There are likely a dozen things I ought to be doing right now.
It’s Easter evening, so we have the usual weekend dishes to clean, plus company-came-over dishes, too. Logan dislocated his elbow. Sadie has an ear infection. The dog has an ear infection. There are bathrooms to clean, bags to pack for school this week.
On overwhelming days like these, especially when Logan still seems to be struggling at daycare and preschool to get back into his pre-milk experiment stride, I can’t help focusing on all the things I‘m doing wrong, all the things I ought to do. Comments like “Super Mom!” that my well-meaning and supportive friends and family post after my blogs make me snort. I am not Super Mom. Truthfully, I don’t even think I’m Good Mom. I’m overly impatient and irritable, and often I worry that I’m actually more Bad Mom.
Because I ought to be a stay-at-home mom.
I ought to learn how to cook from scratch.
I ought to insist on sticking closer to the BED diet, with proper food combining.
I ought to cut out the small amounts of sugar that have crept back in our diet, the fruit and the honey.
And yet, while worrying about being Bad Mom, I also worry about being Bad Feminist, as if these two ideals are somehow mutually exclusive.
I ought to be more career-minded.
I ought to write more than once a week.
I ought to read more journals.
I ought to publish more.
There are so many “ought-tos” it’s hard to keep up. In fact, I believe I’ll diagnosis myself with “ought-ism.” I’ll let others judge if I’m low- or high-functioning.
While I have actually been referring to myself as a bad feminist for a long time, I need to of course acknowledge Roxane Gay’s 2014 book, Bad Feminist, which a friend gave me recently. While Gay half-jokingly ponders if she can still be a feminist if she shaves her legs, I wonder if I can still be a feminist because I don’t shave my legs—I simply don’t have time between scrubbing toilets, scrubbing dishes, scrubbing faces, and various other things that seem decidedly domestic and therefore anti-feminist.
The label of feminist is hard. Gay admits she used to shun the label, and I used to, too. Lots of women do (including, unfortunately, some of the country’s most powerful career women). We get the idea that we should avoid the F-word from this mythology that feminists hate men, hate sex, hate babies and all things domestic. Gay quotes Yahoo! CEO Melissa Mayer as saying she’s not a feminist because she doesn’t have “the militant drive and the sort of chip on the shoulder that comes with that.”
On the other hand, Gay points to articles in The Atlantic asserting that “Real feminists earn a living,” and that until women are firmly in the workplace, feminism will fail (Wurtzel, 2012). The small portion of women who choose to leave their positions to stay at home are often blasted.
You see my dilemma, then, and why Good Mom and Good Feminist do often seem mutually exclusive.
Case in point: Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,”* from a few years back:
“I told [a colleague] how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”
She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.
Slaughter mentions that, ironically, she was once a face of feminism, telling scores of young college women that they could have it all. But, as her children grew, she says she grew “increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet.”
While Slaughter clearly still believes in women’s equality and power, she never returns to using the F-word throughout the rest of her incredibly lengthy (but incredibly interesting!) article. It appears that along with her career, she has let go of the label of feminist because, as she says, women simply can’t have it all.
Gay scoffs at all of this. Feminism never promised women they could have it all, she argues. You can still be a feminist even if you don’t “have it all.” Even if you like pink and purses and yes, even pornography. All feminists want is to not “be treated like shit,” she says, quoting a 1996’s DIY Feminism.
A cousin of mine—whom I respect—seemed to take offense a few months ago when I blogged about how impossible it was to work, cook healthy food and be an attentive mom, not to mention taking Logan to the therapy. She completely plans on “having it all.” Of course, she has no kids yet.
She might be able to pull it off better than I. But I think it depends on a person’s definition of “healthy” meals and how they’re prepared (spaghetti with meat sauce and a lettuce salad is a perfectly quick and healthy meal to some. But for us, the noodles have gluten, the sauce has sugar, and lettuce offers very little nutrients.) And I hate to play the special needs card, but that does add to the stress.
I do love writing and working. I enjoy providing for my family. Growing up, I had never considered that “providing” for a family doesn’t have to be defined in financial terms. However, my understanding of “providing” is shifting. I love being with my kids, I love having a clean house, and I at least wish I loved cooking (I’m working on it.) These things ought to count as significant provisions, too. They oughtn’t disqualify me as a feminist.
Unfortunately, with my economic situation, this is all really a moot issue anyway, since I do not belong to the 1% of women who can afford to leave the workforce. So I guess I’ll remain stuck in limbo, between Good and Bad, Feminist and Mom, trying to balance all the “oughts” that come with career, motherhood and autism. I ought to try and do it all, but that’s probably not possible.
If I’ve learned anything from autism and feminism, it’s that really, only two “oughts” matter: I ought to love my son and I ought to love myself.