12.17.2006

Feminist Goddess of Dooooom

As lots of you probably know, I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This makes me a Mormon. I do not have horns, though, because I had them filed down in a special Mormon ceremony.

I also consider myself to be a feminist. It didn't really occur to me to think of this as a controversial thing. I thought everyone with any sense was a feminist to some degree. Even though it takes in a lot of different movements and opinions (such as ecofeminism, lesbian feminism, anarcha-feminism, and fat feminism) here is what the basic concept of feminism is:

Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes (American Heritage Dictionary)

The thought and actions of people who want to make women's (legal, political, social, etc.) rights equal to those of men (Kellerman English Dictionary)

The doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men (Dictionary.com)

Belief in the need to secure rights and opportunities for women equal to those of men, or a commitment to securing these (MSN Encarta)

Exactly where is the problem, here? Are there people who don't think this is a good idea?

And yet.
I dated someone who broke out in hives at the mention of the word feminism and secretly considered breaking up with me early on because what if we got married and I just suddenly one day decided to start burning bras and sharpening knives before a shrine to Lorena Bobbitt? Because to him, that's what the word meant. Then we have my Dad. This is the man who encourages me to aim high, get all the education I can, and always hold out for more money. If he found out I were being discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of being female he would go nuts. And yet if you drop the f-bomb in his hearing his left eye starts to twitch. If you suggest that he might, in fact, be a feminist, he has a heart attack and dies.

I'm thinking this is because people (especially men) are too quick to associate the word feminist with the 2nd-wave feminism of the 60s and 70s, which was all tied up in the Sexual Revolution and pretty much the end of the world as they knew it.

But there were also the 1st-wave feminists of the 1800s and early 1900s, who had the crazy idea that, gosh, maybe women should be allowed to vote and hold property and get a job other than that of governess or chamber maid or prostitute. Not a crazy idea, if you ask me.

And now we have the 3rd-wave feminists, whose main platform is that women should be able to choose and pursue the life that they want without getting crap about it--whether as a CEO or as a soccer mom (or both, if you have some magical source which supplies you with endless energy and time). I don't think that as a woman I should expect to be able to have it all and simultaneously succeed at everything I want to do--I know life doesn't work that way. So I pick and choose where I'm going to put my efforts, based on my goals, skills, interests, and opportunities. I frequently make these choices a matter of prayer. Right now it's just me, but once I have a family I will have to take their needs into account as well, while continuing to pray about what is best for me and my family. How is that scary or radical? It just means that I get to make these choices and decide what's worth my time and efforts rather than having other people tell me what I'm allowed to do or what I should be doing.

There are some LDS people who use the word feminist when what they really mean is "rabid career-driven man-hater who doesn't wear makeup and possibly eats her own young." Or they might mean a woman who is still single at the age of 30, or who has a successful career, or who doesn't have 3 children in the first 5 years of marriage. It just sounds easier to chalk it all up to an abstract idea like feminism rather than to face the sometimes uncomfortable fact that not all women's lives are going to be identical, and that it's okay. But the thing is, those are people. That is not the Church, or its leaders.

I do think feminism can be taken too far. In an illustrative example of just how broad the opinions can get, you can take a look at Feminist Mormon Housewives. A lot of those women and men have great things to say and are normal and right-thinking. Others . . . seem a bit crazy to me.

Some people don't understand how one can be LDS and a feminist, because they think that our church is inherently sexist and descriminates against women. I don't feel that way at all. I think that there are definitely members of the church who are sexist and old and misunderstand basic principles. My friend Banana was teaching a an adult Sunday School class and corrected a gentleman on a point of doctrine. He puffed up and blustered, "You can't talk to me like that! I have the priesthood!" Thing is, that man will find no justification for that kind of attitude in any scripture or in any statement made by any authority of the Church. Because there just isn't one. The priesthood is not meant to be a "man" thing. It is specifically not about placing men higher than women. It is meant to bless everyone and to help us all move forward--and it does.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, the prophet, has probably done more to encourage women in their educational, professional, and leadership pursuits than any other Church leader. And for that I say he's a feminist. I don't know how he would react to the word, because we haven't chatted about that, but he and other Church leaders have demonstrated how much trust they have in the abilities, intelligence, and aptitude of the women in this church. They don't tell women to dumb down. They tell the men to smarten up.

So. Is the basic problem just with the f-word? Is it that people can only think of militant man-hater feminism when they think of it? I can't think of any other reason for all of these otherwise right-thinking people to get all frantic and twitchy.

Would love to have your thoughts.

23 comments:

Sarita said... [reply]

Amen sister. I think it's the neonazi feminism that scares people. And it's true, there are women out there who are man haters, who strive not only for equality, but feel they are entitled to complete domination.

This is not the true form of feminism. I see myself as a feminist in the sense that I think women, given they have the need, should be able to have the same earning power as men, especially when providing for children falls upon them. That knowledge is power, and as you mentioned, President Hinckley has been a huge advocate of the edcuation of our gender. Just because there are certain "roles" in where it is beneficial to children to have there mothers present in their lives, and men should be responsible for providing, does not mean that both should not have constitutional rights to make these decisions for themselves. Especially since this world is not black and white. Everyone's life and situation is unique, and we must make the decisions based upon those factors.

I believe that the women in other countries and sometimes our own who are being forced into submissive roles, abuse, and ritual mutilation against their will should have a voice.

The early relief society was actively involved with the feminist movement in it's pure form. Striving to educate woman, and to give them basic rights such as voting. That is what the RS was founded on, charity never faileth in supporting one another in our spiritual and personal progression as individuals and as a gender.

I think it important not to let such a case get carried away to the point of extremism, but what is wrong with wanting to uplift and help our fellow woman progress.

I could keep babbling on, but I'll spare you.

CoolMom said... [reply]

Amen to all you said. But wear pink.

metamorphose said... [reply]

I agree %100.

I once told a fellow Mormon that I was a feminist. He then promptly called me a "man-hater."

Which then left me wanting to use the BIG F-bomb, of the four-lettered kind. With the word "face" as a suffix. But I restrained.

Scully said... [reply]

Three cheers for Nemesis! I took a class at BYU called International Political Economy of Women (basically a gender studies class, but in the PoliSci dept., hence the long title) where they delineated the difference by calling it lower-case f feminism and capital F Feminism. Basically a theory or belief vs. an ideology or a movement. Which is a really long explanation to give every time you say you are a feminist. It is about equality of the sexes, not the preeminence of either sex over the other.

FoxyJ said... [reply]

I think one of the biggest disservices our society, and particularly our church culture presents to women is the idea that their life choices are only binary: you either choose to be a "career woman" or you stay home with your kids. The truth is, there are a lot of different options and choices, and most women will do a variety of things throughout their lives. I read a statistic somewhere that approximately 80 percent of women will work at some point in their lives. Most Mormon women that I know, even those with kids, have worked or will work. I think about my husband's five sisters. The first one is in her early forties and has never married. Shas a full-time job, travels a lot, owns a house, etc. I think she'd like to be married, but she really is enjoying her life while single. Sister two didn't get married until a few years ago, when she was 36. She served a mission, graduated from college and worked for a very long time at a good job, which she quit a year ago to stay home with her son. Sister three also served a mission, graduated college, started working and got married in her late twenties. After she had been married for four years, her husband passed away suddenly in an accident (their daughter was one). It was horrible, but she had an education and has been able to find a good job to support herself and her daughter. Sister four has worked running a dance studio with her husband, but now she's taking a break; she also graduated from college. The last one got married during college, but waited to have kids until after gradutation. She's been a stay at home mom for ten years now. Anyways, I just think it's interesting how there can be so many different ways to live your life and stil be a faithful LDS woman. Some choices we make ourselves, and some have to be made because of our circumstances. Women should have the right to make the most of their choices, and people who think otherwise are just ignorant. I'm glad that President Hinckley sets the right tone and I hope it rubs off on people.

I also agree that too many people have the wrong idea about what "feminism" means. They probably picture a lesbian with a buzz cut who hates men. I don't really like that either--switching the hierarchy to put women on top doesn't do away with the hierarchy, which is the real problem. Most feminists these days are realizing that too, and I think in many ways times are changing. I think one thing we can all do at church is to speak up a little about our choices. Not in a defensive way or anything, but just to let people know that there are a variety of things that women do. For example, when I mentioned that I was working on my thesis at Enrichment the other night, several women piped up to say they were too! Granted, we're in a college ward, but I think we often assume that other people are so different from us that they would never understand us. I think if we can be more vocal about how we are living our particular lives as Mormon women, people will realize that there are many ways to be a Mormon woman. Everyone in Relief Society assumes they are weird because they don't fit the mold--well, no one really fits the mold, we just think everyone else does!

Anyways, now I'm rambling. I definitely agree with all the thoughts in your post. Maybe someday the world will change.

kristen said... [reply]

I think there's a bad connotation with that word, and even I sometimes associate it with a negative view (because of the extreme cases).

I do think there are definite roles designated for male and female. We are also genetically different. Heavenly Father knew this and planned it this way when He created us. That is why families need a mother and a father. We complement each other. We are equal, yet different.

I strongly believe in education for all (male or female), and that lofty career pursuits are great for anyone. Women should pursue education, whether married or single. However, I do believe that the husband/father should be the provider and primary source of income and the wife/mother the secondary (if necessary) as well as the nurturer/primary care giver of children. (There are exceptions to the rule).

Where I have problems is with the 'feminist Nazi's' who are malitious, mean-spirited, and demanding. They feel they are entitled to their share and more and they will stop at nothing to get it. Some women think they can have it all--a big career and a big family. I'm sorry, but something usually suffers, usually the children. I do think that women should do all in their power to be at home with their kids, esp. when they are young....and the husband should be supportive of that. It does not mean she is less equal or less important. And any man who treats it as such should be shot.

But seriously, if we're not married, what do guys expect--do they want us to sit around and wait? This girl ain't. And if I'm too intimidating for someone then he can take a hike.

Ok, I'll shut-up now.

blackjazz said... [reply]

No argument from me, Nemesis.

I recently read Bill Bryson's latest book in which he explains that as late as the 1950s it was illegal to employ married women in half the states in the US. I was aghast!

In an attempt to explain some of the wrong-thinking by some church members, I'm old enough to remember the ERA - "Equal Rights Amendment" - in the US and the stand which the Church took against it on *moral* grounds. There was even a separate Q&A booklet published as a separate insert in the Ensign to explain the Church's position. Some members disagreed and even got into conference and made a big fuss of voting against the First Presidency. They did the sustaining of church officers in different sessions each year to try to keep them guessing about which session they needed to be in to voice their opposition. It was quite a big thing in the 80s. What I'm saying is that there may be a feeling among some Church members that opposing the ERA is the same as opposing feminism.

BTW - I'm sorry Skully has changed her picture! I liked the previous one a lot better.

abby said... [reply]

I agree too.

I did a paper my senior year in college on LDS women who worked during WWII. The prophets never really changed their stance on that position. They remarked that women should support the war effort especially if they were single by working. However, if they were married they should make every effort to stay home if there are means available to support them. I recommend highly President Hinckley's comments on this issue in the 1998 RS General Conference which are available in the Nov 1998 Ensign. He sounds feminist in that talk.

It really kind of scared me when I attended an enrichment a few years ago in my family ward about job skills. Many of the older women let their skills lapse or found out they didn't want to go back to their original before family professions. Some never even held real jobs. Having a degree at least prepares you for the future. You don't want to be caught without any means of support when your husband is unemployed, dies or divorces you like many women ended up in the 1970s when no fault divorce laws came into being.

Desmama said... [reply]

I recall one of my professors at BYU saying that, to a degree, feminism simply means not wanting to see women overlooked or underestimated or any of the other negative stereotypes we may assign them. I confess I had never heard the word "feminism" used in a "dirty word" tone until I moved to Texas. And that was in a visiting teaching moment, which was weird but I still don't regret politely speaking up and defending "feminism" as I interpreted it. Maybe that's just it--everyone interprets it differently, and while there are radical, extreme views to every movement, feminism on the whole is not threatening to me, perhaps because of how I define it.

Anyway, you articulated what I have thought about often. I still chuckle when I think about that conversation where "feminism" was uttered in hushed tones as though if one said it too loud, you'd be tempted to rip off your bra.

The McCulloch Family said... [reply]

I also think the ERA has screwed up a lot of people's definitions or interpretations of feminism. But since I wasn't of voting age when that all went down I don't really take that into account when thinking of feminism. But if I had, I bet that would be enough to maybe make my eye start twitching. It is really interesting to me to sit in meetings at church at hear people from all the different generations talk about feminism.

Th. said... [reply]

.

Woh.

I'm never coming to this blog again!

Jimmy said... [reply]

First, I'd just like to say that this was brilliantly written.

I personally think the problem with "feminism" as a movement is that it's been associated with the extremist faction (as another commenter put it, "neonazi feminism) that always made a spectacle of itself. So of course, there is an extremely negative connotation to the term.

I think for a lot of men (particularly of late), the other problem is, if one tries to side with feminism, it's sometimes perceived as patronizing, even when it's sincere.

I think the very best argument in favor of granting any group its full rights is to allow the group opposed to granting those rights to explain its position, and then stand back and watch them paint themselves into a corner.

In my career, I've been fortunate to have been given a sort of free rein in my hiring practices. I was able to hire quite a few bright, intelligent young women out of the Universities, not because they were women, but because they were bright and intelligent. And it wasn't completely altruistic; nothing makes a "boss" look better than to have a team of associates who make you look good. And I'm lucky, because that's how it worked out.

And I'm so sorry to have taken up so much space here. You just struck a positive chord with me here (father of 2 daughters myself)

Thanks for an incredibly well written article.

Voice of Reason said... [reply]

I have no disagreement with any of the comments from my brilliant daughter, but I must add a "man's perspective" to the discussion that there is a dark underbelly of feminism that created a negative contotation to men of my generation. Here are some examples. I refer to them as feminazis. The institutionalization of the idea that there can be nothing that a man does or can go that a woman can't. Some examples: Women in combat, unisex bathrooms, no exclusive men's clubs or sports. High school team sports must include women or be discontinued, quota and preferential hiring for women in "non-traditional occupations". These are just a few examples. A side effect of the feminazi movement is the "pacification" or "wussification" of men. This begins at an early age where boys are taught not to be so agressive or tough, it's okay to cry, get in touch with your feminine side, sit when you pee. Many of the "traditional" games boys played on the school play ground have been eliminated because they are too rough and girls must play too. Such as dodgeball (we called it murderball) and baseball. When the f-bomb gets dropped near me, my eye starts to twitch because it usually means that evil men are about to lose somthing else for the sake of equality, like women must be allowed in the Men's PGA Master's golf tournament.

Kelly said... [reply]

First off, I agree so much with what you've said. Thanks for writing this. Feminism is not a dirty word and I proudly consider myself feminist. And I don't hate men and I don't burn my bras.

Second, is an issue that I've tried to understand within church history: the church advocating so strongly against ERA. Why? The ERA says:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

That's it, end of story. What's wrong with that? I've heard the arguments that people (ie church leaders) were afraid that it would actively encourage women to pursue roles outside of the home (like, in a similar vein, giving condoms to teenagers encourages sex. Because otherwise teenagers would never, ever think of sex. But I digress). Despite the failure of ERA and unequal pay and treatment in a majority of career settings, women have entered the workplace in droves. Anyway, it's an issue for me, and I'm curious if anyone else has better insight as to why ERA is so bad exactly?

panini said... [reply]

That also seems so crazy to me. I just don't understand it--for the very reasons you so eloquently pointed out.

I know someone who works at BYU and is involved in hiring professors (one of many)--this person said that if you were known to be a feminist, you wouldn't get a job at BYU. This person gave me an example of another person they were in process of hiring until they saw the title of one of the papers they had published, and it included the word feminism. This person said the university decided not to hire the applicant solely on that basis. And then they said this, "The church is very wary of that word. Just be careful about how you use it."

And I am flabbergasted and huffy and puffy about it--because no freakin kidding about everything you said!

I want to be a professor sometime and I've already written a paper on that topic . . .heaven forbid I try to publish it because apparently, there would go all my chances for working at one university I love.

FoxyJ said... [reply]

I don't think BYU is all that freaky about "feminism" any more, at least as far as my recent experiences have shown (all within the humanities department). Both my husband and I took graduate level theory courses that included sections on feminist theory (Cixous, etc). I and several students were given money by BYU to present papers at a conference on women's literature a few months ago, and my paper had the phrase "feminist writing" in the title. One of my good friends in the Spanish department is a female professor who specializes in feminist theory and women's writing. So I don't think that the Humanities department is particularly scared off by "feminism".

But, I do know that if you publish or present at Sunstone you won't get hired by BYU. So be careful...

daltongirl said... [reply]

My thoughts are that you are a genius. And my other thoughts are that you should write a blog post about being a Democrat, because I can tell you that as a feminist Democrat in Utah County, life ain't easy. Mostly I'm undercover. And I'd like that to change, but I'm not smart enough to come up with a witty dissertation on why it's okay for me to be this way. Probably this is because I do not have a master's degree. I bow to you, Nem.

blackjazz said... [reply]

I'll try to respond to Kelly's questions about the ERA. Bear in mind I don't live in the USA. In the UK we don't have a written constitution, we have laws passed by parliament and interpreted by judges who set legal precedents.

The information about the church's opposition to the ERA was published in the Ensign in March 1980. You should look it up on library.lds.org.

It's written as a set of 20 questions, with summary and full answers.

If you don't feel inclined to read it, my summary is that the church opposed the ERA because it didn't allow for natural differences in the sexes. This was expected to have an effect on:
1. Abortion on demand for minors.
2. Homosexual marriages.
3. Compulsary military service - even for women with children.
4. Tax laws.
5. The roles of mother and father as ordained by God.

On the sporting issue (I don't expect the church cared much about this) - if ERA had been passed, I guess women would have been able to enter a men's golf tournament, for example. So what? If they're good enough - fair enough. What's more important is that men could enter women's sporting events. In many sports men tend to have an unfair advantage over women because of greater average height and/or strength. "Women's Only" sporting events are what need to be protected.

abby said... [reply]

On sports: Title IX was instilled to equalize college sports in the sense that they have to have as many mens teams as women's teams. To quote it "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." It killed BYU's wrestling team if I recall.

metamorphose said... [reply]

Is peeing while sitting really horrible for a guy? Should that be a dealbreaker?

Fraggle said... [reply]

[quote]Is peeing while sitting really horrible for a guy? Should that be a dealbreaker?[/quote]

<opens Pandora's box>

I really hope not...

alisonwonderland said... [reply]

wow! i linked to your flu post from daltongirl's flu post, but when i saw your comment about getting back to all those who'd commented on the feminist post, i had to read that too!

well said, and i'd love to hear more from you on the topic (especially being one of those Mormon women who've published articles with "feminism" in the title and presented at Sunstone).

i can't remember a time when i wasn't both "Mormon" and "feminist". i think i was born that way! i do remember lots of times i've struggled with that dual identity. at this point in my life, i find that i'm too busy doing things both in the church and as a feminist to worry too much about how others perceive me. occasionally i have some serious concerns - such as during a Relief Society lesson last year on the priesthood - but for the most part i just go about being me.

as far as ERA goes - as with the recent marriage amendment - i'll go out on a limb and say that i reserve the right to believe that the church is better off to stay out of politics. i do wonder if the ERA were being presented today, if the church would oppose it so adamantly.

Azúcar said... [reply]

Ok, I know this post is forever ago, but I couldn't help but comment.

As a BYU-educated, Mormon, working mother of one, I do consider myself a feminist. I even still have my old VOICE t-shirt "I'm a feminist and I'm OK."

I think the problem with the ERA was the law of unintended consequences. Yes, we would have been equalized, but it would have happened on mandate and not organically--and I don't think of that as such a great thing. Someone else brought up the military draft, but there are so many other things that would have been affected. I like that in government and public buildings there are separate gender bathrooms. There are thousands of other little things that would have changed under the guise of equality.

I think the key to the ERA is that we were trying to MAKE women and men "equal"--read the ‘same’--straight across the board instead of allowing for gender differences. Of course there will always be people who view those differences as one gender being inferior or superior to the other, rather than viewing them as simply differences.

I have long worked in the business world and believe me I can see how the ERA would have had far-reaching complications that would have been stifling to live under in both public and private life.

I much prefer the more organic brand of equality that I am privileged to have inherited from the 2nd phase of the Feminist Movement. I like that I can work and be a mom. I like that I could stay at home if I wanted. I like that I am taken on the merits of my talents rather than my gender.

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