It feels like eons ago that I wrote this post, trying to figure out where I stood on the “birth control mandate” in the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide all FDA-approved prescription medications to their employees, including birth control. At the time of that post, I was struggling with a tenet of American ideology and law: religious freedom. When employers said they didn’t want to do something that would go against their religious beliefs, I found myself frozen in place, as I used to be when someone said the phrase “freedom of speech” or the word “choice.” These words are very powerful in American rhetoric—they have the ability to shut down conversation that might lead to reinterpretation of their meanings. They have the power to ensure the continued freedom of the privileged while oppressing the less free. To have a true conversation about religion, contraception, and freedom, we need to free our minds and our tongues from our inherited definitions of those words, which are all firmly entrenched in patriarchy.
As a feminist writer, I understand the significance of the word choice for women. I believe pro-choice and anti-choice are the right words to describe the positions supporting and opposing abortion because abortion is the controversial epicenter of a debate about the relationship between a woman and her womb. However, because abortion became the flashpoint of American conversation about patriarchy and female empowerment, choice has become a loaded word: one which can block empowerment as well as facilitate it. As Susan Faludi asserts in her introduction to the 15th anniversary edition of Backlash, when pondering the question of a current backlash in the media: “…there are still the periodic reprimands, though generally they are presented as the products of a woman’s ‘choice.’ The backlash is now said to be a strictly self-inflicted affair.”
Work-life balance is a hot topic these days. Famously non-feminist Marissa Mayer caused a recent stir by eliminating telecommuting at Yahoo!, a move that many mothers decried as family unfriendly and economically counterproductive. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is sparking heated conversations about women, workplace, leadership, and motherhood. Each time a powerful working woman joins the conversation about family and work, the media reacts as though this conversation is new when it is anything but. It’s been circulating around the kitchen table and the office water cooler for quite a while. And it’s time we moved it to the courtroom.
I’d been anticipating this past Saturday evening for weeks, as I would get to dance the night away in semi-formal glory. I’d found the perfect dress, in an awesome color. I choose shoes to kick off and a matching bag, and I spent some time getting all gussied up. I felt like a million bucks, and I was ready to par-tay. Imagine my shock and dismay when, just as the party was warming up, another woman arrived in a dress that was very similar to mine. Her dress had so many of the qualities I thought were unique to my own—style, classiness, and a je ne sais quoi that I can only describe as a radiant badassery. How could this have happened?
In the movie The Guardians, Jack Frost has to figure out what’s at his core before he can save the day. Santa Claus explains to Jack that his own core is wonder; his awe at the magic of toys, and play, is what motivates all that he does. Jack is confused—he’s not sure what’s at his core, and he’s not sure if he should be a guardian of children. After all, they can’t even see him. By the end of the movie, Jack figures out what centers him, and when he does, he is able to do and be so much more. He becomes his full self. I’ve been thinking about this definition of core as the new year begins, and I work to strengthen my own core.