I've been an ardent feminist for as long as I can remember. But lately I've really been thinking about what that means. As usual, those around me challenge me to think outside my comfort zone. For me feminism has always been shorthand for equal opportunity for all.
I've always felt equal opportunity means equal choice - for a woman (and man) to decide her (his) own future and her (his) own roles in society without them being prescribed or predecided by someone else. It means value is determined by the skills and role and not the sex of the person carrying them out. But it also means placing greater value and understanding on the roles that have been traditionally carried out by women.
Since I was about 15, I've been championing the cause for women in traditionally male careers and work places. I'm a qualified engineer and I did most of my undergrad in massively overly male-dominated classrooms and situations. I was not the bottom of my class and I was probably just above average. That means lots of men performed at a lower standard than I did, in a traditionally masculine discipline. Maths and science are not for men only. I read a lot of hard science in my spare time for fun. I love being intellectually challenged and stimulated. In my first proper full time job out of uni (from postgrad studies) I went into a male-other-than-me group in my current department and fought for attention and value for my skills (sometimes successfully but mostly only in the moment) in that environment. That was a tough job and a tough workplace and reminded me that the world is not yet equal and there are still battles to be fought for women in the workplace.
And so that's probably where I stand in terms of "the cause" - battling for respect and place in the workplace as a career woman and in general decision making. And in pushing the working world to be more female friendly and accomodating for the different needs of female employees.
But that's only half the battle really. And I've been sneakily avoiding the other half.
I haven't been kid friendly in a while. With the OCD phase, I became very kid unfriendly. And mostly it wasn't really an issue. My friends didn't have kids and the longer I didn't have kids around the less patience I guess I had for them. I have long joked that it's better to have kids when you are younger because the longer you leave it, the harder it is to fit them into the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. And so then, kids become that annoying noise and being running around and *touching* things and not sitting *still* and interfering with my enjoyment of *my* dinner at a restaurant, or coffee at a cafe or browse of a bookstore or whatever. And why, really, does my life have to be negatively impacted upon by someone else's kids? I was once shoppping in Bunnings and someone's child ran past me and hit me as he went by. Why do *I* have to put up with *that*?
The thing is though, when you are or you make spaces unfriendly to children, you make them unfriendly to the carers, mostly women, of these children. And well, I like a lot of those people. A lot of them are smart and funny and brilliant and energising and full of amazing solutions and information and love and care and a whole bunch of other stuff. And, well, I like hanging out with them. They make me, and the things I do, better by being involved. In fact, they are the same cool people they were before they had kids but now they have kids. And as more of my friends are suddenly having children or I am now old enough that many of the women I meet already have children ... well ... I have to make a choice. I can remain kid unfriendly and I can be cool with the status quo that there are spaces that are kid and, therefore, mother unfriendly or I can get over myself. I can give a little, and let places be noisier and have to be kid-proofed and be messier and less organised and structured and whatever ... and in the result, I still get to hang out with these really cool people.
Lately I've really been confronted by this issue - that maybe I hadn't really been the feminist I thought I was. That maybe I had, in my heart, been excluding some women and thus not at all living up to my own ideals. And funnily enough, I was actually not as happy and fulfilled as I could have been (because most women have children round these parts and so I am continuously making my own social group selectively smaller). A couple of my school friends and I decided last year that we would catch up for coffee once every six weeks or so. And one of these friends has a baby and so that has meant we have had to work around or accomodate that fact. It's meant scheduling around nap times and meal times and it's also ultimately meant we meet at her house which is kid safe and kid friendly (toys etc wise). And it's meant learning to converse whilst being interrupted for various reasons and then coming back to the point at hand. But, I love this friend of mine and I love her point of view and she has so much experience that I have not had to offer, I would hate to not be able to meet with her because I didn't want to be around her bub (in the beginning this was a struggle for me because that was back in OCD times). And more than that, not only is my friend G a smart and intelligent woman that I wouldn't want to miss out knowing, but I now have a role in her baby's life. I can't escape that some of my input will play a role in her cognition and growth. And I also get to watch her grow - and at her age, 6 weeks is *a lot* of time.
moved over here I originally thought about the fact that she had two kids and that made me hesitant - the OCD was the major factor but also, you *have* to accommodate when there are kids. You just do and she would never say to you that she doesn't come as that package. If you want to have a coffee with her, you have to be prepared that she comes as 3 people. That's just how it is. And it *is* different - I remember the first time she popped in and in the time she stood there and said hi and I offered her a coffee, Gwennie had raced in and found at least 9 items that were dangerous. I really had no idea I lived life so far out there on the edge! with scissors and needles and knitting needles and nailpolish and glass cabinets and tables and she found everything in about 3.5 nanoseconds flat. And I love spending time with T and talking about life, the universe and publishing and I've just had to get used to the fact that that conversation will also feature answering calls to MUM from the other room (now sometimes even I will answer!) and racing to the toilet to avoid accidents and to talk about print runs whilst she is also washing hair and coordinating brushing teeth.
It's messier and you have to sometimes put other people ahead of you and you have to talk above the noise but I would never trade that to not also have T as a friend. To be mothered by her when I am sad or to have a coffee and work out a solution to my problem or to be reenergised about small press. And actually, in that package also comes moments like small voices being put on the phone to talk to me cause they know who I am and they want to say hi or to have a little person suddenly turn around and open their arms and demand a cuddle (and as long as their face is clean, it's great). And I know that I am also playing a role in the raising of these little people, that what I say or do is being heard and recorded to be repeated later. And that's pretty darn cool too.
It turns out, after all, that female and kid friendly spaces can be more fun and more rewarding than unfriendly ones. And that learning to adapt and change might not be so bad and that the outcome can be better than where we started. And that in order for me to uphold my own ideals, I have to actively encourage and be understanding of the needs associated with female friendly spaces - in all the shapes and sizes that they need to be.