Feminine

mother_child_720I don’t like being female, didn’t, I’m not sure where I’m at right now. Let’s face it, menstruation is no fun. Hormones are lame. It’s hard to be taken seriously sometimes in the professional world. I resented the time and energy it takes to have and raise children, and all I could envision was my identity and value as an individual being swallowed up in diapers, breast-feeding, and never sleeping or having a moment to myself again. Now, I know these things are temporary, but it’s a big sacrifice, I think, and I’m so grateful to my mom for doing it for me.

I had the great opportunity to heal a bit from these feelings from an encounter with a friend and her baby, but first, I want to explore why I feel this way in the first place:

I wondered what popular attitudes about women really are right now. Out of curiosity, I did a google search for the following words. As a disclaimer, I do not think google is the fount of all knowledge or that the results of this search represent anything other than a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg of the greater culture.

The first three links that come up are:

Female

  • Wikipedia artical on scientific definition
  • Wikipedia article on female genital cutting
  • A survey of women’s perceptions of how penis size affects sexual satisfaction

Woman

  • Wikipedia definition
  • YouTube Music Videos
  • The Sexiest Woman Alive

Mother

  • Wikipedia definition
  • YouTube Music Videos
  • Cleaning Supplies Adverstisement

Career Woman

  • Job Search
  • Article and response on how men should avoid women who pursue careers
  • Article about Barbie

So, props to Wikipedia for being so present in the popular conciousness. And, it looks like the internet is still the place to search for sexy imagery. Now, to be fair, I also searched male, man, father, and career man. I will not detail all the results, but they are actualy very similar. What’s missing is the opposition to men pursuing a career or any reason why pursuing a career is anything but imporatant and necessary, any reference to cleaning anything, and instead of abuses of men, the news articles are of shocking events like a man coughing up a nail that’s been in his nose for 30 years. (Sorry for the gross factor!) Oh, and an article about the world’s first pregnant man. (?!?)

In the church, I’ve always had the feeling that anything but becoming a Mother in Zion is a failure on my part. We’ve had articles in recent Ensigns about singles, and making the most of being single, but in my formative years, I definitlely made choices about education and career keeping family in mind. I never expected to actually have to implement plans for a career. So looking back, I’m wondering how life would be different if I had pursued that career in engineering or architecture. They were never real options in my mind because they were male professions.

So, all of that aside, I’ve simply been frustrated with being a woman. Back to the healing I mentioned:

At the retreat I attended this last weekend, I met my friend and her daughter who is six months old. This little girl allowed me to connect with her in a way that I can’t describe well in words. The pain dulled, and I remembered how much I want my own family. In talking with her mom, she mentioned the healing that took place after her children were born. She felt some of the same frustrations with family life, but is being a mom and making it work on her own terms.

I was inspired, and felt my confidence bolstered in exploring my own femininity. For me this does not involve nail polish, pink, or other “girly” trappings, but in being my own person, I work, I play (rough sometimes), I open my own door, and I open doors for others. I am woman. I am Divine.

How does the church impede or empower your views of femininity?

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10 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Thanks, Zenaida, for your take on this interesting subject. I can see where your frustration comes in, particularly if you made educational/career choices thinking you’d be in a different situation than you currently are in.

    For me, the sucky thing about being a woman isn’t the having babies/body stuff part of it. It’s a) teachings from church leaders that make me and other women think that we’re less of a person than a male is and b)feelings of constraint within marriage and motherhood regarding vocation/career.

    I think, however, that if a woman has a spouse who will be an equal partner in the home when it comes to child rearing and who throws up no road blocks to the woman pursuing her passions and career goals, then life can work out beautifully. I’m lucky to have that kind of freedom within my marriage (though I’m constantly in angst about what exactly to pursue.) I think life can also work out beautifully for the single woman who finds meaning in life, pursues her passions, and develops wonderful relationships.

  2. Brooke says:

    I relate to your experiences. Even though I was told I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, there was also this unspoken expectation that I would be a wife and mom. But all through elementary school, I was as tomboyish as possible. I have resisted so many things considered feminine out of sort of feminist leanings. I guess I am still a bit of a tomboy (i.e. my haircut–heehee), and even as a mother, I still feel I’m learning to embrace the whole of my woman-ness. To embrace my whole self.

  3. Emily U says:

    What an interesting and thoughtful post.

    As a teenager and young adult, I felt that the things I’d been taught in church & the Proclamation on the Family were so restrictive. I am still frustrated by that word “hearken” and the fact that women don’t really have a seat at the table when it comes to leadership.

    Having a baby has changed me, though. Before my son was born, I did not know how much it takes to nurture a human life into existence. I always thought it was loving hyperbole when women said being a mother is the hardest thing they’ve ever done, but I can now say for myself that is true. So I now see an element of protection for women and children in the Proclamation, sort of the creation of a safe space to do the creative work of women. But I am so wary of that safe space becoming a prison (which it has been for millions of women, I think), that I still have a hard time admitting the importance of protecting it, if that makes sense.

    I know what you mean about career frustrations. I chose to go to graduate school instead of medical school because I thought it would give me more flexibility with respect to raising children. I ended up hating grad school and wish I had gone with my first instinct.

    Oh, and I saw a book about the first pregnant man in Borders not long ago. It’s true – but it’s a woman who had a sex change.

  4. G says:

    I’m kinda like brooke in that I was (and still am) a bit of a tomboy (love the hair cut B, hehehe).

    Part of me wonders if I identified this way in reaction to what I perceived as woman’s lesser value. Men did the cool things. The important things. The exciting things. I wonder if I haven’t eschewed feminine things out of an attempt to fit with the “cool club” (i.e. hang with the boys; The one’s who REALLY make a difference.)

    I really hate that this might be my implicit feeling.

    My love of feminism is rooted in me trying to reclaim an empowered view of femininity (it’s exciting! it’s cool! it’s important!)

    /sigh.
    but I’m still a tomboy.

    beautiful post zenaida. good questions.

  5. Kiri Close says:

    Along the same grains of ‘feminine’ here in this post, I would like to add this 1st YouTube clip of Judith Butler. I was fortunate enough to be her student for Grad Studies. Starts out in French, but eventually she will speak in English.

    This is not to assume that viewers of this clip are in the same place, or a similar place as she. Simply, this is my sense of articulation of the issue this post brings up.

    While this clip is a representation of only a few of her thoughts, I would expect all viewers to screen this only as a launch-off point, not an encapsulation of who she is/what she writes/what she teaches entirely.

    I just felt this little clip helps me toward some kind of an articulation of ‘feminine’ as denoted here in this post.

    I truly feel the Spirit many times when Judith speaks, writes, acts.

    As you know, “Gender Trouble” (she mentions it) is her book that really puts her on the ‘map’ academically.

  6. Andrea says:

    This subject runs deep for me. When I was in college, I always joked about wanting to be a dad, not a mom. I could pursue my career and come home at the end of the day to wonderful kids who loved me, and a wife who has taken care of everything –the cleaning, laundry, cooking and children. Weekends and evenings would be plenty of time to soak up the joys of parenting. This would be my utopia!

    I couldn’t be the daddy, so I chose the next best thing — working mommy with a full-time nanny to do the house and kids. Over the years, I’ve worked full-time and I’ve been a stay-home mom. For me, the effect on my happiness and well-being is night and day. I’m a much better mom and the whole family is happier when I work. At work I get to be myself and use my brain – 2 keys to my sanity.

    I love being a mother more than anything else in this world. Cliche, but so true –you can’t imagine the joy until you have your own. The trick is to find decent childcare and then get over the guilt of having someone else taking care of the kids (which I easily overcame).

    Switching gears: My daughter just started Young Women’s. I am horrified at the amount of emphasis which is put on becoming a mother. So many of the Personal Progress projects are focused on this all-consuming theme. I’m torn right now. I don’t want to taint my daughter with my cynicism, nor do I want her brainwashed. Over the years, I have been able to relax my angst towards the church’s narrow, confining views of women’s roles — simply by being too busy. Now, I feel I must begin this journey of frustration all over again with my daughter. This is going to be a tricky road to travel.

  7. amyb says:

    This topic has been at the forefront of my mind lately. I was always ambitious and a high achiever in school growing up, but I didn’t really pursue my loftiest goals and instead chose a profession that I thought would be compatible with being a SAHM.

    Now, at almost 30, I am throwing off those limiting shackles and will be starting law school in the fall. I’m ready to follow my dreams without the limitations from how I was socialized as a Mormon girl.

  8. I’m going to go a bit against the grain here and say I appreciate the church’s push on the family. For women it’s motherhood and for men it’s fatherhood. We talk a lot about how our YW are stressed to become mothers but I have seen the same for YM in fatherhood. My return Missionary friends (male) talk about the pressure for them to become husbands and fathers so I don’t think it’s just a female thing but rather a family thing.

    I appreciate that the church doesn’t perpetuate the myth of motherhood being a shackle. I feel society does. I am all about choice but when I chose to be a mom and stay home with my kids society turned up it’s nose to me but the church didn’t. Do I think my path is for all? No of course not but I am tired of being told it is the lesser path, a prison, or some such thing. I am exercising my womanhood and my place as a daughter of God not in the fact that I stay home with my kids but in the fact I am making a choice for myself.

    But I didn’t always feel this way. I wanted kids and all that but I told myself the “right” thing to do was college and career and then kids that I can shuttle off to daycare and school ASAP so I could continue working on me and my things. I felt like I was a lesser weaker woman for wanting something a bit more traditional. Now I feel that my choice isn’t as wrong as others have tried to have me think. So for me the church has empowered my femininity in helping me to understand equality does not have to mean sameness and that it is ok to be me.

    Now I can understand where others are coming from in that they feel the church has told them to be Mothers only and they are going against the grain but I am here to tell you that for this mom who is waiting to start college and isn’t in a career mindset I get flack, too. In my ward women who are stay at home moms feel shackled to their lives so send their children to school or other daycare and when I say I don’t and don’t plan to the pressure is on for me to do so for several reasons. Then I am told I shouldn’t have more kids until I get some college in. Then I am told I am too young to throw my life away on my home and children. I guess I just don’t see it that way.

    I think all of us are judged and pressured more than we think. My choices seem so “inline” with the church but I have a hard time believing it with the amount of flack I and other moms like me get. Maybe it’s just more that women find it so fun to sit in judgment of each other? I have no idea.

    Again I want to say I don’t think it comes down to what choice we make but rather how and why we make them. But that’s just me.

  9. Kiri Close says:

    Here’s another Judith Butler clip, courtesy of YouTube again.

    This one moreso French in its beginning, but when Judith speaks, much of it is in English (though she travels @ times a la Francaise, und Deutsch).

    This excerpt actually chronologically precedes the 1st clip I posted on a previous comment above.

    Again, I would encourage you to allow realizations that where she is may not be where you are entirely, or ideologically.

    But perhaps there may be strokes of you in here. For me, it presents several limitations I didn’t like as a gal growing up LDS in multi-cultural/Samoan/American/California context, as well as the limits I do enjoy (can I say ‘j’em jouissance’? LOL!).

    I also think I am STILL growing up as an LDS gal.

    So, when speaking of ‘feminine’, these clips come to mind.

    BTW, you can catch the entire documentary by Paula Zajerman on YouTube (follow the numbers).

  10. Katherine says:

    Andrea, I think I may end up like you. I’m young, married and working on an engineering PhD. I’d very much like to be a tenured academic. While I absolutely want a few kids eventually, the thought of staying home petrifies me.

    I feel feminine in nice, professional clothes and cute shoes, with the right amount of accessories. If I feel cute, I feel feminine. But, like I said, I’m young.

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