Older Generations and the Patterns of Feminism

/ 4 February 2011

The second book we’re reading in FYS this semester is Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin. The book describes the growing issues surrounding this notion that girls and young women these days feel that they need to be “perfect girls”, but inside are starving daughters, and not just in terms of eating disorders. For this second FYS journal of the Spring 2011 semester I’m supposed to explore how both my parents and grandparents fit into the patterns Martin describes in the second and third chapters of her book. This task isn’t necessarily easy because though I think that I understand the patterns to consider, I don’t quite know where to begin to compare my parents and grandparents with those patterns.

Let me start by describing what I see the patterns in these chapters to be by briefly summarizing the chapters. The author’s mother, as a child, was given separate portions from her brother, portions meant to keep her thin and “perfect”. She was downright opposite of what her mother (Martin’s grandmother) wanted her to be. During college the Vietnam War only strengthened those aspects of her. The core of this pattern can most simply be tied up into one term, Feminism (this may be one of my only hooks later on). The other major piece of the patterns is related to the father’s involvement in the growing up of their children. In almost every family the mother pulls way more weight in this area then that father. That said, in the book, Martin’s father was the balancing force given how much her mother had this engraved notion of how daughters should be “perfect”. To this extent, as with any parent and child when the child is at a certain age, Martin would start being against most of what her mother said, including the notion of being a feminist. Okay, that outlines some of the pattern that I truly can’t quite relate to much less know how it worked out with my grandparents.

Feminism is one of the core concepts in these chapters (and eating disorder connections seem secondary to me), underlying everything from how Martin’s mother acted to the ways Martin herself tells the stories in these chapters. Therefore talking a little about my parent’s views to that end (and by natural extension the current political issue of gay marriage) is at least a first thing to mention. At least from my perspective, many people these days aren’t that supportive of the notions of feminism. My parents are therefore part of the minority since they’ve always been supportive (as far as I can remember…). These views and notions were naturally embedded in me when I was young, and though I can’t relate to the specifics tied up in them, I can consciously choose to continue that supportive mindset on into my adult life. I think that the ways my parents got these views was tied within their parents (my grandparents). I honestly can’t explain it much simply because I don’t know the specifics, but both my grandmothers have (I think…) supportive notions of feminism. From my mom’s side I think this comes from needing to raise her daughters alone, and on my dad’s side I think my grandmother did work with feminism back when she was the first lady of Ohio.

Under the umbrella of feminism is the idea of shared parenting as another major theme of these chapters. This tries to dismantle the uneven distribution of who has what kinds of and how many parenting responsibilities. Here let me start with a generation earlier, my grandparents. In both family situations I doubt that shared parenting was that possible, after all on one side the father was governor of Ohio for a time and on the other the father completely fled the country. That said, does shared parenting really need to be between mother and father? For a fact I know that in both families my parents, being the oldest siblings, ended up covering for some of the responsibilities their absent fathers couldn’t do. In the situation of my parents in their parenting of my brother and I it is hard to tell. This is mainly due to naturally not being able to keep track of this across most of my childhood. That said, as I understand it I think the responsibilities and roles were shared pretty equally. This certainly feels like this was the case most recently, across most of my brother’s life.

Many of the patterns described in these two chapters, this whole book actually, are centered on girls and young women. By definition of that alone I can’t relate to them deeply enough to continue forever with explaining how my parents and grandparents fit these obscure patterns. In general exploring my grandparents is harder anyway, but what is written here still taps the center of the patterns as I understand them. I’ve still found ways to relate to the things discussed in the book, some of that is evident here and some of it I’d rather not discuss. Plus, as with any of these journals (or for that matter my senior journals at Avalon last academic year) my posts are purely the beginning of potential discussions regarding the topic. So I wholeheartedly embrace the potential discussions that these journal entries have the power to evoke.