The Truth About Pop Music and Feminism

by mraynes

This past Saturday, mr. mraynes and I watched High Fidelity for the first time. About fifteen minutes into the movie, the John Cusack character asks, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” This question resonated with me because I have recently been asking myself a similar question:

Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?

Since leaving my job, moving to a new state and becoming a stay-at-home mother, I have felt a level of unhappiness that truly surprised me. I expected the transition to be hard but I did not expect to feel so vulnerable all of the time. My self-esteem completely collapsed in the space of two weeks and I am left feeling overwhelmingly helpless. Things are starting to get better, I am settling into a routine and I’m sure that with time, I will even enjoy being at home. But that doesn’t negate the very real fact that changing my fairly progressive lifestyle to a traditional one has wreaked havoc on my emotions, my relationships and my general happiness with life.

My question above is a proverbial chicken and egg question and really one of assigning blame; whose fault is it for my disillusionment with domesticity? The answer may seem obvious but humor me for a minute. Let’s analyze the first part of my question, am I feminist because I’m discontented? This begs the question, what in my life makes me discontented enough to turn to feminism? Well, the lack of quantifiable equality within the church and its’ rhetoric on gender causes me a great deal of pain and frustration. The invisibility of women in scripture, doctrine and bureaucracy is problematic at best. The diminishing of women to certain roles by Mormon culture echoes the objectification of women found in our broader society. We, as Mormons and members of society, should do better. This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.

If we are getting more specific to my life, I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs. If I was to look at our relationship through the lens of academic feminism, the power dynamic in our relationship has changed dramatically. Money is power; before we were both financially contributing to our family, now I rely on the good will of mr. mraynes to see his money as “our money.” My knowledge of feminist theory is what I use to empower myself, it is my safety net in case I ever have to remind mr. mraynes not to be a misogynistic jerk. (I should note that this whole paragraph is horribly unfair to mr. mraynes who, himself, has been the stay-at-home dad and who has been nothing but kind, supportive and an egalitarian angel throughout this transition and our whole marriage.)

This brings me to the second half of my question, am I discontented because I’m a feminist? This is a hard question for me to want to answer honestly. Certainly if I didn’t have the framework of Friedan, Steinem, de Beauvoir, Toscano, it would be harder for me to articulate the gender inequities that I saw in the church, society or my individual life. I guess the question is, would I see them at all if I wasn’t a feminist? I can’t answer this question because I have never not been a feminist. I grew up in an egalitarian home and, although my feminism grew from that point, my expectation from life has always been equality. But in my dark moments (like the one that caused me to vow never to set foot in the Denver Public Library again), I really have to wonder, would I be happier if I always had the expectation of a traditional lifestyle and wanted nothing else? The “grass is always greener” side of me says yes, after all, Seriously So Blessed isn’t parodying nothing.

Does feminism make women happy is another proverbial question, one that has had lots of heated discussion already bestowed upon it. (See here, here and here for a few examples). This is the conclusion I’ve come to: if feminism makes people unhappy it is because it illuminates all of the nasty parts of reality. It is much nicer to pretend inequality doesn’t exist or to not care if it does because it doesn’t affect you. I understand that this is a personal decision for every woman and man to make and I don’t judge anybody for not wanting to live a life where they see sexism, oppression and abuse all around them. But the truth is, these things do exist and some of us are going to see and speak it even if it is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

In the end, attempts to place blame, whether it be on feminism, the church or leprechauns, are always red herrings. Truth is complex and often it is easier to blame an other than to be comfortable with that complexity. I am currently trying to accept my own truth; yes, I am discontent because I’m a feminist, but also because reality sucks and I am pre-disposed to be melancholy. But I gain nothing by blaming anybody or anything for my unhappiness; all I can do is work hard to find some measure of joy in the place that I am.

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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18 Responses

  1. Ken Kendall says:

    Thank you so much for your authentic post about your feelings. This is fantastic.

    I don’t have the answer to that question but have one of my own that is related. I am a bit old fashioned and probably far from what might be considered a supporter of feminism, but I would call myself a supporter of woman.

    I have started a new blog about men and their responsibility to their wives and specifically, their responisibility to the marriage relationship. I would so appreciate your viewpoint on my thoughts and your feedback. If men acted the way I am suggesting, would it change your thoughts on feminism. Or do you think I am a sexist after you read it.

    I hope you will take the time.

    http://whatsheneedsfromyou.wordpress.com

    Thank you again for your great post.
    Ken

  2. mraynes says:

    Ken, thank you for commenting. To answer your question, while husbands fulfilling their responsibilities and treating their wives well would go a long way to making the world better, it wouldn’t solve the need for feminism.

    I think you and I probably approach feminism from a different starting point, and please tell me if I’m wrong: You maybe associate feminism with the Women’s Lib movement of the 20th century. If that’s your starting point, I can see why you wouldn’t consider yourself a supporter because that movement is so politically charged and feminists did a lot to squander the political capitol they had. I approach feminism from a definitional standpoint, the belief that women are equal to men. So happy, companionate marriages wouldn’t solve all of the problems because there are still other institutions where women are not equal, including church, business and government. Not to mention all the sexual objectification of women that permeates throughout our society and often leads to violent misogyny. In the end, I believe that equality among men and women is a universal truth and how things will be in the eternities. I consider this to be a feminist paradigm and because I believe this so strongly, I will always consider myself, and anybody who believes likewise, to be a feminist.

    I perused your blog with great interest. I can see that you take a golden rule approach to marriage, “treat your wife the way that you would want to be treated.” I think that this is a very wise approach to marriage. I used to work at a domestic violence shelter and I saw first hand the brutal affects of men not treating their partners in a way they would want to be treated. I wish those men would take your approach. The one thing I noticed about your writing is that it sometimes comes over as paternalistic. For example, your tag line is “thoughts on taking care of the woman you love.” Personally, I don’t want to be taken care of, I am an adult woman and I want my husband to treat me as such. Now perhaps silent in that phrase is your expectation that your wife will take care of you, that you will have a reciprocal caring relationship, but in leaving that qualifier out, it could be construed as benevolent sexism.

    If you would like to discuss my reactions any further, please feel free to email me. I so appreciate your comment and your willingness to reach out and engage.

  3. Reese Dixon says:

    This really resonated with me. I’ve been staying home for years now, and even though my husband is as generous and reliable as they come I still panic at the thought of how economically vulnerable I am. If you come upon a solution for that one, I’d love to hear it.

    I’ve grown to really love staying at home, but I think that to be successful you have to toss out any ideas of the “right” way to do it and approach it based on the talents you have, and the needs of both you and your kids. I spend a lot of time creating things for my family and my home and that has really helped to satisfy, as well as develop, my artistic leanings. We cocoon in the home because it works best for us, and some of my friends aren’t home during the day ever because they get cabin fever. I hope you find your balance soon. Transition sucks.

  4. Marjorie Conder says:

    For Betty Fiedan it was clearly discontent before feminism. In fact the issue she first wrote about was “the problem that has no name.” In my own case also the discontent came first. I came of age in the 1950s and truly believed that was not only the way the world was, but how it should be. I tried over and over to “be proper” and to somehow “fit in the mold”, but I could never pull it off. I knew something was dreadfully wrong, but had no way to articulate it. (All of this casts no aspersions on my guy. He has tried to puzzel things out with me–even when he didn’t even sort of understand. He too came from the 50s with all its assumptions, so going beyond those assumptions has really cost him something. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!) I actually remember the ah-ha moment in the summer of 1975 when the first identifiable feminisnist thought tripped across my brain. It came with a glimmer of my 19th century Mormon Sisters which penetrated the darkness of my confusion and questions. My life has never been the same since and it is a much happier life.

  5. Kirsten says:

    Thanks for this post– More particularly your defining yourself as a feminist from a definitional standpoint. This is where I find myself as well. However, this past summer while visiting with my hubby’s family I was “corrected” many times by brothers-in-law that the only kind of feminism is the “bra-burning, abortion-desiring, man-hating” kind. I suppose at that moment my discontent was at a real high. Here were these men that I love and adore, defining me in a way that I did not appreciate. (I should have yanked out the dictionary and read the definition of feminism to them!)
    This “discussion” all stemmed from the fact that I described my husband as a feminist. They must have seen this as emasculating and proceeded to begin apples and oranges comparisons of everything from abortion to gay marriage. My hubby entered the room mid-discussion, quietly laughed, and proceeded to shut down most of what they said with actual facts and logic. (I just love him!)
    What disturbed me the most was that no matter what I said, they dismissed me as someone who just didn’t “get it”. They don’t see themselves as the ones making things unequal between the sexes. They treat their wives with love and respect. Unfortunately their dismissal of my feelings and views put them square in the middle of the feminist dilemma.
    Perhaps it is because I chose the traditional stay-at-home route with my kids that makes them see me as without weight. I am fortunate to be happy with my choice to be at home. For me it is wonderful and fulfilling… and it is my choice. I look forward to new adventures once my kids are older… again, my choice. Am I ever discontented? Yes. Will it ever leave? Probably not. I, like you, will work to keep it balanced or at least at bay.

  6. Caroline says:

    mraynes, this is a great post. So much of it resonated with me – particularly the part in which you mention your economic vulnerability. At the moment I’m not working, and it’s been difficult self-esteem-wise. I know my self-esteem shouldn’t be based on a pay check. I know it. But I still can’t help joking with my husband that I’m the leech of the marriage. I’m not entirely serious, of course, but that does represent in some minor degree some of what I feel as a financial dependent.

    I think you are right on in your assessment of your discontent. Once someone has learned to recognize the injustices that are rife in society, it is hard to feel at peace with the world. And what is doubly hard for me is the feeling of helplessness that often accompanies my recognition of these problems. I feel I have so little power to change things. I think, though, that one of the things that has helped me to feel the better about it all is writing my story and hoping that others who are hurting will find comfort in the knowledge that there are others who are walking the same path.

  7. Bekah says:

    To Reese Dixon,
    I stay at home with the kids while my husband works. Since the money he earns is for our whole family, I invest some of it in my own IRA and at different times in a savings account in my name only. If nothing else, I know I am preparing for my future.

  8. mraynes says:

    Thanks for the comments so far.

    Reese, it’s nice to see you over here. I love what you say about using your talents to make staying at home worthwhile for everybody involved. I am currently trying to figure out how best to channel my talents into my homemaking. I really enjoy reading your blog and seeing how you combine your feminism with domesticity, your creativity inspires me. Thanks for your comment.

    Marjorie, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that feminism has made your life better. I hope that in thirty years, I can say the same thing. I am fascinated by your life story, maybe you would consider writing a guest post for us?

    Kirsten, what a difficult situation to find yourself in! It is an interesting paradox that men who are so good to the women in their lives cannot see how they themselves perpetuate sexism. I really have no idea how to solve this problem because women like you and me automatically have no credit due to the label we have chosen. However, I believe it is still important to speak out when we see inequality because eventually they will have to hear us. Oh, and I’m glad you have found fulfillment and balance in your life. Thanks your comment.

    I have those same jokes with mr. mraynes as well, Caroline. I, too, feel a little silly reducing my self-esteem and contribution to a pay check but at the same time, there is a validation of worth in that piece of paper. I still need to work on believing that my work at home is just as valuable as working outside the home…I’m sure it will come eventually. You nailed the problem on the head when you said that you feel helpless when recognizing the problems of the world. I feel this same way and it is this that leads to my feeling discontent with feminism. Writing is a good way to get this out for me as well. I am also going to volunteer at my local chapter of 9 to 5 this week. Hopefully turning my attention to these pursuits will help me feel not quite as helpless. Thanks for your thoughts, Caroline.

    Bekah, I’m not sure I’ve personally heard of anybody doing this and I think it’s great! I’m interested how this affects the dynamics of your relationship with your husband, at least when it comes to money? Anyway, good for you for taking control of your future!

  9. CatherineWO says:

    I identify with so much of this post and the accompanying comments, especially Marjorie. I came of age in the 60s and married in 1973. There was so much social turmoil during this time period, and feminism was a dirty word for so many, especially LDS Church members. Yet, I secretly agreed with so much of what these seemingly radical women had to say.
    My own mother was definitely a feminist (by your definition), and my parents had a very egalitarian relationship. My husband’s parents, on the other hand, were much more traditional. I worked the first two years of our marriage, but then stayed home as the children came. It was for me too a very difficult transition. I often wondered why I’d ever bothered to go to college, and I felt that vulnerability of having no income of my own. By the time I had four children, I was very unhappy.
    However, as I started to read more women’s writings and follow the feminist movement, I became more hopeful. For me, feminism gave me a place to put my negative energy, with the hope that things could be changed.
    Against my husband’s wishes, I went back to work part time when my youngest child started school. Once he saw how much happier I was, he stopped complaining. And, I have to add, his attitude has changed significantly over the years as he has come to recognize the inequality of treatment between men and women.
    I have had moments when I think life would be easier if I could just accept the way things are, especially at church. But I can’t. I love your statement, “This is why I am a feminist, to document, analyze and hopefully make better the small circles in which I travel.” I hope to do the same.

  10. aerin says:

    I may be out of the majority here by stating that I don’t believe that all women are meant to be stay at home moms.

    I certainly support moms (parents) who choose that path, but I don’t believe it’s the right path for everyone.

    To my mind, it’s not about being a feminist or not being a feminist. It’s about understanding yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses. And not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

    I work outside the home, and my husband is a stay at home dad. If this arrangement hadn’t made sense for us economically, my kids would be in some form of day care. And even my own husband, who has enjoyed being a SAHD, appreciates the (now) three day a week parents’ day out my children attend.

    To my mind, a miserable stay at home parent is not good for anyone. What child wants to feel like they are the reason their parents are unhappy? My friends who have children in full time day care spend a lot of quality time with their children and families. They have investigated the options out there, and gone with what is right for their families. My friends’ children tend to be well-adjusted. Not all children in day care are well-adjusted, but not all children with a stay at home parent are well-adjusted either. It’s not a guarantee of anything (to my mind).

    I have heard a lot of the vitriol against full time day care. Sometimes when I talk about day care, many people hear that their choices (to not put their children in day care) are being invalidated.

    That is not what I’m trying to say or imply. Just that, each family is different. Some families will sacrifice to not do day care, others will sacrifice for day care for the health and well-being of the family.

    In the end, to my mind, what matters is the quality time that parents spend with their children, and their ability to love and honor those children. When a parent starts feeling resentful of their children because of their (the parent’s) choices, it’s hard on everyone.

    Perhaps just like with musical tastes, we tend to believe that all people will be a certain way, all people will like a certain thing. But in fact, people are incredibly diverse and have wildly divergent tastes. It’s what makes life interesting. And what works for one family might not work for another. That, in my opinion, is part of the definition of feminism or just plain humanism.

  11. Kiri Close says:

    sure–life sucks, & then you die.

    however, while i’m here, I might as well face reality while seeking for higher, artful, spiritual things.

    thankfully, this kind of seeking is not limited to feminists only.

    great post. see u @ retreat next weekend.

  12. Angie says:

    I hate the inequitable division of domestic labor that mr. mraynes and I have now. Yes, he comes home and does the dishes but it doesn’t equal the multiple times I am on my hands and knees picking up cheerios each day. I hate feeling dependent on my husband to cover my basic needs.

    This is exactly how I felt about being a SAHM. But I think these feelings were the barrier to the trust I now feel in my husband. I hated the inequity because I was scared of what would happen if he didn’t follow through on his end of the bargain. And it does happen, so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable fear. But in my situation, thank God, my husband was worthy of the trust I put in him. Our marriage has improved because of this struggle.

  13. Lorie says:

    I have just discovered this site and I find it interesting and elevating. Thanks for your great post Meghan. What an amazing writer you are. I have always been troubled by the dirth of women in the scriptures and in church leadership roles, even as a child. My poor mother could not help me. She could not understand why such thoughts troubled me and my constant questioning and doubts about the women’s role in our church puzzled her. She would try to stop my questions with assurances that God was loving and protecting me by keeping women out of the spotlight, presumably because we’re so special yet weak and need protecting. Such thinking did not resonate with me, although I was glad she could find comfort in such an idea. I’m glad to find this site (and others) and look forward to reading and learning from all of you in the future.

  14. Emily U says:

    I wish I had time to read all the comments. I’ll just say I thought your post was really interesting, mraynes.

    One thing to keep in mind when thinking about your economic contribution to your family is what it would cost to hire someone to do all the work you do. It’s a lot of money, so while your work is unpaid, it’s not without significant economic value. And you’ve got an education and work experience to draw on if & when you go back to the work force, so you are not vulnerable in the sense that you can support yourself if needed. That said, life still feels really unfair sometimes!

  15. D'Arcy says:

    I wonder about this. Sometimes I wish that I could go back to a time before I found feminism. My life seemed more simple, and I was happier in areas I am not as happy in now, but I was also much sadder and at more of a loss than I am with many things now (did that make any sense?)

    I wonder what it would have been like to marry young and then discover feminism…now that I am so open about it, I find it throws many men off and that I find myself compromising on dates. I either don’t let on how much money I make or all that I’ve done…or I worry that by truly being myself I will scare the average joe off. I have always thought that if I ever did decide to marry that being dependent on someone else would be a very hard thing, but maybe there is something to learn from it? I don’t know.

    This is such a wonderful post. Best of luck to you in your new journey on life!

  16. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you for this discussion.

    “Am I feminist because I’m discontented, or am I discontented because I’m a feminist?”

    For many things including feminism I think it can go both ways.

    I am glad to hear you are doing well.

  17. Madam Curie says:

    Ok, I left a comment on First Fig, but I thought I would also join the conversation here. I’ll post my comment from your blog, and then go back and read the comments.

    Wow, how complicated! I can so understand how someone in your position would be confused as to the root cause of discontentment from inequality – namely, Am I discontented because I am programmed to be discontent when I see inequality? Or am I discontented because unequal behavior really does bother me, or because I really don’t like my reality?

    I wasn’t really raised with the feminist framework. My dad was a chauvinistic pig, and my mom stayed at home and was miserable. Dad’s a great guy, but he is stuck in a 1950s time warp when it comes to roles. I recognized inequality within the church because I knew that I was thoroughly discontented with the strict gender roles that were enforced – I knew I couldn’t comply with them. But it wasn’t until after I learned some feminist theory that I was able to give my discontent a name. And the name “inequality” is powerful.

    I guess my point is, at the end of the day – it doesn’t matter. The fact is, you are not content with how things are. Whether its because you recognize an inequality that wasn’t there, or because the inequality itself is harmful, doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you are harmed.

  18. mraynes says:

    Thanks for posting on my blog, Madam Curie. I love your second paragraph, it states your reality so emphatically. I think that my reality is similar to yours; I have always had an innate sense of fairness and I have a bad/good habit, depending on your outlook, of speaking it when I see it. Like you, feminist theory gave me the framework to do that.

    Your last point is profound and one that I need to deeply consider. Although I am in a much better place than where I was when I wrote this post, I think there are still some places where adjustments could be made.

    Thanks for the insightful comment. And also, I love you too (that was for the comment on Caroline’s post). 🙂

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