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Am I raising feminists?

By Anjali Enjeti-Sydow

A few nights ago, a dear friend of mine who lives in the Chicago area phoned. We hadn’t talked for some time, and spent the first few minutes exchanging news about our daughters. We discussed parenting issues, good books, our husbands’ terrible work schedules, and then the current state of America.

Both liberal Democrats, we lamented the Iraq war, the growing budget deficit, calls by congressmen to oust “activist” judges, the President’s virtual silence on environmental issues, and the roles religion and morality continue to play in election outcomes. Our thinking on these issues gels. We are two minds with one thought when it comes to our politics. Each sentence I started, my friend finished, each topic she broached, I expanded upon. Our ideologies were identical, our activism mirrored one another.

I am lucky to have several dear friends and family members with whom I can easily express my exasperation with the world, knowing that they will nod their heads in agreement and toast to my proclamations. We think in unison, we act concertedly, we criticize in accord. Get-togethers and homecomings resemble consciousness-raising sessions, rather than gossip circles.

It suddenly occurred to me, as I reflected on my phone conversation of a few nights ago, that I might not have this intellectual collaboration with my daughters. Though I preach racial equality, they may dispute notions of affirmative action and support racial profiling as a viable counter-terrorist tactic. Unlike their mother, they may sympathize with sexual harassers who were “just kidding.” They may argue in favor of capital punishment and censorship. They may support war causes that turn my stomach. They may perceive absurdity in the Equal Rights Amendment, gay marriage, and the morning after pill. They may agree with tax cuts for the rich. They may believe the stereotypes of welfare mothers portrayed by the media. They might point out contributing actions of the victims of sexual assault. They may ignore the economic benefits this country has reaped from the labor of illegal immigrants. They may not, as I had always envisioned, stand by my side on the mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, with thousands of other women, holding “My Child, My Choice” or “Keep Abortion Legal” signs at a pro-choice rally.

In their teen years, will they steal the remote control from me to turn the television channel from Bill Maher to Bill O’Reilly? Will they carry around in their backpacks Hoff-Sommers’ Who Stole Feminism? while I sit with a cup of tea and a worn out paperback of Susan Faludi’s Backlash and stained and warped copies of Ms. magazine? Will they blame working pregnant and child-rearing women for the wage gap between the sexes? Will they deny the existence of the glass ceiling and the power of the patriarchy? Will they ask me, in all seriousness, what I had expected to achieve with a Women’s Studies major?

If, in spite of my pains to steer them away from the Disney Princesses movement, books where women are victims unless married or mothers, my efforts to tune in to NPR between Raffi songs, participation in play dates where my mother-friends share disgust for our nation’s lack of paid parental leave and federally-subsidized child care, will they shun my ideology? Will they roll their eyes at me from across the dinner table when I despair over the vast number of white, upper-class men running local, state, and federal governments? And if they shrug off inequality in favor of blinded optimism of the American dream, will I be disappointed in them? Will I consider myself a failure as a parent, if they do not hold dear to them the causes that shape my very soul?

Dare I say that I would far prefer that my daughters come home with pierced navels, pink hair, or tattoos the size of street signs than champion conservative viewpoints? I can cope, quite easily, if they reject the faith of their upbringings, chose to live in a foreign country far from home, decide not to have or raise children, but if their thoughts about how the world is shaped and the nature of humanity is polar opposite to mine, will we have a fulfilling mother-daughter relationship?

My acceptance of my daughters is, for the most part, intrinsic. I know I will accept my daughters for their appearances (unless overly raunchy), their faults (unless someone is hurt by their actions), and their personalities (however moody). But once grown and independent of my lessons and teachings, my daughters’ viewpoints of important social, environmental, and economic issues, if largely varied from my own, will be the most difficult to accept. And although it might be a hard pill for me to swallow, perhaps more important than adopting my own politics, is that my daughters seek out their own, and in doing so, stand firm in their beliefs, even if there is a schism in our philosophies, a split in our principles.

For now, I can only expose them to my thinking, relate epitaphs of my convictions, immerse them in diversity. They are ages three and one, so I have many years to impart my wisdom, insight, and values. Other than that, while I watch them build towers with blocks, eat crayons, and shred important papers, as I search for clues to their future allegiances, I can only hope.

mmo : november 2005

Anjali Enjeti-Sydow is a former attorney and freelance writer residing in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and two (hopefully feminist) daughters. She blogs at www.lifeinthehundredacrewood.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy positions of the MMO or its staff.
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