apathy, empathy & feminism

I think my childhood was a pretty good mix of activities. I played with Barbies with my sisters and I loved ballet; my only brother often recruited us to play GI Joe, or run around in the evening in all black with fake guns like some sort of spy movie. My childhood also gave me a pretty strong example of traditional woman roles. My dad worked a fairly normal-hours job, and my mom stayed home (possibly a result of her mom working so much during her own childhood).

Although my mom didn’t obtain a college degree, we were all raised to see college as the next step after high school. When I was a child I wanted to be a mom, because that’s what my mom was. Then I wanted to be a teacher because one of my elementary school teachers was so nice. Freshman year of college my sole focus was obtaining a degree and proving my independence, but in the back of my mind I assumed I’d end up a stay-at-home mom with a bachelors and a husband who worked.

I would have never thought of myself as a feminist. In fact, I probably would have argued that feminists were annoying, horrible people. But that was before I really understood what it meant.

In college I remember feeling proud of being independent and somewhat on my own. At one point I started telling myself I could do pretty much anything anyone else could. That thought became my inner motto for years, and it mostly pertained to guys: I could do anything a man could do–unless that man was really tall and we were competing to reach the top shelf. My dad taught me to how to change the car oil and top off the fluids… I didn’t need a man! (Except for my dad, who continued to change my car oil because he had the garage with all the necessary tools.)

Looking back, I think I was preparing for my unknown future. One where I became the mom and dad of the family. One where I took out all the garbage, installed a bathroom faucet, worked the full-time job, and make the decisions about EVERYTHING. For someone who spends hours researching baby spoons, that last one was not easy.

I worked in NYC as a single mom and still never thought I’d be a feminist. Although looking back, I probably didn’t have the energy to think of much beyond mom duties and work. But I digress. My point is that I thought feminism was for women who walked in parades showing their boobs, hated all men, and must not like doors held open for them because that’s what true equality would be.

Then life handed me more new experiences, I read books and learned from others, and my perspective on feminism changed. I realized I was judging feminism from a completely negative stereotype. Instead I should have understood what it actually meant: equality. Nothing about equality is hateful or immoral. It’s just equal.

Lately the conversation about equality and feminism has grown louder and I’ve realized my thoughts are still evolving. Although my opinions are pretty strong on equality, I’m continually learning from other perspectives.

Lets take for example when someone on Facebook shared a video saying the wage gap is because women voluntarily choose lower-paying jobs. My comments about why women choose these jobs provoked a total stranger to tell me I must feel undervalued as a mother and lacking confidence as a woman if I believe things are unequal in society.

That same day I read an opinion article arguing why women who become mothers are not wasting their college education, even though liberals say they are. I felt a little annoyed politics had to come into it, why does that have to be something divided down party lines? Then a month later I heard someone share that exact sentiment: women who have children right out of college are wasting their degree. Personally I wonder why it matters what another women has decided to do with her college degree. Then there was that whole debate about the women’s march on D.C….

I’m constantly thinking of the WHY behind people’s thoughts and actions, and for some reason these instances got me thinking longer than usual. I wondered how my opinions could be so different than women I worked with, became friends with, who lived relatively similar childhoods as I did.

I thought enough about it I wanted to put some ideas into action. I am only one perspective as a woman, but I really want to hear more. I don’t just want to hear opinions, I want to hear WHYs.

Sure, there’s people out there I think are completely wrong (like the article I once read about how there should be limits to women studying science), but there are also women who just want to peacefully live their lives in the roles they feel comfortable with; stay-at-home moms, part-time workers, primary income-earners, professional instagramers that make me feel bad about my selfie skills (that’s the four main categories, right?).

I don’t think sharing different life stories and perspectives will change the world necessarily, but it can help change our understanding of people in the world. Empathy is my current favorite word; to me it so perfectly describes a solution to so many problems in the world.

So if you’ve stuck with me so far on this epically-long post, I commend you. And I implore you to come back in the next weeks to hear perspectives from other women. Yes! You don’t have to just hear my random ramblings, lucky dog you.

To kick this off, I’ve asked a handful of women to answer questions and share their perspectives on all things woman. My hope is not to spark argument or debate, but to hear more whys, and get more people excited about my favorite word.

Yay, for empathy!

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