Written by Angelica Perez of Modern Familia
There is this natural rebelliousness in me. Not the common type of rebellion. No drugs or illicit behaviors. No oppositional or conduct disorder – just a tendency to question, to challenge the status quo.
I remember the first time I ever questioned a gender role issue. I questioned my mother. By the age of 12, I was beginning to be really bothered by a few observations. Despite her long day of work in a factory, my mother would hurry back home to cook a full meal, while my father read the newspaper in the living room. And when dinner was done, she would call my father first to the dinner table – “Luis, ven a comer, ya termine de cocinar…” His meal was always placed at the head of the table. And, to add to my confusion, she would always serve his dinner in separate plates: the rice on a fancy bowl, the beans on a smaller bowl, with the meat and salad to the side. All the items were neatly placed around a large empty plate in the middle. His utensils lay clean on a white napkin, next to a large glass of iced water. Conversely, the rest of us had our food piled on a bowl, and we sat on the side of the table. My mother would join us last at the dinner table. And on the days when she cooked chicken, I would notice that my father would get his favorite chicken parts, while mami would get the huesos (bones). For some reason, she managed to convince herself that she loved chicken bones. I still don’t believe her.
So one day, she asked me to set the table for dinner. As I was about to put down my father’s plate, I turned around and asked: “Mami, why do you always serve Papi’s dinner first?” Without taking a moment to reflect, she naturally replied: “I serve your father first because he is man of the house…”
I recall this moment very clearly. I will never forget it. I am angry, still angry that my mother failed to seize that moment to pause and reflect. Her idea of my father as “the man of the house” was as ingrained as the roots of an old tree. All along, all those years, I had been watching. I was furious. That was not fair.
Feminism, to me, means fairness. As I continued to grow up in a household where double standards and gender role inequalities were never questioned, I became increasingly allergic to sexist behaviors. Over the years, I became a fairness cop, sniffing and spotting any type of unfairness – sexism, racism, classism, ethnocentrism – in society, in my home, in my relationships. I still do. And it’s so exhausting. But no matter how wonderful and fair my husband is, I will admit that I still find myself silently (and not so silently) questioning every comment, motive or behavior that might smell like sexism. I question my husband’s tone of voice when he asks me “pass me that glass of water…,” and my son’s comment to his younger sister that “girls don’t play baseball…” I question society’s attitudes on motherhood and home-making. I question the sexist ads on magazines and on television. I question myself on how well am I raising girls who are strong, independent thinkers and confident in their God-given gender. I refuse to take my daughters to mass at church, until there is a woman standing tall and strong in a priest attire, surrounded by altar girls. And while I firmly believe in God almighty, I can’t seem to refer to God as a “he”…nor can I read passages in a bible that refers to men the same way my mother does. I resent that my son can go outside shirtless on a hot, humid day (my girls can’t do that).
So to make things “even,” my 10 year old son does laundry, and helps clean the house; my 4 year old practices baseball with her ballerina tutu on. I don’t buy Barbies or cutesy dolls for my girls (my boys are more likely to get a doll from me), and I can’t stand the color pink.
What am I afraid of, I ask myself? Ending up like my mother. I don’t want to eat the unwanted chicken parts, or sit last on the dinner table. I don’t want to live her life…But more than anything, I am most afraid of raising an angry daughter (like me) who sees the world as unfair, and sees women as brainwashed martyrs and men as potential assholes. So, exhausted, the rebellion continues…with no end in sight. That’s my feminism.
Summer of Feminista is a project where Latinas are sharing what feminism means to them. Positive. Negative. Academic statements. Personal stories. Learn more or how you can join the Summer of Feminista. This is a project of Viva la Feminista. Link and quote, but do not repost without written permission