Being a mom made me forget I was a feminist

Beyonce as Rosie the Riveter (The Mama Actor)I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I was a Feminist Studies minor at Stanford. I cared about politics and social justice. I listened to Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman for gosh sakes.


Then I had kids. And man, between nursing, diapers and sleeplessness, motherhood beat the feminism right out of me. It came as a surprise. You’d think I would’ve become more of a feminist, considering that I’ve never been more acutely aware of gender differences than those early months of motherhood. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to nurse the baby and resist the urge to stab my loving, amazing and deeply sleeping husband snoring peacefully beside me.


What the f@#* happened?

Yes, the energy management of parenting is tough, but blaming it on “keeping my child alive on too little sleep” would be a half-truth. The truth behind my declining inner feminist is that the moment I gave birth to my son my world shrank. Rather, it became intensely focused in one direction. When I held my son for the first time, I felt the maternal telescopic lens zoom in on him in a fierce and powerful way. It didn’t go away when I brought him home. My house was no longer just a place to toss my clothes and burn dinner, it was a home filled with love and security and a sense of family.


When my son was about a year old, I popped my head out of my cocoon to get involved in an event to provide relief for Haiti post-earthquake, and I started engaging in current events more than I had since my son was born.


Much to my surprise and horror, I found that I was changed. The news, the world, politics, no longer brought me the same sweet feeling of connection to the world, a sense of making a difference. The issues that used to fire me up made me feel sad and hopeless. My expanded mama’s heart couldn’t tolerate the suffering I used to feel so empowered to conquer.


I wondered what was wrong with me. I judged myself as suburban and weak. I loathed my apathetic, disposable-diaper-using, non-recycling, basically-bad-person self.


A new kind of feminism 

It took me awhile to bounce back from the pit of apathy that was my early years as mom, but it did happen.


Here’s the thing though…my feminism changed. I mean that in a good way. I used to have a very rigid sense of right and wrong, a desire to fix what was wrong and pursue what was right. When I became a mom all of those lines blurred. Life broadened, love got bigger and richer, my tolerance for difference went up. A lot.


The general landscape of feminism in society has also changed. This fabulous Washington Post article describes it thusly:

“This New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms, concerned less with targeting narrowly defined enemies than with broadening feminism’s reach through inclusiveness, and held together not by a handful of national organizations and charismatic leaders but by the invisible bonds of the Internet and social media.”


It’s like feminism and I evolved together, being the besties that we are. As a cusper (I’m bringing up the tail end of Gen X–a pre-millennial), I often find I have one foot in the old and one foot in the new. Feminism has proved to be one of those things. I came of age as a feminist in college by going to speakers, book signings, rallies. You know, in person things. Today I can plug into what other women around the world are talking about by checking Twitter. My feminism has more in common today with Lena Dunham than Gloria Steinem (though Gloria is one bad-ass woman).


Being a mom has made my feminism more personal, more inclusive, less ideological. I used to be a feminist because of what I believed, which is why it was so easy for me to forget about when I became a mom. Now I’m a feminist because of what I feel in my heart, and that’s not going anywhere.


This isn’t a cop out. It means that feminism is broader than my 19 year-old-self could have imagined. Courageously and unapologetically expressing my identity as a woman in every waking moment is as much a feminist act as rallying for equal pay and standing up against sexual assault. All of which we can and should do as often as possible.


I guess that means that even a suburban, disposable-diaper-using, non-recycling, basically-bad-person mom like me can be a feminist. Here’s what I’ve learned by losing and finding my feminism: Mere equality is for suckers. I’m in it for true freedom. How about you? Mere equality is for suckers. My feminism is about true freedom. Click To Tweet