About seven weeks ago, I awoke to find an email from my husband. It had no subject and no greetings. All it contained was a link. I clicked on it, confused, and was redirected to a real estate website that listed a condo for sale. One condo. In that moment, everything changed: my perception of myself, my future, and most of all the realization that I’m not a feminist.
Surprised? I’m not, even though I’ve dedicated a big chunk of my adult life to promoting, supporting, and fighting for women’s rights. After signing on the dotted line for a new home, my first, I am finally ready to say I will no longer use the word "feminist" to describe myself. Here’s why.
Hubby did it all.
That’s right. Hubby found our home and took care of absolutely everything involved in buying our new home. He contacted the owners’ real estate agent, found us a real estate agent, and coordinated everything with our current landlady, the banks, lawyer, loan company, movers, insurance agent, the new building, old building, the garage and so on.
He got the loan, calculated property taxes, negotiated a better offer, negotiated our financial responsibilities with our landlady, updated addresses with credit cards companies, our auto body shop and countless others, made keys, found a handyman and a guy to fix the oven, and coordinated the move-in date for our new furniture. And my new home has been paid for, almost entirely, with the money that he earned or his parents put away to secure his future.
While hubby took care of everything related to buying the house and getting us moved, I did housework. Yes, me, the gal with the Ivy League master’s degree and former Peace Corps Volunteer who fights vociferously for gender equality, took on the most traditional of all roles. I dusted the furniture, cleaned out closets, got rid of old books and toys and disposed of moldy food that had accumulated in the refrigerator. I organized everything we own so the movers will take only what we need for the new place. I hired housekeepers, and they’re at the condo this weekend, scrubbing the place from top to bottom before we get there.
It gets worse. At the closing yesterday, hubby sat next to our lawyer, while I sat next to hubby. I was the sidekick, only partially listening as our lawyer went through all the different fees, taxes, legal mumbo jumbo and so on. I signed paper after paper in a daze, with my initials and signature going behind hubby’s, almost as an afterthought. At a certain point, I tuned out almost entirely, burying myself on my phone. Anything to distract me from feeling that I had failed myself and all of my female peers by not contributing more – financially, emotionally and logistically – to the experience of buying a home. A home that, because of good credit, a signature and a marriage certificate, I get to call my own.
Hubby didn’t purposely leave me out of the experience. I just found it too overwhelming and scary to be involved. So much money I didn’t make. So much financial responsibility that would now be mostly on my spouse’s shoulders because my salary still hasn’t rebounded after having a kid.
Finally, it was over and the real estate agent handed us the keys to our future. I cried. Thanks to hubby and his generous family, I now have security. My daughter now has security. I thought about 1955, the year my grandparents – Holocaust survivors – came to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I thought about how my father left in 1986 and took all of our money so we'd be forced to sell our house. And then I thought about fleeing that same house in 1991, when I was 17, because of my mother's abusive boyfriend. Twenty-two years later, almost to the day, I now have a home.
If my lack of involvement in buying a house hasn’t sufficiently ticked off the feminists reading this, what I’m about to say now is sure to: I no longer identify with the word feminism. It feels vitriolic to me. The feminist movement in general feels angry and defensive. I no longer see respectful discourse or even progress. Are we sufficiently supporting women without children who have chosen strenuous and demanding career paths? Are we supporting the mom with kids who stays at home because it’s become cheaper than daycare or simply because she wants to? The answer, sadly, is no.
I’m the perfect example. Do you know what I was doing on the phone yesterday while hubby was taking the lead at the closing? I was debating with six or seven women in a private women’s tech group on Facebook about Marissa Mayer’s choice to pose like a submissive sexpot in Vogue. I said it was dumb and that no male CEO would have done the same. Except for a few likes and comments here and there, I was just about alone in my indignation. The vehement responses in favor of Mayer's decision depressed the heck out of me and reinforced my belief that smart, ambitious women have internalized the message that being smart and ambitious is not enough. The responses also affirmed to me, yet again, that the feminist movement is terribly out of touch.
I see men and women as complete equals. Actually, I take that back, considering the progress of women in the last decade, especially since the Great Recession – or Mancession as some call it – I actually see women as being more equipped than men to handle a rapidly changing world. But the word feminism itself no longer resonates with me. I no longer associate the word or the movement with hope, affirmation, pride, optimism and potential. As I learn more about the women’s movement of the 60’s up until today, I see pioneers who set the stage for my success today. But I also see hostility, anger, divisiveness, petty rivalries, and a whole lot of dysfunction and in-fighting. I see distinct choices having to be made about childrearing, work and finances.
Today, it looks like we may be farther from achieving gender equality than ever before. In part, I think it’s because we can’t come to a shared understanding about what is or is not in women’s best interests. Is Sheryl Sandberg implying that women must lean in at all times, something most of us can’t or simply don’t want to do? Should Huma Abedin divorce perpetual sexter Anthony Weiner? Do we get married early, not get married, freeze our eggs, have kids on our own, or forego experiences like the Peace Corps to lay a straight and successful career path? How do we date men who make less than us? How do we feel equal in our relationships when we fall into traditional gender roles? I can’t find thoughtful debates about these issues anywhere. What I see instead are polarizing Facebook arguments in which no one really seems to be listening.
But then again, what do I really know about feminism? I got off the fast track after having a kid. I didn’t pay for the beautiful home I’m about to move into (heck, I barely even read the paperwork). Am I role model for my daughter or a cautionary tale? I have no idea. Perhaps at some point, feminism will take a lesson from the gay marriage movement. It’s not about anger, blame, leaning in or duking it out to prove that you’re right and I’m wrong. It’s about human rights. It’s about equality in a way that encompasses all of the many complex and often contradictory roles we see for ourselves as women in today’s society.
(photo credits: ambro/freedigitalphotos.net)
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