My flavour of feminism

I am sitting in a studio, watching my nearly 16 year old daughter dance. I enjoy watching her graceful fluid movements; telling a story with her body. I am very much the biased proud mother, but objectively, she is talented and may well pursue a dance career.

Technology is allowing me to also sit here, surreptitiously (or not so as my daughter later points out) reading my facebook updates. In my life that’s a mix between personal family connections, community event updates and special interest blogs. Currently I am following not-too-friendly fire between two self professed feminists, each on different sides of a familiar debate. Where should a feminist sit on the issue of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding, some would say, restricts a woman to the role of mother, something that feminists have been fighting against for decades now. Some argue infant formula frees women from the restrictions of mothering, enabling her to share the load. Some say that formula companies engage in immoral marketing practises that exploit mothers and babies. It’s very difficult to see a middle ground.

I am not sure it’s one or the other really. For me, feminism is about freedom. Freedom from cultural expectations of what it means to be a woman. Freedom from biology dictating destiny. Surely it’s not about rejecting all things pertaining to being a woman. To me it has been about fully embracing what it means to incubate another human being, to birth and breastfeed and nurture, BUT not be limited in that role. To give myself fully to that function, to explore its depths, highs and lows but not be defined by it. It’s about breaking free of the shackles of well defined gender roles (for both men and women) and exploring what it means to be a person.

I grew up in the wake of the feminist movement. We were told that girls could do anything, I presume on the coat tails of a previous number of generations who were told to marry well and bear children. And I am a grateful 70’s baby. I have enjoyed many freedoms. Freedom to be an intelligent person with her own opinion, freedom to pursue individual and academic goals, freedom to embrace the exclusive domain to womanhood; pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, freedom to merge family and worklife, freedom to participate in my community, to have leadership roles in business, community and church.

The feminist movement has fought hard and I think breastfeeding has been an inevitable sacrifice of gaining freedom, but it does not have to stay that way. We don’t have to sacrifice our desire to nurture our children in the way we see fit. We all spend our lives committed to something. Feminism has ensured that pursuing a career is an option for any woman. But the choice to be committed to her family is not a lesser option. Freedom has increased her options, but if her choice is family then that is wonderful. Feminism has gone to far if it takes family away from her. And it also has gone too far if it says that breastfeeding is a paradigm of a sexist culture. We want freedom , not more embargos enforced by feminism.

To some feminism means sexual freedom – the right to be as sexually adventurous as men have been perceived to have been in the past (if not in reality in attitude). It is the fight for freedom from oppressive relationships, restrictions based on gender for career or academia, freedom from being passive sexual toys, carriers of heirs, or upholders of moral social structure.

But back to my daughter. She is a teenager, in a different era, probably completely unaware that women were ever (or are in many areas of the world) repressed, oppressed, used as slaves, toys, objects, assets, possessions. Her portal to the world is full of opportunity, of equality, of privilege. Her version of freedom is not my version. She is a gifted dancer, and she is exploring dance styles that are sometimes sexy, sometimes provocative, sometimes incredibly feminine and graceful. She is free to pursue her talents, her excellence, her femininity. Her expression of feminist freedom is very different to mine. Are they any less valid than mine? My freedom involved academia, leadership, business and then breastfeeding advocacy. We are both free. Feminism has done a good job.

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