You know, I was scrubbing my toilet when it came to me, on being a feminist stay-at-home mom.
And this is funny to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons, because we all have our own definitions of feminism and what it means and how it should effect our lifestyle choices, particularly in areas of relationship, career, and parenting.
I grew up in a culture (though not a family) that shied away from the word “feminist” like it was of bad taste, which was something I could never comprehend well. I found it odd that the very people who called me smart or capable or ambitious should also think that it was wrong to fight for the fullest, truest compensation and recognition of being such. So when the same community held motherhood, and specifically stay-at-home motherhood, as the best path for a woman, I had an understandable though subconscious negative reaction.
But see, I am the product of a stay-at-home mom. I am the product of a nurturing home, held together by a mother who poured her all into us and our goings-on, who believed in me and all my parts—even my angsty, youthful feminism. And so when I sort of stumbled into motherhood, despite where I thought I wanted to be, I couldn’t not stay at home with my children. I couldn’t deprive them of what I had known.
(Let’s not lose sight of where I’m going here by getting hung-up on the stay-at-home part. I chose this because a) I (so thankfully) could and b) because I thought it was right for our family. I have zero opinions on what you choose for your family because we are all different people with different circumstances. Just so we are clear.)
So, I, in my feminism rite, chose to stay at home with my one precious daughter, which turned into two precious daughters, and I have joyful memories and inspirations born out of that decision. Even if I didn’t make it in confidence, I have lived it in confidence. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had made a choice, and so that in some way had put part of my feminism on hold. I’d invoked the right of making a choice for myself, the choice to be home, which is a very feminist thing to do; but I constantly worried that, in doing so, I’d made some choice against another facet of feminism, the part that says I need to use my abilities, my smarts, my drive for something outside the home. As a whole, women, even feminists, sell themselves incredibly short, I think.
As a result, I decided to continue freelancing, very loosely clumping myself into the group of work-from-home moms, though it was not without consequence. I suffered all of the dramas that face many mothers (and even women who aren’t mothers yet): I was exhausted beyond reason. I felt guilty constantly. I worried I was inadequate to do anything, mothering included. I completely lost presence. I was always thinking about what I wasn’t doing or wasn’t accomplishing if I was at home or I was consumed with what I was missing if I stole away for a day to work.
The places scrubbing a toilet can take your mind, eh?
It was a lot of work, cleaning the bathroom that day. I had a lot of time to think. I mean, the bathroom was really, truly, disgustingly dirty. And I thought, “How did the bathroom get this dirty? How could I have possibly let it evolve in such filth?” So I start pouring myself into the cleaning, wiping every corner free of dust, throwing my body weight into scrubbing the grout. I was determined to make our bathroom sparkle. Every push of the scrub brush and I’m telling myself, “I believe in excellence.” Pull the brush back, “I believe in my ability to be excellent.” Push it away again and relish in the scraping sound the tears away the dirt, “So I am my best and it benefits my family.”
It struck me with a tingle almost that, in the name of trying to be all things for myself, I was nothing to anyone else. And I don’t think that feminism equals selfishness. To advance the cause of feminism is to say that we are all capable and worthy human beings. It’s to say that women have the right to give their all to something. It’s really a camaraderie, not an individualistic movement; and when we come together in like-mindedness and positive attitude, we watch those we love benefit from it too. Maybe it’s a co-worker. Maybe it’s a demographic.
Maybe it’s your precious babies, kept safe in a clean and loving environment, watching their mommy be whatever part of herself is necessary for that day and being wholly in it and committing to work with excellence. Maybe it’s seeing her surrender to the fact that we can’t always do everything but we should try, and, in the end, to have striven for something and to have been gracious with one’s self and others is what it really is about.
When I think about teaching my daughters to be feminists, I have come to two conclusions. I want them to believe in themselves and their ability to achieve anything, regardless of their gender. But the second is that I want them to believe in their ability to effect change for good on Earth. That requires that they move outside of themselves and commit to the excellence that is inclusive, that is considerate, that works on behalf of others. I want them never to differentiate between working for a global cause or keeping the floors of their families’ homes clean, so long as they are invested in where they are, doing their good work with excellence.
I did make my bathroom sparkle that day. I went on to clean the kitchen and to take my girls to the park to paint. I didn’t get any writing done that day, but that’s okay. I still did good, good work.