One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from a speech given by a Nigerian Scholar and Author by the name of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. She said:
“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.”
I think I like this statement because it describes all the things that I have thought over the years that I have found myself unable to say, either because I lack the proper words to deliver my thoughts, or perhaps because I have friends and family members who disagree. Believe it or not, I have never set out to offend anyone, though I’m sure I have done so on many occasions. Still I feel a sort of kinship with Chimamanda’s undeniably feminist statement, and I perhaps take from it a strange lesson.
While I am every bit the romantic as any other 20 something year old girl, I have always DEEPLY resented the idea of aspiring to marriage. People who have heard me talk about it often assume that I am either the product of a broken home, or that I’m somehow resentful of men, and I can assure you neither is the case. For me, truly, it’s about rejecting the idea that as a woman the best thing I can do is become a wife and a mother.
Perhaps it will be easy to understand what I mean by this if I tell you a story!
One of my childhood friends, let’s call her Amy, comes from a very traditional, VERY religious home. We’d both gone to religious schools (separate ones as I was Catholic and she Evangelical I believe), and came out of them to go to non-denominational high schools, and while I emerged skeptical, frustrated, and rather unsatisfied with organized religion, she came out of junior high school with a sort of renewed sense of her role in the world, one that was based in the biblical idea of what a woman ought to do and be.
I will save my thoughts on religion for another time, but I think it’s important to frame Amy’s perspective. It is also important to explain that though fundamentally we have different goals and rules that govern how we wish to live our lives, Amy is one of my truest friends (she also read this and said it was ok for me to include the parts about her from my perspective… so no worries guys, I’m not being a total asshole).
So, Amy had a very conservative view of the role of a woman. In 2009, when Barack Obama took office and our nation’s discourse took a turn thanks to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Amy was genuinely baffled when people were outraged at comments made about women not working as hard as men due to their duties in the home. In one argument we had she told me, “it’s a woman’s purpose to raise children, a career is secondary”. In 2010 When Amy started dating a new guy, she would preach endlessly about saving herself for marriage and then doing the right thing by marrying young and having children young. I should point out that Amy wasn’t my only friend who thought this way, I had another dear friend whose beliefs were similar, but Amy was the one who liked to make the rest of us feel morally inferior. I took great joy in learning that she’d broken her vow to wait till marriage, as it meant I wouldn’t be subject to any more of her “you’re a slut” lectures, and I really did come to resent her for urging me, constantly, to consider marriage.
We went to separate colleges, she opted for a christian school in middle America, and I stayed in Hawaii because frankly college is expensive. It was in college that I made a broader group of friends, including my roommate Kay (not her name but ya know). Kay is a spunky chick, who I don’t see enough of anymore, but at that time she was kind of my kindred spirit. Not much concerned with husband finding, Kay was deeply immersed in Organic Chemistry and Marine Biology, she taught me to drink whiskey “like a man” and wasn’t at all bothered by the fact that I cursed like one. When I think about a strong female role model, I always harbor a bit of admiration for her and our two other roommates who really gave less than a shit about what the appropriate gender roles were.
Kay was like me in that she really wasn’t fond of the idea of being married before you finished your Bachelor’s degree. During my sophomore year, she showed me an article that spoke openly to my feminist soul, it was called “23 Things to do Instead of Getting Married Before 23”. That article provided us with hours of entertainment as we created our own list, enlisting the help of our other roommates (LaLa and Joy). Our list was reckless, it included some really crazy travel goals, like New Zealand, Iceland, and Brazil, but more importantly it included our most audacious career goals. Mine was “become a United States Delegate to the United Nations”.
I have had many conversations with these girls over these last several years, and they have graciously been my sky… allowing me to yell and scribble, and sort out my opinions on feminism, gender roles, and professional females. Finally, I feel like I have coherent thoughts that I can share with the world, so here they are:
- As a woman marriage and motherhood aren’t aspirations, and more importantly, they aren’t the only titles you are allowed to have.
I hesitate to start here, because I know it makes people automatically defensive, but I REALLY wish this was understood by more women and young girls.
In school, when boys are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answer is almost never “a dad” or “a husband”. To be fair, I have never heard a little girl answer the same question with “a wife”, but I have heard little girls say “a mom”. This begs one of my most burning questions… why is it that a woman’s occupation can be “mother”, but a man’s is never “father”. Even stay at home dads get to qualify their occupation differently than women do. Why as young girls are we taught that it’s normal, even a good thing, to see motherhood as the height of our potential. Why, as Chimamanda stated, do we “teach girls to aspire to marriage”?
I don’t mean that having children is bad for women, that is a statement that I wouldn’t ever make, nor would I try to defend it. Motherhood is beautiful, but it’s also not exactly hard to become a mother is it? Raising children takes work of course, but for generations me have managed to parent while also having fulfilling careers. Motherhood is a part of life for some women, but it isn’t an aspiration, it isn’t a goal that you have to work towards achieving. Neither is marriage. To get married is to find someone who loves and supports you, and to commit to spend your life with this person; it is a happy thing, something to be celebrated, something to be enjoyed, even looked forward to, but it is not the ONLY thing you can or even should do.
There is NOTHING wrong with slashes. In fact, in my perfect world, there would be absolutely no push back on the idea of a Wife/Doctor/PTA Leader/Community Organizer/Girl Scout Den Mother! There is nothing bad about adding to the list of things women can, and should do!
- Who gives a flying f**k if the boys are intimidated by how smart you are… they’ll get over it.
Growing up there was always this underlying warning that if you corrected a boys grammar, or contradicted his argument on politics or religion, or social issues, you would be seen as unattractive. If you are the smart girl in class, I urge you not to listen. Boys, especially in America, have to learn that there are smart women among them. More importantly, boys and girls in America have to see that intelligence doesn’t discriminate between humans with balls, and humans with ovaries… It just ain’t so honey.
This notion that smart women wind up alone because they’re intimidating is how we ended up with the notion that successful women who make too much $ are intimidating. Suddenly the pantsuit is a sign of fear, and the success of females is avoided by BOTH genders because guys don’t want to be emasculated, and women are convinced that they’ll die alone if they appear to be a know-it-all.
It took me years to accept the fact that some people would find me loud, opinionated and intimidating, some of those people would be men and some of them would avoid me. The flip side to that though is that some men are smarter than me, there are men who are more argumentative, more opinionated, and guess what, sometimes I’m a little intimidated. There’s ALWAYS someone smarter than you, avoiding those that happen to know more about something than you is a personal disservice.
- For fuck sake, don’t scold me for refusing to change my name.
I’m not married. But I have mentioned on multiple occasions, to multiple people that if and when I ever do get married, I’m not changing my name.
Yeah, yeah, I know… “That’s disrespectful, it’s emasculating, blah, blah, blah”
Why on earth would I take the name of a man that comes into my life 20+ years after it’s begun? Outside of the professional aspect (my degrees will all be in my maiden name, and I’ve begun my career with my name) why would I honor someone dude’s name with my accomplishments, when I carry the name of my father, the man who from day one raised me and built the woman I am?
I have nothing against women who choose to change their last names, really! If you want to, then do so… but don’t make me feel guilty for not wanting to. My father is my biggest cheerleader, and I was born and given my name by him and my mother. Everything I have achieved in my life has been as their daughter, but also as me. My name is me. I am my name. I firmly believe that names have power and I refuse to give any of mine away to a name that doesn’t belong to me.
To the men out there who think this is a deal breaker, I urge you to consider how you would feel if your wife asked you to give up your own name and take hers…. That feeling? That instant rejection you feel? Yeah, that’s how I feel too. Glad we are on the same page.
- None of this has to apply to you!
I have long since learned that there is no blanket worldview. People don’t all see things the same way, myself included. I know that there isn’t a one size fits all way to live, but this size fits me… Love it or leave it I suppose….
Let’s hear your provocative thoughts!