I’ve decided that I have my own definition of feminism: the study of the issues facing women in this society. It can and often does involve activism, but I think you can be a feminist without being an activist. But whereas the traditional definition of feminism normally deals only with issues of gender inequalities, my definition broadens a feminist’s emphasis to include anything that has to do with the female experience.
A definition that stops at gender or sexual inequality reduces the conversation about women to that of victimhood. I’ve found when writing my posts, that I often feel compelled to point out how women are being victimized by society. But that’s a negative way of looking at womanhood. Women have a certain power of their own, which they can use to victimize others (children, males and other women). But they also have power that give them authority in their own right, which is why it is important to have proactive women in all segments of society.
Whether it’s because of nature or nurture, women have a unique sensibility that adds much to the social discourse when its allowed to do so. But women don’t have to wait for permission to speak and act. They have so much to offer, it’s a crime to hide their light under a bushel. And that, too, is part of my definition of feminism: the movement that strives for a society that acknowledges the feminine experience, in all its manifestations, as a force to be reckoned with.
There’s been quite a hoopla these days over whether or not Caroline Kennedy is qualified to be a U.S. Senator. Kerry Kennedy, Caroline’s cousin, stated that she thought it was important to have a woman in that position. I agree that we need more women in Congress, especially the Senate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any woman will do. (Think Sarah Palin.) Kerry also pointed out that Caroline has years of experience working for non-profit organizations, which included being a phenomenal fundraiser, plus she’s a lawyer, has written two books, and raised three children.
Wait! What was that last qualification? She raised three children? How does that qualify her to be a U.S. Senator? My answer to that is another question: How does it disqualify her? Raising children, most parents would agree, is the hardest job in the world. Ann Crittenden, author of If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything (2005) and The Price of Motherhood: Why Motherhood Is The Most Important–And Least Valued–Job in America (2002) would probably support Caroline’s appointment wholeheartedly. But in an editorial about her qualifications in The Saginaw News today, being a mother is only mentioned incidentally.
There are two issues involved here. Should a woman receive credit for child-rearing? And should she receive credit for non-paid work? It has been reported that Caroline raised $70 million for New York City public schools. This is not small potatoes. That skill should come in handy when she has to raise campaign funds when her appointed term is over (assuming that she wants to run for election then). That and the two books she’s written should count for something professionally. But what about the fact that she is a mother? Does that give her a special dispensation?
All too often, a woman’s motherhood is seen as only giving her credentials for working on behalf of other mothers. Michelle Obama seems to understand that this is an accepted role for her to play; she is on record as saying that she wants to work with military families. But that’s the First Lady. America is notoriously conservative when it comes to what it wants its First Ladies to get involved in. What about a U.S. Senator? If she has mainly been a mother, is she deemed only suitable to work for mothers and families?
Why does everyone seem to think that a woman becomes stagnated by staying at home with her children? Isn’t it even remotely possible that she might have been challenged even more than she would have been if she were in the “outside” world? The fact that we look down on SAHM’s has more to do with our denigration of motherhood than with the reality.
Isn’t that what Caroline’s critics are really saying? That she essentially stood still all the years that she was at home raising her children? What about all the responsibilities that go with raising children? Don’t they count for anything?
I think there needs to be a change in the thinking of Americans about what women uniquely have to offer if they are mothers. We need to let go of the idea that being a mother is on a par with being a housekeeper or nanny. Motherhood is so much more than that and it’s about time that it be given the respect it deserves.
This morning I was checking out the benefits I have through my health insurance company. I came across the benefit for abortions and was shocked to find out that my company doesn’t cover elective abortions, except for when the mother’s life is endangered or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. After a little research on the Internet, I found out why. The state I live in (Ohio) limits abortion coverage to the above reasons if the insured is a public employee. No public funding is permitted for abortions that are purely elective (i.e., “just because” a woman wants one.) Not only that, but a minor must have the consent of a parent or guardian in order to have an abortion and any woman seeking one must receive counseling that is designed to discourage her. There is also a mandatory 24-hour waiting period.
I also found out that in 2005, 90% of the counties in Ohio did not have any abortion providers at all, even though 51% of Ohio women live in the counties that don’t have them. 8 Ohio metropolitan areas have no abortion services at all. In fact, in 2005 Ohio had only 27 abortion providers (this includes hospitals, clinics, and private physicians’ offices). That figure is down from 35 in 2000.
I had no idea that my state was so conservative (although I should have guessed it). It is one of only 12 states that prohibit public funding of abortions. Two of those states prohibit any insurance coverage for abortions. Three of the 12 states limit coverage to life endangerment cases and seven of them allow it only for life endangerment, rape and incest. (I think it is interesting that one of those seven states will only cover abortion if an additional rider has been purchased just for that purpose–as if you know ahead of time that you will be wanting or needing one!)
For information about all the states’ stances on abortion as well as a slew of additional information, visit the Guttmacher Institute web site. Another good source for abortion information is the National Abortion Federation web site.
The Health and Human Services regulation protecting health workers’ “right of conscience” is due to be finalized this week, which means that it will take effect before Obama’s inauguration, making it harder for Obama to undo. This regulation makes it impossible for businesses (clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, etc.) to reprimand or fire employees who refuse to do their jobs if they conflict with their personal, moral, or ethical stances on abortion, birth control and other health services. Not only that, but an employer cannot refuse to hire an employee who “confesses” ahead of time that he or she objects to something that will make it impossible for them to do their jobs fully.
Rachel Maddow of MSNBC likens that to hiring an Amish person to drive a bus when you know that he will not be able to because of his principles against using modern conveniences. The whole thing is ludicrous and also superfluous since people are already protected by the Civil Rights Act from having to do anything they find morally objectionable. The difference is that health care workers will have more rights than do their patients, because the workers can actually halt or prevent a health service from taking place. The patient won’t have any recourse but to try to find a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, orderly, etc, who doesn’t have such objections. This may only be inconvenient for some people, but in areas that don’t have many health resources, it could be disastrous.
Read the December 17th Wall Street Journal article for more information.
Grace Paley contributed a short essay to Sisterhood is Forever (2003) entitled “Why Peace Is (More Than Ever) A Feminist Issue.” In it she charges that the legacy of men is war. Many would dispute that by saying that women are just as capable of starting and fighting a war as men are. But history doesn’t bear that out. Whether it’s just the way men are or the fact that they are the ones who call the shots (literally) in this society, the evidence supports Paley’s belief that women (specifically feminists) are the hope of the future, peace-wise.
Feminists are torn between two camps (as are traditionalists): biological determination or socialization (nature vs. nurture). Are women and men essentially equal in every respect except for the molds in which society makes them? Or are there basic biological differences that create male and female behaviors, regardless of socialization?
I know there are plenty of feminists out there who deliberately kept dolls from their daughters and guns from their sons and found that it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference: their girls still gravitated toward nurturing behaviors and their boys still engaged in warfare of various kinds.
And yet there were usually discernible differences. Their children’s behaviors tended to be more androgynous than what society views as gender-appropriate. Their daughters were more assertive and their boys more reflective–but they never completely switched roles. Which tends to make the case for both biological and socialized influences.
Feminist ideology says that even though it might be natural for women to be more passive and men to be more aggressive, the ideal is to mix it up so that each sex’s less-productive tendencies are tempered by positive behaviors and attitudes from the other sex. It is a misperception that feminists want to become like men; what they want is to have the same advantages that men have in this society. But they also recognize that women have advantages of their own. What is rarely said is that they want men to have access to those as well.
Feminists want to make it possible for men to say: “You know what, I don’t want to fight.” Or to stay home with the children. Or to be day care providers. Or fashion designers without being called “gay.” Or to be gay without it being negative. Just as they want women to be able to fight for what they think is right without being labeled masculine (or lesbian). To be allowed to lead, to make decisions, to inspire others.
What feminists are not saying is that women need to start acting like men and vice versa. Feminists want polarization of the sexes to disappear. To see women and men cooperate with one another. To teach our children to become both independent and interdependent. To seek a balance between female and male attributes. To remove the stain of war as a legacy. Is that too much to ask?
Now we have the Family Research Council and other entities calling for an end to government aid to Planned Parenthood, on the grounds that PP has plenty of money and doesn’t need the aid. (See “Abortion foes open a new front.” ) This despite the fact that one-third of PP’s funding comes from such aid. That’s a pretty big hit to take in the budget. Where do they think the shortfall would come from?
Of course, that’s the point. They don’t care where the funds would come from. In fact, they hope that the loss of those funds would seriously cripple PP’s programs and services, especially abortion services, even though those make up only 3% of all that Planned Parenthood does. This illustrates the problem with anti-abortion activism: its propensity to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The fact that 38% of PP’s services is contraception-related, 29% is for STD testing and treatment and 19% is for cancer-screening shows that only a small proportion of the money collected by PP should be offensive to anti-abortionists. Of course now we’ve got anti-abortionists carping about birth control, as if it was responsible for abortions. Wish they’d get their science straight!
And now we have anti-abortionists using stealth tactics to make their case that PP is basically an abortion mill. (See “Activists go undercover at Planned Parenthood.”)