Every Women’s History Month I find myself thinking about my feminist roots. I can’t recall the first “ah-ha” moment that made me realize I was a feminist, but there were a series of events that, throughout the years, pointed me to that conclusion. One of those pivotal moments happened as a child, when I first learned about International Women’s Day. I was horrified by the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and couldn’t understand how the world could keep on turning when women were still being denied fundamental human rights. Another crucial turning point in my feminist journey? The powerful experience of helping my mom raise my little sister.
I was 11 when my sister was born. My family had recently moved from a noisy city suburb to a smaller quiet village, and though my brother and I were a bit sad for leaving our friends behind, we quickly adapted to our new home. We now had weekend bike rides, garden picnics, and even a backyard to accommodate our dog. Life was peaceful. Just when I thought I’d adjusted to our new life, my mom broke the news: She was expecting a baby.
I was thrilled with the news of having a baby sister, and quickly offered to help my mom nursing her. At that time, my understanding of what parenting encompassed was limited to my experience playing with baby dolls. Still, my naïve 11-year-old self genuinely thought that taking care of a real baby wouldn’t be that different. I couldn’t predict that my baby sister would wake up crying almost every single night during her first year, nor that I’d learn to master the art of silently loading a dishwasher, changing diapers, or putting her to sleep.
It was only when I started helping my mom in this way that I realized how, up until that point, I’d completely underestimated the vital work done by women and mothers all around the world. Because taking care of children and household chores is not just hard work, but work that’s mostly taken for granted, and therefore invisible. How else can we justify the lack of support mothers receive? It baffles me how paid maternity leave is still not mandated in the US. Today many women are still unable to balance their professional careers with their roles as mothers, and girls continue to learn that sacrifice, and giving in, is part of their job as females.
Had I not been so involved in my sister’s upbringing, I don’t think I’d have realized – at least not at such a young age – how much women sacrifice in order to raise a child. According to a UN report, women globally carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men do, which often forces them to give up their full-time jobs to take care of their kids. It wasn’t my mom’s case, as she had me and her own mother to help her. But what about women who don’t have that same support system? What are they to do?
As I navigated my own teenage years and early adulthood, I tried to show my sister alternatives. Helping to take care of her as a baby made me the person I am today, and I like to think that a bit of what I learned along the way rubbed off on her. As she too calls herself a feminist, I trust I might be right.