“The New Girl” of 21st Century Feminism

Oh Facebook. How many times do I find myself with some free time (you know, the times when I babysit my nephew and he’s sleeping) and I can get into that book I’ve been trying to start, and…I’m actually scrolling at an insane speed on my iPhone through my newsfeed, trying to catch something interesting. Well, today I did find something interesting, as I came across the much reposted article from the Huffington Post about a recent comment from popular actress Zooey Deschanel. (You can read the original article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/09/zooey-deschanel-woman-dying-to-give-birth-instyle_n_5570657.html  Now, I’m a big fan of hers, I love her style, quirkiness, and how she doesn’t fit into the mold of most Hollywood women. But surprisingly, given the actress and the article title (which sounded like something I would agree with), I actually ended up with a negative response to it. The actress expressed frustration at the double standard that comes when interviewers ask actresses the question ‘do you want kids’ disproportiantely to male actors. She then went on to share her feelings that not all women are frantically desiring children (my paraphrase). She also commented that this was a 1950s-eque view on women and what their lives should be. Now, there’s certainly enough internet-bashing of celebrities, which is unfortunate. My problem with the article has nothing to do with Zooey, or the article author herself (who shares her own opinions), but rather, my problem is with their thinking, which I believe is evidence of how flawed our society’s thinking on gender roles often is.

Now, I’m in my mid-20s with NO children, so I get the perspective of a single woman trying to navigate a career and friends, and not having any attachments at the moment. Though I wouldn’t label myself a feminist, I certainly, as a woman, feel that too often there are double standards for women in society, and a lack of opportunity for women in many industries and in positions of power. In fact, me from the past (my college-age self, to be exact) would have cheered these sentiments from Zooey. I certainly felt for many years that I didn’t want my life to be about getting married and having children, but instead on becoming educated and pursuing a meaningful career. In fact, I didn’t even know if I really wanted children at all. However, my present, more wise and mature me (hopefully! fingers crossed…), finds much to be desired with this mentality, and the views of the article.

For starters, the “double standard.” Yes, certainly when women are the only ones the media focuses on in regards to family and children, there is a problem. However, is it really sexist/a double standard for women to be asked if they want kids, when we ARE THE ONES WHO HAVE CHILDREN? Now, it’s a double standard when women are asked disproportionately than men about whether they are getting married/want to get married, etc., because both genders do it. But here again, I think we see the flawed thinking of our society. The pendulum swings, and now it’s become acceptable for women to grimace at being asked about children, or trying to advocate for no children. How is this helping women? Isn’t this making it seem like, instead of being pigeonholed into having children, women are pigeonholed into trying to “fight society” and actually go against what is natural for us to do? I think we need to ask ourselves what we’re fighting against.

I think in answering this question, we would find that women are actually the victims in this supposed “feminism.” In our culture, it seems that the belief in women fully embracing being a wife and mother, is often rejected for pursuing something more “worthy.” The advice is, yes, have children, be married (or don’t). But make sure you do something else that validates you, something that makes use of your mind/physical strength/compassion etc.  Certainly in the past women were dictated by society to only focus on marriage and children. But maybe the problem isn’t so much that these things were focused on, but that they were actually devalued overall in society, compared with professions that seemed to be so profitable to society.

I believe that, much like the fight for feminism in the past, women are again left with the struggle between rejecting a social mold, and staying true to themselves-but in the reverse. Why should “modern, liberated” women feel that they must embrace a “single” mentality? That somehow having children is a weakness, or is bondage? (Understandably, I’m not speaking to women who can’t have children.) This brings me to one of the points of the author of the article, when she says that “Given all the perks of being childfree, it’s confusing why anyone expects women to become pregnant before they are certain they’d like to birth a new human and raise it for 18 years.”

What are these perks? Doing what you want? No attachments? I understand the mentality of this. We live in a culture that values individualism, freedom, and self-awareness. And none of these things are bad.  I believe that women should have the ability to choose whether they want to get married, have a career, or have children. And I realize that these women were not saying these things are bad. I get it. However, all I’m pointing out is how these thoughts are reflecting a somewhat misguided feminism that has spread across our culture. The so-called social pendulum has swung, and instead of feminism being about the option to be married, have children, or have a career, or have BOTH, it’s almost seems like it’s become socially acceptable to promote the idea that having children isn’t the natural thing that it is.

In fact, I think it brings up the changes in thinking with the Millennial generation (That’s those of us, like myself and Zooey, born during the ’80s and ’90s-Lisa Frank binders for the win! 😉

The question that all generations wrestle with is “What do you want your life to be about?” I think for my generation, the answer to that question seems to be more and more: Myself. And sure, that may have been the answer of previous generations also, but it certainly rears it’s ugly head more so now with social media and the connectedness we all experience through technology. Instant gratification and self-absorption, which I know have been attacked in writing and media for a while now, is definitely apparent in the discussion on women and gender. I would raise another question for my fellow 20-somethings…. What’s the alternative to not having kids? Living only to fulfill your immediate desires? Which would look like….Netflix? Eating out? Going to clubs/bars? Hanging out with friends? Being on the internet? Social Media?

I think many of us (myself included) would say we would love the freedom to travel. But really…most of us may take one cool trip, but we’re not jet setters. That’s a fantasy we keep pinning on Pinterest.

But I think, especially from a Christian perspective, that I can’t buy into the idea that that is somehow better than becoming a wife and mom. (Again, please don’t misunderstand, I’m not speaking to women who can’t have children.) But it seems like we’ve accepted that selfishness is just part of life. Since when did we become so stuck in a childish mentality? I see it everywhere-Buzzfeed, Facebook, Pinterest, etc (Which I must admit is a result, of, um, spending WAY too much time on those websites…darn you Buzzfeed lists…). There is a constant focus on ourselves: what we like, don’t like, what we’re going to do in the future, how clever or funny we are. We could literally spend hours on the Internet laughing-just being humored by one post or video or meme after another.

Besides society acknowledging this selfishness regarding having children, I wish that feminists would recognize the double standard they, at the best, are creating, or at the worst, are buying into by our culture. Modern feminism, fueled by celebrity culture, has made doing the most natural thing in the world a negative. Sure, society has placed disadvantages on women relating to pregnancy, but we certainly shouldn’t devalue it. In fact, I think that if we placed a higher value on marriage and having children in our society, it would elevate women and their role in society as well.

We are in the human race to procreate.  Not all women will, but we certainly shouldn’t present this as a negative in our cultural conversations. I think it could be damaging, especially for younger girls who are growing up with a somewhat confusing image in the media. Just something to think about.

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