Friday, October 17, 2014

Feminism and Princeton

Princeton's used book sale today. I had been looking forward for it for months. Matt and I have drastically slowed our book buying since minimizing our things, but I had one book I desperately wanted - the book, The Feminine Mystique. That's all I came for. I'm a bit of snob about classics. I only buy them if they are used and hard-cover. I like them marked up and used, not new and pristine, on the off chance that the previous owner had some insight that I'd be interested in.

The sale opened to the public at noon, so I carefully put Madeleine and Baby X for an early nap, so they'd be nice and happy for our errand. We came twenty minutes early so I could feed them before we walked in the room. It seemed to be going fine, until we actually got in the room. And we realized that the stroller didn't fit.

"Ma'me the children's books are in the back. There is a separate entrance for that."
"Oh no thanks, I'm looking for a book for me."


"Can you help me find it? I'm looking for The Feminine Mystique"
"I'll just give you a map."

She handed it to me and then I was faced with trying to get this double umbrella stroller through these narrow rows. Technically the stroller fit through the rows, but turning the corners was difficult. The whole mission was made even more difficult by stubborn people who wouldn't move an inch for me to get by. As I struggled, Baby X started to cry. I was in the middle of the maze of books. There wasn't much I could do about it. Anyway the section I was looking for was right next to the exit, so I figured I'd just go for it.

I could make it about a foot before someone's foot was in the way. I would have to say "Excuse me" several times before they'd usually acknowledge me. Somewhere in Autobiographies the rude looks turned into whispers. The two old ladies behind me started to "whisper", the way old ladies at church do when they don't like the teacher - they move their heads together but talk loud enough that everyone can hear. "She's so young. Why in the world did she bring that stroller in here?" "Didn't you see? There is two of them!" "How irresponsible. I'd never bring my babies to a place like this. Not that I had children at her age." 

I was able to escape into Fiction, but my stroller got stuck on a table leg. I would have been able to clear it except for this man would not move over a few inches for me to get by. Another women came over and tried to get his attention, but he just ignored her too. As she helped me lift the stroller over the leg, he mumbled. "This is why they invented birth control." Can you believe he said that! Ugh. That jerk.

Finally I reached the Gender section. While I quickly scanned over the titles of the books, Madeleine starting to act up. The one person in that small area (the least crowded of the whole place), rolled his eyes, "F*ing children" before walking off and complained to the librarians. One of the librarians scampered over to me, helped me look for the book, said they must of sold out of the copies, "Too bad. We had a signed one here earlier but it was a bit more on the expensive side." Before guiding me to the children's section and leaving. I left on the verge of tears and let Madeleine play upstairs until I had calmed down.

So can we talk about this?

Do you read anything that rubbed you wrong?

Here's a few things that bothered me. 
1) A community event was not arranged to accommodate families.
2) As a mother, clearly the only thing I'd be interested in reading is children's books. I never read for myself.
3) My age deemed me an irresponsible parent and probably person.
4) People felt comfortable to make comments about my life planning and birth control methods. 
5) People rather complain and swear about me bringing kids than helping me find my book.

So why did this bother me so much? 
Princeton is such an educated community. There were rare and expensive books there. The people shopping were not poor college students. No, most of them were the rich retirees that make up the rest of the Princeton community. These people are educated and they value education. But they didn't value mine.  They rather glare and make comments about me than support a mother who values educating herself and her children. They feel superior and confident enough to not only make comments, but to quietly assert that they could make better decisions about my life than I can. They also feel comfortable enough to imply that I should be more careful about birth control. Classy right there.

What gave these people rights to comment about my birth control and sex life?
What gave them the right to be there but not me?
What makes them superior than me?

From my point of view nothing.

The thing that struck me the most was the irony of the situation. One of the main focuses of The Femine Mystique is about how housewives get depressed. Matt and I discussed this at length and decided that it wasn't necessarily being a housewife that causes the depression, but the lack of serious thinking and acknowledgement. I was there to get a book that made me think. I was there for a book about feminism. Yet, these highly educated people at the moment would have loved to have me home tending to "my" children instead of trying to get a book for myself.

Feminism to me fights for women's right for privacy about their birth control, sex life, and life choices such as being a stay-at-home-mom and having my children when I want.
 Feminism to me fights for all people to be treated with respect - even children.
Feminism to me means that I have a right to education and books.

I've seen people post "why I don't need feminism."

Well I do, because I absolutely hated this afternoon.

I'd really like this blog post to be a starting place for a good discussion. So can we chat about this? Do you think I'm being too sensitive or I was right to be upset? What does feminism mean to you? Do you think it's still relevant? Do you think things like access to birth control should be something that people should be voting on? (You either have to deal with kids or birth control is how I see it. And with kids, comes maternity and family care...which I know people don't like.) Do you think there is such things as a "feminist housewife"? What things does a "feminist housewife" stand up for?

Please comment, even if you think this is all BS. Really.


  1. I am so impressed by your ability to stay calm, I would have been irate by comment #2 and would have given each person thereafter a downpour of commentary. I am intrigued because this so called "educated" bunch if you were to sit down in a coffee shop would talk at length how mothers should of course be reading and working from home, Empowering women etc. Yet the moment that empowered life inconveniences them they are quick to judge. I think you should have said something, I like to day dream about super educated sounding rebuttals to comments like those to really put judgemental people in their place. Feminism to me... I don't even think about it honestly, I believe in peopleism?? I think all people are discriminated against for one reason (obviously some is worse than others) or another so I strive to treat everyone as an individual person. I feel like when jt is out with just our girls he also gets young dad/mistake kids or baby daddy comments, so it's always going to be something. I guess I think everyone everywhere needs to stand up for their own rights, wants, liberties etc so maybe that is Feminism? I grew up in a family of 5 boys and was never limited in any way. I even played on an all boys baseball team for awhile. I guess I am lucky that I never felt held back as a female, quite the opposite. I feel like a closed minded older generation is sort of a lost cause and that big surprise the REAL change will start in the home where boys and girls will be taught both genders are awesome, equal, and necessary. So basically those snobs in a bookstore have no idea that the greatest learning starts with educated parents WHO SHOULD BE BUYING BOOKS. Also I wrote this on my phone and can't see the whole comment I wrote which is why it's so disjointed.

    1. Thanks for typing this out on your phone! :D You touched on a whole other topic that is important to me which is genders being awesome. But I think you're completely right that all people are discriminated against for something. I think I stand behind feminism because things like this I don't think would happen if I was a guy and I don't like that. I was talking to Matt about this when I got home and he said he would have stood up for me if he was there. But I pointed out, none of this would have happened if he was with me...which is kind of sad. I really need to practice Shakespearean insults I guess as my rebuttal to these "educated" bunch.

  2. Oh my gosh...the irony of you being so judged and mistreated when you were looking for a FEMINIST book is just astounding! Honestly, I was so angry for you reading this that I envisioned myself swearing back at the person that swore at you (because really, that was SO inappropriate). Really, I'm just completely shocked that you were treated this way. I agree with you that feminism at its best allows women (and men!) to choose the lifestyle that will be best for them, be it staying home or working, and being treated equally by the rest of society. Princeton definitely still needs feminism!!!

  3. By the way, I read/summed up your post for Jesse who was similarly outraged, and suggested that you write an op-ed/letter to the editor of either the local or school paper (depending on whether the sale was put on by the school or not). This kind of behavior by multiple members of the community perhaps suggests some larger problem, and I agree with him that it would be good for members of your community to hear about this misbehavior.

    1. I'm not going lie I was pretty amused by the irony. :) I've never been treated this poorly in Princeton, so hopefully the grumpy sexist people are just visitors from out of town. But I was talking to my other mommy friends and we talked about how we had a children's book festival at the library wasn't kid friendly either! The rows were also too narrow for strollers and there was so many people that I was seriously afraid that Madeleine would be trampled if I put her down. It was also so loud so there was a lot of kids crying. So I'm planning on at least bring that to light. :) But maybe I will write in the school paper about feminism in the community!

  4. This isn't a fight for feminism, it's a fight for convenience. Businesses are not required to cater to you. If their practices are not in line with your liking take your business elsewhere. If a man was in the same situation, and couldn't lift the stroller on his own then you can bet there would have been just as many comments. The difference is he probably wouldn't have been paying attention to anyone else and wouldn't have noticed. The fact that men and women are different isn't going to change no matter how many "feminists" there are in the world. No matter what I will never be able to lift as much as my husband and no amount of "equality" protests are going to change that. If I ever wanted to I'd have to work 100 time harder than he does for the same result.
    Feminism is the sibling to racism and hurts our society just as much. It degrades men. Feminism requires that the world deal with my personal insecurities instead of taking responsibility for them myself. It requires that men give me a free pass just because.
    Those people had no right to say those things but what right do you have to require everyone to cater to you? You want to make a difference? Throw out the "feminism" crap and teach your kids to be kind and considerate to all people no matter the situation or how rude/mean they are.

    1. Feminism is not even distantly related to racism as I understand it. It uplifts everyone. A comment like yours just shows how much it is needed. Maybe if you had learned to be "kind and considerate to all people no matter the situation" you would not have to resort to cyber bullying to prove your point.

    2. Heather was just speaking her opinion, which I asked her to share. Please don't call her a troll. I like hearing others opinions so I rather keep this a place that people can state their opinions without name calling.

  5. I'm not attacking you personally but I think people have bad experiences and automatically jump to the easy conclusion- the world need to change to fit my perspective. I'm so sick of people using the term feminism to further their personal cause. If Matt had been it would have been different. It also would have been different if I, another woman, had been there. I'm a fan of treating all people everywhere fairly with respect to their situation.

    1. Ugh, I just wrote you out a long response and it deleted it. But anyway, thanks for speaking up your opinion. I appreciate it and I'm not offended at all. Matt and I will probably be chatting about it before bed.

      So first, I don't expect business to usually cater to me. If this wasn't advertised as a community event at the community library then I would have been fine with it. But I did want to point out that kids are part of the community so I do feel like they should be accommodated.

      The bigger thing that I didn't address that you pointed out is gender differences. You're right. I don't want to be as strong as my husband. I don't want to be as tall as him either. But the reason I'm okay with that is because it was something he and I got to decide together, not because society decided that it needed to be that way. A larger issue is that women can give birth and men can't. As long as that is happening, I don't want to be treated like a man. I do think women should have better maternity care in the US. I do think because I'm a woman and I think that it would benefit society for women to be treated better in that regard. I know people disagree with me, but that's part of the beauty of living in a democracy. So maybe you consider that a free pass, in which case, we can agree to disagree.

      You're also right that I can't demand society to cater to me. But then I think it's only fair that they can't demand me to cater to them. So that man that didn't want to move his foot. Fine, great, don't move it. But there better not be a snide remark about me having a baby. It was his choice not to move his foot, and it was my choice to bring my baby. I do cater to society when I don't bring a child to a movie. I cater to society when I don't change my daughter's diaper in public. Asking for the public to not make remarks about my birth control and children I don't think is a stretch. It's part of living in a community, which I do hope my daughter is a kind person to everyone in it.

  6. I've noticed that a couple of people here and on facebook have questioned the value of feminism. I realize that modern feminism has placed new stress on women--women are expected to do everything. Working women who choose not to have children are condemned, but stay at home mothers are looked down on. You are damned if you do and damned if you don't. That said, I believe that the feminist movement has succeeded to some extent.
    A little over a hundred years ago, women couldn't vote, hold property, or participate in skilled professions. It was through the efforts of feminists (even if they didn't call themselves that) that these rights were secured.
    Now, women have fairly equal opportunities. Women can go to college and have careers, but they are also free to have children. Admittedly, women are not always paid as much as men, and maternity benefits are woefully lacking in the U.S., but women do have more choices and more control over their direction in life than they used to, even though these choices are often met with criticism. Personally, I would rather be able to make my own choices and have to defend them against critics than be unable to make choices at all.
    Yesterday, thanks to feminism, Michele, who holds a bachelor's degree, was able to choose to haul two kids to a used book sale without a male escort.
    However, educated Princeton men felt it was okay to tell Michele to f*** off and use birth control. This may just be an issue of social courtesy, but I bet if I were there, they would not have made any comment. In all likelihood, they unconsciously assumed Michele was a poor, uneducated mother with two kids, not a married, college graduate with one kid and a full-time job. But even if Michele were poor and uneducated, why did these people feel it was okay to make snide comments about about Michele's sex life and choice to have children? No one has ever seen me with Madeleine and said "You should have gotten a vasectomy, man!" The fact that there is a widespread contempt for mothers with children is a sexism issue that needs to be addressed in our community.

  7. There are so many definitions of feminism that I don't know where to start on that.

    But I think it has more to do with a general disdain for children and young mothers. Understand too that being a young mom is not an "acceptable" thing except in LDS or some other minority religious sects. Many of them may assume that you're getting benefits from WIC or welfare--I don't know if you are, but it's a bit more understandable if you think of it from that point. As a working woman I have finally just barely made it to the "middle class" tax bracket on my own and SO MUCH of my paycheck disappears to pay for people who are not working...whether that's old people, or people on Medicaid, or WIC, or welfare. Statistically speaking, most of the time I would be correct in looking at a young mom and assuming that they're another leech on the working class. You also look younger than you are, so they probably assumed you were a teen mom who didn't understand how to not get knocked up, yeah you may have a wedding ring but a lot of teen moms marry the fathers, etc.

    Is it very nice or acceptable of them to make comments about you when they know nothing about your situation Absolutely not. But unless you wear a sign saying "I'm 25 years old and married and educated chose to have these children and I am not receiving government benefits", a lot of people will jump to the negative stereotype that goes along with the image of a young mom.

    IF you wanted to "adapt" and avoid this treatment you just need to look and act the part of an older, mature, experienced person who chose to be a mother. My cousin does this remarkably well, and even the snootiest of the snooty bend over backwards when she's out with the kids. I know we get this idea of "I don't want to change when they're the ones being stupid," but you can't change all those people, but you can change yourself. Sometimes a little willingness to change on our part (even if it's dumb) helps us get through life in spite of the stupid people.

    (Also, on the rare chance that you are on government benefits, may I suggest you get off them. I personally think it is really hard to be confident about being a mom when you are knowingly taking money from other people to pay for your family. It makes you dependent on their opinion of you in a way because financially they are contributing to your choices so they kind of have a say in your choices.)

    1. Amy, I think you and I have very different views on many things, and so I'm going to disagree with you but that doesn't mean that I wish you didn't speak up. So please keep that in mind as you read this.

      First of all, I don't view on taxes, poor people, young mothers, or the elderly like you do. I am currently working and close to 30% of my income is going to people other than my family. I'm actually ecstatic that I'm in a situation that allows me to do that. I don't see those people as leeches, but as people in my community that need help. I've known several "poor" people that are real leaches on society, but I know many more people that need it. My family has more than enough to live off of, and I know a lot of it because of what I was born into. I'm not resentful or judgmental of the people that haven't been as blessed or lucky as me. Do I wish my taxes were used more productively? Absolutely. Do I wish my family had more spending money? Yes. But I'm willing to pay 30% of my income to keep people from dying on the streets. I'd say hungry too but sadly our country still has major hunger and medical problems.

      Do I want to adapt? No, not really. Usually I don't have an issue with this. Maybe the cupcake frosting that got on my shirt made me seem sloppier than normal, but life is a little bit messy. If walking out a bit messier than normal causes people to treat me this much worse, than maybe I should do it more often so people judge less. Maybe I'll even wear the sign like you suggested as a scarlet letter on my shirt. I'm not above that. Being poor or young does not give people a reason to talk down or treat you less than human.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Amybiorn, I know you are speaking from your own experiences, but let me speak from mine. After a spectacular breastfeeding fail with baby #1, I used WIC to buy his formula. And do you know what made me feel "confident about being a mom?" Knowing that my child had enough to eat. I cared much more about that than I did about what the person behind me in the check-out line might think as I pulled out my vouchers.

    1. They actually aren't. I was having the same problem though, and I have had several comments disappear. Sorry about that! It's really annoying. Thanks for being persistent enough to comment.

  9. Michele, that sounds like it was an awful experience--frustrating on ALL the levels.

  10. That sounds incredibly frustrating and you're not at all overreacting. Those people were WAY out of line in their comments.

    I can very much empathize. I'm 30 but I look a good bit younger (I shocked someone the other day who thought I was 20). I have 3 small children: 5, 3, and 2. I don't know how many times I've gotten snide comments (to my face or behind my back) along the lines of what you got. The irony is that when people say things like "Have you heard of birth control?", I can (and usually do) retort with something like "Yes. In fact, I was *on* birth control when I got pregnant with #3.". Thankfully, that usually shuts people up, but it's frustrating that anyone would question my choices of how many children to have, how far apart to space them, etc.

    I love what you wrote. Stay strong and don't let people get you down (I know, that's easier said than done).