Since the 2012 presidential election, a lull on discussions regarding women’s rights has surfaced in my quotidian conversations with friends—outrage and anxiety have swiftly shifted back to apathy. Now that the big, bad, republicans have been defeated, we have more important things to worry about. What new twist will the next episodes of Game of Thrones unveil! How will we update our spring wardrobes? Lilly met a cute boy and she really really likes him but simply doesn’t know what to do! The threats of losing our access to birth control, abortion, or a legally legitimate claim to rape that loomed over us just over a year ago seem irrelevant now. The sense of urgency surrounding women’s issues has dissipated, and now one of our biggest obstacles to true progress for young women might just be our own complacency.
Many liberal, intelligent, educated, young women around me occupy a strangely paradoxical position. Our studies have made us acutely aware of the marginalization of women, and the naturalization of the myths like, say, a woman’s inherent need to nurture, but at the same time we seem to buy into narratives of femininity wholeheartedly. One minute we’re berating patriarchal structures, and the next we’re delighting in the wonders of our new removable and machine washable mop-head. We complain about the ludicrous and demeaning nature of expected female pubic grooming practices (“We’re grown women!” we say, “We have hair down there! Screw normativity!”), but we continue to shave. We make dinner for our male friends and bring it to their houses, to fulfill some sort of maternal itch that dominant norms assure us is only natural. No matter how much we learn, there seems to remain a disconnect between our ideologies and our actions.
My friends and I have a running joke: that when it comes down to it, although we’re disgusted by the right-wing’s archaic view of a woman’s place, and we all want fruitful and mentally stimulating careers worthy of our education, at the end of the day we really want to pamper our boyfriends with elaborate meals, purchase exciting new home appliances, and have babies. Recently though I’ve been thinking that maybe the joke is on us. There is something wrong if our $200,000 education has done little more than reify our longing for a white wedding and to become homemakers. Not because these goals are frivolous, but because they are exactly what patriarchal norms would have us believe are our true callings as the fairer sex. Maybe these atavistic expectations of women are so entrenched in our psyches that we continue to justify them as individual wants rather than interpolated impositions, and, in doing so, inadvertently perpetuate practices and familial structures that keep women in subservience.
So where do we go from here? How do we satisfy both our intellectual selves, who want to shatter stereotypes and be recognized for our value outside the home, and our social selves, who genuinely love cooking and children and taking care of one another. I think the first step is realizing that these two selves mustn’t necessarily be at odds. Though society would have us choose between high-powered careers and fulfilling family lives, we need to recognize that it is the very implied distinction between the two as somehow incompatible which is flawed. I don’t know, maybe it isn’t us who need to change.
After-all, girls will be girls.
– Rebecca Chodorkoff for The Untitled Magazine