Ultimate Feminism

S.G. Birch

The man in the produce aisle dropped his eyes to my protruding belly, a sneer pulling at the corner of his lips. My son giggled in his stroller, drawing the man's attention away from my girth for a moment. Shaking his head, he looked up at me with disdain.

"Haven't you ever heard of birth control?"

That startled moment, etched in my memory, still brings an irrepressible grin to my lips.

Marches, politics, and education evidently haven't changed human nature's impulsive judgment of the cover. In a world where we inspire our daughters with speeches of individuality and unique identities, it takes only one comment from a gray-haired man in a flannel shirt to yank us from the regulated circles of the politically correct into a sea of reality.

Standing in that market, faced with obvious closed-mindedness, I attempted to see myself from the stranger's eyes: attired in comfortable maternity overalls, my hair pulled back in a practical ponytail. I could only surmise that the man before me was unable to fathom from my youthful appearance the existence of my university degree or the hard work and excellent grades with which I obtained it. It clearly didn't occur to him that behind my cosmetic-free complexion, I might have been a high-tech executive, a theatre actor, an Internet wizard. The implication of what he saw was clear from his words: a pregnant teen, a single mother, a promiscuous tramp, the lazy young woman on social assistance. Whether he noticed my wedding band, I can never be sure. Perhaps if he did he simply attributed it to shot-gun tactics.

As a writer working from the comfort of home, I seldom take notice of the mirror on the wall. Having no desire to mesh with the work force, I'm happy to work in seclusion. Perhaps the freedom to hide behind words, judged only by my intellect, is part of its appeal. Who needs the stress of looking for run-free nylons at an obscure hour of the morning? I love being at home with my two small children. My corner desk, organized exactly as I like it, is both my respite from the rest of the world and my link to it.

Oh, I get the odd comment about being a lowly homemaker. I brush such comments off with a friendly smile and a dismissive wave. Whether others see laziness and wasted potential in my choosing to start a family and stay home in my twenties is irrelevant. Certainly if I decide to wear sweatshirts and shorts as regular working gear, that should also be my prerogative.

Catty comments have left no lasting imprint on my self esteem, but they have led me to reflect on my own views. How often have I subconsciously formed assumptions about other people's credibility, their intelligence, their lifestyle? I've been as guilty of projecting society's attributes on perfect strangers as the silly man with the nauseating comment. Is it not this ridiculous cycle that perpetuates the stress we place on ourselves as women?

This is an era when a woman's road is paved with choices and can take infinite directions. How is that we insist on creating a norm in a world that is distinctly and continuingly unusual? The single woman is strange for not needing to be married; the married woman is strange for not yearning to be single. If one wears too little blush she is apathetic about her appearance; if she wears too much, she's a shallow, brainless slut. Why does society cast these shadows on women?

From feminist studies to practical experience, I've acquired three facts:

First, the choice of motherhood, particularly in the twenty-something generation, is met with derision.

Second, women who really are pregnant teens, single moms, or promiscuous ladies on social assistance get treated with contempt.

And last, if her appearance resembles any of the above, people feel free to make absurd comments about a woman to her face.

Being at home has opened my eyes to the stress we as women place on ourselves. In a slow, but meaningful process, I am finally letting go of these demands. I am replacing a need for supermodel status with a need for health. I am learning to take dutiful care of my skin instead of buying expensive make-up to cover all the blemishes. I am keeping a hair cut that can be made beautiful with a curling iron, but that still fits into a scrunchie.

Do I feel less feminine than I did when I was a club-frequenting, jewelry-adorned working woman? Not really. My husband still thinks that "sexy" is a state of mind, and nothing gets libido going like feeling in complete control of one's life.

Despite the voices that encourage us to demonstrate our feminine competence in the workforce while sipping cappuccinos and fitting into Julia Roberts' jeans, there are women out there who look fabulous in their own jeans. They are the ones who represent true choice, with respect to all and any decisions a woman makes. These are the women who do what they want, wear what feels right, eat what tastes good, and live just as they want to. True freedom is assessing your options and having the right to choose the one less popular. The women who take those roads are truly admirable. Those women, the ones who refuse to be pushed into a mold, are the real feminists of our time.

I graced the man in the market with my sweetest smile and batted my mascara-free eyelashes at him. "My husband and I planned it this way," I replied curtly. With a confident stride, I walked out the door.

© S.G.Birch

S.G.Birch's work has been published at The Christian Science Monitor, Quantum Spirit, and Canadian Writer's Journal . She is also a Suite101.com editor (www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/healthy_at_home_moms), founder of "Excerpts Of Life" (www.excerptsoflife.homestead.com) and author of Shared Thread (www.booklocker.com/bookpages/sgbirch01.html). Learn more at http://www.sgbirch.homestead.com.

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