I love my home, and the people who live in it. Not one of us is perfect, of course, but it is filled with pretty amazing human beings nonetheless, and my husband and I work hard to build a home that honors and meets the needs of each member. We have introverts and extroverts; we have adults and children; we have members of every temperament; we have members who are neurotypical and some who aren’t. We have males and we have females. It can be a delicate balance and we don’t always get it right, but our goal is always to come up with creative ways where the needs of everyone can be met, rather than trying to choose whose needs will be met at the expense of someone else’s.
And this belief in the equality of all members is what makes it a feminist household, because as the back of one of my sweatshirts reads:
Core Tenets of Feminism
for all human beings, regardless of gender, race, religion, politics, age, size, or any other circumstance.
because any act of discrimination (whether it be sexism, racism, ageism, or ableism) is contrary to human dignity.
because non-discrimination in practice means that every human being has the right to live a life free from violence.
I’d like to share with you one way we do this in our everyday lives, specifically how honoring the needs of women plays out in our home life. As of writing this, I’m the only woman in the house, but I have three daughters ranging in age from 12 down to 6. Each of them knows that there is a special day, already known and planned by God, when they will become a woman, and each of them, even the six year old, knows what will happen on that day and what to expect.
When they were small children, young enough to still be accompanying me into the bathroom, I never hid from them what was going on in my body. They saw me change my menstrual products, and when they asked I explained that every month a woman’s body prepares a kind of nest to make a home for a new baby. If no baby begins to grow, then the nest comes out as blood and her body will create a new nest the next month. They also witnessed me checking my mucus as my husband and I use a Fertility Awareness Based method for family planning (and I’m a certified instructor) and they know that doing this lets me know many things about my overall health, and about what time in my cycle I am in so I can honor how God made me. I remember when my middle daughter was three being in the bathroom with me and playing with a toy. At some point she looked up from her play and noticed me making observations as to the type and quality of cervical fluid I was seeing. Very nonchalantly she asked, “Checking your mucus, mom?” She said it as though it were the most normal and everyday thing in the world, “Making supper, mom?” “Typing on the computer, mom?” Yep, I said, and she simply went back to her playing. (In reality, in our house this is the most normal and everyday thing in the world.) And if I were to be blunt, women being weirded out by their bodies and living in complete ignorance of their basic female functioning should not be the norm.
Being a feminist household doesn’t stop with basic education of how women’s bodies work, however. Knowledge is just the first part. We also have to honor and respect how we’re made. All members of my household know, save my two-year-old son, that when a woman is menstruating, she has less energy than at other times of her cycle. She feels pulled inward and naturally wants to reflect more. In my house, we call it her “rest week”, and when I’m on my rest week, I clear my schedule of all unnecessary appointments and events, and I allow myself more rest. My husband and kids take on more chores to allow me the rest and time for reflection that I need. And, in fact, the biggest thing my husband does for me at this time is to encourage me to rest. Even though I preach the need for women to be rather than constantly do, it can be hard to not feel guilty about ignoring the to-do list and emails and to go take a nap. We live in a culture that bows to the cult of endless productivity, but women don’t have stable energy levels like men do. We have seasons of low energy and seasons of high energy; we ebb and flow. So I love that my husband tells me to go to sleep or go read a book and then he cleans up the kitchen, and he doesn’t want me to feel bad about it. He honors me. Our daughters also know that when they begin having rest weeks, they will be relieved of all their chores during that time.
Women have times when they are bursting with energy and are naturally very selfless and giving (if she is not artificially suppressing ovulation), but they also have times when their spirits and bodies are particularly vulnerable and they need others to nurture them (such as the menstrual time, the sensitive time right before menstruation, and when women are pregnant or postpartum). Of course other times of stress will mean a woman needs extra loving care as well, as it would for anybody.
And that mindset is basically the exact opposite of the message we get from our culture. There’s a very strong cultural message that women’s bodies are a liability and that the responsible thing to do is to take dangerous (and carcinogenic) chemicals and insert unnatural devices in order to bring them under control, and that changing the normal and healthy functioning of women is preferable to an unaltered female system.
I have said before that true Feminism should fight, not for our right to escape the physical realities of being women, but rather for our right to exist as women in whatever sphere we choose to participate in. Cultural norms should change to accommodate women’s bodies, not the other way around.
To me, to be a woman is another (equally valuable) way of being human. We are cyclical. We don’t just go about our days and our lives each day feeling typically the same way and doing the same things. We have this whole inner world that colors each day with a different palette. We have a cycle of needing rest and reflection, then a time of energy and creativity, then a return again to rest and reevaluation.
It is this cyclical way of being that is perhaps the essence of womanhood. Our culture likes to paint caricatures of femininity, but real womanhood has nothing to do with whether we like the color pink or blue or any other color on the spectrum. It has nothing to do with whether we like to wear make-up and get our hair and nails done or whether we consider ourselves a tom-boy. It has nothing to do with whether our body shape is delicate and petite or whether we are larger than most men. To be a woman is a way of existing in the world that is different than the way men exist in it. Therefore to me, the essence of true Feminism is to assert women’s right to exist as women. Furthermore, it is to assert that the way women are is every bit as valuable as the way men are.
True feminism works for the right to participate in the culture, in the home, in business, in politics, and any other sphere not on the pretense that we de-feminize ourselves and become like men, but that we can participate as women because our way of existing in the world is every bit as valuable and necessary as the way men exist. When women have to change the way our bodies function (and our accompanying relational cycle with it) through abortion and birth control this is proof that women have accepted the misogynist ideal that we truly are inferior and that the masculine way of being really is the superior way.
Though our culture has convinced millions of women that their femininity itself is a burden that modern science has freed them from and that we cannot be equal unless we have access to it, I feel that such “solutions” to gender inequality keeps us more in chains than perhaps ever before. It is a whole culture that has accepted femaleness as less than maleness and believes that we are deserving of pity and need alteration in order to be all that we can, that is to be more like men. When a woman can be a woman and still use all her gifts, both intellectual and reproductive, in service to her family and to the wider culture, and receive equal honor and respect for what she does and who she is, then I will celebrate our cultural progress.
I may not be able to change workplace culture around the country or alter how grueling the hours are for grad students and many professions, but I can change the schedule and rhythms of our home. I can set the culture of our home and my husband and I can do our best to make sure we notice and respect the dignity and equality of each family member, and we can hope and pray that one day more families and institutions will follow suit.
The world doesn’t need what women have. It needs what women are. – Edith Stein