The Feminist Domestic
A few months ago mr. mraynes was teaching an Elder’s Quorum lesson on unity, specifically unity within the family. A brother in our ward called him out and dismissed what mr. mraynes was teaching, saying in effect “your wife is a feminist and I know how your family works.” mr. mraynes was understandably bemused at the situation mostly because this brother had entirely missed the point of the lesson but also because this man had presumed to know what our family was like based on his own stereotype.
One of the reasons that this brother in our ward felt comfortable judging our family was because we do fit the stereotype of what many people think a feminist family looks like. I have been the career woman, mr. mraynes the stay-at-home daddy. I financially provide for our family, mr. mraynes does the child care and housework. But role reversal does not necessarily assume a feminist household. In fact, most of the feminists I know lead a very traditional lifestyle and still manage to have perfectly progressive marriages. Having a rigid stereotype of what other people are like does not allow for the natural fluidity of life. Yes, mr. mraynes and I have been living a “non-traditional” life but it will not last forever. In fact, we are only weeks away from doing a complete 180 and switching roles once more. mr. mraynes has just landed his first job since finishing his doctoral program and so we are moving to Denver where I will be a full time stay-at-home mom. (By the way, I am waving desperately at all you Denver feminist out there and hoping you’ll be friends with me.) I admit to being nervous; our life for the past three years has worked really well for me and I’m not sure that I will cut it as the primary nurturer. mr. mraynes and I have had many discussions specifically addressing our concerns with this transition. We have had to be open and honest with one another and share things that have been quite uncomfortable to say out loud. For example, I knew that I could not stand the isolation of living in the suburbs while mr. mraynes commuted to his exciting job in the city. I did not want to live on my own Revolutionary Road and so we decided that we would sacrifice space and money by living downtown in a small condo.
While we both feel a little guilty for not following in the prescribed pattern for upper-middle class families, in the end you have to be self-aware and do what is best for everybody in the family. We both knew that isolation was dangerous for my mental health and so we made a decision together about what would work best for us. There is nothing groundbreaking in this wisdom; having a feminist marriage does not mean I get to walk all over my husband and make all of the decisions. Rather, it guarantees that both parties are respected and affirmed in the relationship. It is perhaps this subtlety in a feminist marriage that is difficult to see from the outside. (I am using feminist marriage in the broadest sense here–meaning gender-equitable. You don’t necessarily have to self-identify as a feminist in order to have a feminist marriage.) The worldview of people like the brother in our ward assumes that women like me are “ball-busters” and that I “wear the pants” in the family but this has nothing to do with my marriage or any other feminist marriage I know.
The truth is none of us can really know what another’s family dynamic is really like. But it serves us nothing to remain in the ignorance of our own (mis-)understanding and not at least try to explore our differences and similarities. Ever since that Sunday I have though a lot about what it means to be a feminist and part of a family; I realize there are a lot of misconceptions out there about feminists and there is almost nothing positive written about their relationships with their own families. Perhaps this is our fault, so I thought I would endeavor to fill that gap by writing a series of posts on my experience as a feminist and how it affects my relationship with my husband and children, how it affects my parenting style and domestic prowess. These are, of course, my own experiences and I would expect that many of you have experienced something different. I invite you to share them here. We are all striving to do what is best for our families no matter what role we play; perhaps in sharing our individual experiences we can maximize the good effects of our feminism on our families.