Kimberly Johnson is a yogini nomad, bodyworker, doula, postpartum women’s health specialist, and single mom to a fiery 7-year-old, named Cecilia.
As soon as I ever heard the word “feminist,” I knew I was one. I have always been proud to call myself a feminist. I defend the term. It’s irritating when the word receives a scoff, which happens too often here in Southern California.
I was raised to believe that girls could do everything that boys can do, and better. I was given every educational opportunity that boys were given. The only opportunity I wasn’t given, that my brother was, was golf clubs at two. Not that upsetting.
I was constantly told that women were smart, strong and powerful. Women should be represented on the Supreme Court and in corporations in equal numbers.
Being a woman shouldn’t stop anyone from pursuing any goal or dream, even if that is to be president.
Women should be able to travel, work and live wherever we wanted to. We are equals!
One of my beloved high school teachers challenged my class to consider whether women should be able to go to war. “Of course they should!”
In the command room? “Yes!”
On the battlefield? “Yes!”
I was completely convinced.
This was a teacher I really looked up to. He was the kind of teacher so moved by teaching and so moved by literature, that he would cry as he read Shakespearean sonnets aloud. He pushed us to see the world in new ways through the eyes of the great writers.
He posited that women should not be allowed on the battlefield. I was confounded. I know I didn’t have to agree with everything he said. He would not have wanted that. He spoke with great admiration of his female mentor. He called on girls and boys evenly and respected our opinions equally. He didn’t seem to hate women or have an issue with them. I was firm in my stalwart opinion, yet shaken.
How could this wise, open-minded and deep thinking person believe that there were places women did not belong? He was saying that the inherent nature of men and women was different, and perhaps those natures were not suitable for every environment. I was just learning about the dismantling of “separate but equal” in the Civil Rights Movement. Was this a “different but equal” gender argument?
It was not traveling internationally and seeing how flexible gender roles are defined, nor was it the repeated cases of abuse of women in the military, nor was it a very long pregnancy that pushed me to a new understanding.
It was birth that tossed me right over the cliff.
I experienced the ineffable proof of my misunderstanding and my teachers’ insight. Women and men are not just different genders.
We are different species. Forget Mars and Venus; those are both planets. After birthing a baby, I was hard pressed to find anything similar, at all, between us.
And thus began the refashioning of my identity. The feminism I knew didn’t include motherhood. In fact, it was defined in exact opposition to it. The “Pill” was a Godsend that liberated women from reproductive obligation, unleashing them on the world to explore, give their gifts and free them from domestic prison. Women didn’t have to be “just” mothers anymore.
These days I spend my time with women listening to their stories. I feel their stories in their bodies. Together we piece together a more coherent puzzle of their soul stories and their life stories. We talk mostly about iterations of birth, death, and transformation. Sounds like big stuff, and it is. But it is also the stuff from which life is made.
As women, we have a unique vantage into these cycles based on our biology. We bleed every month. We experience the budding and hope of a life, and the breaking down and letting go of a life. Most women are not tapped into these tidal waves, except for as disruptions. Yet, these are the primal energies revealed in all living beings.
Before I had a baby, I had never experienced any “female” problems. It wasn’t until after I had a baby and experienced birth injury and the ensuing difficulties that I understood what many women go through. Now I am shocked to find that almost every woman I talk to has had or has some “issue” with or in their reproductive system. To me, this is a microcosmic symbol of our planetary imbalance.
In my office, I hear stories about multiple cycles of IVF treatments, fibroid cysts, incompatible DNA, auto-immune disorders that began after giving birth, and endometriosis. I hear about painful sex, vulvodynia, and vaginismus. I hear about childhood sexual abuse. I also hear about miracles—miracle babies and miracle births. I hear about peak erotic experiences. And in these exchanges, about topics that are generally shrouded in shame or that are supposed to happen behind closed doors, healing happens.
Tears. Recognition. Revelations.
As I sit and listen to stories of women in their late 30s, without a partner, strategizing on how to get pregnant with their first child; as I listen to women who are earning multiple six figures, having travelled all over the world, own houses and apartments, but are deeply unsatisfied in their personal lives. As I listen to women in their 40s trying to get pregnant, literally, at all costs. As I listen to women who have gone years without a menstrual cycle because of various birth control methods. As I read news of the early onset of puberty. As my own 7-year-old daughter has pubic hairs. As the incidence of estrogen in our water supply and plastics are so high that men are getting breasts. As women come to me literally physically falling apart while trying to keep it all—career, partnership, mothering, social life, social media posting—together.
I am starting to wonder about this feminism I knew and where it has gotten us as women. Pretending to be equal and imagining that we can erase biology.
I know I am supposed to be grateful for “the Pill” as one of the great liberators of women. And we can never go back. We’ll never know. Do its benefits outweigh is costs? How sacrilegious and disrespectful even to ask. But I do wonder, “what is the next wave of feminism?”
Perhaps it is a “feminism” that doesn’t require an erasure of feminine qualities, including the gifts of our cycles, to get ahead. A feminism that doesn’t require that we get over our femininity but instead can embrace it and learn from it.
Yes, it is a feminism that values motherhood and includes the body.