Throwing the baby out with the bathwater…

If you don’t know the meaning of that expression, a very brief explanation: sometime in the 1500s in Germany, an illustrator depicted a woman emptying a tub and a baby nearly falling out of it.  One possible (and popular) explanation states that, in those days when indoor plumbing wasn’t yet a thing either for removing sewage or for daily use, whole families would bathe in the same water.  The last person to get bathed, supposedly, was the youngest; when it was time to dispose of the water, it wouldn’t be difficult to not notice a baby in it.  This has long been the accepted explanation.

Later, in the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle used the expression in an essay on slavery.  His use of this proverb has been interpreted in two ways, one less kind to the user than the other.

Either way, the expression refers to remembering what is important when getting rid of what is useless or noxious.  Keep that context in mind as you read what follows.

I am a feminist.  Perhaps not enough of one to suit modern sensibilities and requirements, but a feminist nonetheless.

Now, dear readers, I will get to the point: FEMINISM (in CAPS, Bold and Italics!) is all well and good, but often the baby gets thrown out with the proverbial bathwater.

On Sunday, Donald Sylvester won an Oscar for his work editing sound for the film Ford v Ferrari.  During his acceptance speech, Mr. Sylvester thanked his wife, Penny Shaw Sylvester, as follows: “So I want to thank my wonderful wife of 34 years, who gave up her editing career for me to pursue my career. But she raised our kids, and she did a great job because neither one of them are politicians.”

Apparently, Mr. Sylvester made the whole auditorium fall silent with this statement.

He thanked his wife for her support.

People (women mostly, actually) decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater…  Without even looking at the expression on Ms. Shaw Sylvester’s face, they attacked Mr. Sylvester for…being grateful that he can do what he does because his wife encouraged him?  (You should see the smile on her face…she was positively proud and happy…you can tell just by looking at her.  She made ME smile!)

From Deseret News:

…Penny Shaw Sylvester did much more than raise the couple’s children. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she also suggested her husband go into sound editing when he was considering a career change.

And she was unaware that her husband’s remarks were controversial until a Deseret News reporter reached out and shared some of the comments, which she called “ridiculous.”

“For anybody to criticize makes me extremely angry, because they know nothing about my life or my family and the choices we’ve had to make,” she said.

The couple, who live near Los Angeles, have two children, now ages 30 and 25, and Penny Shaw Sylvester decided to quit working full time when it became clear that one of the children had special needs and would require extra care.

“I was paying someone to take care of my special-needs child and I realized they couldn’t do it as well as I could. Nobody knows a child as well as the parents do,” she said.

In addition to caring for the couple’s children, she became active in the local school district, where she worked with special education, ran a summer-school program and is now involved with fundraising. “To say that I don’t work is absolutely ludicrous, but what I did do is leave the entertainment industry,” she said.

Peggy Shaw Sylvester’s work isn’t what (Lord help me…I choke on this as I type this) “feminists” think it should be.  Peggy Shaw Sylvester’s work, the work she CHOSE when she could have just as easily NOT chosen it, isn’t enough for feminists.  They are not satisfied with what she has chosen: they think she chose poorly, under duress and to her disadvantage.

That, in a nutshell, is the biggest problem the current iteration of feminism has.  That is the bug in its code.  That is the pebble in its shoe; the baby in its bathwater.

Unless a woman chooses what this new brand of “feminism” calls for, the woman’s choice is invalid.  “Choice” is limited by what “feminism” approves.  My understanding, as I argued with my mother about the validity of my desire to do this or that but not that or the other, was that it was about self-determination.  “No, I don’t want to be a computer programmer” (I could be making a lot of money now?) and “I want to stay home and actually enjoy my children’s childhood” (which, in hindsight, allowed me to be more present and proactive for J) were bad decisions for my mother, but they are good decisions for me.  They are MY decisions, and I had the right to make them…and that’s what feminism should be about.

Ms. Shaw Sylvester was not commanded by her husband to stay home and raise their children.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester didn’t JUST raise her children.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester was as much a participant in her husband’s honing of his craft as he was.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester doesn’t regret her choice nor does she think it was a step down from what she could have been.  Ms. Shaw Sylvester has done what SHE wanted/chose/decided/opted to do.

I say this because I explain this, ad nauseam, to people who think raising J has been the equivalent of wasting my God-given talents.  “You could’ve done so much more…”

Could I have?  Would I have wanted to?  I don’t know.  All I know is that the older I get, the less I look back with any shred of regret.  I regret things like cutting my bangs too short in the 8th grade or not auditioning for school plays, but then I give it a second thought and I don’t regret those things either.

I don’t have daughters, but I have grand-daughters.  The one message I would give them is the same message my aunts conveyed to me: whatever you do, make it your choice to do it.  Even when life throws at us something that is completely out of our control, something unimagined, something we’re not prepared for, we can choose.

What Donald Sylvester did on Sunday wasn’t aggrandize himself at the expense of his wife; he actually said: “I couldn’t have done this without you, and look at the work you’ve done.”  Penny Shaw Sylvester was beaming.  She was proud of her husband and of her role in his life.  And he is proud of what he has become with her by his side.

Tearing down a woman’s choice, whether it is to focus on career or family or try both, is as unfair as denying her a choice.  Taking Mr. Sylvester to task for assumptions being made about his wife’s decisions is muzzling a woman who, I’m sure, has had more than plenty to say and do and contribute throughout her life.

If we are going to be feminists, let’s not assume the only way to further the cause of women is by stomping on the choices we make, whether we agree with them or not.  I am not less of a feminist because I’ve fought my battles in the way I have.  I am, in fact, kind of a badass, and even without her husband’s declaration of the fact on Sunday night at the Oscars, I know Peggy Shaw Sylvester is a badass, too.

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