My Road to Feminism

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Very few people set out to become feminists. It’s not a philosophy that they just happen to pick out one day as if it was a dish in a smorgasbord. Becoming a feminist is usually a process. Things happen that shake us up and make us question everything we thought we believed. In my case, I became a feminist after having an abortion. It’s not that I was looking for absolution. It was more that I was trying to make sense of this happening to me. What were the implications of being a woman who had aborted her child? How had other women handled it? Why didn’t anyone talk about it?

I felt so alone. I didn’t think I could ever tell anyone my “secret.” And then I enrolled in a women’s studies course. This was back when there were no women’s studies departments or degrees. The course wasn’t part of the regular curriculum; it was more or less an experiment. The teachers were sort of making it up as they went along. We read seminal works like The Feminine Mystique and Sexual Politics. But most importantly, we talked. About what it meant to be a woman in our society. And about what being women meant to us personally.

Before I took that women’s studies course, I had never questioned why women made less money than men, or why mothers were more likely to stay home with the kids and did most of the housework. I hadn’t thought about the fact that there were so few women doctors or lawyers or engineers. I know that sounds incredible, but this was 1971. The Women’s Liberation Movement (as it was called then) had just started to pick up steam.

This was also around the time when “The Pill” became widely available. Before The Pill, women had to rely on their partners to use condoms or on birth control methods that weren’t that effective. Suddenly women were able to take charge of their own contraception and to be reasonably sure that they wouldn’t become pregnant. It’s hard to imagine now, but that was a monumental break-through for women. For the first time a woman could take charge of her own life. She was no longer a slave to her biology.

I got pregnant when I was 18 largely because I hadn’t thought about contraception. After my abortion, I went on The Pill. It made it possible for me to control whether or not (or when) I would become a mother. It also made me rethink what it meant to be responsible. Before the abortion, I had more or less gone along with what society (and my boyfriends) said I should be. Having the abortion and going on The Pill taught me that there were decisions that only I could make and that I damn well better make them if I wanted to be my own person.

The women’s studies course gave me the courage to make my own decisions. To step up to the plate, so to speak. I learned that the way a woman lives her life had a profound effect on everything and everyone else in our society. I began to see myself as part of a larger world.

One of the things I like about feminism is that it makes me think. It’s important to question why we do what we do and how we might do things differently. But it’s also important to analyze the influences that come from outside of ourselves. It’s one thing to say, “I’m not a decisive person.” It’s another thing altogether to get to the point where you can say, “The reason I have trouble making decisions is because I was always taught that a woman should defer to the men in her life. She is not supposed to push her own agenda. She is there to accommodate herself to the needs of others.”

Feminism doesn’t advocate selfishness, but self-awareness. Being a feminist means that you are always seeking ways to be better and more effective, not only as a woman, but as a person. It means that you can’t lean on others for everything. You are allowed to have your own opinions. And you are capable of standing up for yourself.

I didn’t become a feminist overnight. My whole life has been one long process of learning to stand up for myself and take responsibility for my own actions. Sometimes I’ve been successful. Usually I struggle. But I can never return to the person I was before I discovered feminism.

 

 

Second Wave Feminists: We’re Not Dead Yet

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As I navigate the Internet searching for feminist resources, I come to an unpleasant conclusion: Second Wave feminists are either all dead or might as well be.

I understand about the generation gap. I do. I know that younger feminists are eager to find their own way in the world. They don’t want to do feminism the way their mothers (and grandmothers!) did it. But do they have to shut us out so completely?

Everything I read is seems to be geared toward girls (or Grrls). Which in itself is weird to me, since feminists from the ’60s and ’70s fought so hard to get people to stop using “girl” or “lady” for “woman.”  (Can you imagine Helen Reddy singing “I Am Girl, hear me roar”? Do you even know who Helen Reddy is??) We felt that to be called a girl was a way of infantilizing us. We wanted to be treated like grown-ups.

I also understand that young feminists don’t give a shit what others think of them, including other feminists (especially older ones). If they want to dress sexy or be obsessed with fashion and makeup, that’s their right. If they want to stay home with their children instead of having careers, that’s their right, too. That doesn’t make them less feminist in their way of thinking.

But what they don’t realize is that older feminists get that. We even admire it to some extent. What we resent is being treated as if our take on being feminine is obsolete. We stress(ed) not getting caught up in the societal attitudes that objectify us.  We didn’t want to be seen as just another pretty face or to be judged by our appearance. We worry that younger feminists are playing into the hands of men who want to keep us in categories they approve: sexual partner, mother, wife, girlfriend, servant.

Which brings us to another difference between Second Wave and subsequent waves of feminists: we blamed men for everything. Or at least we are characterized that way. Actually, we felt that men were as trapped as women were by role expectations and that everyone would be better off if we could break free from those expectations.

I’m not saying that today’s feminists don’t see the sexism in our society. They’re just less likely to blame it on patriarchy. They believe that women have been somewhat complicit in the downgrading of women. And they’re all about taking responsibility for their own choices in life. They don’t want to be hemmed in by what older feminists think is acceptable feminist behavior.

We should have anticipated the generation gap and prepared for our own obsolescence. But instead it seems as if Second Wave feminists have retreated into our middle-aged shells. There’s barely a peep from us on the Internet.

Is it just because we’re old fogeys who haven’t kept up with the times? Is our age to blame for our lack of relevance in the world today?

I’ve used the past tense almost all the way through this post to describe Second Wave feminists. That just goes to show you how even we have bought into the idea that we’re has-beens.

But I for one refuse to lie down and die. I think the Second Wave still has a lot to offer. I even think that Third and Fourth Wave feminists owe us. Without us, they would have neither the opportunities nor the respect that younger women enjoy today.

First Wave feminists prepared the ground for women’s advancement. Second Wave feminists planted the tree. And now today’s feminists are grafting other species onto that tree. What that will mean for the future is anyone’s guess. But we could all use each other’s help to tend what is being created.

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.

Privilege

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Even though as a feminist I write for the benefit of all women, not all women will listen to me. I am especially suspect as a Second Wave feminist because I belong to the cohort that seemed to run things during the era of the women’s liberation movement:. The problem is that, according to some, I’m a woman of privilege: I’m white, straight, middle-class and able-bodied. Women of color, lesbians, the poor and the disabled felt that they need not apply.

Actually, this has been a criticism of the feminist movement as far back as the First Wave, when feminists were more concerned about getting women the vote than in eradicating slavery.

And I’m not sure that things have changed that much today. Where once feminists were represented by the Susan B. Anthonys and the Gloria Steinems, now we have the Jessica Valentis; all white, straight, middle class and able-bodied.

Some women have even refused to join, or have left, the feminist movement, because they feel that women of privilege monopolize it. They feel that they’re not being listened to. They resent not being able to influence the course of the feminist movement (although I would argue that this isn’t entirely true).

And isn’t that what we’re talking about anyway? Being shut out of the party? It’s like  in high school when the “in” crowd seems to run everything. That’s what being privileged is really all about. Being the one who’s picked first, who gets most of the recognition and is given more opportunities to get ahead. Being given more because you had more to begin with. Having advantages that start you out ahead of everyone else.

It’s natural to resent that kind of privilege. We want those who are “on top” to pay in some way for their privilege. We want them to feel guilty, to apologize, maybe even to give up what they’ve been given. But is that really fair?

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