Thursday, September 21, 2006

Am I a Feminist?: Part 1--My History

All the boob blogwars over the last week got me to wondering, am I a feminist? What is a feminist these days, anyway?

Here is Wikipedia's definition of feminism. According to the National Organization for Women, feminism is alive and well.

Why do I even care if I'm a feminist? In one sense, I don't care. I've never been fond of labels or exclusive clubs or group-think. I'm not even comfortable going to a concert and seeing 60,000 people clapping in delirious unison. That much unanimity makes me nervous.

In another sense, a woman is judged empty-headed, ungrateful and a male-dominated rube if she spurns the feminist label from one end. She can alternately be judged as a man-hating, baby-killing dike from the other end if she takes the label.

I would like to get this settled once and for all and then be done with it.

History of Me
Even as a kid, I enjoyed the company of men. The rules with boys were simple: if someone was a jerk, they got pummelled and then it was over. At six, I treed two boys who pulled my waist-length braids. At eight, I challenged a big-mouth boy to a foot race when he called me a "dumb girl". At ten, I chased Donald Peterson all over the playground in a fit of rage, after he pushed me and my beloved yellow pants (hey they were stylish then) into a mud puddle as a declaration of love. Unfortunately the lunch ladies intervened. They heard me screaming, "Don Peterson when I catch you, you're dead!" From that point on, I hated Don. (We became friends, sort-of, in High School again.)

That might not sound enjoyable, but it was. Those were the snafus. Most of the time I played T-ball (the only girl on the team at age five), and then kickball and then bombardament (my favorite) with the guys. And I wasn't picked last, thank you very much.

In sixth grade, the order of things changed. The boys grew. The girls grew, too, in a different way. To say I was unhappy about this turn of events would be an understatement. I viewed the "make-out" corner with disgust. I hated sitting on the side-lines watching the boys play soccer while I talked to the girls.

And yet, I wanted the same boys to think I was cute. Jon Dalton, where are you, you red-headed sexy saxophone player you? And Max, do you know you sliced me to the quick when you said, "I don't kiss girls who wear lip-gloss." That very instant, my hand surreptitiously wiped the lip goop away.

Around this time, my parents decided I needed to be a cheerleader. (They had also insisted that I take ballet one year against my will. You should see the picture. Imagine a nine year old pissed-off girl in an orange tutu glaring at her mother and filled with shame. Good times!) My mom had been a cheerleader. She had also coached cheerleading, so naturally..... The misery lasted one season.

I loathed cheerleading. It was stupid. First, watching the boys play and then having to "cheer" for them galled me. Second, I had to wear the embaressing outfit and flounce around. Third, the notion of debasing myself in front of these people was mortifying beyond belief. I wanted to play basketball not watch guys play.

The next year, I did. Basketball, track, cross-country, orchestra (yes, I was a complete nerd), student government, honors society.

Gender preferences played a part in my education. A few teachers clearly preferred boys. My male fourth grade teacher put me in average math even though I tested for the honors track because "well, you're a girl and it will be hard." Math was hard, because I skipped tracks into the honors route later and that was hard, thanks Mr. Davis. In High School, a guy got picked for Honors Society Pres, while I was Veep and did all the work. This was to be a recurring theme.

My parents sent me to a small Christian college that didn't allow women in elected leadership positions. I did get to be a Resident Assistant of the most rebellious dorm on campus. Lucky me.

And then I got married. We both worked at any job we could get because the economy was in the dumper. We brought home the same amount of money because I worked more hours. Even though we both had degrees, the temp agencies sent him to more "manly" jobs and I got stuck doing secretarial stuff.

And then Chiropractic College. The ratio of men to women in my class was probably 4-5:1. In other classes, it was significantly higher. This was upstate New York, close to Cornell University, a bastion of liberal lesbianism. It was almost shameful to dig guys--a complete sell-out had sex with men. Actually, many of our good friends were liberal lesbians, but I can't say their politics jived with me. It was generally angry, defensive, inwardly vicious and condescending to men. This was my first notion that while I viewed myself pro-woman, I didn’t view myself anti-men and that put me at odds with some other women.

My plans for my life, and I had always had a 10-year plan, were to get pregnant at the end of school, have a baby shortly after graduation and begin working. Being a Chiropractor had benefits, I could hire someone to watch the baby, keep the kid with me, and alternate seeing patients with my husband.

All was going according to plan, when, I found out I was pregnant with twins and that I "MUST stop working at 18 weeks." What? My female gynecologist (I wouldn't dream of having a male gynecologist. Would a guy go to a female urologist?), looked at me with chagrin. "Melissa, a twin pregnancy is a very high-risk thing. Here, read this." I protested, "But I feel great and everything is fine." She sighed. "18 weeks."

This threw a monkey wrench into the works. I could see myself breezing from patient to patient and nursing my child on well-scheduled breaks, but twins? I freaked out.

I had boards and intern requirements and the very physical act of adjusting to think about. And moving. And packing. And, what the hell was I thinking?

At 21 weeks pregnant, we moved to Texas. Three weeks later, without an OB/Gyn appointment yet (my new doctor was on vacation), I went into labor and had the twins on an ambulance. Ten days after that, my one tiny son died from a hospital-born MRSA infection. Over a hundred days after that, I brought home a four pound, four month old baby on medication and oxygen.

My world changed. First, my child's survival was the foremost priority. More than who would watch him, it became who could watch him and not screw up besides a trained nurse? Forget it. We didn’t have the money or insurance and I wouldn’t dream of it anyway. Second, with the surge of oxytocin came a surge of such maternal force that the notion of leaving him at the hospital alone or at home with anyone, even my very capable husband, was anathema. Third, I was a grieving mother, fighting to save her remaining child. Suddenly, healing the world took a very back seat to healing my son.

You know, I didn’t give my husband a choice in the matter, which wasn’t very egalitarian of me, was it? I would stay at the hospital while he worked. He says now that he would have liked to stay at the hospital he thinks, but he’s not too sure that he could have handled the sitting around for hours on end. I harbor, nor had, no such doubt. I would stay with my son no matter what. Not to mention the little thing of breast-feeding and never knowing when a doctor would want to “try it”.

When we brought him home, I nursed him nearly every hour for a year, day and night. I pumped for the first six months to keep my supply up. Most women gave up. I don’t blame them. It was absolute hell. But you have to understand, in the helplessness that surrounded this unintended birth scenario, breastfeeding was at least something I could do. So I did it.

My breasts were not a benign presence when it comes to my chiropractic career, though. Nor are they a benign presence in any woman’s career deciding to use them and work, too.

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