Back in the days of the third wave of American feminism, women had burnt their bras and began to fight for the right to have a life outside of the home. Many women lost custody of their children and had their families turn on them simply because they wanted things like a higher education or a job (or sometimes both) in addition to having a family. Feminists took their cases to court and eventually, in some respects, won the right to having their own lives beyond the nipple.
I was born in \’81 to a woman with a degree in education. She continued to work while I was young, and I don\’t fault her for this. My brother and sister followed in the mid-80s with a year and nine months in between their birth days. When my brother was born, my mom stopped working outside of the house and became a full time mother — not just to her children, but her friends\’ children, my friends, and children from the neighborhood. I can\’t recall seeing my mom when she was not surrounded by small children, most of whom were not related to me. That woman had guts, let me tell you. This was during the market dive of the \’80s, my dad was mostly out of work or sick or both, the family was in debt up to our eye sockets, our house was falling apart, our dog was dying, but she loved kids, and so she had them around constantly. Fed them, played with them, helped with everyone\’s homework. Who knows how many she taught to read or write? Really incredible.
Once my two siblings and I were in school full time, my mom \”went back to work,\” meaning she took a job at a school as a teacher\’s assistant. She kept that up for maybe ten years or so, until her mother fell ill in 1998. At that point she left the school and began to take care of the family full time again. She has done so ever since, nursing everyone through surgeries, deaths, marital problems, domestic violence, alcoholism, new babies, new dogs, medical bills, Social Security changes — the whole lot of it. She takes care of two households — hers and her father\’s — as well as my brother when he returns from school, my cousins when they are in town, and myself when I am being a frustrated and immature offspring. She has been everyone\’s advocate, confidante, care taker, food preparer, butt wiper, grocery shopper, errand runner, house cleaner, chef, chauffeur, mechanic, bank manager, business manager, life manager, funeral manager — she has done it all. Often, she remarks how she has no time to herself, not even the time to read a book anymore. Everyone expects everything of her: \”Since you\’re not doing anything tomorrow, could you climb Mt Everest for me?\” She complies, but she\’s hella weary of it all. She often looks wistfully for job ads for jobs that she is no longer qualified for. In what little free time she has, she works on learning how to use a computer. She hopes to one day go back to work for someone other than my father (her husband), but that day seems far off what with care taking for an elderly household and all.
My mom is kind of my hero, in a way, but in others, not. She had a career that she loved and left it in order to take care of her kids full time, not because she had to but because she wanted to and was in a position where it was possible. To help finance that, she took care of other\’s children, too, but she also did it because she loves kids and wanted them around1. When the kids were old enough to be on their own a bit more, she went back to work, not because she had to, but because she wanted to. When her mom became ill, my mom quit her job, not because she had to or felt obligated to, but because she wanted to2. The problem is, once my mom left work to take care of everyone, that\’s all she had time for anymore, and she lost herself. She feels she no longer has a choice and is frequently made to feel guilty by certain family members if she mentions wanting to do something with her time other than care for the family. She\’s trapped, and she ain\’t going anywhere any time soon.
Women fought to get out of the house only to find that a lot of them got stuck back in the house, anyway. If they didn\’t let themselves get cajoled into subservience, they faced the guilt of watching family members put in nursing homes, hospices, institutions, or becoming homeless (just four of the options my mother has herself faced in choosing to take care of the family instead of the alternatives). For those without shit loads of money, there is no middle ground — there is no hiring of care providers. The family is the care provider. The family gets to choose resentment or guilt, essentially. Two wonderful choices that go great together. \”It\’s you or your family, lady. What\’s it gonna be?\”
I don\’t want a family. I don\’t even want to have kids. The whole thing is bollocks. My mom was teasing me just a few months ago about how she was never going to be a grandmother due to my womb, because I\’ve been adamantly saying since the age of eight that I didn\’t want to have kids3. The thing is, I\’m finding myself stuck in the same servitude that my mom is, except mine is chosen and I can walk out at any time, but I don\’t. And I\’m fucking pissed. Here I am, a supposed feminist, and what the hell am I doing? The laundry, the cleaning, the taking out the garbage and making sure the bills get paid on time. The organization of setting up everything for two lives, sometimes three. Care taking of a child that\’s not mine for a month — this year two months — out of every year, and just having it assumed that I will be around and will take care of the kid, entertain her, get her food, take her where she needs to be, etc. Bending over and taking it up the cootch, bored out of my passive mind and despising sex but doing it because I know it keeps the relationship smooth even if it does make my crotch hurt like hell. Using sex to get what I need (shelter, food, money) to get by. Not getting by on my own supply.
More than a hundred years of feminism and I\’m still prostituting myself because I can\’t find any other way to hack it in the \”real world.\” Yeah, at some point there was love — a lot of love. A hell of a lot of love. There would probably still be love if there wasn\’t now just resentment, mostly of myself. How the hell did I get here? This can\’t be my life. This can\’t be my beautiful apartment. This is not me being happy, independent, self sufficient, productive, creative, or any of the other things I want to be. It\’s just getting by. Not having a future. Every day is the same. Every day is the weekend until the weekend comes, at which point I eagerly await for Monday so the boyfriend will go back to work and leave me the fuck alone for nine blessed hours. Nine hours of freedom, five days a week. Freedom to clean, to go to doctors, to argue with customs or social services depending on the country I am in. Freedom to get some work done (but not much), get some errands done, do my physical therapy, and spend at least an hour every day contemplating what it would be like if I could have a new body, or even no body at all — just put my brain in a vat and let me keep thinking. Or kill off all my nerve connections so that I can\’t feel the pain anymore, and stick me in a wheelchair or a hospital bed or something, let my body rot away but have it so that I can\’t feel it. Freedom to really torture myself and fantasize about life in a healthy and functioning body — life where I don\’t feel trapped into whoring myself out just to have a sanitary place to live.
Oh yeah, I could go back to the States and try not living this way again — I could go back to living in places where my car is always stolen so that I can\’t get to the doctors, or I could go back to living in places that are so old and run down that no housing health code laws apply to them and therefore the place is so infested with mold and gas leaks that I\’ll almost die again. Yeah, I could do that, I could. But — surprise — I don\’t want to. If being independent means getting more ill and trapped by an even more oppressive environment, then I choose the freedom of subservience. I choose whoring myself out to the camera for the money to see the doctors my health insurance doesn\’t cover, and to my boyfriend in order to eat and have a place to sleep. But really, I\’m not making the choice at all. I\’m just staying put, just coasting. I\’ve tried the hard way, and you know what? I\’m tired of ending up in the goddamn hospital with an IV in my arm every time I try to assert my self sufficiency. Because I am apparently in no way capable of actually taking care of myself. Me, the one everyone admires for being so strong — I\’m more dependent than anyone who admires me for my \”bravery.\” Brave? You think this is brave? Bravery would be walking out and facing my demons — facing my body, my health, and the monster that is the socio-economic problem of being a gimp \”working class\”4 woman with an eighth grade education in America. This isn\’t bravery, this isn\’t strength — this is full blown cowardice at a loss for any other options. All that my foremothers gave up for me, and my generation, and the women who will come after us — I\’m pissing all that away. All that liberty, justice, and equality that they so righteously fought for, I am using to sit on my ass and have some man take care of me so that I can take care of his apartment, be his fuck piece, and occasionally take care of his child. That\’s FEMINISM, ladies and gentlemen. The CHOICE, the choices that we have and the ones that we choose.
Or the counter-argument: it has nothing to do with feminism, because my problems stem from illness and disability. The state of my health dictates my socio-economic status. Despite being a woman, it is irrelevant to the issue of feminism and equality for women. The counter-counter-argument: oh really? How many men do you know who let their female partners support them because they can\’t physically make it any other way? Some, but not nearly as many as women. How many men do you know who use sex with their own bodies (we ain\’t talkin\’ pimpin\’ here) in order to have a home and pay the bills. Again, some, but nowhere near as many women. At what point, therefore, does the socio-economic issues of women with disabilities not become a feminist issue? At what point do you divide the line between a feminist issue, and a person\’s issue? The answer is that you don\’t, ever, because feminism is about equality for women — all women — and other social statuses do not negate the need for equality, they do not negate the need for a feminist point of view. Inequality — nay, choice, choice is the issue. The ability to have the options to make a real choice, to be able to take care of yourself without entrapment and to be able to maintain the same quality of life as those on the other side of the spectrum — that is the issue. That\’s feminism.
If my twelve year old self could see me now, she would kick my ass.
1. My mom and my dad originally planned to have between five and seven children. After the three of us were born and the financial difficulties of the \’80s, I think they realized how impractical that was, and so they just decided to \”adopt\” every other kid in the county. I still have ex-boyfriends who refer to my parents as \”Mom and Dad\” years after having dated the guys.
2. At the time, kids in my parent\’s county were getting really out of control. After my mom had two different students of hers get physically violent at her, she decided she couldn\’t take it anymore. The teacher she had been working with had already left in protest of the way the county\’s laws were changing in regards to the special ed programs. More and more frequently, the violent and misbehaving students were put in the special ed classes instead of coded for violent behavior. But this is another rant for another time.
3. At eight I also wanted to be Madonna; not much has changed since then, I guess.
4. Can you be working class if you\’re not really working? If you\’re not working, and you have no money, but you\’re living with a home, etc., do you have a class, or are you of the class of the person who supports you financially?