A quick glimpse at social media reveals millennial-targeted articles such as "Be Independent And Marry Later: Why You Shouldn't Be A Housewife In Your 20s," "23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You're 23," or "The 10 Reasons A Relationship In Your 20s Makes No Sense At All." A question then comes to mind: Is this feminism?
When our generation embraces these ideas I don't see it as feminism, I see it as judgment. Instead of creating an accepting and nurturing environment, we've created a one-sided and judgment-based narrative of the world for women. Let's stop bashing women for choosing to stay home or choosing to marry young, just like we stopped telling women they can't do what men can. Let's make full acceptance the only standard.
As a society we can't seem to escape the comfort of having an acceptable and attainable lifestyle model chosen for us. The model creates uniform standards, expectations, and consequences for our actions. This I call the "right or wrong, should or shouldn't" environment that American women have lived with throughout our country's history.
Until the past few decades, the space women "should" occupy was the home, as the caretaker for the children, and the bearer of responsibility for day-to-day family tasks. When this was the standard, deviation was not tolerated. Housewife status was applauded and expected. If a woman moved away from it, she not only faced widespread institutional barriers but questioning by society.
"What is she doing?"
"What is she thinking?"
"Let's get her back over here where she's doing what 'she's supposed to do.'"
Society had a tendency to take an independent woman under its wing as if she is a marred and confused duckling in need of serious assistance.
So what did women do? We slowly but surely turned this around and created new social norms and expectations where women were valued and needed outside the home. Instead of embracing that as an option, many women now vocalize this as a necessity. It has created an environment that leads to instant judgment when the standards aren't upheld.
Yet again, we feel the need to embrace an extreme. Women must be delaying their biological clock, never choosing a relationship first, and oftentimes defaming any backwards slide into "frightening" old norms. While I promote this as a lifestyle option, it should not be the only "right" choice. This brings to the forefront an eerily familiar problem: a new social norm.
I am an ardent supporter of the movement for equal opportunity and treatment for both genders. It is inclusive, realistic, and necessary. I can't fathom why people can't seem to accept the fact that we are all human and all capable despite the differences in gender. There is no explainable reason why women should not be treated equally by society, the government, and the workplace. The problem here is we are acting in an archaic manner, one similar to what set the standards for the quintessential woman of the 1950's. We love to set up these boxes and stick women in them. Now we have the work-friendly and home-negative image that many are stating is necessary to make women "feminists" splayed over popular media.
I want to reject this simply on the basis that it is too absolute. This is not the goal of feminism. Feminism should bring freedom of choice, not necessity of action. Why do we need one standard to hold women against? We need to embrace the discomfort of multiple outcomes and multiple "right" ways. If we don't, all we end up doing is injuring ourselves by demeaning and judging women who choose to have something "less" than achieving the status of female CEO.
It is now too scary to say, "Wow, maybe I'm not the girl to be a CEO" because that would be defaming all women and saying we aren't worthy. This is incorrect. Not every woman was made to be a top executive, nor was every man. The more we tell women that it's not okay to say this, the more they will stop listening to their own voice and their own dreams and start paving a path towards what is "acceptable."
We need to tell them that they are capable of being in the highest office, but we do not need to tell them they have to be there to be accepted. We need to accept that there is no perfect prototype. Wasn't our major critique of the "housewife era" that we are not robots and we are not Stepford wives? Well, we are not office robots, either. We do not need to bully women out of making choices they feel are right for them. Nobody wants to wake up years later after pushing to attain this standard and realize they were right, this lifestyle really wasn't what they wanted. I fear seeing a similar discontent that we saw with women stuck in their homes, feeling hopeless and confused. It may take on a different form, but still the same souls become lost and defeated.
Let's stop polarizing the conversation -- we have enough of that in our country. Let's tell women that they are individuals with different circumstances and experiences that push them to have different needs and make different choices than the women around them. Let's stop the judgment and new standards that have a negative impact on millennial women in America and create unnecessary new walls and barriers.