Being female, gender stereotypes, and crazy families.

From day to day, my views of societal gender stereotypes, feminism, religion and values change and shift and mold and move. There’s no guarantee that what I said yesterday about women in careers will hold true today. And I don’t know why this is. Is it my lack of direction in life? Lack of a religion? Conflicting influences? The fact that I fought my mother tooth and nail as a child to wear those plastic heeled dress-up shoes to the grocery store?

I often wish I had a more structured belief system; despite my general disapproval of most organized religion, I often wish there was somebody other than my father telling me what is right and wrong. Though I KNOW I don’t believe in god, I feel like there is some non-human, conscious force that “governs” the universe. Scratch that. I don’t know if it’s conscious or not. See?

Because I am sick and generally bored with my friends scattered into every state but New York, I ended up watching a four hour marathon of the show 18 Kids and Counting, about the super-strict, super-modest and super-religious Mid-Western family with waaaay to many kids. I thought they were crazy. Until I started watching, and found out that despite their unconventional ways, these kids are pretty normal. They have personalities. (I know it’s terribly ignorant of me, but that surprised me.) And their faith, in most cases seems like it’s pretty strong, and guides them. At first, the “quiver full” movement to which they adhere scared me. (They don’t practice any type of birth control, and allow god to determine how many kids they’re going to have. They view kids as a gift.) I’ve always considered myself politically pro-choice, but ethically and personally pro-life, and the more I watched and thought about it, the better the idea seemed. (No I don’t want 18 kids, and I’m not anti-birth control. But what would my parents do if I wasn’t born? How many awesome uncreated siblings lie in the unused genes of my parents gametes? Just sayin’. . .)

Anyway, back to this idea. Besides the fact that I like the way this family embraces and nurtures their children, and makes a kid-centered household, I disagree with a lot of things. Firstly, while I agree that homeschooling is the right choice for a lot of kids, parents, and their learning styles, I worry that these kids allow religion to infiltrate their studies in a way that isn’t conducive to open-minded learning. Do they know about evolution? If their mother imposes her beliefs in all their lessons, how can they be taught to think for themselves?

Secondly, while I’m certainly not the poster child for teen dating or underage sex, the way in which the Duggars condemn any affection or aspect of sexuality before marraige seems a little unhealthy to me. Encouraging the girls to wait seems fine, but the way that those ideals enforce the image of a woman as good only as a wife and mother irks me. (Also, the girls have a sewing room, while the guys get a sound and video editing room. And the chores of the house are divided by gender. If that doesn’t enforce unhealthy traditional gender sterotypes, I don’t know what does.)

The last thing that bothers me is the “family orchestra” thing. Did anyone consider the fact that baby J—- might not come out of the womb and want to play an instrument? It’s like their roles in life are determined the minute the parents find out their sex and brand them with a gender-appropriate “J” name.

Like I said, watching the silly little show about them opened my eyes to the idea that maybe they aren’t crazy. Still, I am unsure about my personal views about family and children. On one hand, I want to have a long an fufilling twenties full of apartements just for me, full of books and full of adventures with my friends and full of exploration and advancement in whichever career I choose. But on the other, I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I want to have bunches of children; I love kids, and my favorite toy as a child was a baby-doll named Lauren who I carried everywhere and took care of as if she wasn’t made of plastic. As much as I liked playing fantasy and pretend, house was one of my favorite games. I never played sports, always danced, always loved shopping, clothes, make-up and other stereotypically female endeavors. I wish I could be certain that this is due to my personality, and not some weird stereotype that was enforced on me as a child. I don’t know, and I don’t know what I believe, or how I want to live.

And with that, I return to my “sick movie,” Pride and Prejudice. Always comforting, always a happy ending.

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