The Roles, They Are A’Changing

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I’ve recently had some correspondence with a rabid anti-feminist (see my post “The Equal Rights Amendment: Overdue or Overblown?“). It’s easy to write off his comments as the rants of a troll (Internet-speak for someone who deliberately leaves comments intended to rile up the writer or other readers), but I took him seriously enough to answer him and to write about his comments today. For one thing, he appears to be quite serious about his anti-feminism; when he writes on his Anti Feminism Blog he takes the time to address specific arguments for feminism with counter-arguments that sometimes have some validity to them.

For example, he writes that the gender pay gap exists because women choose to work part-time and take off more time than men do because of their child-rearing responsibilities. In other words, they undercut their own advancement by their lifestyle choices. This is a well-documented phenomenon all over the world. But he refuses to acknowledge that women who are willing to accept the same conditions as men traditionally do are treated as if they are going to suddenly turn into women who would rather stay home with their children, even if they are childless.  They are being stereotyped just as surely as African-Americans are who are typified as lazy.

It’s patently unfair, as well as unrealistic, to assume that just because a job candidate has male genitalia he will be a better or harder or more consistent worker than a woman will be.  The real problem lies with society. Not only do we socialize women to be less ambitious in the workplace, we also make it hard for her to juggle her other responsibilities if she does choose to work outside the home. There is no such problem with men, because they have wives. What women need are wives of their own—or else husbands who will contribute as much to home and child care as they do.

I suspect that anti-feminists who are male (sadly, there are female anti-feminists) resent the perception that they are being asked to do all the changing while women reap the benefits. What they don’t realize is that women who enter the work force have to make a lot of changes, too. In a way it was much easier for both sexes when their roles were strictly defined by social expectations. Now that those expectations are shifting, both men and women are finding themselves lost without a template.

Another thing that anti-feminists fail to see is that it is not just feminists who are calling for these changes. Women who would never identify as feminists are standing up for their right to work at whatever job they choose and to be paid as much as men. They welcome more help around the house and with the children. Anti-feminists blame feminists for the ills of society when in fact it is society that is changing.

And it is not only women who benefit when men conform to the “demands” of feminism. Men are no longer expected to be the sole breadwinner for their families. They’re being given custody of children and alimony more often than ever before. (Shared custody is much more common than it used to be.) They don’t carry the full brunt of being our country’s protectors (i.e., in the military). It has become much more acceptable for men to show their emotions and even to express their “feminine” side. They get to spend more time with their children.

It’s human nature to react with fear and anger whenever we think something we’re used to is being taken away from us. But what anti-feminists need to realize is that they’re gaining much more than they’re losing.

My Views On Feminism and Islam

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How am I able to reconcile my feminism with my religion? Some people might think that I’ve reshaped Islam to fit into a feminist framework. But I think it’s more accurate to say that the opposite is true. There are a lot of elements in my version of feminism that are compatible with Islam. They include:

  1. Being an advocate for women.
  2. Viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is.
  3. Believing that men and women are equally accountable to God.
  4. Recognizing that there are some inherent differences between the sexes.
  5. Refusing to generalize about men and women based on gender roles.

The first one, being an advocate for women, is what I’m all about as a feminist. A feminist is worthless if she doesn’t support the choices and address  the concerns of all women. Feminism, especially Second-wave feminism, has been criticized for having too narrow a focus, specifically one that is white and middle-class (and, one could add, Western). This leads to all kinds of preconceived notions about what makes a woman liberated. Working women look down on stay-at-home moms. White women think that black women should put feminism before race. Westerners judge other cultures on how closely they conform to Western ideals.

I believe that feminists should consider the context in which each woman lives her life. That means, for instance, that we shouldn’t expect Muslim women to uncover just because as Westerners we can’t imagine choosing to cover. Nor should we begrudge a welfare or low-income mother her right to have the same support systems as middle- and upper-class mothers do (health care for their children, quality and affordable child care, access to education and job-training, food security). It even means that we should allow women to choose what kind of birth control they want to use or to support them if they don’t use any birth control at all. (This also means that we should respect each woman’s stance on abortion, as long as she doesn’t try to take away other women’s rights to their own opinion.)

The second one, viewing a woman as just as important to God as a man is, comes out of my experiences as a Christian. I was brainwashed into thinking that Eve caused evil to come into the world, that all women were punished for her transgression by having to endure the pain of childbirth, that women were either saints or seductresses (they couldn’t be a little of both), and that men were meant to be in leadership positions over women. (I was even told by my first husband, a minister, that I shouldn’t speak in our Sunday School class.)

Continue reading My Views On Feminism and Islam

The Wife Dilemma, Part Two

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There’s an old saying (no one seems to know who said it first) that “behind every great man is a good woman.” During the late ’60s that was amended by feminists to: “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I like that better. The first version seems to imply that great men are successful when their women are good wives. The second recognizes that “even” wives have skills and talents that go unrecognized because of our society’s prejudice against women in general and wives in particular.

I myself was a minister’s wife for ten years. The ministry is a little more accepting of the wife having her own accomplishments, if only because churches like to hire “two for the price of one.” Minister’s wives are expected to be just as active in the church as their husbands. But no church I know of would ever accept the wife as a replacement for the husband. She is seen as only an adjunct.

Part of the reason for that is because a minister has to be ordained to serve in a ministerial role in most churches. But the truth is, I could have done everything my husband could do except officiate at weddings. (I sang at them, though). When he was going through seminary, I read his books and helped him with projects and papers (although he would deny the latter). I helped him hone his sermons. I taught Bible Studies, helped out in the church office, worked with the youth group and directed the children’s choir. Later on, after our divorce, I became a certified lay speaker and preached on several occasions. But should I try to use any of these accomplishments to beef up a resumé, forget it. It’s as if I spent ten years doing nothing.

The feminist movement doesn’t have a good record when it comes to fighting for housewives’ rights. It’s as if feminists themselves agree that anything a woman does in the home isn’t worth all that much. Oh, you’ll hear feminists say that what a woman does in the home is as important as what she does out of the home, but their words sound hollow. One reason why many women have become disenchanted with feminism is because it doesn’t attach value to anything but paid work. A woman isn’t considered truly liberated unless she has her own job or career.

I say that women who are married and/or stay home should be considered just as liberated, if that is their choice. Feminists should be demanding more respect for women who are wives or homemakers. They should be pushing for legislation that recognizes that a homemaker’s contribution to a marriage is just as valuable as her husband’s and should be compensated in some way.

One thing this means is getting credit for Social Security benefits based on her own record of working in the home. After all, the things a wife does to support her husband (like entertaining, raising his children, keeping his house, etc.) would have to be paid for if she wasn’t there to do them.

It also makes me crazy when a mother isn’t considered gainfully employed when she stays home with her kids. Many women who were “stay-at-home mothers” (SAHMs) are forced to go to work outside of the home if they get divorced because the courts require them to “pay” their share of child support and “just” staying home with the kids isn’t considered to be of any monetary value. (Not to mention welfare programs that require SAHMs to go to work when their children are not even in school yet. Does it make sense that they have to pay someone else to watch their kids when they could be the ones taking care of them?)

Many women today are refusing to marry even when they’re in a committed relationship. Whether they realize it or not, I think they shy away from wifehood because of the way society treats married women. But marriage is what you make it; it doesn’t have to mean that you stand behind the man. Demand respect for the great person you are in your own right. And don’t let anyone call you “just” a wife.

10 Fascinating Sub-movements Within Feminism

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Jena Ellis of Online Certificate Programs suggested that I share this article which was recently published on their website:

Since the first organized feminist movement in the 1850s, feminism has changed the face of women’s civil rights in the United States. From legal protection, political participation and social progress, feminism has brought women closer to overall equality. While the goals of feminism appear to be simple, the feminist movement is actually quite complex. Feminism is categorized into three distinct waves and each of these waves contains several sub-movements that have their own ideology within the overall feminist movement. Here are 10 fascinating sub-movements within feminism:

  1. Liberal Feminism
    Liberal feminism promotes equality for men and women though political and legal reform. This feminism movement focuses on women’s ability to demonstrate equality through their actions and choices, without altering the structure of society. Liberal feminism promotes gender equality by looking at the interactions between men and women, in order to make changes that will benefit both sexes and implement better laws. Liberal feminists focus on important issues like reproductive rights and abortion access, sexual harassment, voting, education, affordable healthcare and childcare and equal pay for work and other equality rights.
  2. Socialist Feminism
    Socialist feminism centers on the public and private areas of a woman’s life. It claims that liberation can only be achieved by ending economic and cultural sources of women’s oppression. Socialist feminism encompasses Marxist feminism’s belief that capitalism has a role in women’s oppression, as well as radical feminism’s belief that gender and patriarchy also play a role. Followers of socialist feminism critique traditional Marxism for not making the natural connection between patriarchy and classism, and instead Marx put class oppression first hoping gender oppression would vanish thereafter. Today, social feminists put most of their efforts toward separating gender oppression from class oppression.
  3. Radical Feminism
    Radical feminism is based on the idea that the male-controlled capitalist hierarchy is the root of women’s oppression. Unlike liberal or socialist feminism, radical feminism zeros in on the root cause of women’s oppression from patriarchal gender relations and feminists seek to abolish patriarchy. Radical feminists believe the only way to change the system of power is to analyze the underlying causes of oppression through revolution and taking direct action.
  4. Anti-Pornography Movement
    The anti-pornography movement is backed by many feminists, who believe pornography has many harmful effects on society and encourages serious issues like human trafficking, pedophilia, sexual assault and dehumanization. Feminists, along with religious groups, psychologists and ex-porn stars, reject the belief that pornography promotes sexual expression and sexual freedom, but rather exploits women and contributes to the male-centered objectification of women, which leads to sexism. Feminists who support the anti-pornography movement believe that pornography is a central example of women’s oppression. This early 1980s movement gave way to the sex-positive feminism movement that had opposing views about pornography and sexual expression, causing what was called the “Feminist Sex Wars.”
  5. Sex-Positive Feminism
    Sex-positive feminism, also called pro-sex feminism, sex-radical feminism and sexually liberal feminism, is an important movement from the early 1980s that promoted sexual freedom for women and opposed the anti-pornography feminists’ belief that pornography causes desensitization, sexual exploitation and dehumanization of women. Sex-positive feminists are against legal or social efforts to control sexual activities of consenting adults and support sexual minority groups. They also embrace human sexuality in its entirety, while rejecting the patriarchy limits and control of sexual expression.
  6. Cultural Feminism
    The cultural feminism movement derives from radical feminism by expanding on an ideology of a female nature or essence that sets women apart from men. Cultural feminism highlights undervalued female attributes and focuses on individual lifestyle. Instead of urging women to go against social norms and participate in mostly mail-dominated work, such as politics, the cultural feminism movement focuses on explaining the differences in women and men by using biological comparisons. Critics of cultural feminism find it to be an unrealistic transformation and non-progressive way of thinking because it advocates independence rather than coalition to end oppression.
  7. Separatist Feminism
    Separatist feminism is a form of radical feminism, which focuses exclusively on women and girls while opposing patriarchy entirely. Separatist feminists do not support heterosexual relationships, nor do they condone working with or having personal or casual relationships with men. Separatist feminists believe that men offer no positive contributions to the feminist movement and will only keep patriarchy alive. This movement, as well as lesbian feminism and lesbian separatism have been highly criticized for being sexist in and of itself.
  8. Conservative Feminism
    Conservative feminism is a less radical movement that shares views closer to the majority and even sometimes questions whether gender difference, discrimination or women’s oppression truly exist and to what extent. Conservative feminists may be conservative to their society or take a less aggressive approach to oppression.
  9. Postmodern Feminism
    Postmodern feminism incorporates both postmodern and post-structural theory that believes sex and gender are socially constructed, and it’s unjust to generalize women’s experiences across the board. Postmodern feminism challenges previous feminist theories and discounts the essentialist definitions of femininity from modern feminism. Postmodern feminism breaks away from the traditional thinking of overemphasizing the experiences of upper middle-class white women in America and explores the oppression experiences of women from other cultures and time periods.
  10. Ecofeminism
    Ecofeminism is based on the idea that man’s control of land caused gender inequality and destruction of the natural environment. Ecofeminism makes a correlation between environmentalism and feminism, in which the oppression of women in society and the degradation of nature paved the way for patriarchy and male domination over women, nature and other races. Ecofeminism has been criticized for misandry and pinpointing men as the root of most problems, but it also discusses the oppression of minority males by other men.

Sarah Palin Is NOT a Feminist!

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Let’s get something straight: a feminist is not someone who dictates what others should do with their lives. Sarah Palin and her ilk insist that they are feminists even though they would take away all women’s right to determine whether or not they will have children. The irony here is that these pseudo-feminists are also against the federal government sticking its nose into anyone’s business—unless of course that “anyone” is a woman who wants to have an abortion. Apparently it’s all right for government, state or federal, to decide categorically that some citizens do not have the same rights as others.

To make the distinction clear, we ought to change the terminology used by both sides of the abortion debate. Just because you’re against abortion doesn’t mean that you are the only ones who value life. (In fact, it’s amazing how often anti-abortionists are also for capital punishment and complacent about killing in war.)  And alternatively, just because you’re for choice doesn’t mean that you like abortion. It merely means that you uphold a woman’s right to make a choice about her own body.

I consider myself pro-choice and pro-life. I am not pro-abortion in the sense that I think abortion is the only answer for an unwanted pregnancy. But I am anti-force. People like Palin are pro-force.  They want to force women to have babies they can’t afford to have, whether the cost is financial, emotional or physical.

I have four daughters. When they asked, I told them about my own abortion. And then I told them that they should never get themselves in the position where they would have to make that decision. Because abortion is regrettable. It’s morally and ethically complicated. Whether a woman makes the decision lightly or anguishes over it for the rest of her life is something we can’t anticipate or regulate. Every woman had different reasons and reactions. It’s not for any one of us to say what they should believe or how they should act on their beliefs.

A woman who insists that you cannot ever have an abortion is no more a real feminist than one who insists that you have to get married or stay home with your children. And if we allow such women to call themselves feminists, real feminists will forfeit their right to represent all women.

Sarah Palin does not represent me or my beliefs. I don’t represent hers. But if she had her way, my views would be irrelevant. They would be sacrificed on the altar of arrogance and insensitivity.