Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Five Things Feminism Has Done For Me

I really haven’t been procrastinating on this post. Cheryl will verify that I’ve been fairly busy. However, it’s time to take up the challenge presented by Woman In Comfy Shoes and describe at least five things feminism has done for me.

Feminism, as a movement or an ethos was always a little foreign to me. I had some difficulty understanding the cause, methods and the clear outrage being demonstrated by great numbers of women. If that’s difficult to accept, you have to understand that I was raised in a relatively traditional home from the middle of the Korean War to the middle of the Viet Nam War. Change was everywhere and the feminist movement was only one of any number of very vocal, very visible groups expressing a strong need for change. This was tempered by a mother with Edwardian beliefs who exhibited strenuous disapproval for all such movements, women included.

It was terribly confusing and it wasn’t until I was in a position to actually serve with women in a ship that I actually started to understand the complexity of the charges made by the feminist cause against those who had perpetrated everything from blatant misogyny to passive dismissal.

When I met Cheryl, I received a full dose of feminist beliefs. I think I scared her. I agreed with virtually everything she said. And, what I thought I understood had to be set aside and I went about re-learning what feminism was all about. The issues were more complex and ran much deeper than I had originally believed.

So what’s it done for me? Plenty.

1. Feminism provided alternatives to what might once have been called traditional women. We didn’t discover each other in our 20s or even our 30s. By the time we met and established a relationship we had learned to reject the behaviours and people who didn’t meet a personal standard. Far from allowing those standards to slip over time, they actually increased. What that meant was that I was unwilling to take up with a woman who wanted a surrogate parent, expressed too much interest in my annual post-tax income or insisted that I be at the table at 5 pm, precisely. Marrying a feminist put me in a position where none of those things were over-riding factors.

2. I can attribute a strong personal relationship to feminism. Cheryl clearly did not want children. Nor did I. I did want a relationship which allowed us to focus on our own pursuits and each other. While that is regularly construed as bucking the accepted norm it was feminism and the surrounding movement which gave Cheryl the will to reject undesired motherhood and choose a different path. That path gave me the comfort I wanted in a couples relationship without parenthood being a foregone conclusion. The result is that we are, among other things, best friends and the relationship is not impacted by the stresses which might be accompanied by children.

3. Feminism provided me with enhanced financial well-being. The direct effect is that Cheryl was as financially independent as I was before she met me. Without feminism pushing open the doors to fair compensation for work, regardless of gender, the chances that she would have been able to earn a comfortable living would have been diminished. With both of us able to earn fair compensation for the work we do we have experienced increased financial options and the ability to better plan for the future. It also increased the flexibility in choosing the work I do. Whereas in the past I would be bound to take contracts based on personal financial requirements, Cheryl’s ability to earn substantially more than she could have similarly 20 years ago has given us both the ability to accept or decline work without causing undue household hardship. By being able to contribute equally over the course of time we are able to manage variations in each others’ work tempo.

4. Feminism gave me an appreciation for a whole new set of power tools. There was a time when any man found cooking was either a bachelor, a hermit, a monk or a chef with papers. I like cooking. In fact I really like messing around in the kitchen and creating things. That said, some of the implements which I would have been denied use of are now freely available – and for more than stirring paint. The truth is, we both try to outdo each other in the kitchen and there is an unspoken competition to see which of us can produce the best gourmet meal. There’s more. Some time ago I posted that I found Cheryl in the closet trying to find a way to make the vacuum cleaner work. As funny as that may have sounded at the time, it was completely true. It was her busy work season and I was doing a majority of the housework. The vacuum cleaner was my purchase because the previous device was, well, useless. I bought a high amperage, cyclonic thing which would tear the hair off a basset hound. I suppose my point is that housework knows no gender and at any given time either one of us can be doing most of it, depending on how much work the other has on the go. (As long as she understands that she’s using MY vacuum cleaner.) By the way, if anyone thinks that cleaning bathrooms, floors, windows etc. is not a man’s job, they need only join the navy to discover otherwise.

5. Feminism put a new dynamic in household decision-making. Nothing can be worse than trying to make decisions regarding work, major purchases, or retirement planning when the only input from one-half of a couple is “What ever you decide.” Feminism gave women the right to have equal say in the running of the household – the entire household. I’m sure some men will disagree, but I’ve always found team efforts produce better results. Problem solving and planning doesn’t work well when left to one person. We discuss and negotiate everything. When a decision is reached it falls to both of us to see it carried through and should something go off the rails, we share the blame. There are no recriminations for a bad decision which excluded the other person.

6. Feminism was responsible for putting a person in my life who has the confidence, energy and strength of character to be her own person and then share it with me. Occasionally, I pay for that, but for a solid majority of the time it has given us a happy, loving relationship which I could not have imagined just decades ago.

That’s six, isn’t it. No charge for the bonus.

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