, and “being manly” as having a penis, in which case it’s just sort of tautological…)

      • Kathleen

        I’m not 100% sure I’m on board with this. A complementarian marriage would never in a million years work for my relationship – my husband might fall down laughing if someone suggested that I would abdicate decision-making. But, on another level, I can personally see how much better my husband feels about himself when he feels like he can provide for our family – or, conversely, how much it hurts his self-esteem when he feels like he can’t. And that’s a lot of culturally-imposed, gendered baggage – but it’s still real. It still impacts him, and us, and our relationship. And if we choose to order our life such that he is the main financial provider because that’s how he’ll feel good about himself, does that make me not a feminist? Is decision-making a deal-breaker for defining feminism but bread-winning is not?

        (For the record, a life where he feels good about himself by being the main provider also means a life where I can work at a job I love even though I make less money, and might one day mean a life where I can work part-time or stay home when we have kids, which may ALSO be the result of culturally-imposed, gendered baggage, but is still something I’d like to do. It works for us. Also, when he was unemployed, it was a huge blow to his self-esteem. When I was unemployed, I baked a ton of bread, did some babysitting, and felt fine about myself, though of course it would have been nice to have had the additional income.)

        Yes, his (and my) main concerns are being good people, not being “a real man” or “a real woman.” But if earning less money makes him feel less “like a man,” should we somehow force the issue so that he doesn’t feel like the provider? Should I go out and get a higher-paying job (outside of the field I love, which isn’t exactly brimming with high-paying jobs) so that I’m the bread winner? Obviously that would be kind of cruel and just trying to emasculate him on purpose to serve a point. If a particular area of our life is organized the way it works for us, which may happen to be quite gendered, as opposed to in an overtly-feminist way that defies stereotypes but would make us both miserable, does that disqualify us from being feminists? The feeling here seems to be that in some situations, like AshleyMeredith’s, it does. But in others, possibly like mine, it might not. Where’s the line?

        • Carvaka

          “if we choose to order our life such that he is the main financial provider because that’s how he’ll feel good about himself”

          So, hypothetically, what if you’re offered a much more highly paid job for your skills than he can get for his skills? Would you decline it for being a woman?

          I think when you say that your husband makes more money (and you like it that way) because of your specific strengths and aspirations as two people, that’s fully compatible with feminism. Here you would be dividing responsibilities based on what works best for you as people. That’s perfectly feminist for me.

          However, when you say that he should make more money (in part) because he is the man and it helps him feel better about his masculinity, you cross over into the ‘non-equality’ camp for me. Men are not automatically entitled to privileges in order to preserve their masculinity. Where do you draw the line with that logic? What if he feels emasculated by doing housework, by participating in childcare, by not being allowed to beat his wife, etc?

          Also when you say that your husband should be the provider because he is a man and should feel good about himself, you make implications for the wage gap. If men feeling good about their masculinity is somehow more important than equal privileges/ rights for everyone, then all men should be paid more than women. Otherwise it’s a bit cruel to emasculate them, no? I know I’m spinning your words a bit but if you extend the logic of men having privileges just for being men, that’s where it takes you.

          If my husband feels emasculated by my existence as an equal, that’s a (long) discussion to have, not an automatic call for him to get his way. It’s not really about decision making or about bread-winning for me, it’s about the reason for doing (or not doing) those things. As soon as we start saying that one partner must have certain roles or privileges because of their gender (even if we add other reasons), we cross over to the ‘non-equality’ non-feminist side.

          • Kathleen

            You certainly did twist my words! I never said that my husband NEEDS to make more money than I do, or that he SHOULD make more money than I do. I didn’t say we should avoid doing things just because they MIGHT (or even would) emasculate men. I never intended to imply that men are entitled to privileges to preserve their masculinity, or that feeling good about masculinity was more important than equal rights! I don’t believe that at all!

            I was trying to draw a parallel between the OP’s situation and what I consider to be a less extreme version, the kind that millions of couples find themselves in every day – where our combined gender baggage makes men feel less worthy if they can’t provide for their families to a certain degree, or women feel more guilt about whether to stay home with their kids, or any of a million other situations that get worked into the ways in which we all organize our lives and our relationships, in ways that aren’t exactly feminist but aren’t usually considered enough to disqualify us from using the label. It might be nice if “our strengths and aspirations as people” were completely divorced from gender but that’s not the world that most people live in. When do those gendered cultural influences on who we are and how we live our lives get strong enough that we can’t call ourselves feminists anymore? Do we have to fight them even when they work for us?

            For the record, if I were offered a job where I made more money than he did, I would consider strongly whether to take it – because I love my current job, not because it might emasculate my husband. If it did make him feel worse about himself, we would deal with that when it came. But I think that the suggestion that a situation that works for a couple in pretty much every way (as the OP’s does for her relationship) can’t be participated in by feminists – the idea that to be feminist, she’d need to change her relationship so as to make sure that her husband DOESN’T feel that sense of pride, of feeling like a real man – probably contributes greatly to the stereotype that feminists are all about tearing down men.

          • Carvaka

            “she’d need to change her relationship so as to make sure that her husband DOESN’T feel that sense of pride, of feeling like a real man”

            No, I think she’d have to consider whether the main reason for their decisions should be him getting to feel like a man. NOT making sure he doesn’t feel like a man. I don’t go around deflating my husband’s ego purposely but we would have a long chat about privilege if his pride came at the price of my personal agency.

            Yes sometimes you have to change or at least acknowledge the gender issues in your relationship for you to be a feminist. If one believes that men should get to pass on their name, then that’s not feminist. How can one identity be more important amongst equals, without any discussion? I don’t get how this is feminists wanting to tear men down, rather than just challenging assumptions. Some men are hard done by these too.

            I was initially thrown by ‘we choose to order our life such that he is the main financial provider because that’s how he’ll feel good about himself’. If that was your primary reason, then I would conclude that you’re giving more weight to his privilege. From your second comment, it sounds more like an equal or even main reason might be that you love your job. In which case, great for you both.

            “But if earning less money makes him feel less “like a man,” should we somehow force the issue so that he doesn’t feel like the provider?”

            I can’t imagine anyone suggesting you force it since you don’t want to change your job. If the job you loved paid more than your husband’s, would you hold back for him to be the provider? Then it would be non-feminist. The key is how and why you get to your arrangement. Traditional roles happen to work for some people but we mustn’t apply them as default norms for the entire gender. For example, the OP saying that men want their wives to take their name is not a good enough reason for me to give up my name.

          • Kathleen

            You’re right that my first comment overstated the degree to which my husband’s desire to be the provider is the reason for our current set-up – although I did mention loving my job in the first comment, too. I guess I’m imagining an alternative world: one where he works at a lower-paying job and will probably be the one to take off when we have kids, while I make more money. In this imaginary scenario, he might feel bad about not being the provider, while I know I’d feel bad about not being a primary caretaker. If that was worked for our family, practically, we’d make it work. We’d be okay with it. But instead we aim for the path of least resistance, so to speak, the scenario in which neither of us feels bad about our role in the family, even though it’s also the path that allows us to live with, rather than spend too much time challenging, the gender issues in our relationship.

            I’m beginning to think that this comparison was poorly chosen, or poorly articulated, on my part, for which I apologize. It just seemed like, on a post that so beautifully challenged some people’s assumptions of what it means to be a feminist, and the comments of which had such nuanced, civil discussions of where the abortion issue fits, that a lot of people just picked this different issue as something that unequivocally put you outside the bounds of feminism, and I’m not sure I agree.

            For the record, I asked my husband tonight if he would mind if I made more money than he did, and he was emphatic that it wouldn’t bother him at all – the more money either of us makes, the better. Taking that in combination with his statements that he feels like he should be a better provider for our family, it seems that while he wishes things were easier for our family, financially (who doesn’t?!), and feels like it’s his responsibility to better our situation, that responsibility can be a burden and he’d be happy not to have to carry it. (Although I suspect that he’s imagining a scenario where I was suddenly making more than he does now. We’d both love that, because we’d have lots of money! If instead we just reversed our current salaries, such that our income was the same and we still struggled sometimes, I think he’d be more inclined to leave a low-paying job he loved in order to make more money, due to that inclination to be “the provider.” Not that he’d want to make more than me, per se, but just that he’d be more worried about whether he was “doing his job” by providing for the family.)

      • It sounds funny, when you flip the genders… I’m trying to think if my husband does anything to “make me feel like more of a woman.”

        I suppose I could ask him, but I think the question would just catch him off guard and confuse the hell out of him.

        “Huh? I don’t… what does that even mean?… Why are you asking me this?”

        • KC

          I’m guessing sexual attractiveness, nurturing behavior of some kind, or color-coordination/beautifying might come up, if the question did hit neurons and get processed instead of bouncing off as being just completely weird (which, yes, that’s not the way I normally frame things either).

          But there might be something there, speaking as someone who feels like I’m flunking being female sometimes because of a lack of innate interior design and clothing coordination skill, and who tends to feel guilty about disliking babies and them disliking me [exception being that I’m fine with them if they are asleep or being entertaining/interactive, and they love it when I do the standing baby bounce, but that’s *it*. Otherwise, babies and I: not friends.]. I also hate shopping and don’t collect shoes and my purse is over a decade and a half old and I go for functional and low maintenance, not attractive, in daily routine and attire. So I sometimes feel like I’m not doing this properly (and then go, eh, I am who I am, and my husband is happy enough, forget it; but there are moments!)(and I also occasionally haul out the lingerie instead of the raggedy-but-super-comfy undies sometimes, for husbandly benefit – although honestly, I would feel less feminine if he didn’t find me attractive unless I was wearing lingerie, and I would also feel less feminine if he didn’t enjoy lingerie on me. So that’s kind of weird, too.).

        • KC

          (I’d also note that I can’t come up with anything that I do to make my husband feel like “more of a man”, partly because he doesn’t have most of the must-be-an-ideal-man over must-be-a-good-human baggage. I *do* deliberately try to not harm his confidence (i.e. trying not to wince as he’s carrying breakable things; generally assuming competence unless things indicate otherwise), but not really in gendered ways. I suspect he would not be able to come up with any “making me feel like more of a woman” things, although he *does* do things that reassure me that I’m fine the way I am despite the lack of shopping/babies/fashion gene and that he appreciates things about me, some of which are more stereotypically female.)

  • Anonymous

    This was an excellent post and I am grateful for APW serving as a forum for this kind of discussion. As I read the post, I thought that most of the characteristics Lisa mentions are not atypical of feminism. For those areas where feminists may differ in opinion, I just wanted to second a point raised by Tea For Two. Identifying and celebrating a variety of feminists may facilitate a better dialogue about controversial issues, like abortion. A debate on women’s reproductive health between two feminsts on either side of the issue means bypassing the misogyny and getting down to the substantive issues. Drawing from Lisa’s example, a feminist won’t waste time checking to see if the computer was really broken. She can skip straight to engaging her fellow feminist in how to fix it.

    • Kat R

      “A feminist won’t waste time checking to see if the computer was really broken. She can skip straight to engaging her fellow feminist in how to fix it.”

      This!!! I think even where reproductive health is concerned there are so many ways different kinds of feminists could unite to “fix the computer”. From the news you’d think it was all Us v. Them all the time, but in face to face conversations with real people it is rarely that simple – and there’s a lot more common ground.

    • meg

      Mmmm…. THIS.

  • Kestrel

    To be fair, I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe a computer is working no matter who is staring at it until I mess with it myself (unless I know for certain those working on it have a higher skillset than I do). So it could have not been a sexism issue!

    • And that is very fair of you. His very dismissive attitude though told a different story. :)

      Along those same lines, how many times have we all pushed an elevator button even with other people standing there and the button already lit up? Because clearly those other people must not have pushed it right. ;)

      • Kestrel

        Yeah, I’ve always had issues with a ‘is this a sexist thing, or am I actually ____?’ Like, is my boss assuming I can’t do anything because I’m a woman, or because I’m young? Or is it because I personally have done something that means he doesn’t believe I can do that?

        Sometimes it’s hard to tell!

    • KC

      I’d agree with this in theory (I basically always check that the keyboard and mouse are plugged in, for instance, before deciding a computer is frozen, no matter what the gender of the person operating it…), but there may have been extenuating circumstances not described in the text. And you do get to a point where you get fed up with a clear skew (10% of the time male colleagues say their computer is broken, the technician investigates more thoroughly to verify that it is, vs. 90% of the time for female colleagues) even if a specific individual instance is not necessarily gender-related.

  • Sara

    I’ve had a lot of issues with the term ‘feminist’. I think its because, like Lisa, I’m a square peg – a lot of the pro-life verbiage speaks to me because of my own personal beliefs but I run parallel to the pro-choice ideals because I don’t believe in taking away access just because I don’t agree with it (as much as I desperately don’t agree with it) because people will do stupid, risky things to themselves. I want my dad to walk me down the aisle because its important to him and he’s important to me. I let my goddaughter play princess with me but stress reading as more important. I am a huge fan of college football and baseball. I dream of being a stay-at-home-mom one day, cooking for my family and organizing carpools.
    I think I also pause because I’ve never been the ‘labeled’ girl. I wasn’t the smart one, the pretty one, the quirky one, the theatre geek, the book worm, the jock, etc. Its hard for me to see the term ‘feminist’ as anything other than another label I try to shrug off. This month has done a lot to open my eyes, but this article and this comment section is the first time that I’ve thought “maybe I am a feminist”.

    Also, I would never burn a bra because those things are expensive and I’m not wasting money just to build a fire.

    • MK

      Not that you need “approval” or anything like that, but your beliefs sound feminist to me, too.

      And, let’s be honest, ladies like bras. Bras are helpful and supportive. Not worth burning, and a huge sight better than corsets were.

      • Ann

        My bras are WAY to expensive to burn. Also, if I don’t wear my nice, expensive bras, I get shoulder and neck pains. I love my bras!

        Also, the idea of burning a still useful bra kind of bothers me. If you don’t want it, donate it. Because burning it probably releases some unpleasant chemicals that are bad for the environment.


        A far left progressive, environmentalist, queer feminist who has large breasts.

    • Kestrel

      I think you’ll find the majority of people agree with you on the whole abortion thing – no one wants people to get abortions, but at the same time, they don’t want to take a woman’s right to autonomy away either.

  • Natalie

    After being pro-choice for many years, I found the pro-life feminist movement and have identified with it ever since. No judgement here either way–it’s just what I identify with more. But when I tell people that I am a pro-life feminist, they look at me like I am nuts. (I am nuts, actually, but that’s another story.) Anyway, I liked that part of your article.

    • Aren’t we all just a little nuts? It’s what makes life a whole lot more fun.

  • Sarah NCtoPA

    Giggles, I’ve looked over your blog and *love* the post about people assuming as a recently married woman I must be pregnant if I’m feeling slightly ill (not even nausea, apparently any discomfort must mean I’m with child!). Apparently once you get married you must be on the road to procreating….? And the post about not telling people about your infertility–this is why we aren’t going to tell anyone when we do start trying.

    • I dream of a world where I can crave a Krispy Kreme and not have all of FaceBook start buying me baby items.

  • Sarah

    I echo the applause here that from what I’ve read, the discussion here is intelligent and thought-provoking and hasn’t descended into the madness that seems to happen in every other comments section.

    I think a lot of our confusion comes from the idea that there are two extremes of social models. The first goes something like religious/political leader–> men –> women — > children, and the power goes down the chain like that. Racial, religious, and socio-economic status are layered upon that scale at different intervals depending on where this power structure occurs. At the other end we have a bubble of equality where we find all cultures, genders, and political beliefs and we all get along. Homosexuality is a problem in cultures that embrace the former model because to accept homosexuality is to mess with the power structure that exists there. Someone has to claim power they don’t have a right to based on this structure or give up power they are entitled to by virtue of their gender. Whereas, in the bubble, men and women are equal, so who chooses to pair up ceases to become an issue. Clearly feminists lean towards the bubble model but the ladder model is so engrained in our culture that it’s hard to shake it off completely.

    One problem is that many of our dating, wedding, and marriage conventions are modeled much more on the former model – the man surprises the woman with an expensive ring, the father gives away the daughter, the woman expects an expression of love on Valentine’s Day, and on and on.

    It’s a complicated process to strive for equality, honour our partners and their ideas about what their gender roles are, and enjoy our (sometimes sexist) cultural traditions while challenging the ones that we feel need to change.

  • Cathy

    Phew! This is one excellent discussion ladies.
    I too have been reconsidering my position in the feminist sphere this month thanks to the (excellent) articles. My late night navel gazing about whether I’m a ‘bad’ feminist never really reached a conclusion.
    I must applaud this comment thread, and all contributors for helping me to work through this.
    Yes, the outside world may see my relationship as gender typical in the 1950s sense, but truely, his working longer hours has everything to do with our different strengths and abilities AS PEOPLE.
    Plus we both show our love for each other in different ways due to our very different personalities. We love each other, we support each other.

  • Maggie

    I started reading the comments unable to reconcile the idea of a pro-life feminist. After reading the comments I can understand how someone can hold these opposing (in my mind) views. So, thank you everyone for your honesty and respect. I’ve learned so much!

  • Sarah

    Here is, to my mind, what being a feminist is:

    The crazy idea that women should have the same opportunities as men. That they should never be told or feel like “No you can’t because you’re a woman”. That they should be paid the same amount of money for doing the same job that a man does.


    The rest of this? Complemintarn marriage, egalitarian marriages, Husband as CEO, Husband as co-ceo, stay at home parenting etc? This is semantics.
    If it works for you, beautiful, just know that it might not work for every woman. And as long as you know that, I frankly could give a flying fig how you set your life up.

    Feminism is about choice. The choice to be a stay at home mom. The choice to work. The choice to go to whatever college you want. The choice to pursue whatever career you want.

    We solve NOTHING (except fueling the mommy/woman wars) by bickering about another woman’s choices. They are hers to make, and I’m thrilled to bits that she’s making ones that work for her.

    Now, if you’re living a life that is not what you want, but rather what you’ve been told/feel you have to live…another ball of wax.

    Meg and her husband are Co-CEO’s of their family. Awesome! My friend stays at home and takes care of her children and bakes and sews and follows her husband’s job wherever it leads them. She is deliriously happy. Awesome! My husband and I dream of a life where we can both work part time so we can trade off days at home with the kids. Awesome!
    My life choices work for me.I do not expect them to work for anyone else.

    I know some people might say what I’m talking about isn’t feminism. It is. Feminism is the wild idea that women should have the same choices as men. It’s not the wild idea that women should not be allowed to say “I want my husband to have the final say in certain family matters”.

    In short: I really wish we could stop the bickering and just fight for the right for women to make any choice they want. Even if you think that choice is archaic and sexist and wrong.