A Long Way To Go or Why I'm Not a Very Good Feminist
"She's so beautiful" "What an adorable baby." "She's so cute."
These are statements I hear regularly about my daughter, Sage. And maybe I'm biased but I think they are right. I have always felt like my daughter, Sage, is a really beautiful baby and little girl.
Her soft curls, her smooth skin, the curve of her cheek, her delicate features, her big sea blue eyes all combine beautifully. But, Sage also has an inner beauty that shines so strongly and apparently to all who meet her. The way she looks people right in the eye, her ginormous smile that lights up her whole face, her sweet tender nature, and empathetic energy - these things are truly beautiful. And at this tender age her inner beauty seems perfectly matched with her outer image. Her sweet nature perfectly paired with her gentle features.
But, each time I think to myself "she's so beautiful" and each time someone else makes a statement like that I feel a tinge of sadness.
I guess it just shows how little progress I have truly made when it comes to issues of beauty. How deeply indoctrinated I still am.
The thing is I know that because of my daughters diagnosis one day she will fall outside of the culturally accepted realm of beauty - in fact she will probably fall pretty far outside it. In all likelihood eventually her head and body will not be proportionate, she will need a variety of devices to move and communicate. She will draw stares from children and adults will look away awkwardly.
So, whenever someone compliments her beauty I feel a tinge of sadness, knowing that though they feel that way now they might not feel that way later on. I wish that it didn't bother me, I wish I was farther along in my journey of changing my views on beauty, but it does bother me. Like it or not I do feel a weird sense of pride whenever someone compliments my daughter on how beautiful she is or whenever someone says my son is smart.
I believe in gender equality. I've been careful not to push gender stereotypes on my children. I was really excited when I had a daughter. It felt healing. I wanted to instill in her an innate sense of her own beauty and brilliance and the beauty and brilliance in ALL human beings. I wanted her to know that she could be anything. That she was smart and intelligent and capable. That she could climb trees and play trucks. That she could be powerful and strong and intellegent. Just like I wanted my son to know that colors are for everyone and he could like pink if he wanted to, and girls are not inferior, weaker, beings with coodies.
I consider myself a little bit of a feminist. Although I usually avoid the word in the circles I run in because of the negative connotations it has. I love reading PhDinParenting.com and I was inspired by the sort of feminism that connected so well to the home birthing and attachment parenting philosophies I was drawn to.
When I found out I was having a boy I thought this is my chance to raise up a man who understands and values the equality of women. And when I found out I was having a girl I thought this is my chance to raise up a daughter who is not afraid of her own brilliance, who does not buy into societies stereotypical views of beauty and place.
I thought I had come so far in my own broadening views. I am realizing now that I still have a long way to go.
Having a daughter with severe special needs has really challenged all of that. Not only will my daughter fall far outside of societies stereotypical view of beauty, but in all likelihood she will fall far outside of societies view of intelligence as well. She will probably never climb a tree even if she wants to. And whether or not she will even learn to talk is still up in the air.
I thought that I had a fairly developed view of equality - gender equality, race equality, etc etc. But, my daughter is challenging me with how far I really have to go.
I love my daughter. I think she is perfect and amazing. But, I struggle with how to raise her to believe in her own equality and brilliance when I don't feel like I can tell her that she is truly equal. Because truth be told there's a lot of things she's not going to be able to do. And there's a lot of things that society will say she can't do even if she thinks she can.
I realize that I like having people see her as beautiful, just like I like people telling me my son is smart. I still do pick out mostly pink clothes for Sage to wear and I still cried the first time I saw the Dove commercial instead of seeing the shocking lack of diversity in color, age or special needs. I still like the message that we all fit the socially acceptable view of beauty more than we think we do, more than I want to challenge that socially acceptable view and acknowledge that beauty is so much more than that.
Equality isn't just about saying people are equal or treating people as equal. The truth is people are not equal in ability, talent or in how they measure up to arbitrary societial images of beauty. My daughter will not be seen as beautiful for long. She will probably never be seen as intelligent either. But, she is equal in essence.
She is equal in value.
I know that so very well. Her soul is beautiful, her strength is so much greater than the most powerful women on earth, her essence is intelligent in a way that I have never confronted before.
I know the value my daughter has. I see it in her eyes everyday. I feel it in her love for me and the love I feel for her. But, I have to admit, I don't think I have always seen the value in those like my daughter.
I thought I was enlightened because I held some beliefs on gender equality and racial equality. But, I realize now that I have a long way to go. I still care too much about how beautiful society see's me or my child as being. I still pride myself in my sons intellect. I still hold an idea in my head that if you aren't contributing to society in some way you are somehow less than. I still struggled to look those with special needs right in the eye and see all the value that they bring to the table.
That's what feminism is really about I think. Not equality, but value.
And my daughter is stretching my views of value in really beautiful ways.
I hope that people always see the value in my daughter, I hope I do. I hope that people can always raise their eyes to meet my daughters kind and intense gaze. I hope that people take the time to see the sweetness of her nature, her deep empathy, her deeply motivated heart, her strength that keeps trying in the face of adversity. I hope I can instill in her a deep sense of value, even if she can never contribute to a society that says the only value is in contribution. I hope that I can raise her to be confident and assured of her own self-worth, despite a society that tells her she's not pretty enough, good enough, or "normal" enough. I hope that both of my children hold less prejudices than I do and are les indoctrinated into a society that values some people over others, whether because of skill or beauty. And I hope that they can find ways to empower those who might not normally be empowered in our culture.
Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman