Yes, she did. When my daughter Emily was born I thought I knew the type of feminist I was and the type of feminism I believed in. Objectification of women was bad, equal pay for work of equal value was good, delaying reproduction until one was financially secure and had a good of idea of who one is was very good. I had much to learn.
Lesson one: I was a tomboy growing up and I thought my daughter would love the challenge and free feeling of swinging from the monkey bars and climbing trees. She did. And I managed to convince her it was easier to do so in shorts rather than frilly dresses that could easily catch and tear. Frequently this meant regular daily wardrobe changes. As one drop dead gorgeous mom on my street whose hair was always thick and flowing and whose make-up always flawless once said to me “Heike there are worse things than being a girlie girl. “ She was a great mom to her kids and of course she was right. Choosing glitter leggings and twirllie dresses didn’t make my daughter stupid or any less kind. She was a strong spirit who embraced different aspects of her personality and so I had to re-think the notion that women who look girlie and wear flowing floral dresses are somehow weaker than those in power suits. Strong women can do both if they so desire.
Lesson two: You can’t use your disapproval of Barbie as a role model to fight the battle for equal rights. Kids don’t get it. I delayed buying anatomically incorrect Barbie who would fall over if she actually physically existed. This did not stop others from gifting my child Barbie and her extensive line of accessories. So I broke down and bought Barbie’s astronaut outfit and made sure she had friends from diverse ethnic backgrounds and materials. And so I learned just because you are blonde, voluptuous and rich it doesn’t mean you should be spurned. Let everyone be part of the picture and then assess what it is you value.
Lesson three: We fought so hard in the eighties to break into the fields that men dominated. As we know, even now 30 years later, women still make less money than men. There were fights for maternity leave and being able to come back to waiting positions. Many of us had post secondary education and we valued our independence. We wanted relationships based on equality and mutual respect. And so many of us waited till we were ready and had met the “right” one. If our birth control failed we had choices that helped make this possible. This is what I thought being a strong independent and responsible woman was about. Surely, I would raise a daughter just like this. Well, my daughter is a strong and independent woman and at 19 she decided abortion was not her choice. I suspect I cried more than she did for what I thought she was going to lose. I was angry, sad and worried as her depo-provera had failed meaning this was a higher risk pregnancy both for her and the child she carried. How could she make “this” choice when the consequences could be so great? She is after all a self-proclaimed feminist.
And so, once again, my daughter taught me yet another valuable lesson. The decisions we make impact our lives but do not determine its long-term outcome. Life (if you are lucky) is a long game. We are given many opportunities to build better lives for ourselves and our loved ones. It is the desire, courage and commitment to doing so that makes us strong and independent and teaches us who we are. It is about choice. And if we are to build a world where women are happy, because what is the point in having rights if we are not, then we need to recognize that the choices my sister makes (or in this case my daughter) are her choices and they are to be respected. There are consequences to every choice and it is only us who can decide which consequences we can live with. I still choose pants over skirts, my women friends are all bright, kind and wonderful, the domestic engineers and the CEOs- some more frillier than others, and in my late twenties I chose to have an abortion because it was the right choice for me. And then God smiled and gave me this daughter. This daughter that helped me realize that strong bright women can make different choices and they too can be their “right” choices. And consequently, I now have a far more comprehensive definition of feminism. I think I’ll keep this one.