A few weeks ago the boyf and I once again headed over to Bluestockings, a feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, for a reading by two of my favorite third wave feminists, Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner. Back in college they contributed to my click moment through their book ManifestA: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, a wonderful third-wave feminist overview that at the time I devoured and although it has lost its luster in my eyes due to the expansion of my own feminist consciousness, I still appreciate and recommend it often. The readings were of Amy and Jennifer’s new books, Amy with Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself, and Jennifer with Abortion & Life. An outsider might view these books as contradictory but upon further discussion these books are not contradictory at all but are in fact quite complimentary and were solidly presented together.
First off let me admit that although I had not yet read either of the books, I went to the reading with excitement about the topic. Although I am only 24 and have no foreseeable interest in having children in the next ten years, I am a woman, and so naturally reproductive rights and issues relating to motherhood such as childcare greatly interest me. Secondly let me admit that I myself, from my self-centered 24 year old mind, have for a while viewed having children as a sort of death knell. For the longest time I questioned whether or not I wanted to even have children, so I wanted to hear Amy’s stories on how or if you can in fact have children without losing yourself.
Because I know I have nightmares about being a stay-at-home-mom knee deep in laundry with a casserole burning and an ungrateful and unhelpful alcoholic husband tinkering in the garage while the kids run screaming around the house covering everything in fingerpaint and drool. (Have we all had that nightmare?)
Amy discussed how much has changed in America between the world inhabited by second and third wave feminists. During the 1960s second wave feminists lived in a world that touted motherhood as an unquestionable apex, and so an awakening came when some took a step back and said “Is there room here for me? What do I want? Do I even want kids?” Now, during the third wave, women live in a world that touts the individual and their achievements and for their whole lives they build themselves up, and now we are faced with “Is there room here for kids? How do they fit? And if they do fit, do I lose me?” And this is where I incessantly get caught up–my whole life I’ve been cultivating the unique brand of me, and so letting some of that go to put others first is sometimes difficult and daunting. During Amy’s reading she constantly reiterated that there is no cookie cutter right or wrong–each woman has different experiences, and you can have children without losing yourself. You can work or not work, get married or not get married, you just need to find what works for you.
Jennifer’s reading blended seamlessly into Amy’s with the thread of reproductive rights. Sometimes people get caught up in thinking reproductive rights is only about abortions, but reproductive rights is choice–choice to have or to not have a child. And that is a right that women should have over their bodies. Jennifer spoke with women around the country about their experiences with reproductive choice and abortion, and found that there often isn’t a safe area for women to discuss their feelings on abortions. The two accepted avenues are sheer joy at an abortion or sheer regret, and this completely disregards the multiple emotions that women understandably experience when making these choices. And their voices and experiences should not be disregarded but discussed as legitimate feelings and yet all too often they are silence or shamed to feel otherwise as the topic of abortion becomes more politicized. Jennifer attempts to bring those voices out and encourages open discussion with women and men about a complex situation that is most often more common than realized but often hidden away undiscussed.
What I loved was that both Amy and Jennifer stressed that there is no one feminism, no one mothering plan, no one way to experience an abortion. And this is what I love about third wave feminism–it isn’t black and white, it is a feminism “that fucks with the greys” and I so appreciate that. Some may see it as a weakness, that without a centralized concrete doctrine we cannot be a solid “movement.” But seeing and hearing these two brilliant and successful third wave feminists in action, as well as witnessing the packed independent bookstore filled with interested and engaged men and women, I dare anyone to question whether or not feminism is dead.
So don’t worry mom, perhaps I will have children after all, but I’m gonna do it my way.