The Feminist Domestic

Feminist1_Full

by mraynes

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.

Mraynes

Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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13 Responses

  1. Madam Curie says:

    I am generally a lurker and not a commenter on this blog, but this post struck home for me. Thanks for this, mraynes. It helps me to not feel so alone!

  2. Jessawhy says:

    Mraynes,
    Excellent post. As a feminist who does have a traditional LDS family, I’m glad you’ve opened up this forum for discussing how feminism affects our families.
    My mom doesn’t say much to me about my feminism (or blogging) but she did once mention that she thought I would find more time to spend with my children if I did less blogging (at Exponent specifically, I believe).
    I appreciated her comments and I hope that I can find a balance between being a mother and wife as well as making meaningful connections here and IRL with other feminists.

  3. Caroline says:

    Excellent points, mraynes. Amen to your comments about feminist marriages taking various forms. My husband is the sole breadwinner at the moment, but I feel like we have a progressive marriage in which both our wishes and needs are respected.

    Best of luck to you in your new life, mraynes! It might be a hard transition – I recommend finding parents of other kids as soon as you possibly can. It’s a lot easier to do the SAHM thing when you’ve got other people to talk to and hang out with. Also, here’s more unsolicited advice – set up lots of play dates. This allows you to get some free time and you’ll connect with other kids and parents.

    Can’t wait for that series of posts on your feminist marriage!

  4. Madam Curie says:

    Oh, I guess I forgot to give our situation. Both my DH and I work, and we nearly equally split all the tasks in our home, based upon preference, ability, and present stress level. Our son goes to day-care during the day, and we split baby-care the rest of the time between us. It is the ideal for us, but we are learning daily that every family is different.

  5. Bekah says:

    There’s a good chance you’ll be in my dad’s ward (he lives by wash park). The dark guy w/ the beard. Can not miss him.

    Both my husband and I came from homes w/ a single mom. A feminist household (read equitable) was therefore a natural progression. The downside is that he knows I’m perfectly capable of maintaining the car (which I despise, but he does too).

    For the most part, we’ve doled out responsibilities based on ability and inclination first (I’m a better cook and more patient w/ bathtime. He is more orderly, so cleans more and actually enjoys reading to the kids at night).
    Incidentally, I’m a SAHM and my husband financially supports our family. He’s often remarked that he wouldn’t mind switching roles. If the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t mind either.

  6. Ziff says:

    Congratulations on the new job and move, mraynes! I hope the move and your adjustment go well. I think it’s great that you’ve thought ahead enough to know that living close in the city will be better for you.

    I think you make a really good point about how people from outside a marriage can easily make false inferences about how it runs. I don’t know that I’ve had people do that to me, but I can definitely see how it happens. It sounds like mr. mraynes handled it well.

    I really look forward to your series. Like Jessawhy, I’m in a more traditional arrangement–I work for pay and my wife is a SAHM–but we have a pretty egalitarian marriage, where I hope my feminist tendencies have been helpful.

  7. ZD Eve says:

    Like Ziff and Jessawhy, I’m in a traditional marriage; my husband is the breadwinner, and I’m home full-time with our infant daughter. Given our temperaments and interests, and given our situation, that’s the best choice for us at this point. I’m sure it will continue to evolve. I could see working part-time once my children (hopefully we’ll have one more!) are in school, but it’s very important to me to be at home when they are, available to them, and as aware as possible of what’s going on in their lives. Our dispositions are such that I’m much better suited to be the stay-at-home parent than my husband is, although it’s also very important to both of us that he has a strong relationship with his children.

    I agree that it’s facile to equate egalitarian–or patriarchal–ideals with any particular work and parenting arrangement. Of course some families have no choice but to have both parents work. And of course, many women work out of financial necessity in unfulfilling dead-end jobs. Work can certainly be liberating, but it can also be stultifying, as anyone who’s ever had a job can testify. (Of course, the same is true in spades of the life of a stay-at-home parent.) I’m also aware of marriages in which the wife wants to stay home with the children but works at the insistence of her husband, a situation that belies any easy equation of employment with feminine self-determination.

  8. lyn says:

    Ditto the others – I am definitely interested in your perspective on the transition. When my daughter was born 15 months ago, I stayed home full time for 9 months. I had a really hard time with it – there were some parts I absolutely loved and others parts not so much. I’m loving working part time.. but I’m scheduled to return FT in Jan. My husband and I talk about having him stay home (on paper it is the “no brainer” financially and career-wise (he can work free-lance/contract/part time much easier than I can)). I would love it – but I also wonder if I would be jealous and as a result attitude toward work sour.

    Oh – and I’m so jealous you’ve moving to Denver!! I grew up there but haven’t been back since HS.

  9. mraynes says:

    Thanks for all the comments and well wishes. I’m glad you all agree that this is a topic that warrants further conversations.

    Madam Curie, I’m so glad you came out of lurkdom to comment. It sounds like you have struck a good balance in your family. In our discussions concerning the move to Denver, mr. mraynes and I talked about whether I should get a job but we decided against it because I would basically be working to keep our kids in daycare and that didn’t seem worth it. Hopefully we will still be able to find an equitable balance in this new phase.

    Jess, it is always a difficult line to walk in deciding what benefits us and our families. I know from personal experience the amount of time and effort you put into your children as well as mine and others, I just can’t imagine that your blogging is detrimental to your family. I also know the amount of good your writing does this community and that is something to feel proud of. I know that when we make the transition it is your example that I will be looking to for guidance. Thanks.

    Thanks, Caroline! I always appreciate advice, whether solicited or not and I definitely plan on following yours. I’m glad you and Mike have an equitable relationship; I think it is important for people to realize that they can live a traditional lifestyle and still be progressive. Hopefully we can prove that here in this forum!

    I will certainly look for you dad, Bekah. I am really interested to see what the people will be like in this new ward, we have only lived in Utah and Arizona so I’m hoping that an inner-city ward will bring a breath of fresh air to our church going experience. I think you brought up something important in your comment in that you and your husband wouldn’t mind switching roles. Flexibility is so important in a “feminist” marriage; being too attached to one role or another is a good way to be disappointed in life. Thanks for your comment.

    Ziff, I’m so glad you commented! I think feminist women can only do so much to change the hearts and minds of society, at some point we have to have feminist men like you, mr. mraynes and all of the husbands discussed on this thread in order to exact any type of change. The beauty of men like you is that your influence is felt exponentially in your children. I salute you for setting the example for your family and the people around you. And thanks for the best wishes.

    Eve, I agree with you that the ideal is to be as present and available to your children as possible. For this reason mr. mraynes and I have tried to keep a lot of flexibility in our schedules so that our children feel connected to both of us. I love that you acknowledge the complexities of both working and staying at home. And I love the phrase “feminine self-determination”! I know that my job has gotten progressively less fulfilling but I feel nostalgic for it now that I know I am leaving. mr. mraynes thinks that I’m selling myself a little short in believing that I might not be good at the full- time mom thing because, like you, I am better suited to nurturing side of child-rearing. He is probably right and I look forward to developing this other side of myself. Thanks for your comment.

    I’m happy to know Denver is such a great place, Lyn. I’ve heard it from a lot of people but it is nice to hear good things about our new home from another feminist :)! I’m glad that you are returning to a profession that you find enjoyable and that you and your husband have been flexible enough to switch around responsibilities. I understand what you’re saying, though, about feeling jealous of your husband. I’ve been there too and I’m sure I’ll be there again. The grass is always greener but I try really hard to be happy where I’m at, hopefully I’ll succeed. Thanks for your comment.

  10. kmillecam says:

    I also am looking forward to your series of posts regarding your personal experiences within a feminist marriage. Good stuff.

    Kudos for not responding (openly) with anger toward this man in your ward. Just hearing about it makes me fightin’ mad.

  11. Lashley says:

    There is a great group of strong women in the Denver LDS community. I’m sure you’ll find the Denver Area Mormon Women group. I come back from Dubai to attend the annual retreats with my feminist mother. There are some great congregations in Denver, you should really enjoy it!

  12. Emily U says:

    The guy’s comment about knowing how your family works is revealing. It shows the underlying idea that one person has to be in charge or wear the pants at all times.

    I think people mistake feminism to be the idea that the pants are transferred from the man to the woman. Feminism is really the idea that there are two pairs of pants. It’s a fundamental difference that I wish could be appreciated more.

    Good luck with your move. Good part time work is hard to find, but I’d really look into it. If that doesn’t work out, definitely get yourself a few hours of child care a week!

  13. Rachel says:

    This idea is perfect: “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.”

    Thank you. Sincerely.

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