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What does it mean to “settle down”? Merriam-Webster defines “to settle down,” as “to begin to live a quiet and steady life by getting a regular job, getting married, etc.” We use the term to describe buying a house or raising little humans hoping, praying that they don’t turn out bad people.
Quiet and steady? Yeah, right.
We say “settle down,” acting like there’s no irony in the term—as if getting married to another human being and saying “Hey, I am going to bind myself to you spiritually, emotionally, physically, and lawfully” is an easy and safe thing to do. As if everybody should do it, just because it’s normal and traditional. But perhaps we should instead be saying: “buckle up.” Getting married, buying a house, and raising a kid are among some of the craziest and most adventurous and difficult things a person could ever do.
There’s a weirdness surrounding this term, “settling down,” and feminism—something which I kept thinking about this past summer, as I watched endless episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” on Netflix, investing myself deeply in the lives of Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang.
At one point, Meredith Grey has a husband, a child, a home, and a booming career as a surgeon. Cristina Yang lies in direct juxtaposition, attached to no one (except for maybe Meredith, and even that causes her to move cross-country for a while). Cristina is committed only to her path as a surgeon, whereas Meredith’s path involves being a surgeon, a mother, and a wife.
In a way, Cristina seems to have made the wiser choice for feminism and independence. Her facial expressions are tougher than Meredith’s, her clothes less “girly” or stereotypically feminine, her manner of speaking more definitive. She embodies the anthematic phrase “I don’t need a man.” And we think, of course, that no woman needs a man or a relationship or any of the things that Meredith Grey has. But somehow, despite all that, we still root for Meredith—to have the husband, the child, the house, and the wildly successful career.
Logically speaking, however, Meredith’s attachments should have no real claim on any assessment of her strength, independence, or feminism. It’s undeniably true that Meredith has chosen to “settle down” in the general sense of the phrase, in addition to continuing to focus on her career as a surgeon. But that dichotomy should not be a comment on her status as a feminist. In truth, the fact that she has also chosen to pursue a domestic life, in addition to being career oriented, makes her no less strong a character as Cristina. These things are not at odds. Women should not be made to choose between domesticity and independent careerism. Men don’t choose.
Men in the West have traditionally lived between the two worlds of home and work, without any need to compromise. No one is concerned about Joe Shmoe “balancing” being a father with pursuing a successful career. But if a woman is pregnant, it is often second nature to assume that she will cease to work. And if she does not cease, there are articles written about her in amazement and applause. She is atypical of the traditional woman.
To be fair, it is new for women to be taking on the roles in society that they are. But at the same time, our view of what it means to be a woman is severely underdeveloped and oversimplified. To be a woman, first and foremost, means to be human. If the general public accepted this fact, feminism, as a movement for women’s rights, would be less relevant, since women would automatically have their human rights as a matter of course.
Lastly, we need a new definition of feminism that does not ask women to live and proclaim an unrealistically independent lifestyle. Many contemporary pop songs champion the idea that women don’t need men—an idea that, while not totally untrue, is also not completely true. Some women don’t need men; some do. That has nothing to do with their feminism, but everything to do with them being a human with unique and individual choices.
Being an independent person does not mean that we must cut ourselves off from romance, or friendship; independence is not the lack of dependence. Instead it’s a healthy dependence upon those people placed in our lives to love us, to help us grow as humans. It’s a dependence that is grateful for those who come alongside us, help us bear the burdens of living and walk with us.
Additionally, let’s not act like our independence requires burned bridges. Sometimes we do have to burn bridges because people suck, men and women; but we are independent regardless of any bridges burned—with or without the man.
So no, I don’t plan on settling down. Meredith Grey didn’t settle; she buckled up. I want to walk the path I was meant to, and if that means having a husband and a kid, great. If it doesn’t, then that’s also great. Either way, I’m myself.
I want to be rooted, but not stagnant. Independent but never unattached, and never pressured to choose.
Brynn A. Elliott ’18, a Crimson editorial writer, is a philosophy concentrator living in Currier House.
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