My Mother Never Thought Feminism Would Make Me Unhappy

my-mothers-feminism-cherie-dinoia

My mother, like yours, was a product of her time.

She always wanted what was best for me.

When I was 14 years old she told me, “Make sure you always have enough money to take care of yourself and never depend on a man.”

It was one of those conversations where she was sitting on my bed, touching my hair and looking a little nostalgic … one of those moments I knew to pay close attention, because she was trying to teach me how to have a happy life.

Fast-forward 20 years, and I was a model of the strong, independent woman who has never depended on anyone, much less a man.

I worked through college to pay my own way, just so my dad wouldn’t be able to tell me what to do—not because he couldn’t or hadn’t offered to pay.

(That was stupid.)

In my first marriage, I would only clean the house when my husband wasn’t around because I never wanted him to see me in a subservient role.

(That was ridiculous.)

In my second marriage, I ran a business and birthed two kids without ever stopping, so that I could pay for half of the expenses and never give my husband the satisfaction of knowing that I relied on him.

(That was insane.)

When each of my marriages collapsed—after all who would stay married to someone who didn’t need them and didn’t value anything they provided?—we split our assets evenly.

I never dreamed of asking them for help outside of sharing equally in the expenses of our children.

The responsibility of the world—my world—lay on my shoulders.

I never even questioned it. It is just the way the world—my world—was.

The truth is, I am tired … bone achingly tired.

I have dreams of being June Cleaver, making dinner in a crinoline skirt and perfect makeup. Dreams where my only responsibility is to care for my perfect family and make my perfect husband the perfect scotch.

Maybe I’m entering into the existential questioning phase of my 40s.

Or maybe it’s the fact that I really want to homeschool my children, and I don’t see how to accomplish that while still earning the money needed to feed them as well.

I have been stuck in a loop trying to figure out how to make it all work, all by myself.

Isn’t that was we women do best?

Then my ex-husband said the most bizarre and shocking thing …

He told me that he was taking on an extra project this summer to make some extra cash so that he could “take care of his family.”

After a few seconds of confusion, I asked, “Do you mean me too?”

He just laughed and said, “of course.”

He said he was excited about it and that it made him feel like a powerful man to be able to provide for us.

(Turns out that my talents for emasculation have known no bounds.)

It was one of those moments when you feel your brain is short-circuiting, like the moment the elevator doors open and you expect to see floors and mirrors, but instead you see the ocean.

I thought I had burned my village down, but it had always been there. I just hadn’t allowed myself to see it.

I realized that it wasn’t the politicians, or the men, that took away my freedom to choose.

It was my own convoluted interpretation of what being an independent woman looked like.

In its purist form, the feminist movement worked to give us the freedom to have a career beyond teaching and nursing and to give us back some God-given opportunities that society had been overlooking.

But in the 21st century we don’t view these rights as opportunities, we view them as obligations.

It is no longer okay to choose to be a stay-at-home mom, as if you are wasting your life and not contributing to society in a meaningful way.

The breakdown in our cultures hasn’t been the feminist movement per se.

The breakdown happened when we started to believe that having careers and being ruthlessly self-reliant would lead to happiness, combined with a belief that being “traditional” caretakers and providers would not.

This is the message we are bombarded with hourly by the media, advertising and the global corporatocracy.

It makes me happy to have the freedom to contribute to society by writing and doing my consulting work.

But it also makes me happy to provide for my kids, buy vegetables at the market for my ex-husband, do yoga, and serve my community.

Self-reliance ensures that we are never going to need anyone or be at their mercy—which would make sense if being self-reliant were the goal.

But if our goal is to be happy, maybe we should start viewing the opportunities we were granted by the feminist movement as merely options and then choose freely whatever path feels most right in our hearts.

Those are my thoughts, anyway. What are yours?

 

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Comments

  1. cristina says

    WOW ! Great piece (and peace of mind !) that we have options to choose what happiness means to us, then pursue it with an empowered spirit. I applaud the example you set for your children as they forge their own paths of endless possibilities.

    • says

      Thanks Christina. Knowing we have the options is harder than actually accomplishing making that right choice everyday! I have to deal with that voice in my head constantly….I lose some battles….but I am starting to win the “war”. Much love….

  2. says

    Cherie,

    You are an amazing being. I thoroughly enjoy your outlook, insight and energy. Perhaps we were, in fact, brother and sister in another life ;)

  3. Alan Tannenbaum says

    Well put. Susan never believes me when I tell her that if she quit working and explored other interests that it would be totally okay with me. My greatest desire is that she be happy, whatever form that might take.

  4. Paula aka Yaya says

    Cherie,

    You are such an inspiration to me, you have no idea how much I appreciate the moment they you change my life. Every time you share a piece of wisdom, specially when its about choosing and family, it gives me the opportunity to grow as a woman, mother and wife.

    Thank you very much!! Te quiero tita.

  5. Amber says

    Oh my god. You are amazing. I so agree with you…I think that modern feminism definitely can put some pressure on women to break the mold and lead non-traditional lifestyles, but when it’s at its most productive, it is supposed to allow us the choice. Limiting us to choose a “modern, independent” lifestyle is just as bad as being limited to the “old” societal expectations.
    Love you!!

  6. says

    I could go on and on about this piece and I think that there is a NEED for a true discussion on this topic. I love your insight and your expression of how we may have swung the pendulum. Love this post…

    • says

      I am glad you think so Edna. I do to. I am grateful for all of the progress we have made, and don’t want to offend or disrespect anyone. It is more about a shift in mindset. Yes we are equals in many ways, but we are still very different from men and I think some of our finer attributes (being nurturers for one) have been “shadowed” by what some masculine traits that have been perceived as more “valuable.”

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