Last summer, I — like countless others — read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” and had several reactions to it. Aside from the class and racial issues I had about Slaughter’s article, it did raise interesting questions about feminism and work. Slaughter had the opportunity of becoming a powerful woman leader, at the peak of a political career in Washington — but she gave it up to spend time with her kids (and, you know, remain a Princeton professor). At the time the article came out, I was interning at Beacon Press, a non-profit press that promotes equality. When talking about the article with my (wonderful) supervisor at the time, she commented, “Isn’t this a step backward?” Back at the birth of feminism, women were trapped in the housewife role and wanted real careers. Now Slaughter was claiming that women still couldn’t be the mothers they wanted while having these powerful careers? I saw my supervisor’s point.
Yet the past few months, I’ve been grappling with the conflict between feminism and my own desires. While I initially saw how Slaughter’s article could be anti-feminist, my recent struggle with feminist theory and my life have allowed me to better understand Slaughter’s claims. Feminist theory has fought against old ideas of what women can and cannot do — it has allowed women to join the workforce side-by-side with men. But feminism has now shaped what we expect a woman’s goals should be. It has created restrictions again on the definitions of a woman. Really, feminism should give women the freedom to choose their goals.
I am supposed to be one of the privileged and educated women Slaughter was addressing. But I didn’t come out with a powerful job — in fact, I’m still pretty lost as to what I would like to do. I really enjoyed my summer internship, but as it drew to a close, I had to face a looming question.
After my internship, where would I go?
When I was seven or eight, I remember sitting at the dinner table, glowering at the food in front of me. As my family got ready to eat, I accused my parents of neglecting me and my brother. You’re never around! And other such accusations flew out of my mouth. The moment they were uttered, I could see the raw hurt flash in my father’s eyes.
My parents have loved me and my brother more than anything else in the world. They weren’t home until dinnertime because they were working all the time. Growing up, my mom worked in a clothing factory, her back hunched over a sewing machine from dawn to dusk. Her eyes would go bleary as they watched the needle endlessly pierce cloth under harsh lights. My dad worked as a construction worker and contractor. He often came home with paint, dirt, or wood dust on his shirt and between his nails. He did everything from tearing out walls to reconstructing roofs. My parents were paid probably lower than minimum wage, and this was during the nineties. They slowly chipped away at a mortgage for a house in San Francisco while supporting my grandmother, my brother, and me. Their lives weren’t glamorous and they could barely afford the two gifts I got each year. You’ve probably heard it a million times, but the only reason they came to America was to give me and my brother a better life than they had in China – they had grown up during the communist era, starving through the Great Famine and lacking education beyond middle school.
So why did I think my parents didn’t love us back then, when they so clearly did?
It’s that time of the year again – Valentines day! I hope everyone is enjoying it, whether they are single, coupled, or not physically in the same place (aka long distance like myself). But rather than focusing on enjoying singledom or enjoying coupling today, I wanted to approach the topic of toxic relationships, why we stay in them, and why we should sometimes make the break – even if the one who hurts the most might be yourself. Because on this day we are celebrating love, we should also remember that someone we often forget to treat well is ourselves.
Unhealthy. It’s a word we most often associate with food and less with people, but why? In my experience, it seems we are more likely to call someone “emotionally manipulative” than labeling a relationship “unhealthy,” not so unlike our reluctance to name a friend or lover “abusive” emotionally. Why is that when it’s so clear to a third-party? “Emotionally manipulative” makes it sound like it’s the other person’s problem. He or she is in the wrong. However, openly acknowledging a relationship in your life (lover, friend, family) is unhealthy brings into question your own role. Just like that third piece of pizza you consume, you are making a choice while knowing, deep down, this might not be the right thing. Because you see, it takes two to tango. It’s just like the word “abusive.” Once it’s spoken aloud, it’s hard to go back because you have openly admitted that you care about someone who is toxic for you. This is why, I assume, it’s so hard for us to say someone we for whatever reason have feelings for is an unhealthy relationship.