I’m a feminist. A hard-core, there-is-no-inherent-gender kind of feminist. A Judith Butler-reading, Gloria Steinem-worshipping, Ms. Magazine-subscribing feminist. Heck, I don’t just read them, I write for feminist publications.
I also work part-time from home, bake challah every week, and teach my kids to use a sewing machine. (That last one, that’s really just Benjamin, whose vast stuffed animal family needs a lot of outfits and pillows.) Last weekend, I whipped up a purse out of a pair of old jeans while homemade vegetable stock bubbled away in my Crockpot. Sometimes we make our own pasta.
I’m like Caroline Ingalls in yoga capris, except with boughten underwear and indoor plumbing.
For a long, long time, I’ve struggled with what I saw as a dichotomy between my beliefs and how I live my life. How can I call myself a feminist and still be so… domestic? Isn’t all this homemaking stuff just reinforcing traditional gender roles?
Last Monday, while I was driving my car-with-the-third-row through our nice suburb so I could drop my daughter off at school and finally turn off the “Frozen” soundtrack, I suddenly realized something. Something that everyone who knows me probably realized years ago. All that cooking and composting and sewing has nothing to do with my gender or my feminism.
It’s about my childhood.
When I feed my kids homemade zucchini bread, it’s a response to the moldy food and meager rations of my childhood. When I am there every day after school for pickup, it’s a call-and-answer with my own after-school hours that were devoted to endlessly moving woodpiles around in the frigid Western Massachusetts winter. When I teach my kids to read and make sure they’ve eaten their lunches and sew the tears in their clothes, it’s a big middle finger pointed right at my childhood and the stepmother who hit me, starved me, and forced me to eat my own vomit. And when I grapple with the intricacies of the French braid my daughter requests, together we’re triumphing over the brutal, short haircuts my stepmother gave me in the kitchen.
Is it all anti-feminist? Some people probably think so, but I’ve decided that I officially don’t care anymore. I think I have license to take the whole parenting thing a little over the edge, even if it seems to fly in the face of my politics.
Even if I wanted to balance domesticity and feminism differently, I’m not sure I could. The winter nights spent sleeping naked on black plastic in the hallway because I wet my bed, the months I spent hungry, and the endless hours I spent anticipating the next slap have seeped into my years of parenting. Even in the most commonplace acts of parenting I feel my past as a constant vibration below.
I carry my childhood with me like a well-balanced backpack, so heavy that I forget it is there. So many survivors of child abuse do. I count myself lucky I’m able to manifest it in such benign acts as preserving jars full of strawberry soup each spring and filling the freezer with pureed pumpkin in the fall.
If packing my kids’ real backpacks every morning with muffins I baked before school makes me a bad feminist, I’m OK with that. It’s the best way I can find to shoulder my own metaphorical one.