Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why feminism is a mystery to me

This post was drafted while I was doing 50+ hour weeks at work for several consecutive months. I held back from posting it then because I wanted to re-read it when I wasn't so hot-headed. It still seems worth posting, so here goes.
I know there is a sense in which I am a beneficiary of feminism -- at least in the sense that I am in the professional world and nobody thinks anything unusual about that. If that was the whole of feminism, I would be an enthusiastic admirer of their legacy. But feminism seems to come with a lot of baggage, and much of it is a mystery to me; here I hope to briefly sketch out some of the most puzzling things to me. The trigger for writing this is really the final paragraph: my job is good, but my dissatisfaction with my schedule is running high. And while I'm on the subject, I thought I'd clear out a few other things I wanted to voice.

1. I love my children
Are there any other Harry Potter fans here? Whenever I watch the fourth film (Goblet of Fire) and see Amos Diggory's reaction as he realizes that his son Cedric is dead, it brings me to tears. The film is clear in every portrayal of Amos that he loves being a father. He loves his son, and is very proud of him. Being a father is the greatest joy of his life, a bright point of enthusiasm in his own existence. Most parents are like that to some recognizable extent. I think it is part of humanity to delight in our children. I would be tempted to say that feminists are ambivalent about children; but the ones I've known are nothing of the sort. Ambivalence would be a huge improvement. Possibly because feminism has framed itself so much in terms of advocating legalized abortion, the practical emphasis has been on children as a burden or a hardship: as unwanted. Until the feminism of the streets catches up with the reality that most men and women love their children, that brand of feminism will remain a stranger to me.

2. Sociology and psychology
In school, I took a number of courses in both psychology and sociology. In both areas of study, there was a general recognition that people often define themselves and others in terms of roles and relationships. The feminists I have met are actively hostile to the idea that we might be seen in terms of relationships; they consider it a sign of something like bondage and oppression to be defined as a wife or mother. There doesn't seem to be an objection to being defined by professional relationships, or by personal relationships of other types. But the family relationships of wife and mother are viewed with some measure of suspicion, and a woman defining herself in those terms risks being viewed as in collaboration with the oppressors. The idea that those personal relationships might be supportive or fulfilling rather than oppressive is not given serious consideration. There is not a full recognition of the basic human reality that we do not live in isolation -- that being defined by our roles and relationships is not necessarily a bad thing, and that a woman might be proud to define herself as a mother.

3. One of my personal heroes
I have often heard the story about how oppressive things were until roughly the 1960's, at which point things began to improve slowly if not steadily because of the much-opposed efforts of the feminist political movement. Before then -- and certainly in centuries past -- the history of women was a history of people consigned to a sub-human status. That being the case, I can't quite figure out how Elizabeth I would have risen to the throne of England. Queen Victoria either. There are other women who were sole monarchs of powerful countries at various points in history. Have I noticed that the women monarchs tended to arise when those countries were completely out of males of a certain bloodline? Well, of course. I do not dispute that there was a marked preference for male rulers, and that it was institutional. But the idea that women were seen as sub-human, that submission to women -- or women in leadership -- was seen as unequivocally wrong, simply does not stand up to the notable exceptions to male monarchies. If women were seen that negatively, they could have found someone besides Elizabeth I to lead England. The prevailing theory is compatible with the more common occurrence of a male monarch, but that theory of sub-human status is so absolutist in its claims that it cannot explain how any exceptions were possible. We have to seek an explanation that accounts for all of the facts. If any man was always seen as better than any woman regardless of anything else, then Elizabeth I could never have ascended the throne. As it is, I suspect that this particular feminist interpretation of history paints an unrealistically bleak and harsh -- and possibly politically self-serving -- picture of the motivations of our ancestors and the realities of the past. To put it simply, that picture of the past doesn't pass the sniff test.

4. My job is not the point of my life
I enjoy my job most days. But I still think early feminism had an unrealistically rosy picture of the work world. It was where men found their fulfillment and their recognition, achieved their goals, earned their respect. Women wanted all that too. The idea that even the best jobs could be frustrating or unrewarding did not figure into the computation. And some jobs are simply jobs -- their goal is to keep bread on the table. Very few jobs, even among professional jobs, are important enough to be the goal of someone's life. The feminist overemphasis on work and professional status is almost necessary in that system, given the ambivalence or antagonism towards family life. But this stance overlooks what men have long known: nobody gets to their death bed and wishes they had spent more time at work. Some feminists even have a Marxist streak in which they recognize it is possible for an employer to be an oppressor. This might be useful to remember when calculating whether work is really a panacea in the search for recognition and freedom from oppression.

7 comments:

Sam C said...

But are your objections applicable to feminism, or the more radical feminism?

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Sam

In the real world, there's more of a continuum of views than a hard-and-fast separation. So I would want all of us to take a look at our views & just do a quick perspective-check on them. The alternative is to locate the problem with "the others" and not examine ourselves.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

My husband (a psychiatrist) says homosexual people have most often been deeply wounded in their sexuality, as for example, having been molested as children or in some other way profoundly hurt. And as a result, he says, they "defend" against the on-gong hurt by denying their sexuality, where the hurt is. Hence, men ape the mannerisms of women and women dress and act like men. (Other lesbians adopt the mannerisms of a pre-adolescent (pre-sexual) girl.)

And for such a woman, having children proves your womanhood while you're trying so hard to deny it. A lesbian does NOT want to have her identity in any way connected to her sex or to functions which are female, such as being a wife or mother. Or else she wants traditionally female functions redefined as uni-sex.

Anyway, I've been struck by how much lesbian leadership there seems to be in the feminist movement. There seems (to me, anyway) to be a fairly heavy lesbian influence upon straight women as well. Maybe that partially explains some of what you're puzzling over.

Weekend Fisher said...

I've wondered what percentage of homosexuals have had a traumatic experience. One of my good friends in college was lesbian & I thought she'd just always been that way ... but then she told me she used to like guys but had been raped. So homosexuality -- was it "settling for second best" or was it running in fear or what, but homosexuality was part of her never making a full recovery from being raped. I don't know how often that's the way it is.

The feminists I've known up close and personal have been more concerned with getting recognition, and are almost like scared that they won't be taken seriously as human beings. Their big thing seems to be whether women are valued, and (they seem to assume) value is judged by political clout, workplace power, and size of a paycheck.

The early feminists strike me as embarrassingly self-conscious ... It's somewhere between silly and sad, to see how overly-defensive they were.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yup.

Robin said...

I agree with Sam. Feminism is defined as "belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes" or "a doctrine or movement that advocates equal rights for women." It's not defined as angry, bra-burning atheists. Are there radical feminists out there? Of course. Should we blame all feminists for their extremism? Probably not. There are also radical Christians who claim that they beat their children because the Bible tells them to. Galatians 3:28 tells us that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I believe that Christ was something of a feminist. I believe people can be equal but different at the same time. I believe that men and women can have different roles of equal value. I know many feminists who consider motherhood to be the most sacred gift of life.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Robin

I share many of your beliefs about the value of womanhood, differences, value, etc.

My point to Sam is not that "all feminists are angry, bra-burning atheists." My point to Sam is that as soon as we decide that "the bad guys" is someone else by definition, then we stop self-examination, which is spiritually worthless to us.

So I'm more interested in what we do with a need for self-examination, whether we look at ourselves or whether we point the finger elsewhere. And if the problem is angry, bra-burning atheists, then obviously I'm never going to be part of that problem, right? What a relief ... (?)

My original point of the post was just that the public face of feminism is a stranger to me.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF