This piece was originally written in December 2015 and never published on my blog. Since penning this in 2015, I’ve spent time exploring Womanism and find that it is a far better explanation for my views on womanhood, sisterhood, and what it means to be supported and loved while remaining free to make the choices best suited for our individual and collective lives. The issues addressed below are still relevant almost eight years later in what is now aptly named White Feminism.
The image is of a room with dim lighting. The floor is comprised of dark gray planks, the walls are black and white wallpaper in an intricate design. The lighting illuminates seven doors along the wall. The light is brightest at the center door and fades as it spreads from there. Photo is by Pixabay.
Leaning in, it gets mentioned in every article, book, or motivational speech geared toward women. It’s not always worded in the same way, but the same theory holds true. This notion of women leaning in, or that women can and should put their careers first, has always left a sour taste in my mouth. And not for the reasons you might expect. My beef is this, it packages itself as this attainable goal every woman can reach if she works hard enough, goes to the right school, takes the right chances, and -here’s the kicker- marries the right man. At the end of the day, leaning in falls back on the same practices white men have relied on for generations. That is the practice of having someone else there to do what you aren’t capable of doing.
The person is either your spouse or the people you and your spouse are able to afford to do these things. At the end of the day, your ability to lean in is determined by the privilege of having someone to lean on which makes the practice, heavily supported by the mainstream -easily consumable- feminism, an exclusive club whose entry hinges on the notion that life is depended on making the “right choices”. However, none of these books, articles, or speeches ever address the 12 million single-family homes, 83% of which are headed by women. Half of them live at or below the poverty line despite working more hours than their leaning in counterparts. These women put career first out of necessity and have been doing so long before Sandberg coined the phrase ‘Lean In’. Yet mainstream feminism has ignored these women and their struggles.
When Sandberg’s chart-topping book became mainstream feminism’s bible I couldn’t help but ask myself “what about the other working mothers”? What about the women holding down two or even three jobs because none of those jobs pay a living wage or grant her a full work week? What about the women who are juggling children, work, and school? Where do women with disabilities factor in? What about the women cleaning the homes and raising the children of the women who are leaning in? Where do minority women, who are making between 50–64 cents on the dollar, and their families factor in? It’s easy to tell women to lean in and to say “it’s possible” when your spouse brings home all the benefits of white male privilege, but what about the women whose spouses don’t enjoy this privilege either due to race, class, education, ability, or a combination of all of the above? Where do those women factor in? And what about the women partnered with other women? Not only does this notion of leaning in, or as I like to say, leaning on white privilege, completely ignore single mothers and the struggles of women of color, but it also alienates LGBTQ women by operating on the notion that a woman must pick the right -white- man and this will be one of the greatest things she will ever do. This brings me to my next point…
This notion that all is possible if a woman makes the “right choices” also ignores, as bell hooks pointed out, the choices made by her husband. A woman has no control over what her spouse ultimately decides to do in any facet of his life be it a career, family, or life choices that impact his health and well-being. Those are individualized choices. Making the “right choice” on your wedding day doesn’t guarantee that, that will still be the right choice years later. To tout the notion that a woman simply needs to marry the “right” man diminishes the work and struggles of all the women who didn’t make the magical “right choice”. This makes ‘leaning in’ white heteronormative middle-class feminism with a catchphrase. It ignores anything outside of the white heteronormative bubble and places any failure to reach these supposedly attainable goals squarely on the shoulders of the women it actively excludes.
While who we chose to partner with is important, should we choose to partner at all, it should not be what defines a woman on her road to success. What should define a woman, and her road, should be her and her alone.
As I’ve said before feminism is supposed to be about respecting every woman’s right to make the choices she feels compelled to make. It’s also about giving women the freedom to make these choices. A woman who doesn’t fit into the white heteronormative middle-class bubble shouldn’t be excluded or limited in her ability to reach whatever goals she has personally chosen for herself.
Feminism should be about lifting every woman up so no matter her circumstances she is free to choose if and when she wants to lean in, out, or somewhere in the middle. None of these options should be seen as the ultimate mark of a woman’s worth, nor should her choices in life be used as a weapon against her especially when options and choices are impacted by things outside of her control such as her race, class, education level, if she’s disabled or not, if she’s cisgender or trans, the list can and does literally go on.
Did your choices work out for you? Hoo-fucking-ray. Not every woman has that privilege. The important thing is to see that, recognize it, and then get to work building up your fellow women. The goal shouldn’t be to force them into a neat consumable box of acceptable feminism, but instead to help them break down the motherfucking walls so every woman can be herself in whatever form that takes. Anything else is exclusive feminism and that isn’t helping any damn body.
To read more about the impact of choices and why a sustainable movement for women needs to support ALL women, check this out!
Copyright(c) 2015 Rayven Holmes
6/11/2019 3 Comments
Free to Be You and Me
Once upon a time there was a prom and a personal determination to look phenomenal while being comfortable. To accomplish this, I slid on a gorgeous teal dress shirt that popped against my skin and then paired it with a fitted black suit jacket. One pair of ultra-black skinny jeans, some black and white high-top Chuck Taylors, a blinged out bowtie choker, a dash of red lipstick, and a head scarf from the Mother Land later; I was in peak “steal your girl” mode and immensely comfortable.
My father, on the other hand, was on the verge of an aneurysm.
He tried to persuade me to wear a dress. It was prom season and there was no shortage of gorgeous dresses I could scoop up for the night. I wasn’t interested in getting zipped into anything and when I informed him of this, he offered to get me a nice skirt and new top. Anything other than what I had picked out he pleaded. If it was feminine presenting, he was willing to buy it. I declined each offer, completely comfortable in what I had chose for myself. When my best friend arrived, he tried to persuade her to talk some sense into me. “She can’t go out like that” he insisted. My bestie, the amazing woman she is, brushed him off and stated that as her date I was dressed as I should be. After my father clutched his invisible pearls, we snapped some pictures and went out into the night, my father still shaking his head in disapproval as the Lyft drove off.
This was less than a month ago.
Growing up in a conservative Catholic family it was always made clear that men were to be men, the guiding sources of wisdom that were often incapable of controlling themselves. And women were to be women, silent, subservient, and the reason for all of man’s problems. They were created for each other and bound to the duty of continuing god’s perfect design through procreation. Anything outside of god’s perfect design was to be beat out of us until we submitted to his grand plan. Members of the LGBTQA+ community were at the top of that list. I spent my youth being a “tomboy”, refusing to believe that my gender could limit what I was capable of. I fought every dress I was forced into. Every pair of stockings would magically rip. Every belt lashing was a reminder that if I didn’t cry then, ultimately, they couldn’t win because they wouldn’t know how weak I was. When I was 18, I made the decision I had been raised to make when faced with pregnancy and gave birth to 7 pounds of potential. Someone once told me that my oldest son has a “very Christian name”, and it’s true because I was deeply engulfed in my faith when he was born. So much so, one of my dearest friends worried about coming out to me because they didn’t know how I would react.
Loving people who didn’t fall into god’s perfect plan and struggling with keeping who I was tightly boxed in, I found myself spending evenings pouring over my bible. I would read passages aloud as I held that small human who was full of potential. As the small human grew, another joined the fold, and the political landscape required I jump down off the fence. I found myself struggling to hold on to the faith I had been given. Eventually, I put the bible on a shelf and said goodbye to my faith. I had finally realized that the only way I could be a good mother was to shed what I had been raised with and create my own playbook. In the process of raising children brave enough to be who they are, I had to learn to accept myself. Every bit of who I am. From my natural hair and melanated flesh to my orientation, presentation, and lack of faith. The box that was prepared for me in my youth didn’t work with my parenting and the example I wanted to set for my children on how to live life unapologetically happy.
I never wanted my children to feel like they had to conform to someone else’s beliefs of who they should be. It was important to me that they grew up knowing they would be immensely loved, unconditionally, no matter where they fell on any of the spectrums that we use to define who we are as people. I've welcomed freedom of expression in how they present to the world. From jeans and sneakers to dresses and nail polish, they are free to explore and determine what is and isn’t for them. They are still working out who they are, with zero fear. While Professor Chaos and General Disarray identify as male, Stormaggedon identifies as non-binary. The fact that they felt empowered to say “I’m not male, don’t call me sir” makes every shackle from my youth that I’ve had to shed, and the pain that accompanied it, worth it. I never wanted my children to feel like they had to hide who they were from me. I never wanted them to know the pain of trying to squeeze themselves into a box that they clearly didn’t fit in. I wanted them to be free to be who they are and, in the process, I freed myself to do the same.
Parenting has had the greatest impact on who I am as a person. I’ve had to ask myself, with every decision I’ve made, “If this is the last choice I get to make upon this earth, is this the legacy I want to leave behind with my children?” It’s a heavy question to weigh. We’re given 18 years to mold humans, while navigating our own bullshit, it is simultaneously a selfish and self-less act. It doesn’t seem to get any easier but, I take solace in knowing that with hard work and a lot of personal growth the legacy I leave with my children will be better than the one that is being left with me.
At the end of the day, if we’re free to be who we are, and celebrated instead of persecuted, then there is no greater legacy to leave.
What legacy are you leaving?
Copyright(c) 2019 Rayven Holmes
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Photos used under Creative Commons from slgckgc, Eskling, Tomasz Stasiuk