July 15, 2014

Remember the Ladies:
Why is feminism losing ground?

There are conservatives across the nation currently rejoicing over the Hobby Lobby decision. I haven't really covered this much.

Why? Why, I keep asking myself, did this happen?

A fantastic piece in Slate put forth a great examination of the differences between the two movements currently vying for legal recognition in the US: feminism, and gay rights.

Mark Joseph Stern wrote this piece. Here's his transcendent main point:
...feminism, as insidiously framed by the Christian right, is all about sex--while LGBTQ equality has become a battle not for sex, but for dignity.
The key difference between the two movements is the deep hostility that the Christian right views feminism with. The key difference is sex.

Stern explores this difference in how Justice Kennedy views both issues:
But in a strange way, Kennedy’s views on women and gays reflects a rift that divides American society as a whole. Kennedy, like a plurality of Americans, clearly views abortion as morally wrong. In one horrifyingly condescending passage from Gonzales v. Carhart, Kennedyinfamously wrote that abortion must sometimes be banned to help women understand their “ultimate” role as a mother. Kennedy also conjectured that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained”—though “we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” These are not the words of someone who understands the fundamental link between reproductive freedom and basic humanity. 
"Read Kennedy’s abortion opinions and gay rights opinions side-by-side, and you’ll come away with the sense that, in the justice’s world, gay people are fully actualized human adults, while women who dare to have sex are an irresponsible subspecies whose utility begins and ends at their uteri.
Stern goes on to say:
Conservatives clearly refuse to acknowledge women’s sexual freedom as a fundamental right, instead dismissing the whole concept as a liberal crock meant to excuse women from the consequences of their libidinous actions. 
 But really, how much do conservatives hate feminism?

A lot. And that's an understatement.

A clear cut example of this is a piece Matt Walsh posted titled "Christian Women: Feminism Is Not Your Friend" (don't worry, it's a do not link). What does this conservative voice think of feminism? He says:
Unbind yourself from the bondage of [feminism] that's become inexorably tied to a demonic dogma that obliterates the unity of the family, drives a wedge between a wife and her husband, and digs a giant chasm between a mother and her child.
This conservative conception is based on a few misconceptions. Here, in this paragraph, you have the ideas that:

  • feminism is anti-family
  • equal partnership in a marriage means strife
  • feminists are not good mothers

 Three misconceptions, all neatly outlined in black and white. We could spend all day refuting them, but alas! that's not my point here. My point here is to show you what conservatives think of feminism, not refute it myself. If you would like to see a beautiful refutation, please check out Samantha Fields at Defeating the Dragons. Her response in Christian Women: Feminism IS Your Friend is pretty amazing.

Let's take another look at one of Walsh's points:
That women are equal to men in human dignity and intrinsic value? No, feminism did not reveal this. Christianity revealed this. Christ revealed it. Christian thinkers throughout the ages have affirmed it and taught it; notably Thomas Aquinas, who said that women are meant to rule alongside men. That was 800 years ago, or 600 years before the term 'feminist' existed.
Funny how Aquinas also said:
As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.
Samantha, in the post linked above, points out some other serious disconnects in this piece, but for our purposes, it's but one of several examples of reconstructionism in this blog post. Reconstructionism in and of itself is a key part of Christianity attempting to rewrite its workings with female, its attempts to mask its misogyny by rewriting the past or focusing on the writings that don't specifically deal with the inferiority of the feminine sex--even with writers like Aquinas, who without doubt had a conflicted view of women.

Walsh also said:
To be equal is to be the same. Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Therefore, a woman's freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman.
Sidenote: I've literally never read a feminist argument against being a woman. This is another common misconception, and one that I personally parroted for years: Feminists want women to be men. It's patently untrue, but it's quite pernicious among churches--at least the variety that I attended.

What conservatives don't realize is that you can't stop with "same". If you're going to give the definition of equal, give the whole definition.

As an adjective, it means "being the same in quantity, size, degree, or value" (or "having the ability or resources to meet a challenge"). No, women typically are not the same in quantity, size, or degree--although they can be--but in value? We can absolutely be equal in value to our male counterparts. Our thoughts, our feelings, our contributions...yes, all of that can be equal. And yet, historically, it has not been.

As a noun, equal means "a person or thing considered to be the same as another in status or quality". Again, this is absolutely something women are capable of.

Walsh also said:
Feminism, from the very beginning, at its earliest stages, had a habit of presenting the family and religion as enemies to female equality. Elizabeth Stanton, friend of Susan B. Anthony, and one of the godmothers of feminism, said that “the bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s liberation.” This was a woman of the first wave — not the second, not the third. This is Scripture made out to be an obstacle, a ‘stumbling block,’ way down at the very foundation of feminist theory. 
Meanwhile, Susan B. Anthony’s newsletter “The Revolution” had this motto: “The True Republic – Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.” 
From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion. There is simply no way to reconcile feminism with Biblical notions of marriage, and even the early feminists knew it.
I’m no Susan B. Anthony biographer, but even I recognize this famous quote from the first lady of feminism: 
“There is not the woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; for any one who does so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she takes it.” 
Casting ‘dependence’ as the ultimate evil, characterizing the family and marriage as a power struggle — this goes to the very heart of feminist thought. To deny that is to deny reality.
We have a few misconceptions here too.

The idea that feminism is pitted against Christianity occurs because the Church has consistently been one of the oppressors of women historically.

The idea that feminism is about men being dominated by women is also a major point for conservatives. It's as if, I dunno, maybe they fear being treated the same way they have treated us. Weird, isn't it?

The idea that feminism sees the family and marriage as a power struggle simply because they define their marriages differently is also tenacious. Walsh is a proponent for traditional marriage.

Over and over again, conservatives paint feminism as making women sexually promiscuous, unable to satisfy their duties as wives and mothers. This is, of course, ridiculous. I'm a feminist. I'm a stay at home mother. I don't feel in the least inadequate, nor have I engaged with any other feminists that treat me as such. Feminism is about equality of choices--it's about letting women live the lives that they want to.

The proper place for female sexuality is within the confines of marriage in this worldview, and the idea that women don't want to have children is foreign. Within marriage, sex is okay, and sex begets children. A solid reason for not having sex outside of marriage is to avoid having children outside of marriage. Thus, birth control so that non-procreative sex is possible is a morally ambiguous (at best) path.

These misconceptions are something we have to continue to refute. It may not change the minds of conservative Christians, but hopefully it will leave an impression on the minds of the general public.

One last quote, and I'll wrap this up. Not directly related to our point here, but I have to say, the atheist in me is cracking up a bit at this:
This is a pretty convincing indication that feminism has, at the very least, outlived its good. There is nothing surprising about that, because feminism, unlike Christianity, is a human construct. It's an ideology. It's a political theory. It's a label. It is not eternal, it is not perfect (there's the understatement of the decade), and it is not indispensable.
Yeah...I don't consider Christianity as anything but a human construct, or as eternal, perfect or indispensable. I feel much happier without it, personally. But that's just me!

There's plenty of biblical precedent for the idea of egalitarianism in Christianity. Somehow, though, I don't think that's what conservatives want.

Until we can move past these misconceptions of Christianity, we'll keep losing these fights...fights that we can't afford to.

Oh, and on a parting note, what did Pat Robertson think of feminism again?

 Oh yea, now I remember.

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