Did FIRE turn me into a bad feminist?

Part of the reason I resumed blogging was simply because it was a chronicle of my life. Even framed in terms of finances, there are some personal memories buried in monthly recap posts.  There are a even few draft posts from shortly after I abandoned my blog – one especially raw post from just after Kiddo #1 was born about my miscarriage and his birth – that I didn’t publish but am glad I can look back on.

I’ve kept a paper journal off and on, though the motivation to write was usually linked to crises I was working through – i.e. they are not very positive.   My Excel budget, which has expenses going back to 2006 (!), has also turned into a weird journal of sorts – remembering gifts given, dinners out, and travels.

But looking at my past posts stirs up some things I hardly remembered, so I’m thankful that they’re still around (even if some of it makes me cringe!).

One thing that struck me in those older posts was how much I was working.  References to overtime, overnight shifts, call-ins and missed holidays.  And though I remembered the stress of those years – I only switched out of that type of work last August, after all – I’d forgotten how much I actually used to love it.  The adrenaline of a ticking clock, hard engineering problems, and knowing that people were counting on me.

And of course, early retirement wasn’t a Thing.  Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme was our only model, and I liked a few more creature comforts than that.  So I drove myself and my career hard, thinking that perhaps someday I’d be an industry expert, called in to help other companies, other countries, before retiring “early” at 55 with a million dollars.

I don’t think it was motherhood that changed me.  I remember a Christmas trip delayed when Kiddo #1 was still in diapers. Racing home to nurse in the middle of a 20-hour shift when Kiddo #2 was refusing a bottle.  Switching jobs after I was denied a promotion for the third year in a row, which I knew was because I was a mom and they thought I’d never leave.

It was that miserable new job that gave me the early retirement bug, and once I realized that we had more money than some of those bloggers who had already retired, that felt like the turning point.  And over time, even though the job itself improved, the work was less important and the parts of my job that I’d loved most became an annoyance.

The stress of dinnertimes interrupted or missed completely. Chad’s career derailed because he couldn’t travel, couldn’t stay late at work.  The relentless cycle of missed weekend plans because I was on call.  Calls at 10pm – just as I’d finished my second shift and settled into bed. I don’t have to do this. The casual sexism of the client with the flashy title. I don’t have to put up with this.  The comments when I left work to make it to daycare pickup on time. I don’t need this job.

I hope I’m still doing good work, but when my new boss asks me where I’d like to be in 5 years, the answer is “working part-time or not at all.”  When I get recognition (I was highlighted in our client evaluation presentation – twice! – and got a bonus after 6 months on the job), it all feels a little meaningless.

But there’s this niggling fear – as I lean decidedly out of my career – that I’m failing my gender.  I refuse travel and leave at 5:15pm on the dot, but I worry that this will poison the well for any women who come after me (though I’ll note that ALL THOSE DUDES working late have wives cooking their dinner, so….).

Ultimately, the pursuit of my own happiness will probably outweigh the commitment I feel toward other female engineers. Although in reality, perhaps it’s not as bad as I think. I can use my lack of fear to agitate for women I admire. I can still do good work, while also highlighting where I see double standards.  And if/when I retire early, I can squash that myth that women aren’t good with money.

What do you think? Do we owe other women badass careers?  Is the pursuit of FIRE anti-feminist? Do we need to do extra to ensure we don’t screw over those who come after?





7 Responses

  1. FIRE is anti-careerist, not anti-feminist.

    I use FI as a tool to make career choices that make sense for my life (or rather, at this point, to NOT be forced into choices that would make my life harder but may provide more security/money). I lucked into a nice corner of my industry, and while there are drawbacks, it is super good for my work/life balance.

    • I had assumed you were still in the same industry as before, but with a different focus. I think that corner is not quite as traditional as mine (note I didn’t say easier). My new job is more political, especially for the customer. Or they are fervent believers in our “mission,” which is almost worse.

      Selfishly, I don’t think even if I were being “bad for feminism” would deter me from the path we’re on. I just had the thought that – absent the true explanation for my “lack of commitment” – folks might assume it’s the Mom thing. And we all know that women don’t get the luxury of being representatives only of themselves – not just that Sarah is not a bad worker, Moms are bad workers.

      • I won’t be offended by “easier”! In many ways it is an easier corner. Really autonomous and lack of structure are the harder parts for many (sometimes me included).

        I sometimes wonder if the “mom thing” is just women who are tired of the BS and lack commitment, and being a mom (or parent) is a good excuse to go after it.

  2. Absolutely not – I think that we owe ourselves our best possible lives and that does not include working ourselves into the ground nor does it require us to stay in the workplace forever. Like SP, FI is about dropping the need to work for money to pay the bills, not dropping meaningful work entirely. We can still do our feminism without working a job.

    We owe other women support and allyship, we should use our privileges to advocate for them and certainly that requires having standing in the workplace but it doesn’t require us to kill ourselves and destroy our family lives in order to do so.

    I am lucky in that, in my area, the sexism is less than what you encounter though it certainly exists and that I don’t have to work double time to prove myself because I’ve already established my reputation and value here doing that earlier, so I can advocate for minority women and mentor them. But even if I leave this job, I maintain that we can’t be good advocates if we have driven ourselves into the ground.

    A better living out of feminism is having the men in our lives do the support work that women are traditionally expected to do so that we can do our awesome stuff without feeling like we’re torn between family OR work. That’s how we do it – PiC does his share of the cooking and cleaning and household work to free me up to be awesome, and I do the same for him. We just take turns.

    • I worry that so much of our feminism is focused on getting women promoted and paid – getting that representation at higher levels, with salaries to match. So as a reasonably respected, extremely well- paid woman in STEM, I wonder if that’s been my contribution up to this point. So when my most recent attitude took over, it seemed as though I was abandoning those hard-driving feminist principles. Logically, I know that’s not true.

      So much WORD on your last paragraph – Chad does a ton around our house which seems to be the key. (Though I’ll never stopped being miffed about the “great dad” comments when he does basic things for the kids, while I get a million passive aggressive comments about being a working mom.)

  3. It’s all about increasing optionality. I think advocating for conditions where those with other external commitments can thrive and succeed without burning out at both ends is feminist. So is being a bad ass boss lady to show women can be at the top of the pyramid and effect change just as well as men.

    I would argue that *silently* doing extra can also create conditions where all women are expected to *silently* do extra compared to their male counterparts, so I don’t think it is a requirement to be a good feminist and in the long term can be counterproductive.

    I think of some of the local officials in my city who have introduced legislation to allow childcare costs to come out of campaign funds. These are people who probably could just suck it up quietly and bear the cost themselves to showcase you can be a badass female politician without “complaining.” But also them introducing this issue levels the field a little bit for other parents, often single women, to also run.

    • Yes, agreed on all counts! I think that was the piece I was missing was making sure I agitated for others and for family-friendly policies. Now that I’ve proven myself at the new job, I’m feeling more like I’ve proven that I can do both!

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