I missed the celebration of International Women’s Day this year (it was on March 8th). It’s not that I wasn’t aware of it. I just didn’t care.
That’s a terrible thing for a feminist to say. How can I not care about the plight of women all over the world?
All I can say in my defense is that, as a feminist, I sometimes have to fall back on the adage: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Of course I should care about International Women’s Day. Just as I should care about all feminist issues. But the truth is, sometimes I’m just too involved in trying to live my own life to be concerned about the lives of others.
I’m not much of an activist. My actions on behalf on feminism are pretty much limited to signing email petitions and writing for this blog. I also rant and rave about feminist issues when I’m watching the news or reading comments on the Internet. And I spout feminist ideology when I’m talking with my friends, sister, daughters and husband. I’m constantly trying to parse what feminism means to me as an American, a Muslim, and an over-the-hill Second Wave feminist.
In the TED Talk that I posted yesterday, Courtney Martin spoke about how we all must accept our smallness while believing in our greatness. It’s easy to get down on ourselves for not accomplishing more, but it’s important to see the ways that we do make a difference. We make a difference by the way that we handle the details of our lives.
When I give advice or voice an opinion as a feminist, I’m always uncomfortably aware of how badly I’ve lived up to the feminist ideology in my own life. I dropped out of college when I was twenty to get married. I started having babies right away. I put aside my desires for self-advancement during my children’s younger years. I worked at a job that was meaningless and toxic toward women for over sixteen years. I never had enough guts to stay unmarried while trying to raise my children. (I thought I was remarrying for love, but it was mostly because I felt overwhelmed by single parenthood.) I demeaned myself by having an affair with a married man. And I never, ever got it straight that being a woman did not mean that I couldn’t be a success.
But at the same time, I’ve never wavered in my support of other women. Maybe having four daughters contributed to that attitude (well, of course it did), but I’ve always been aware of the injustices dealt to women just because they’re women. I haven’t always been the best example to my daughters, but one thing they learned from me was to never settle for less than the best for themselves.
I left three husbands because they were not supportive of my goals in life. (I finally found one who is completely supportive.) I’ve never given up my values and ideals for the sake of keeping a flawed relationship afloat. I never gave up on my desire to finish my education, earning a Bachelor’s degree when I was 53. I’ve taken charge of my own finances, bringing myself out of debt and buying a house, which is still in my name alone. I’ve persisted in making my dream career become a reality.
But my goals aren’t always so lofty. Most days I’m preoccupied with the reality of getting old and fat. I fight constantly to maintain a positive self-image. I fear showing who I really am, in daily life and in my writing. I worry about making money. I feel frustrated by my inability to stick with anything until it’s finished. And I wonder if I’m every going to grow up before I die.
And yet aren’t all women’s lives made up of similar struggles? It’s fine to talk about making equal pay for equal work or fighting for social justice for all women, but don’t we all get sidetracked by the minutiae of our daily lives? Isn’t the point not so much what we do, but who we are?
I may have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but every one of them has made me stronger. Each time I fail, I learn more about myself and what I’m made of. Feminism is, at heart, about spending your whole life learning how to be a strong woman. No one is born with the knowledge about how to do that. We learn as we go.
I may have forgotten International Women’s Day this year, but I haven’t forgotten how important it is to stand up for myself and all other women. It’s not as important that we celebrate a given day or month or year as it is that we celebrate who we are as women. And that’s something we can and should do every day.