Sunday, March 07, 2010
Last fall when I went back to school at a relatively large university, I re-encountered feminism for the first time in more than 15 years. I'd sort of forgotten about it. We live in the Northern Rockies-- meaning Idaho, Montana, Wyoming-- where feminists don't exactly abound, and where feminist ideology-- even the good stuff-- is made to seem like shrieking shrewishness.
So it was with exasperation, amusement and (not the least, by any means) relief that I found that on campus, feminism is still alive and well. In many ways, feminism is an old friend of mine. I said in my early posts in this blog that it was bumping up against the inconsistencies in fundamentalist theology that led to my departure from evangelicalism, and that is true. But it would be no less true to say that it was feminism that gave me the strength to actually depart. A long-smoldering anger at the limited role allowed women in right-wing churches was definitely a major player. Women are relegated to roles where their prodigious talents are used for things like planning potlucks and redecorating the church parlor. Then the (male) establishment rolls their eyes when women get petty and catty over the only things they are allowed to take an interest in. They believe that the pettiness and cattiness prove their point-- that women are unsuited for leadership roles-- instead of seeing that maybe they have the cause and effect reversed. Having subsequently been involved in a number of churches that have women actively involved in all levels of leadership, I think it is clear that in the absence of arbitrarily defined gender roles, pettiness is pretty equally distributed between men and women. I don't know of a church with women in leadership roles that hasn't benefited from their strong, vibrant presence.
BUT. (You knew there would be a "but.") On the other hand, feminism, at least the way I understand it now, has reached a point where it seems blatantly self-defeating. This post has been kicking around in my head for several months now and the reason I've been avoiding writing it is because I'm not sure I'm going to be able to explain this. I'm so out of the loop on academic-speak that I probably won't be able to say it in a way that says what I want it to say. But I'm going to give it a shot because I've been thinking about this a lot recently (in fact, this train of thought is what led to the previous post about being a follower). So here goes.
Here is how I am still a feminist. We live in a culture that values masculinity over femininity. I'm not talking about valuing men over women, I'm talking about valuing strength over vulnerability, individualism over community, leading over following, power over subtlety. I'm a feminist because I think we are in desperate need of a better balance between the two gender poles, both within ourselves and in our culture. It is almost a cliche' to say we each must find within ourselves the point of balance between our masculine and feminine selves, but it's true. Are you really a strong person if you're afraid to be vulnerable? Are you really a good leader if you don't occasionally know when to shut up and follow? And conversely, if you always just go along with what other people want, never standing up for yourself, are you anything but a victim? and will anyone ever know the real you?
For each of us, within our own unique selves, the balance between masculinity and femininity is different. and I'm convinced that if we were each to find that point of balance within ourselves, our culture would become more balanced as well. And in that sense, I am still very strongly feminist. I value feminine values. They are often what makes life sweet, what makes it bearable to be around other people--nurturing, connection, acquiescence, gentleness, kindness.
But here is why I am no longer a feminist: the so-called "feminists" seem to value femininity least of all. To listen to some of them, you would think their goal is for all women and minorities to become top-of-the-food-chain, powerful, wealthy, driven WASPs. Their critique of culture only makes sense if you adopt the very values that represent what they're critiquing: that political power and materialist wealth are the criteria for success. Maybe you've heard a feminist go on and on about the statistics of "women's oppression": that even 40 years after the women's movement of the 70s, women lag behind in income and political power. But in order for that to be a problem, you have to buy that income and political power are the defining characteristics of success. And I don't buy that. Are women more free to do what they want to do today than they were 40 years ago? I think so. And even more importantly: is that true for women and men? If that's true (and I hope it is), that would be a better measure of the success of feminism. We're not there yet, and sometimes it seems like we're moving backwards, but progress is being made.
I thought about calling this post "Why I am no longer a feminist," but I could just as easily have called it "Why I am still a feminist." Both would be accurate.
p.s. just for the record, I am still pro-choice. I've said that elsewhere in this blog but it seems worth repeating here.