Hearn Feldman: Defining liberal feminism

I consider myself a liberal feminist.

This term comes with a lot of baggage.

The trouble is, I don’t think I deserve the skepticism my self-claimed definition elicits.

Feminism has long been associated with radicalism. Once it was a radical concept: political and social equality for women. Though these beliefs have become mainstream, people continue to see feminists as radicals.

And, yes, there were — and are — radical feminists, but they are not the only feminists.

I’m not claiming I’m conventional or mainstream. I’m not. I don’t want to change my name when I get married or have my children take my husband’s name. I don’t want to be the kind of wife who is supported by my husband because I am a woman.

I have no problem with the idea of being supported by my future husband. I just have no problem with the idea of supporting my future husband either. I want a career too. I’m thinking of going to law school, working with international justice. I work now and have no intention of giving that up for any man.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t compromise. I have no problem with some playing out of gender roles.

I like cooking. I like cleaning. I want to be a mother more than anything else in the world. I love and adore children. I’m a straight woman and would like to get married and wear a gold ring on my left ring finger. I like pretty clothes and high heels. That doesn’t make me any less of a feminist.

The other main problem associated with feminism is the fact that its ideals have not yet been fulfilled.

When I came to Yale, I assumed that it would be an academically challenging and interesting environment. I didn’t realize in what ways I was soon to be challenged. As a freshman, I was on a Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip with seven guys and three other girls. One of the first nights, we sat around the fire, talking marriage and whether men expect women to change their names. I said I didn’t want to. My mom still has her maiden name. I have two last names. I’d like to keep it that way. But almost all the straight guys in the group said that, while they wouldn’t insist that their wives change their last names, they did expect to have their children named after them.

During second semester, a couple of my friends and I were having a conversation about income and money shared by spouses. The straight guy in the group said, while he knows it’s dumb, he would be unhappy if his wife made more money than he. And, more importantly, if that were the case, he would want to have separate finances and support himself. He would, however, be willing and happy to support his wife.

These ideas, these ingrained prejudices continue the need for a feminist movement in our society. I don’t think that women are all held down and oppressed. That’s just wrong. But I do believe women are still struggling to find an equal place.

Part of the reason for that, I think, is the idea that, in order to be feminist and a strong, equal woman, we must reject all that is “feminine” about us. In times of war, women feel fighting is the only way to prove they are equal to men. As civilians, they insist taking on a “man’s work” will do the same.

I have no problem with women fighting in wars or doing civilian work traditionally associated with men. I have no problem with women not wanting to have families or take care of children.

One of my closest female friends dislikes children. She doesn’t want to be a mother and works her very best toward the world of academic and financial success. She is clearly going to be more successful than most men (and women), and that’s what she wants. I support her. But the difference is she doesn’t want to be more successful than her husband. It wouldn’t destroy her ego if she didn’t financially support him. She doesn’t expect him to change his name.

But I don’t like being seen as an antifeminist simply because I want something different. Or because I spend quite a bit of my time cooking food for the boys who live in the suite next door. Or because I like the idea of changing diapers and greeting my future husband at the door on his way home from work.

I just don’t think this has to be only female behavior. A man shouldn’t be considered weak if he changes diapers and waits for me at the door when I return from work.

Timmia Hearn Feldman is a sophomore in Morse College.

Comments

  • Eve-Smones

    The issue of marriage and changing one’s last name is a conundrum since ALL maiden names came from males (fathers). How does that liberate one?

    I proposed while a student at YDS that women put the prefix Eve in front of whatever last name they chose to adopt as a declaration of independence from the maleness of the name: Eve-Jones, Eve-Obama, Eve-Bush.

    My Acting professor married my Directing professor at the Bread Loaf School of English. To solve this sexism issue of last names they created a new name from syllables of their previous last names.

    A hypothetical of this might be Smith marries Jones and takes the names Smones. It still remains a name derived from the syllables of two male names however. I think Eve-Smones is better. A

    nd if the husband took the Eve prefix too instead of Adam -Smones or just Smones, it would signify his symbolic agreement with the liberating gesture of independence.

    For more,see the September post “Transgender Dorms at Yale and Harvard” at http://theantiyale.blogspot.com

  • A feminine feminist

    Dear Ms Hearn Feldman,

    There could be many more role models for you and your male counterparts at Yale than there are now. Ingrained prejudices against women do exist at the University and never more so than in the competitive arenas that can test your intellectual chops as well as the next guy’s. As a matter of fact, due to developmental biology, child care duties would end up claiming just a small fraction of anyone’s life–whether it be a strong, equal woman’s or the most successful of husbands’. Too bad Yale hasn’t done better. But you can.

  • good

    Very reasonable. Nor is there anything wrong, however, with playing traditional gender roles.

  • MMM

    “[The males] expect to have their children named after them.”

    Suggest that the man take your last name. Seriously: if it is that important to you, he will (because it does not violate his real concern).

    “[The male] would be unhappy if his wife made more money than he.”‘

    Darn tootin’! Men already have so little purpose that the $ thing gets pretty large. However, I suggest that you change your OWN thinking, the seeds of that change being in your next observation:

    “He would, however, be willing and happy to support his wife.”

    Duh. Oppression? Prejudice? How about liberation and freedom, fer cryin’ out loud?!

    Raise your children. Get your PhD. Pursue familial and personal dreams UNSHACKLED from the means of production.

    Your “liberal feminist” thinking assumes that, gee, you’d be President if not for the income disparity between you and DH. HellOOOOOoooOO! Most folks, most men, most WOMEN work… jobs. Just… jobs. Yalies often work higher paying jobs (finance, for example) but they are still. just. jobs.

    The man, however, can fool himself into thinking he has a “career,” a career that “matters.” Use this to your advantage. Encourage him in his pursuit of corporate identity.

    And you? You create a safe, nurturing, educational world for your offspring. You take classes with them (art, music, dance–later, philosophy, poetry, engineering). You become a gourmet nutritionalist, gads, a “home economist!”

    This is “prejudice” to you? A man is offering to frickin’ YOKE himself to the grindstone for you and yours, wear away his health, circumscribe his extra-familial desires, remain faithful to you and yours, HAND OVER ALL HIS PAY for a nice plate at dinnertime, and you think this is PREJUDICE?

    Girl: fix your OWN thinkin’, not HIS!

    “Hi, I’d like to devote most of my working life to furthering your goals and toward maximizing the health and welfare of any children we may make. All I am asking is for the offspring to carry my name, that you praise my meager wages–thus driving me to produce ever higher wages–and that you think, or at least pretend to think, that I am great.”

    “Jerk! How dare you put that prejudice on me!”

    “”These ideas, these ingrained prejudices continue the need for a feminist movement in our society.”

    Why?

    “I do believe women are still struggling to find an equal place.”

    Equal? Who WANTS to be equal with dumbazz coal miners, nuclear power plant engineers, army rangers, crab fisherman, high-rise window-washers, or any of the absolutely dipwad underpaid (on a risk basis) personas craved by men?

    Get your head straight!

  • Yale 2008

    Sometimes we are too narrow.

    We miss obvious truths.

    Children deserve to be with their mother. Mothers have a special role to play.

    A woman should not embrace her career to the detriment of her child.

  • Anti-Fem

    So-called “feminists,” who purportedly seek “liberation” for women (liberation, one assumes, for any woman to do that which she finds personally most fulfilling) are quick to jump on those women who find value in traditional womanly arts.

    Mothering? Bah! That’s for min. wage workers, or nannies, or the government, or… *anyone* so long as it is someone ELSE (oh, and a woman, generally).

    Cooking? Sewing? Gardening? Quilting? Bah! Bah! Bah! and double Bah! Treacherous backsliding brainwashed biatch! Back to the grindstone, traitor!

    THIS is feminism? To be indistinguishable from… men? To compete with them at what, in many cases, is their forte while abandoning what is ours?

    How soon we forget… from the NYTimes only a few years ago:

    “Cynthia Liu is precisely the kind of high achiever Yale wants: smart (1510 SAT), disciplined (4.0 grade point average), competitive (finalist in Texas oratory competition), musical (pianist), athletic (runner) and altruistic (hospital volunteer). And at the start of her sophomore year at Yale, Ms. Liu is full of ambition, planning to go to law school.

    “So will she join the long tradition of famous Ivy League graduates? Not likely. By the time she is 30, this accomplished 19-year-old expects to be a stay-at-home mom.”

    Was Ms. Liu lauded for following her own chosen path? No, no; of course not. She was vilified, excoriated, and nigh on ex-communicated from The Sisterhood. Indeed, some commentators opined that those like her should GIVE UP THEIR IVY BERTH to someone more deserving, some true and “real” feminist.

    Brava, ladies!

    Feminism is a bad attempt to simulate men, doomed to disappointment and failure (and failure, ironically, not at the hands of our husbands, fathers, brothers, and colleagues, but of SISTAHs!).

    Brava, brava.

  • Anti-Fem
  • Anti-Fem

    Actually, *this* is the article I was thinking of:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/magazine/26WOMEN.html?pagewanted=all

    HUGE uproar over this one…

    And a reasonable response from a Princeton alumna:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~paw/archive_new/PAW03-04/16-0707/letters.html

    And a fresh perspective that makes me want to cry from its truthiness and common-sensicality:
    http://www.eagleforum.org/column/2003/nov03/03-11-12.shtml

  • Yale 2010

    Children deserve to be with their father. Fathers have a special role to play.

    A man should not embrace his career to the detriment of his children.

  • @MMM

    @MMM

    The idea that it is oh so liberating to be financially supported by a man could not be more misguided.

    For one, feeding into the idea that men should fulfill the role of financial supporter does not allow women to pursue their dreams unfettered. Their dreams will be limited by men who view their financial and career success as a threat.

    Secondly, being financially supported by another person can be an inherently unsafe position to be in. If you find yourself in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, or your partner dies/gets sick, and you have been allowing them to fulfill the role of financial caretaker, then you can find yourself in a pretty hopeless situation.

    Rather than your proposed idea of mooching off of some sexist jerk, I’d rather spend my life with a man who views me as a partner and an equal, and is proud of all of my achievements.

  • Egalitarian

    To #5: In case you’re not aware, there have been plenty of studies that have shown it’s the presence of a parent caring for a child that matters, not whether that parent is a mother or a father. The parents (plural) shouldn’t embrace their careers to the detriment of the child (with the exception, of course, that if both parents have to work in order to give their children a decent quality of life, then they should do so). If a couple decides that the mother is going to work and the father is going to stay home to take care of the kids, or that each parent will work part-time and take care of the kids part-time, then society should not prevent them from doing so or stigmatize their decision.

  • sigh

    almost everyone misunderstood the point of this article. some missed not just the point, but the entire supporting framework.

    great piece, timmia. well-written, and a great sentiment.

  • Madas

    Why must we always foist our own ideas upon other people? How is this article any different from an article insisting that a woman must be stay and her husband must support her? Both judge the reader and guide him or her down the “right” path.

    So you’re a feminist. OK, great. So you want to share names and you don’t want to adhere entirely to traditional roles. Again… good for you. So what’s your point? Oh that’s right… people who insist upon something else are prejudiced or small-minded (especially if that something is traditional)…

    And how is the author any different?

    You live your life and I’ll live mine; we don’t always have to convince everyone else to follow us down our chosen path. Live and let live sheeple.

  • MMM

    @#10

    A marriage is two into one, a wife cannot “mooch” from her husband (can your right hand mooch from your left?).

    Your other concerns are all manageable–better to deal from assumed success than assumed failure: you usually get what you expect.

    But I am sure you will find what you are looking for. Good luck!

  • FailBoat

    As an individual with a highly educated but stay-at-home mother, I find it highly insulting to suggest that raising children is somehow beneath a Yale Woman (capital Y, capital W).

    I stand with Camille Paglia who lamented, “Mainstream and campus feminism, in promoting professional career success for women, systematically devalued motherhood. Today, upscale white girls wouldn’t dream of having or keeping babies: how vulgar; how lower-class. Get thee to an abortionist!”