Today I’m linking up with FemFest, a three-day synchroblog devoted to exploring feminism and its importance, co-hosted by J.R. Goudeau, Danielle Vermeer, and Preston Yancey. Click over to Danielle’s blog to peruse the rest of these amazing stories, or to contribute your own.
This story of mine, it’s about a woman and her daughter. It’s about a fight for life and a fight for faith.
And it’s also, I’m discovering, about a fight for feminism.
I’m not sure my mom would have put it that way. She had some negative opinions about feminism, most of them owing to the particular breed she grew up with in the late 70’s and early 80’s. As she told it, there was a lot of hostility back then. A lot of confusion. My mother was college educated, the primary breadwinner in our household, a leader in her church. She would never have said that men and women aren’t created equal. But if I had to put words to it, “feminism” was not the lens through which she understood gender equality. She understood what it meant to be equal in the eyes of God, and that’s what mattered most to her. When feminism began to form, it was mostly in secular culture. I don’t think she knew back then how one could inform the other.
But as I read through some of the things she wrote about her experience as a young woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a cancer patient, I’m seeing this theme emerge. On one level, this is just a story about coping with tragedy, about the tension of grief and faith.
But because it is about breast cancer, it is also a story about women’s health.
And you could look at our family history and point to genetics as the main culprit, but that would only be half the story. From the dosage of birth control her (male) gynecologist prescribed her without batting an eye, to the endless treatments and choices she made to try and defy doctor’s prognoses once she was diagnosed with cancer, everything about my mother’s experience tells me a story about someone else deciding what women should do with their bodies. It tells me about dangerous assumptions and naive women and sickness being passed from one generation to the next, daughters without mothers and mothers without daughters.
Do I have kids now or later or never?
If I don’t want to have kids right now, what kind of birth control is healthiest for my body?
Do I have to take responsibility for birth control because – physiologically speaking – I am the one that will get pregnant? What can I expect of my partner?
Once I have kids, how do I stay healthy enough to raise them? When should I start having mammograms?
These are the questions she faced. These are the questions I face. These are the questions all women face everywhere, all the time.
My mom became her own advocate, she started asking questions, she took the reigns and outlived her doctors’ death sentence by several years. But it wasn’t until the tests came back malignant. It wasn’t until a lot more research had been conducted and showed that super high doses of birth control might actually produce something scarier than an “untimely” baby.*
And I guess the thing about feminism that I need, the reason why feminism matters, is that like breast cancer, it has motivated me to be my own advocate.
Feminism has motivated me to not only be concerned about my health and my future, but to do something about it, even if it’s telling my husband I’m not okay with taking a pill; I want you to wear a condom.
And feminism motivated me to marry a man that could look me square in the eye and say, I am willing to do that for you because more than anything, I just want you to be healthy.
And feminism is motivating me to tell this story, this story of a mother and a daughter, of breast cancer and women’s health, of grief and faith and feminism, so that our daughters grow up independent, happy and safe in their own bodies.
What’s your story with feminism? What has your experience been with learning to advocate for your own body? How has this factored into your choices with birth control? All voices are welcome here. And yes, male readers, you’re welcome to share your experience and understanding, too.
*For more information on the troubling correlation between birth control and the increasing rate of breast cancer among women ages 25 to 34, see this report published by NPR today. Note that the NPR article clearly states that this is merely a correlation, not a confirmed cause, and that in my post I am merely writing about my mother’s experience and the likelihood that her dose increased her risk of breast cancer, which was hormone receptor positive.