An Open Letter to Elizabeth Wurtzel (or, feminism, you sure do depress the hell out of me sometimes)

17 Aug

Dear Elizabeth Wurtzel,

I should maybe start off by saying that we have this weird one-sided history, you and I. I guess it’s not that uncommon to feel that way about a writer? Especially someone who’s famous for publishing this messy, vulnerable, heartbreakingly honest autobiography? Anyway, I feel like we go way back.

2003 was a terrible year for me. I like to refer to it as my annus horribilis, partly because I have never before and never since reached such a nadir of depression and despair, and partly because I’m super pretentious and really like Latin. I won’t go into everything that led up to my sort-of breakdown, but I will say this: it was shitty, and I was really sad.

I read Prozac Nation again and again – I must have read it ten times over the course of that year. When I read things like this:

That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

and this:

I don’t want any more of this try, try again stuff. I just want out. I’ve had it. I am so tired. I am twenty and I am already exhausted.

and this:

I was so scared to give up depression, fearing that somehow the worst part of me was actually all of me.

I thought, yes. Yes yes yes. That’s me that she’s talking about. I’m not the only one living like this. I’m not alone.

And though that thought didn’t stop me from spending entire weekends crying in bed, surrounded by balled-up kleenexes and dog-eared books, it did, on some level, make me feel better. So thank you for that.

It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about you, but that’s probably a good thing because it means that it’s also been a long time since I lay on the floor, listening to angsty music, feeling paralyzed by sadness. I’ve semi-followed your career trajectory since then, in that I’ve read excerpts from a few of your more recent books and I know that you went to law school, but I haven’t really given you any serious thought. Until today, that is, when I read your piece in the Atlantic on feminism and stay-at-home mothers.

I am a stay-at-home mother, and there are a few things here that I would like to address.

First of all, when I say that I’m a stay-at-home mother, I don’t mean that I go to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments. I mean that I am there for the joy and drudgery of parenting from the time my son wakes up in the morning until the time he goes to bed (excepting a few hours in the evening, when I work at a yoga studio – although we don’t currently offer any Jivamukti classes, and my husband takes over child care in the evenings, so there goes that scenario). This is also true for all the other stay-at-home mothers that I know, although I obviously can’t speak for your friends.

You say that the whole point of feminism to begin with was, “that women were losing their minds pushing mops and strollers all day without a room or a salary of their own.” I respectfully disagree. The whole point of feminism is and was that women, historically, had little or no agency over their own lives, and were oppressed by a society that treated them as men’s possessions and offered them very few choices in life.

I don’t understand why your solution to the problems with modern feminism is to offer women less choices. Or rather, to tell them that they have the choice to stay home, but should they choose that avenue in life, they will be regarded as failed feminists.

You say that real feminists “earn a living, have money and means of their own“. No. Real feminists understand that sometimes leaving the workforce to stay at home with your children is an economic necessity. Real feminists know that the cost of daycare is prohibitively expensive (in my city, it’s between $1,800 and $2,000 a month for a 12-month-old child), and that sometimes having a parent stay home makes the most financial sense for a family. And real feminists know that male parents are starting to make the choice to stay home more and more frequently (in fact, I personally know three stay-at-home dads). Are women still more likely to stay home to raise their children than men are? For sure. Is the way to correct this imbalance to say that no one should stay home ever? Probably not.

You then go on to say that there is only one kind of equality, and it’s economic. Hey, listen, I’m all for economic equality – that sounds great! But that doesn’t mean there are other kinds of equality that aren’t just as important. How about equal rights? How about equal in terms of the law? Like you, I also want equality in terms of absolutes. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I sure as hell don’t feel equal. Probably because I understand that in many ways, women have yet to achieve equality.

Finally, do you know what’s really making the war on women possible? The divisiveness of the feminist community. The fact that you, and others, think that feminism should be some kind of exclusive club that won’t admit members who don’t toe the company line in exactly the right way. The fact that we’re too busy fighting each other to fight for equality.

Your piece doesn’t make me angry, but it does make me sad, and so tired. I can’t believe that it’s 2012 and we’re still arguing over whether or not feminists are allowed to stay home with their children. I can’t believe that our solution to women’s oppression is to continue to dictate how they should live their lives. It’s been decades and decades of the same arguments being repeated over and over and over. It’s exhausting, and it’s starting to make me feel hopeless.

So here we are again, Elizabeth, you with your critically acclaimed writing, and me feeling tired and sad and hopeless. It’s almost like the last ten years never happened. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a floor to go lie on and some depressing music to listen to.



5 Responses to “An Open Letter to Elizabeth Wurtzel (or, feminism, you sure do depress the hell out of me sometimes)”

  1. eden September 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Fuck. Yes. I mean obviously the choice to stay at home isn’t politically neutral. We live in a culture in which men get paid more, have their earning ability valued more, don’t get taught domestic skills as a matter of course, and don’t have their nurturing qualities encouraged, and all of these things and more combine to create many situations where being a stay at home mom makes sense. It made sense for me – and I also realize it’s not a coincidence that my husband is the one whose combined privilege and hard work led to him being a lawyer. His being male absolutely is a big part of that, and being female is part of why it doesn’t really affect my ego or identity to not contribute a lot financially to the family but instead to do all the housework and the lion’s share of childcare.

    I wish all of the above would change faster, but I don’t think the onus to change it should be on US, you know? And certainly not if the method by which we are supposed to change it is by bankrupting ourselves through daycare or alternately having our reproductive choices limited.


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