Yesterday, my fiance and I applied for our very first apartment. Hello, excitement, stress, and other emotions I don’t even think have words attached to them. The apartment is in a small college town where I went to school, a town we call “The Twilight Zone Town” because it is so idyllic and magical to us. Even though we don’t know if we will get the apartment, the place already feels like the home we’ve always wanted. The two of us moved around a lot during our teenage years, and this place just feels like it could really be ours. A place to call our own.
Finding a new place is overwhelming and stressful; it forces you to re-evaluate your life. Will this home fit everything that’s ever been important to me? Will the walls become mine the way I felt those in my college dorm room were? In a new place, will my fiance still hold me in the night when I have nightmares? Will he wake up to my footsteps on the floor in the morning? Will I feel that this is my home? I spent much of the past week avoiding these questions. I panicked whenever the realtor called, and my fiance dealt with the entirety of the application while I stared at all the things I was afraid to move out of our summer hideaway in Connecticut. I fixated on picture frames: will the glass break when we move; will the memories immortalized in them shatter?
My fear of dealing with the realtor sent me into a little spiral of shame: how could I stick that all of that work on my fiance? I’m not helpless, for goodness sake! But then I realized that that’s the beauty of any relationship between people who love and trust each other: all of us, male or female, surrender at least little bit of control to those we love. I have done comparable things to ease his mind, to make his life easier; for example, I pay for groceries and train tickets. His help in talking to the realtor doesn’t rob me of my independence; it makes the prospect of renting my first home less daunting.
Because of my recent personal experience, I was especially disheartened and angry when I read a piece by ChicagoNow blogger Wendy Widom titled “I am not a feminist (and neither is Marissa Mayer).” In the text, Widom details her recent real estate traumas: her husband bought their new home, and because of this, she feels that she has given up her identity as a feminist. She explains, “in that moment [i.e. the moment her husband purchased the house], everything changed: my perception of myself, my future, and most of all the realization that I am not a feminist.”
Because she did the housework involved in the move (packing, cleaning, etc), thereby conforming to a more traditional gender role, she began to feel that she “had failed [...] all her female peers.” Widom blames feminism for her guilty feelings about her desire to take on a role within the sometimes constricting “female sphere,” suggesting that modern feminism doesn’t “[encompass] all of the many complex and often contradictory roles we see for ourselves as women in today’s society.”
Let me assure you, Ms. Widom, that it is not feminism’s fault that you feel conflicted about embracing your new home. Perhaps you are thinking of the women in the 1950’s and 60’s who felt as though doing often painfully mind-numbing housework and foregoing careers robbed them of their sense of identity, the women like Betty Friedan who fought to give women as much of a right to a meaningful, fulfilling life as men. Maybe thinking of them makes you feel guilty for feeling secure in your new house, but no feminist I know, no feminist scholar I’ve read, would ever fault you for not paying for the house (especially when in today’s marketplace, women are discriminated against and paid less than men are).
On the contrary, feminism is your safe space, a forum where you can voice both your excitement about your first house and your fears about your husband’s owning your home. If you feel that your weeks of housework have obscured your autonomy and sense of self, as you suggest when you say that “[you] signed paper after paper in a daze, with [your] initials and signature going behind hubby’s, almost as an afterthought,” feminism will tell you that that’s valid. There is nothing wrong with you for having those feelings. And there is nothing wrong with you for loving your house, either.
Much like the women who found themselves with Friedan’s guidance, I see it as my duty as a feminist to pull apart the often contradictory feelings I have about my role as a woman; the goal in my mind is find what ultimately makes me feel fulfilled as a woman and as a human being. My new apartment, found by my fiance, will give my life another layer of meaning: I will find a room of my own, and then I will share what I’ve learned about myself with the person I love. Because of feminism, I know that my desire to do both of those things is valid.
Feminism evolves, is fluid and complex, and to blame a brave and positive movement for one’s guilt over allowing a man to purchase a house is pretty insulting to all of the women who have fought for the right to not feel ashamed about their lifestyle choices. I agree with Wendy in that no one should ever feel that it is a personal failure to not be completely financially independent. And I agree that leaning a bit on your mate (or anyone else) does not make you less of a person. I’m sorry for Wendy that she was ever made to feel that way, but I think she needs to inform herself on what a “feminist” actually is. Feminism is not the blame-game she makes it out to be; it’s a movement aimed towards giving women the freedoms, rights, and respect we as human beings deserve, regardless of who bought our house.
I do hope that Wendy chooses to identify herself as a feminist, but if she can’t bring herself to do that, I hope she doesn’t convince anyone that feminism is the angry, black-and-white, shame-casting movement that she seems to think it is. Enough people think that way, and it’s about time people wake up and realize that feminism is complex, that a woman can be financially independent or not and still be a feminist. Feminism isn’t (as so many people wrongly assume) about rules and limitations; feminism is the fight against those rules, the declaration that a woman has the potential to make of her life whatever she herself wishes.
Photo via This Old House