Traditional Gender Roles, Romantic Preferences and Feminism

Originally posted on ChapterTK.com

“My son, he wants a classic woman, but every one these days is a feminist.”

So despaired a mother I spoke with over the weekend. Her words confused me because I wasn’t really sure what she meant. My assumption was that he wanted a woman to be a stay-at-home wife, so I told her stories about friends I grew up with who wanted nothing more than to be stay-at-home moms. She didn’t seem convinced and I let the conversation fade.

Her words have stuck with me and I can’t help but wonder how she exactly defines feminist. I have written on feminism before and people have cautioned me from identifying with the movement. It was through one of these conversations that I first heard ofChristiana Hoff Sommers. She separated feminism into two categories: Equity feminism and gender feminism. To put these in simply terms, equity feminism is the struggle for equal legal and civil rights between the genders while  gender feminism tries to create privilege for women over men.

Given these two definitions, I clearly am more of an equity feminist than anything else. It has always been my opinion that anyone who thinks women should be held above men, does not believe in gender equality and, as such, is not a feminist. Feminism in its simplest form is simply the fight for gender equality.

That is why, hearing that mother’s words, I was confused. A woman who chooses to be a stay at home mother, who chooses to do most of the cooking, cleaning and child rearing can still be a feminist if she believes the genders should be treated equally. It’s not about what you do, it’s about being able to choose what you do and to be respected as a human being regardless of your choice.

Perhaps the two of us simply had different definitions, or maybe she’s right. I don’t know many women my age who would be happy to doing all the household chores without some assistance nor do I know many who would be happy to deal with the children on their own. Does that make those woman all feminists?

This photo, “Slutwalk London 2011 – 10” is copyright (c) 2014 Garry Knight and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

I identify with a number of groups and each one of those groups has a subgroup I disagree with. There needs to be balance in everything and being too extreme in anything can cause problems. I don’t know how it happens, but the extreme of any opinion seems to want take away choices. That’s what people fear. I honestly don’t think the average person has any problem with another living just as they wish, so long as they don’t try to push their choices onto them.

Perhaps extreme feminism is what Sommers calls gender feminism, but every feminist I know and those I read online match equity feminism. Freedom of choice is paramount. It’s frustrating every time I hear one of those rare voices that look down on a woman who chooses to be at home with her children instead of seeking a career. You want to know why I think someone like that isn’t feminist? It’s because those same voices will be the ones who look down on men who choose to stay home with their children instead of seeking a career. That’s a whole new ball of confusion to me because it’s not the gender being looked down upon as much as the occupation.

I guess my real question here is what people consider to be the opposite of a feminist. What is that woman like? Does she cook, clean and care for the children while her husband sits on the sofa drinking a beer? So long as all parties involved are happy with that arrangement, that hardly seems anti-feminist. To me,  in order to be truly anti, the man would have to think himself superior to the woman and show her no respect for her hard work and contribution to the relationship. Certainly there are few people left in America who think that kind of relationship is tolerable.

I don’t know enough about that woman or her son to reach any conclusions. All I have is assumptions. I’ll tell you my theory. My idea of feminism is partly shaped by growing up in a rural area. I saw strong women who were equal to their husbands and who preferred traditional gender roles. Those woman, they were respected for their efforts and their husbands were more than happy to help out with dishes or children when such assistance was requested.

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