The Feminist Generation Gap

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How is it that a feminist can look so different depending on her age? I don’t just mean physical appearance, but also behavior and attitude. Obviously, Second Wave feminists are older than Third or Fourth  Wave feminists. But that isn’t the only difference.

My daughters would probably consider themselves feminists, but they don’t talk about it. They take a lot of things for granted that Second Wave feminists fought for. They’re so busy going after the things they want out of life, they don’t stop and think that if they’d been born thirty years earlier, they wouldn’t have all the options they have today.

When I was growing up, babies born out of wedlock were called illegitimate. Couples didn’t live together without being married. Married women didn’t keep their names. Help Wanted ads were divided by gender. A doctor, lawyer or minister was almost always a man. Nice girls didn’t talk about sex. (They might be engaging in it, but they weren’t talking about it.) Abortions weren’t legal anywhere. Single people, including gays, couldn’t adopt children. There were no female Supreme Court justices. No one in his (or her) right mind would have considered voting for a woman for President. High schools had dress codes. (I was a sophomore before we were allowed to wear slacks—not jeans—to school.) If one parent stayed home with the kids, it was always the woman. You never heard a swear word on television or in song lyrics. And women always wore bras.

And I haven’t even touched on the technological changes!

The world looks a lot different these days. Movies and even television are much more explicit, in language, violence and sexual activity. Girls are openly giving blow jobs at high school parties. Women’s clothing is see-through, peek-a-boo, and barely there. Couples often have children before (or instead of) getting married. Not one but two women have had their names bandied about as possible Presidential candidates.  Lesbians and gays and single people of either sex can adopt children. Children are started in test tubes. There are more single mothers than ever and living together before getting married is so commonplace, we see unmarried (and gay) couples buying houses together on HGTV!

It’s no wonder that Second Wave feminists seem out of touch with present day-reality. We’re in shock. We can’t imagine growing up in a world where women don’t automatically put their husbands’ careers before their own, where they keep their own names, talk freely about sex, become astronauts and CEOs, wear maternity wedding dresses, have the same amount of access to sports as men do, and often make more than the men in their lives.

Some people pronounce feminism dead just because things are so different than they were in the past. But not everything has changed, or changed all that much. Women still do more of the housework and child-raising than men do. They are still ghetto-ized in low-paying jobs. There is still a double standard where sex is concerned. Little girls still dream of their wedding day. Female participation in politics is till far below the percentage of females that there are in society. Women still worry more about their appearance than men do. And, at least for the forseeable future, women still have the babies.

Considering all the changes that have taken place since I was a girl, I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like for my grandchildren. My grandson talks naturally about getting married and having children (a girl and twin boys). He can clean a bathroom better than I can. I don’t have any granddaughters (yet), so I don’t know how their lives will reflect even more of the changes that feminism has wrought. Maybe someday feminism will be an archaic term and no one will feel the need to label themselves as feminists.

But somehow I doubt it.

What Motivated Ginny Thomas?

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Whether you believe Anita Hill or Clarence Thomas, it still seems weird that, almost twenty years after Hill made sexual harassment allegations against Thomas, Thomas’ wife, Virginia (Ginny) is still seeking absolution for her husband. The message* that she left on Hill’s office phone at 7:30 on a recent Saturday morning makes her seem like a woman who “doth protest too much.” She sounds like a woman who desperately needs confirmation that her husband was innocent and she knows that the only way she’ll get it is if Hill admits that she “did something” to the Supreme Court Justice.

But all she has really accomplished is to bring the charges out into the open again, with the result that people too young to remember the Senate hearings have had their curiosity piqued. Now a whole new generation will remember Clarence Thomas for his alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill.

Is Thomas so tortured by what happened  that she can’t let it go? Is she obsessed with Anita Hill? Why hasn’t she been able to move on? Or is she trying to get publicity for her own political activities?

In January, Thomas formed a lobbying group known as Liberty Central, which will be able to rake in corporate money to finance the fight against what she calls President Obama’s “hard-left agenda.”  She is a fan of hard-line conservatives like Rush Limbaugh,  Glen Beck and Laura Ingraham and she just loves the tea partiers.

Maybe she’s trying to send some kind of message that people like Anita Hill are enemies of conservatives like her and her husband. She might think that bringing it up again will cause other conservatives to get fired up about what liberals try to do to conservatives (although I don’t even know if Hill could be considered a liberal). If so, her plan could backfire: it might cause liberals to get fired up about what conservatives are trying to do to them.

Or maybe she’s just a kook.

The New York Times article about this is here.

*”Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas. I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”

Catholic Church Investigating U.S. Nuns

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If you’re a nun, you probably know about this. If you’re a Catholic, you might or might not. But I would guess that if you’re outside the Catholic Church, you haven’t even heard of the investigation of U.S. nuns that the Vatican has been conducting for over a year.

There are actually two investigations. One is known as an Apostolic Visitation, which Church historians say was traditionally ordered when a Church institution had gone seriously astray. Is that what the Vatican thinks has happened to American nuns? The wording on the web page of the “Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States” is (intentionally?) vague. Apparently it is felt that there are “concerns” that need to be addressed, but the web site doesn’t say what those concerns are.

The second investigation of nuns is a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. It was ordered by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is headed by an American, Cardinal William Levada. The LCWR drew the ire of the Vatican decades ago during Pope John Paul II ‘s visit to the U.S. when it called for the ordination of women. In 2002, it was warned that it was not doing enough to promote the Church’s teachings on three issues: the male-only priesthood, homosexuality and the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the means to salvation.

Some speculate that the investigations were triggered by conservatives in the Catholic Church who are dismayed at the trend among some American nuns to forgo the habit, live outside the convent, and work for causes that are not specifically Christian-oriented.

There are a few things that bother me about these investigations:

  1. The Catholic Church seems to be  more concerned about appearance than about results. What difference does it make whether or not nuns wear their habits? Perhaps the male leaders (and all the leaders at the top are male) are afraid that they will tempted to participate in “un-Christianlike” behavior if they don’t always have the habit to remind them (and others) that they are nuns.
  2. The ones who are calling for these investigations are all male. They’ve appointed a woman to be in charge of the Apostolic Visitation but she’s just doing their dirty work. She may even believe that the Visitation is a good thing, that it will lead to more support for nuns and their work. While it may do so in some cases, it seems much more likely that nuns will find their activities more closely scrutinized and controlled by the male hierarchy of the Church.
  3. I’m also bothered by the insinuation that only Christian work is God’s work. There are many ways to serve God and they don’t always have to be under the blanket of a religion. Isn’t it enough for those being helped to know that the nuns who are helping them are representatives of the Catholic Church? The insistence on Christian work only furthers the divide between the world and the church.
  4. The Catholic Church uses nuns as a kind of work force instead of valuing them as religious leaders. They are there to convert others by their example, to do the work that priests don’t want to do and to uphold the teachings of the Church (teachings that were established by men).
  5. The implication of this whole affair is that nuns are to be kept in their places. They are not to ask for anything (like the ordination of women); they are only to obey. They’re not being asked what they want changed to make their jobs easier; they’re being asked what they’re doing to make the Church’s job harder. It’s insulting that women are being investigated when they have no real input into the workings of the Church.
  6. And why is it that only American nuns are being investigated? Could it be that they are more likely to be “infected” by an independent attitude?

I’m not a Catholic, but I don’t think I have to be to recognize patriarchy when I see it.

It will be interesting to see what these investigations turn up. But more than likely the average person won’t be kept informed. I found out about the investigations by accident; it will probably take some digging to find out the results. I’d love to know what nuns are thinking about this whole thing, but it seems that most of them are keeping their opinions to themselves (or at least not expressing them to the outside world).

For more information, check out:

U.S. Nuns Facing Vatican Scrutiny.” New York Times, July 1, 2009.

Vatican Probe of U.S. Nuns Moves Quietly Forward.”, February 10, 2010.

Apostolic Visitation of Institutes of Women Religious in the United States web site.

Leadership Conference of Women Religious web site.

Double Crossed: Uncovering the Catholic Church’s Betrayal of American Nuns, by Kenneth A. Briggs  (Doubleday Religion, 2006).

Women and Depression

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Women are almost twice as likely to experience depression as men are. I don’t mean that they get the blues more often, although that may be true as well. What I mean by depression is clinical, or major, depression, the kind where your mood seriously impairs your ability to live a normal life.

That doesn’t mean that getting depressed occasionally isn’t normal. Most people react with sadness, grief or despair when certain events occur in their lives. But what differentiates normal depression from clinical depression is that the latter comes over you when there is no apparent reason or doesn’t go away within a reasonable amount of time after the precipitating episode has passed.

Many of you reading this will go, “Yeah, whatever,” and stop reading. You either don’t think that it can happen to you or you have an ingrained prejudice against the idea of depression being a mental illness. You think that you, or others who are depressed, should be able to “just get over it.” If that works, then you were probably experiencing normal, or situational, depression. If it doesn’t work, they you may be experiencing clinical depression.

You’ll need a doctor to determine if you’re experiencing a major depression. But there are warning signs. Some of them are:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in your usual activities, including sex
  • Restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism
  • Sleeping too much or too little, early morning awakening
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, or chronic pain

Generally, if you’ve been experiencing more than 3 or 4 of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to book an appointment with a psychiatrist. Your family doctor may be able to treat you initially, or determine whether or not you need further treatment. However—and this is an important point—if your family doctor doesn’t take your complaints seriously, bypass him and make an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Tell the doctor’s office that you want an assessment to determine whether or not you’re clinically depressed.

Be prepared to be prescribed medication. Most doctors will try some kind of anti-depressant for at least a trial period. If you’re not comfortable with that, say so, and ask about alternative therapies. But I urge you to remain open to the idea of taking meds, at least for a while. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to “jump-start” your body’s natural resources for dealing with depression and then you can discontinue the medication, but only under your doctor’s supervision. Some medications have withdrawal symptoms that are worsened when you abruptly stop taking them.

There are two other kinds of depression that women need to be aware of. One is manic depression, or bipolar disorder. This is where you cycle between mania and depression. During the manic periods you might experience:

  • Abnormally elevated mood
  • Irritability
  • Severe insomnia
  • Grandiose notions
  • Increased talking
  • Racing thoughts
  • Increased activity, including sexual activity
  • Markedly increased energy
  • Poor judgment that leads to risk-taking behavior
  • Inappropriate social behavior

The other kind of depression is dysthymia. A person suffering from dysthymia will experience symptoms of depression to a milder degree but for more than two years. Although I was never diagnosed with dysthymia prior to being diagnosed with major depression, I’m convinced that I was dysthymic for most of my life. I can’t remember ever not being depressed. I used to wake up every morning with this overwhelming feeling of self-loathing and despair, even as a child. Once I was treated for major depression, these feelings went away. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to wake up and look forward to living!

Sources: Psychology Information Online and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

How We Dress: The Oppression of Women

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It is commonly accepted that Muslim women are oppressed by their husbands and their culture. But many Muslims, women included, counter by claiming that Western women are “oppressed” by the demands their society places on them to be sexy.

A Muslim woman can be alluring, too, which is why the whole modesty thing as a reason for covering is somewhat pointless. Men will fantasize about women no matter what. In fact, you could argue that the more covered a woman is, the more a man fantasizes about her. But no matter how a woman is dressed, a man should never be allowed to use the excuse that a woman enticed him by the way she was dressed.

My standards are looser than most Muslims. I’m not offended by bare arms, necks or legs (as long as the dress or shorts don’t expose more than the leg!).I am uncomfortable with cleavage and bare midriffs, not to mention bikinis. But I don’t think that a woman who is “uncovered” is bad or even wrong. What I do object to is the subtle ways that women (and even girls) are told that they must be desirable to men.

Perhaps it is biologically wired into women to try to attract men, but that doesn’t mean that we should be doing it all the time, at any age, and regardless of our relationship status. What reason does a married woman have to doll herself up in front of other men? Hasn’t she already attracted her mate?

Some say that women dress as much for other women as they do for men. But why are they trying to prove that they’re sexier if they’re already in a relationship? Others say that men like their women to be perceived as attractive, even sexy, by other men because it’s an ego boost for them. But isn’t it a little crass for men to put their women on display as if they’re mere possessions?

Many non-Muslims think that the reason Muslim women are “made” to cover is because their men don’t trust them. They think they’ll attract the attention of other men which might lead to infidelity. They also don’t trust other men to keep their hands off their women. Because they know what men are like, they believe that a woman shouldn’t do anything to make a man think about her sexually.

While this may be true for some men (Muslim and non-Muslim), the Qur’an makes it clear that women are to be honored and cherished. The implication is that dressing modestly helps men to hold them in high esteem, not because they would blame women for being sexy if they didn’t, but because they appreciate it when a woman knows her own value.

I reacted strongly when I saw this picture of Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover of Elle magazine. Why did she have to pose in nothing but a sweater (and at least a bra) with her one shoulder bared provocatively? Wouldn’t she have looked just as attractive if she had been wearing slacks or leggings and had kept her sweater all the way on? It’s not that I think she looks sluttish (for this type of picture, it’s fairly tasteful), but I can’t help but wonder why she felt she had to pose this way? Or why she was pressured to?

I think I know what motivates some women to agree to pictures like this: It’s because women are seeking affirmation that they are desirable. If they see themselves in a photograph or painting looking sexy, it reassures them that they are. I would guess that most women would like at least one photo of themselves looking sexy and beautiful. That’s one reason for the popularity of Glamour Shots®. What woman doesn’t want to be recorded as looking beautiful at least once in her life?

But why do they want these pictures on public display? Wouldn’t it be enough to have them at home? I can see Paltrow hanging this picture in her bedroom for her husband to enjoy. But what motivates her, and so many other women, to present themselves this way to the whole world?

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t try to be attractive. I think there is something in a woman’s makeup that makes her want to be beautiful. (One reason why some women wear the niqab or full burqa is because they’re trying to erase that desire from their psyches. They believe that it is only appropriate to glorify God, not themselves.)

But when women start feeling that they will enhance their careers or be treated better if they dress the way that men want them to, they have crossed the line between self-esteem and self-pandering. “Selling” the way that they look in return for favors. What’s that called? Oh, yeah, prostitution.

Cross-posted on I, Muslimah, a blog about my thoughts and experiences as a Muslim convert.