Until a few years ago, I spent my entire life being a feminist.
It was part of my ethos growing up in a very liberal and progressive area. Absorbing the feminist ideology through osmosis was natural for me, and I played these ideas out until about three years ago when I reached my early 30s.
What Feminism Means to Me
My definition centered on the benign idea that men and women should have equal opportunities, and I found no reason to assume that girls and boys wouldn’t pursue the same things and do exactly the same things (equal outcomes).
My mindset regarding my life was that I would have my career in science (biology), reach the top of my field, and eventually have children — once a career was taken care of. In order to do this, I had to make sure that I never let a man stop me from pursuing “my dreams” — with a special emphasis on the word “my.” These were my dreams and I must pursue them independently. In many ways, I felt that I had to prove that I was smart and capable and could reach amazing heights without a man. I was also under the impression that children would “get in my way,” and therefore I must achieve my career goals first and foremost.
I had to make sure that I never let a man or children stop me from pursuing “my dreams.”
So, I played out this ideology. Yet, as my life continued, I saw how many aspects of my mindset and choices were either misguided or flat out wrong. Not all of these realizations happened at once, but I will piece together the most influential observations and experiences I had as I went through my 20s that caused the armor protecting my worldview to eventually fall apart.
I Realized Men and Women Have Different Interests
First, I began to piece together how young women make different choices than young men. I started noticing this most strongly in college. Most of the girls I knew were majoring in education (to teach kids) or nursing (to nurture people). I had a lot of female friends in my major (biology), but I realized that almost no women in STEM were majoring in things like physics or engineering, even though there were scholarships and posters everywhere encouraging girls to join those fields.
Yet, when I looked for answers, feminist ideology framed these outcomes as proof that women were discouraged from some fields. While I allowed room for that argument, a crack in the armor began to form because something didn’t add up… It seemed that another very plausible explanation was that girls and women on average might simply not be as interested in some fields (some did and that’s fine too!) and are naturally very interested in others. I wondered why it felt almost taboo to even discuss that as a possibility, and secretly I wondered why we felt compelled to force all the same percentages of men and women in every field.
Women on average might simply not be as interested in some fields and are naturally very interested in others.
As I looked more into it, I found that little girls and boys on average innately choose different toys to play with (girls choosing more people-focused toys and boys choosing more things-focused toys), which is a trend found very early in life (under one year old) and is also found in baby primates. Furthermore, women were now exceeding men in multiple areas, such as college attendance and doctoral degrees, so the idea that we’re held back started to fall apart. A plausible biological argument based on evidence and my observations had presented itself. The crack in the armor was there, but I continued to ignore it.
My Rising Career Wasn’t Fulfilling
Second, I found out the hard way that a career is not nearly as fulfilling as I was told it would be when I was younger, when it was portrayed as “my dreams.” This realization took a lot of time and energy to figure out. Growing up, I was very driven academically and excelled in school. I received a Master’s degree and began pursuing a Ph.D. I worked various jobs in my field — each one seemed like a “dream job” when applying, but ended up being, well…just a job.
Each one seemed like a “dream job” when applying, but ended up being, well…just a job.
By the time I was halfway through my Ph.D. work, I realized that I was making myself crazy, had very little joy in my life, and was experiencing declining mental and physical health. I was working an intense schedule in a field I truly loved and meeting all the career milestones (awards, publications, presentations, etc.). Yet, I wasn’t fulfilled. I understand that struggle is part of the achievement process, but this went deeper than that.
Careers can take their toll on relationships.
During this time, I had a meeting with a highly accomplished biologist whose work I had known for a long time, and I asked her how she handled her family life and work. She broke down in front of me and told me that she and her husband couldn’t make it work and were divorcing. I was heartbroken for them because it looked like the quintessential “she has it all” life from the outside, but the truth was very different. I started to wonder if she was experiencing similar stress to what I felt and perhaps this put a big strain on the relationship. I started to consider priorities, and another crack in my armor began.
I continued with my research, but I still couldn’t figure out what was wrong for quite some time. It took me about a year to even entertain the idea that an intense career might just not provide me meaning in a deep and lasting way. Who wants to accept that what they have devoted their life to isn’t actually fulfilling? Who wants to backtrack on the choices they’ve made? It took a lot of soul-searching to realize that I didn’t have to break the glass ceiling I was always told about. I didn’t have to “prove women can do it, too.” I could simply choose to pursue what’s in my heart.
Who wants to accept that what they have devoted their life to isn’t actually fulfilling?
And when I listened quietly and carefully, I found that a family was what I wanted most, yet it was what I had put on the back burner. None of this other stuff mattered much in the end. I didn’t have to “have it all” by someone else’s definition. I could have what was important to me and realize that I am only human, I only have so much time in a day, and at the end of it, we have to make choices on how to fill that time.
I Did Want To Share My Life with a Man
Third, I had to admit to myself that I did indeed want a man to share my life with and that being “strong and independent” wasn't fulfilling. It took a swallowing of my pride to realize that in my selfish desire to set my career as the top priority of my life, I was deprioritizing my relationship(s). That wasn’t fair to my boyfriend, and in the end, it hurt me as well. When I had a difficult breakup during my Ph.D., I was immediately reminded of my conversation with the accomplished career woman.
I Realized Feminism Is Marxist at Its Core
Finally, I started to see that feminism at its core is Marxist. Marxism is a worldview built on dividing people by an oppressor class and an oppressed class. Under traditional Marxism, these classes are the bourgeoisie (ruling class/oppressors) and proletariat (working class/oppressed). Under feminism, men are the oppressors and women are the oppressed, and I saw every situation or statistic framed in this way. This worldview seeped into me, and looking back, I remember feeling skeptical and victimized in even the smallest and most benign of interactions with men, which became utterly exhausting to me.
I found myself at a Women’s March in January 2016 and experienced some of the most intense cognitive dissonance of my life. I saw protest signs and heard slogans that plainly bashed men and called them useless. I knew I was supposed to go along with this anti-male narrative, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so.
The majority of men in my life had always been supportive of me, no matter what path I wanted to pursue.
Once I removed some of my ego and analyzed what I was seeing, plus how my own life had been, I began to see that my feminist ideology had clouded healthy interactions with men. The truth is that the majority of men in my life had always been supportive of me, no matter what path I wanted to pursue. Furthermore, when I thought about who was most resistant to a more traditional female path and placed the most pressure on me to pursue a demanding career, I realized it was other women.
My Life Beyond Feminism
I wrote a Twitter thread in February 2019 after these accumulated realizations hit me hard. I had been talking with my boyfriend about my current life situation, which was the product of my choices, and how my trajectories had happened. Here’s the beginning of that thread:
This first tweet was my alarm call to all girls that yes, you can pursue science and career if you want, but it’s cruel to tell every single girl to do that without simultaneously considering that the overwhelming majority of us will want a family, which requires its own planning and prioritization. When I surveyed my life, I realized that my entire mindset trained me to reject family because I got the message that it would hold me back. So I put family on the back burner, even though truthfully it was a choice I wish I had pursued earlier. I probably would have if I hadn’t centered my life on “my” dreams and instead focused on a “unified” goal with another person for a bigger and more meaningful goal than just mine alone.
I concluded that feminism did a disservice to that which is innately feminine — the desire to have a family.
This was the nail in the coffin as I concluded that feminism did a disservice to that which is innately feminine — the desire to have a family. Many women (including myself) consider being a wife and mother as a vital part of a good and fulfilling life. Now that I’m honest with myself, I feel free.
Looking back, I see that feminism had been a cancer on my mind, engulfing true parts of me and enforcing its ideological frame on my life. The tumor was removed, but I had to rebuild with my own cells, forming my own tissue, fueled now by my own heart, rather than an ideology. It’s been an exhilarating process.
Feminists say men and women don’t have equal opportunities in the West, but we do. And the pandering to this myth creates division between the sexes which is ultimately bad for everyone. My work as a scientist has taught me that alternative hypotheses need to be explored, and one that feminists often fail to consider is that women and men are simply different and on average may have different desires leading to different pursuits, even if there is overlap.
This is not only fine, it’s beautiful and necessary. Our strengths are generally complementary, not competitive. If we listen to ourselves, rather than an ideology, we might just find the true desires of our heart. I’m so happy I left the divisive ideology of feminism and found myself again.