Saturday, April 12, 2008
Philosophies of Women, Mingled With Scripture*
I've been called a lot of funny things in my time. Some people say I'm a feminist. But "feminist" is rarely used as a compliment. Rather, it's an epithet spat out in derision, or, at best, uttered condescendingly and with a touch of amusement at the strength of my opinions. That always leaves me scratching my head. If by "feminist," they mean, "someone who thinks that women are people, too," then count me in! "Feminism," after all, is simply "the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men." It seems unfortunate that such an innocuous--nay, laudatory--idea should be a dirty word in our "enlightened" day.
"Feminism" (if you could call it that) began with noble women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who both campaigned for the temperance and abolition movements, as well as for women's suffrage. As women, they saw problems with the structure and functioning of our society and sought to correct them. They, and others like them, did great things with nobility and courage.
"Feminism" (if you can call it that anymore) has come a long way since then. What began as a noble social reform movement has ended as a shrill political and sexual movement whose proposals are laughably absurd and often downright vulgar. It has come to be associated with loose morals, misandry, lesbianism, and male-directed anger. Feminism today no longer embraces that which is most "feminine" in the female nature. In teaching us to be equal to men, its proponents forgot that "equal" means equally bad as well as equally good.** In a Harrison Bergeron-style fashion, they attacked men, hoping that painting all men with the black brush of patriarchy would make women seem better by comparison. Simultaneously, they attacked the most womanly things about women, degrading and devaluing marriage, motherhood, nurturing, gentleness, meekness, and loyalty. Feminism got twisted up in the casual-sex revolution and the mainstreaming of pornography (there are two camps in feminism regarding pornography: one finds it degrading to women, and the other claims to find it liberating and empowering for women to express their sexuality in this fashion. I bet you can guess where I stand).
The title of Carol Hanisch's essay, "The Personal Is Political," became a sort of rallying cry for the likes of Betty Friedan, who asserted in "The Feminine Mystique" that the whole culture was based on subjugating women's identities into those of their husbands and families. Naomi Wolf, many years later, argued in "The Beauty Myth" that our culture's idea of beauty is a political weapon used by the patriarchy to keep women in subjection and control their entrance into the workforce. And even more recently, Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" argues, rather graphically, that, at the core, a woman is defined by her sexuality, often presupposing that "loving" heterosexual relationships are simply another tool of male subjugation.
I think all of this is way over the top. Have women been hurt, subjugated, and mistreated for millennia? Undoubtedly so. Is this evidence of a wide-scale conspiracy of all men (or, better yet, of "the patriarchy") to grind upon their faces, personally and politically? Hardly.
Though the attitude that women should leave the thinking to their husbands, and should simply be mindless, compliant, barefoot and pregnant, in the kitchen constantly, and subservient to men is repugnant to me, so is the attitude that in all material respects (save for inconsequential differences in their sexual organs) men and women are exactly the same, and that they should behave in the same ways and adopt the same roles, or the attitude that women should reject motherhood and femininity in an expression of female empowerment.
In this case, as in so many others, the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes. It is true that a woman can have a great impact on her home and on her children. It is also true that this is not the only impact she can have. It is true that men and women are different. It is also true that they are both children of God with equal claim upon His love, approbation, and blessings. It is true that men and women have different roles to play in their families and in building up the kingdom of God. It is also true that "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 11:11). It is true that, in the patriarchal order, the husband presides over his family in righteousness. It is also true that he does so in love and righteousness, and that he stands accountable for his leadership before God. Abuse, unkindness, mistreatment, or domineering behavior is not justified by priesthood authority; it is expressly condemned (Doc. & Cov. 121:36-38).
It is true, as the Family Proclamation states, that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." It is also true that " All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny," and that "in these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." In the Gospel, there is no place for self-aggrandizement or gender superiority in marriage. Husbands and wives, joined eternally in a quorum of the priesthood, are jointly responsible for the care of each other, their children, and their communities.
So, am I a feminist? I love women. I believe in femininity. I believe that righteous women can wield great power and influence in their homes and communities. I believe that women deserve to be treated with the respect due to children of God, despite the traditions of the ages. And I love men. I believe in masculinity. I believe that righteous men can wield great power and influence in their homes and communities. I believe that men deserve to be treated with the respect due to children of God, despite the injustices of the ages.
I believe that men and women are different in fundamental ways. I celebrate those differences. I also believe that men and women are the same in fundamental ways. I celebrate that equality.
Does that make me a feminist? Or do I simply believe the gospel over the philosophies of men?
I think the latter. Your mileage may vary.
*The title comes from a post by Zelophehad's Daughters.
** This is a line from Margaret Atwood, quoted by Wendy Shalit in "Girls Gone Mild." Thanks to Chris for finding the source.