Happy International Women's Day!
Today is International Women's Day, and I am determined to take a break from all of the gloom and devastation I so often feel these days when I think about the state of things. Instead, I am going to spend today thinking celebratory thoughts about the l contributions of individuals and communities who are grinding away against the patriarchy in a myriad of important ways every damn day.
I have identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember. It has been a crucial piece of my identity since I was a teenager. Since becoming a mother, that identity has shifted and stretched in some important ways. After years of being engaged in academic work that examined and challenged patriarchal and racist power structures, I suddenly felt cut off from that world and that work. Alone in my house in the suburbs, unable to drive, totally exhausted and consumed by the work of new motherhood, I felt frustrated and embarrassed that I was not doing anything to further the cause. I would read the Facebook updates of the writers, professors, lawyers, and teachers I love and value, and feel totally out of touch with the ideas and events outside of my own home. It was devastating. It took months and years of internal struggle and reflection to realise that I needed a new lens for understanding my place in things.
For one thing, I began to connect with a network of strong, caring, and resilient humans, mostly women, mostly mothers, who support and care for one another as we go about the business of creating and maintaining families and homes. Some of these women work exclusively at home, while some also work outside the home all or part of the time. I began to understand that there is beauty and value in all labour, where ever it takes place, and whether or not it is paid. I always knew this, obviously, but it turned out that I didn't really know it, not really, not when it came to my own life. It was a belief that I would defend to the ends of the Earth, and yet I had never fully internalised it. I felt so self conscious whenever anyone would ask me what I did. I felt strangely compelled to explain and justify my own choice to stay home, even to strangers. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that to devalue my own work meant that I was, by default, devaluing similar work undertaken by others.
The work that I do raising children is often tedious, invisible, and boring. It is also important. I see the tremendous amount of effort and energy that the women in my life expend trying to balance all of the different types of work they do, and I am humbled. I think about the women around the world trying to do the same with significantly fewer resources and less support than I am privileged to have, and I am awed.
I have also found that, rather than beating myself up for everything I am not doing right now, it is so much more productive to celebrate the small, sometime microscopic victories I achieve in my quest to re-engage with the outside world. Bringing the voices of smart women outside of my little bubble back into my brain through films, podcasts, and books has been a huge part of that. Everyday, I work to rebuild my mental library, the voices and ideas that bounce around my brain as I go about my day, talking to my friends, teaching my girls, walking beside the river in our neighborhood. Sometimes all I can manage in a day is to read a few pages, or to listen to a podcast while I am doing the dishes, but whatever. It is something. One day my kids will be in school full time and things will change again. For now, I read, and I listen, and I think. I encourage my girls to do the same. I bring books into our home which express perspectives and experiences that our different than my own.
Examining my bookshelves this afternoon, I took stock of the books by and about women that have impacted me deeply. I was struck that we still do not read enough books by indigenous women and women of colour. That needs to change, so that will be a goal for the year ahead.
What about you? What are your most treasured feminist/women-centric books? What voices are really speaking to you right now? What about books for the littlest feminists in your lives?