Feminism and Sexism

Copyright (c) 2009 by Kenny Felder

I used to have a button that read, "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." That simple assertion, the root of all feminism, is one of the most valuable contributions of the 20th century. Unfortunately, from that root, I think feminism has branched out into a lot of directions that do more harm than good. So in this essay, I want to start by discussing the true-and-valuable root, and then argue against some of the false-and-dangerous branches.


The root of feminism

The following comes from a New York Times article—March 3, 2009—Afghanistan.

Mariam was 11 in 2003 when her parents forced her to marry a blind, 41-year-old cleric. The bride price of $1,200 helped Mariam's father, a drug addict, pay off a debt. Mariam was taken to live with her new husband and his mother, who, she says, treated her like a servant. They began to beat her when she failed to conceive a child. After two years of abuse, she fled and sought help at a police station in Kabul. Until only a few years ago, the Afghan police would probably have rewarded Mariam for her courage by throwing her in jail—traditional mores forbid women to be alone on the street—or returning her to her husband.1
Stop and try to imagine this situation for a moment. (It helps if you actually know a 13-year-old girl, and can put her in Mariam's place.) Her mother-in-law and her husband are beating her, so she runs away...but where? The police, any authority figure in society, and (worst of all) her own father, will automatically return her to her husband. She is trapped, and has every reason to expect that she will remain trapped, for the rest of her life.

But this is not a story about Afghanistan; this is a snapshot of the way that women have been treated in countless cultures throughout world history. Ancient Hindu wives were expected—and often forced—to throw themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres. In many parts of Africa, today, a girl who is raped will be beaten and rejected by her father for dishonoring the family.

Let me coin the phrase "Level 1 Feminism" to mean that a woman's life should not be made into a living hell. Society should work to protect women from being beaten, raped, and killed, rather than supporting their abusers and murderers. With that simple assertion, we are already rising above the moral code of a tremendous number of societies. We are learning the first lesson of feminism.


My wife, Joyce, has never been tortured or killed. Level 1 Feminism has never really been an issue in her life.

But Joyce doesn't fit the traditional female mold. She majored in Physics, and still loves reading and talking about science. She does not generally enjoy cooking or knitting, and she particularly dislikes folding laundry. She is a good business manager who ran a private school for a year. She never gets around to doing dishes or making the bed, but if the faucet is leaking she heads under the sink with her trusty wrench. We make a pretty good couple, actually: I don't mind doing dishes, but I am completely incompetent with anything mechanical.

From the above, you might think that Joyce and I are the perfect 1950s stereotype, backward. But it isn't that simple. I am the breadwinner, far more interested in career and money than Joyce is. Joyce loves babies and dancing, spends hours making scrapbooks of the kids, and does wonderful things with her hair. She rents chick flicks and I fall asleep during them.

My point is that gender stereotypes just don't apply in my family. If we lived in a society that rigidly enforced traditional roles, our family would be the poorer for it. We owe a tremendous debt to Betty Friedan in the 1960s, Marlo Thomas in the 1970s, and all the other women who taught us to be "free to be you and me"—to follow our personal gifts and interests, rather than someone else's preconceived notions of male and female. So let me use "Level 2 Feminism" to mean the ascent of women into traditionally male roles. I see this one every day, in all the tremendously gifted girls in my math classes. If those girls were denied the opportunity to pursue their talents, they would lose potentially fulfilling careers and society would lose potentially great engineers. We would all be the poorer for it.


I could go on for a long time extolling the virtues of feminism, but you've heard it all before. The feminists seized the cultural microphone some time around Gloria Steinem, and they have successfully controlled it ever since. So the rest of this essay is going to be the side that I don't hear so often: some of the ways that I think feminism has gone beyond Levels 1 and 2, and is causing real problems.


The denial of Biology

As Stuart Berkowitz was fond of saying when we were in 9th grade Biology class together: "If you want to see the difference between boys and girls, you look in their genes."

OK, probably a lot of 9th grade boys have made that joke. Which, in fact, is part of my point. That's the kind of thing boys do.


During the 1980s, it was popular to insist that all male/female differences result from conditioning by a male-dominated culture. This is difficult to refute, because almost any experiment can be chalked up to socialization. When six-month-old girls react differently from six-month-old boys, this only shows how early the effects of sexism take hold.

If you don't hear that argument too much any more, it's because it has pretty definitively been trashed by modern science. Personally, I have been tremendously influenced by Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene and Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate. These books are not focused on male/female differences: they merely use sex as one of many examples to make their larger point, which is that nature is far more important than nurture in determining our personalities and abilities.

But before I found any of these books, I heard a lecture by Anne Moir, the author of a remarkable book called Brain Sex. A geneticist by trade, Dr. Moir claimed that the structure of our brains makes men aggressive, competitive, and mathematical, while making women people-oriented, cooperative, and adept at judging character. Men are more interested in cheap sex, women in relationships. Men are more ambitious in careers, women more interested in their families. All of these differences spring from basic neurobiology, not from socialization.

But it wasn't Dr. Moir's claims that had such a strong effect on me: it was the cleverness of her experiments. Here is one example. One difference between men and women is that men have more testosterone, women more estrogen. Anyone will agree that this difference is innate: the question is, does it really matter? How do we separate the behavioral effects of these hormones from the corrupting influence of society?

Dr. Moir presents two answers. First, you can inject testosterone and estrogen into animals, and see how they react. As you might expect, testosterone leads to more masculine behavior, estrogen to more feminine. But you can't go around injecting people, and animal results might not apply too well in the human realm.

So the second answer is the clever one, which is to rely on natural experiments. It turns out that not all men have the same levels of these hormones as each other, and neither do all women. So Dr. Moir ran comparisons within the sexes, instead of between them. (Side note: I wish I had thought of that.)

Dr. Moir showed a video of two twin girls who had been raised by the same parents, at the same time, with the same cultural influences. One loved to play in the dirt as a little girl, and grew into a teenaged soccer player. The other loved Barbie dolls when she was young, and became a teenager who spent hours taking care of her hair and makeup. No one had ever measured their hormone levels before, but Dr. Moir found what she expected: the first girl had naturally higher testosterone than her sister, the latter more estrogen.

Of course, these two girls are just an anecdotal demonstration—presented for the benefit of the audience. The real science is in the overall experimental results, the statistics and the testosterone and the estrogen and the corpus callosum, and all manner of technical stuff: you may want to buy the book, or, short of that, read the excellent Wikipedia summary.2 I found the book scientifically convincing, and here is the summary that I took away. All men are not taller than all women, but most men are taller than most women. In a very analogous way, most men are more ambitious, career-focused, sex-crazed, and mechanically inclined than most women. This does not mean that a woman cannot possibly have the skills required to run Hewlett-Packard, or that something must be wrong and unnatural about her if she does. It simply means that she is in the minority.


Which leads to the next question: so what?

I hear the "all sex differences result from social conditioning" argument less and less, but what I hear more and more is this: "Somehow, we all got redirected to the question of nature vs nurture, which was never the important question in the first place." So feminists can concede the science without conceding the battle. It may be true that more men are going to love mechanical engineering than women, but as long as there are some women who love mechanical engineering, we should make sure they are not discriminated against. Stated that way, the argument resembles what I called "Level 2 Feminism" above, and I'm all for it.

But statistics do matter. Consider the much-bally-hoo'd Title IX, which requires colleges to spend as much money on female sports as on male. John Irving has a wonderful article in the New York Times discussing the damage that Title IX is doing to sports.3 If (as seems very likely to me) men are more naturally inclined to be interested in sports than women, then it doesn't make sense to insist that we provide sports opportunities for women in the same numbers as men. (Irving asks, can you imagine this rule being applied to the school dance program? Or, for that matter, to the women's studies classes?)

What Irving says about sports, I would echo in almost every other walk of life. Dr. Moir makes the very provocative claim that "We live in a world where we are no longer surprised to find a female prime minister, a female judge, a female rabbi or a female pilot. But there are still remarkably few women in top jobs, considering the large increase in the number of well-educated women. That is likely to remain the case" (my italics) because, she believes, the real glass ceiling is in the structure of our brains.

You won't hear the Times suggesting that possibility. What if she's right?

Cries of sexism are ubiquitous in the media, and they almost all take the same form. First, we are presented with some inequity: there are more male than female judges/CEOs/conductors/Senators/plumbers, more women than men stay home to take care of their children, more boys than girls go out for snowboarding, more libraries carry Playboy than Playgirl. Plenty of evidence is given to back up this fact, which makes the whole thing look very scholarly. But then comes an assertion which is never defended or even stated explicitly, because it is taken as self-evident: this discrepancy must result from nasty, evil sexism. Finally, we are asked what we are going to do about it.

I'm not going to do anything about it, because I'm not convinced it's a problem. Yes, we need to recognize ("Level 2 Feminism" again) that women can make great contributions in all kinds of traditionally male arenas. Yes, we need to make sure that women are not being denied jobs and opportunities that they are fully qualified for. But we can't measure those opportunities by expecting equal numbers. It's not good public policy because it's not good biology.


An obsession with symmetry

In a traditional Jewish synagogue, the men have an obligation to keep their heads covered. They often do this by wearing a little hat that is called a "skull cap" (English), "yarmulke" (Yiddish), or "kipa" (Hebrew). On the occasions that I have visited reform synagogues, I have seen a number of women wearing such caps. Why?

Maybe it's because wearing a sacred head covering is a wonderful privilege that has been denied to Jewish women for too long. It certainly hasn't been denied to Muslim women, for whom the Hijab has long been a standard religious obligation. But "Some in the west consider the modesty of head covering practiced by Muslim women as the greatest symbol of women's oppression and servitude."4 Apparently, good Jewish feminists should start covering their heads, and good Muslim feminists should stop.

This is a brief snapshot of what seems to me to be one of the sillier manifestations of modern feminism. In general, it has nothing to do with improving the lives of women or anybody else: symmetry in all walks of life becomes a goal in itself. Isn't there something strangely sexist about an attitude that says "Whatever men have traditionally done is good, and whatever women have traditionally done is bad?"

I want to offer a few more examples. Once you get the general idea, you can probably start spotting these yourself—and, I hope, finding them as amusing as I do.


The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing devotes a fairly long section to condemning the use of the word "girl" to refer to anyone over 18. Such use implies that women are immature and incapable of taking care of themselves. (Personally—and I am absolutely serious about this—I think all people under 18 should be offended that merely comparing adults to them is considered an insult!) However, the authors specifically approve of phrases such as "the girls in blue" for the military, or "old girl network" for nepotistic businesswomen, because the word "girl" is being substituted for "boy" in these cases.


Ask a feminist why she prefers "Ms." to "Miss" or "Mrs." (Go ahead, try it: I've run this experiment a number of times.) The most common response is, "It's nobody's business whether I'm married or not." But this woman is probably wearing a wedding ring, whose only purpose is to advertise her married state.

My belief is that the wedding ring is approved because men wear them too (a 19th-century innovation, fostered by an intense marketing campaign by the jewelry industry). If you don't believe me, try suggesting that we go back to a time when men didn't wear wedding rings!


Many feminists are outraged that a woman would change her name when she gets married. She is giving up her background, her very sense of self, sublimating her identify into her husband's! One particularly feminist man I know insisted that his wife must not take his last name; instead, they both gave up their original last names, and took a new one together.

Apparently it's OK for her to give up all the priceless identity that her surname implies, as long as he gives it up too. Misery loves company.


Listen to a Peter, Paul, and Mary album from the 1960s, and you will hear Peter Yarrow singing his original lyrics to "Puff, the Magic Dragon," including the line: "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys." Listen to a more recent album, and you will hear his updated version: "A dragon lives forever, but not so little girls and boys."

Women everywhere can breathe easier, knowing that they at last have an equal right to certain death.


I've written before about my own objections to politically correct language revision, and I don't want to repeat those arguments in this essay.5 But I do want to dig into the particularly feminist goals of language manipulation. As an illustration, let me make up the sort of problem that I see in math books all the time these days.

A motorcyclist begins a 10-mile race at 0 mph. The motorcycle accelerates from 0 mph to 60 mph in 6 seconds, and then cruises at 60 mph for the next two miles. The cyclist then realizes there is a 900 turn up ahead. She knows that she can safely take this turn at 10 mph....
Whoa! Suddenly, in sentence 4, we discover that the motorcyclist is female! I don't know about you, but I always do a double-take at that point. I had been following the story along, and in my head, the cyclist was a guy. So I waste a second or two, make sure I'm still following the story correctly, and move on. Why do they make me do that?

The most obvious answer is to ensure women an equal right to ride motorcycles. I'm not convinced that this is a particularly valuable goal in itself, and I'm not convinced that math problems are the best place to do it...but leaving all that aside, they could have achieved all that without stopping me in my tracks. The problem could have started out "Susan Jones, the ladies motorcycling champion..." and I would have known the protagonist was female from the start.

They avoid this because their real motivation is more subtle. They want to cure me of picturing a guy when I begin the sentence "A motorcyclist begins a race..." When I hear a word like "motorcyclist" (or "nurse" for that matter), I should hold the gender of this person unspecified in my head until I finally stumble across a pronoun.

The problem is, I don't think it's possible. There are no generic people. The more you try to build a person in your head, the more you're going to lock into one sex or the other. In that goal, I think the feminists are doomed to failure.

On the other hand, they are succeeding wildly in causing people to stop and do a double-take where no one would have before. In 1967, the words "Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together try to love one another right now." might have sounded idealistic or na´ve, inspirational or boring, peaceful or confrontational...but I don't think most listeners would have responded by saying "What do you mean, your brother? How come I can't smile on my sister, huh?" A whole generation has been well trained to focus on gender wording as much as, or more than, the content of whatever they read. They are offended where no offense was intended, and where none would have been taken in the past. Congratulations on that.


Here is the bottom line on all these kinds of petty issues: I don't they improve the lives of women, and I don't think they advance the cause of either Level 1 or Level 2 feminism. On the contrary, they trivialize it. When a woman argues that "Gilligan's Island" is demeaning to women, and then discusses Vietnamese girls being forced into lives of slavery and prostitution, as if these two problems were comparable, there's a dangerous tendency for people to believe her.


Family values

If you Google for the "Mommy Wars," you may get lost for hours in one of the most fascinating debates facing women today. At the risk of doing this huge and complex subject a gross injustice, I'm going to boil it all down to two basic positions: both feminist, but opposed to each other.

  1. Every good feminist should join the traditionally male world of money, careers, and ambition, rather than falling into the antiquated trap of staying at home with her kids. Linda Hirshman: "The tasks of housekeeping and child rearing [are] not worthy of the full time and talents of intelligent and educated human beings. They do not require a great intellect, they are not honored and they do not involve risks and the rewards that risk brings. Oh, and by the way, where were the dads when all this household labor was being distributed?"6

  2. Feminism is about a woman's right to make her own choices about her life. Tracy Thompson: "When Brenda Barnes, the president and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America, left her job to stay home with her kids, some people saw the adulation she received as part of a backlash against working women and the feminist movement. [Marian] Gormley sees a woman using her freedom to make a choice—and that, she says, is what feminism is supposed to be about."7
Although the two sides disagree with each other bitterly, they agree on one basic point: every woman needs to figure out what is best for her own life. Women have focused too much energy on the welfare of their husbands and children, and it's about time they started taking care of themselves. Cheli Figaro, a stay-at-home Mom in the "choice" article quoted above, says: "The main benefit is to me....I don't dwell on what the benefits are to [my son], because I have too many friends who work full time—and, frankly, it's not PC. I won't preach."

Mrs. Figaro seems to be worried that someone is going to jump from the next doorway and scream, "I caught you! You're trying to make sacrifices for someone else, aren't you?" She is ready to protest: "No, honest, not me! I was being perfectly selfish the whole time! I have documented evidence!" Although feminists certainly do not claim Ayn Rand as one of their own, she seems to have written this chapter of their playbook.


This side of feminism terrifies me. I believe that a selfish life is not only wasted, but is also very likely to be unhappy. I urge all my students to try to find some goal higher than themselves, and live for that. Of course you have to take basic care of yourself, but don't make your own happiness the most important goal.

I give this advice to male and female students alike. Living for "something higher" can mean an abstract cause, such as fighting for your country, helping the poor, seeking spiritual truth, or even advancing the cause of feminism. It can also mean directly helping the people around you, which primarily means your friends and family. (I suspect that most men will gravitate toward an abstract cause, and most women to immediate friends and family—but it doesn't really matter if I'm right about that.) I feel sorry for people who have never said, "It doesn't matter how I feel right now, because I'm doing the right thing." Those people's lives seem pathetically empty to me.

Beyond that, there are times when you have a particular obligation to be unselfish. If you lead a group of hikers into the woods and then get lost, this is the wrong time for a "me-first" attitude: you have a commitment. And one of the biggest commitments you can ever make is becoming a parent. When you make that decision—and yes, I'm talking here to both Mom and Dad—you don't give up all your rights, but you do make "what is best for this child" trump "what is best for me" for the next 15-20 years.

So, then, what is the best way for a child to be raised? From everything I have seen, a stay-at-home Mom is best. A stay-at-home Dad is also good, but not as good. (Anne Moir, the geneticist, again: "However disappointing the fact may be to a devoted father, there is something unique in the relationship between a mother and a baby. No known society replaces the mother as a primary provider of care.") Day care is a far distant third, which is part of the reason this whole trend is so frightening to me.

You may disagree with that last paragraph, and you know what? You may be right. Certainly, we can both agree that every individual's situation is different. My immigrant grandmother worked every day of her life, out-earning my grandfather, out of simple economic necessity. (The "stay-at-home Mom" has always been an upper-middle-class phenomenon.) Some fathers make much better parents than some mothers, some day cares are better than many parents, etc.

But I do emphatically insist on my main point: it's not all about you. Make the best decision you can for your entire family, but especially for that child. And if you don't want to make that sacrifice, then do an overpopulated world a favor, and don't have children.


In conclusion

Feminists tend to describe themselves as voices in the wilderness, crying out against a world that is so 1950s-sexist, or so post-feminist-backlashed, that their voices are barely being heard. I feel like I live in the opposite world, in which the mainstream media carefully tiptoes around any suggestion that might be offensive to all but the most radical feminists. "All the actresses in this movie are strikingly pretty," says the reporter, and the audience holds its breath until the next sentence is "and the actors are equally handsome." Whew! The breath is let out. You're allowed to talk about how girls look, as long as you also talk about how guys look.

My own life, in many ways, is a feminist's dream. I make the bed, do the dishes, and fold the laundry. I give my female math students the same encouragement that I give the male. I am deeply involved in the lives of my four children, yelling at them to do their chores, helping them with their piano practices, driving them to their various activities and staying to watch, reading them a book at night and then cuddling them until they fall asleep.

But many of my beliefs are the opposite of feminist—let's go ahead and call them "sexist." I believe that men and women are different, and that the differences matter. I believe that it's perfectly fine if most firemen are male and most stewardesses female—and worse yet, I believe it's perfectly fine to call them firemen and stewardesses. I believe that for most families that can afford it, the man earning money while the wife stays home with the kids is the best arrangement for all concerned, and I'm seriously worried about an entire generation raised in day care. I believe that a man who says "I will fire you unless you have sex with me" is committing sexual harassment and should himself be fired (and possibly castrated), but a man with a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar on his desktop is not hurting or harassing anybody.

You won't hear an intelligent debate about my views on the radio. You can hear Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura, railing against feminists in the same breath that they rail against the liberal welfare state and godless homosexuals, but that certainly isn't what I'm looking for. I want to hear Neal Conan taking calls on the excesses of feminism, the same way he might discuss health care plans or charter schools. The reason you won't hear that is because, to a vocal portion of his listeners, my views are not only incorrect; they are immoral. Like communism in the 1950s, they are so toxic that even discussing them suggests a whiff of heresy.

My working title for this essay was "Why I am Not a Feminist," a reference to Bertrand Russell's openly confrontational "Why I am Not a Christian." I changed the title because I really did want to start with a homage to the value and benefits that feminism has brought, and is bringing, to our society. But I think it's important to try to separate the benefits from the drawbacks, and we can't do that until we can agree that people who disagree with us may not be all that bad. That seems to be challenging on any issue, but—for whatever reason—especially this one.


References
1http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/03/world/asia/03shelter.html is the New York Times article "Afghan Women Slowly Gaining Protection." It is referenced in the essay here.

2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_Sex is a good overview of Anne Moir's book Brain Sex. It is referenced in the essay here.

3http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/28/opinion/wrestling-with-title-ix.html?pagewanted=all is John Irving's article about Title IX. It is referenced in the essay here.

4http://www.islamicity.com/Articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC0301-2178 discusses the Hijab. It is referenced in the essay here.

5My whole article about politically correct language revision is at http://www.felderbooks.com/kennyessays/rainforest.html. A different, brief discussion of why I don't like changing the language is at http://www.felderbooks.com/kennyessays/mcnuggets_1.html#PCLANGUAGE. The arguments they present are different from each other, and from the arguments presented in this essay. They are referenced in this essay here.

6http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/16/AR2006061601766.html is the Linda Hirshman article that opposes women staying at home with their children. That article is actually a follow-up to her original American Prospect article at http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?articleId=10659. The first article is referenced in this essay here.

7http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/mommywars/mommy.htm is the Tracy Thompson article about "choice" feminism, including the story of stay-at-home mother Cheli Figaro. It is referenced in the essay here.


Two more, non-referenced references






COMMENTS



From: Richard Felder
April 10, 2009

This isn't a burning issue disagreement for me—any potential for that was removed once you put Level 2 abuses on your not okay list.

My concerns are, first, I believe in equal opportunity, regardless of any ethnic or genetic predispositions that may exist. In particular, I believe men and women should have equal access to all programs and pursuits, whether it's sports or ballet or anything else. I have no problem with Title 9—and I would also have no problem if the effect of Title 9 were to knock collegiate sports back to the 19th-century intramural level, although I enjoyed watching the Tarheels win as much as any non-Tarheel could. All sorts of important educational programs at almost every university in the country are taking major hits these days, but I haven't heard about cutting down on coaching staffs or team travel or recruitment budgets or anything else of that nature. (And it's not that college sports pay for themselves. Last time I read about it a few universities were breaking even, especially if they won NCAA championships in football or basketball, but the overwhelming majority were losing money every year.)

My other quibble—a minor one—is with the priority you attach to the issue of political correctness in language. If some people—women, blacks, gays, or anyone else—are offended by language that seems to diminish them, I'm much more inclined to go with their preferred usage than to argue that they're wrong to feel that way. We have discussed this before and have agreed to disagree. I just think, though, that there are so many more serious problems than PC to worry about now and that clearly should have been worried more about in the last eight years, such as (fill in the usual liberal litany here)...I don't understand why misguided feminism jumps above them in the Things to Blog About list.



From: Kenny Felder
April 11, 2009

I wouldn't mind if college athletics shrinks down to size either. I was using it as an example of the more general principle that I don't think you can establish equal opportunity by guaranteeing equal numbers—in sports or in just about anything else.

I agree that there are more important issues than PC language, and I have blogged on many of them. But PC language does bug me (obviously), if for no other reason because I do so often see people attaching priority to language issues more highly than substantial issues. It's amazing how often I see people completely ignore what someone said, because they are too busy attacking the words that were used.



From: Jordan Tullis
December 16, 2009

I liked this essay a lot, and following your examples of bizarre language revision, I'd like to add one of my own.

I came across a high school/college grammar handbook the other day. It was called Rules for Writers and I found this example in the Avoid Sexist Language section:

"After the nursing student graduates, she must face a difficult state board examination."

The book objects to this because "not all nursing students are women." But writing "he" would be just as sexist, apparently, because "he" is a sexist generic pronoun. So using "he" is discrimination against women, and using "she" is discrimination against women. Huh?

I also liked this example (the brackets are from the book, not added by me).

"Wives of senior government officials are required to report any gifts they receive. [Senior government officials don't need to be men.]"

Well, senior government officials don't need to be straight, do they? You get into this downward spiral when you start revising your sentences, and I totally agree that we should just stop the whole thing before it starts.



From: Kim Anderson
March 13, 2010

Wow! Edward recommended I read some of your blogs, and I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading this one. I can't wait to read some more.

I just want to share a couple of thoughts about where I am in my thinking on these issues. First of all, I think it is important to acknowledge the core goal of the feminist movement is economic independence for women. Without economic independence, there is no liberation or freedom. Today, more women can pursue economic independence than that any other time in the history of human civilization. I do think it is important to note that we have no knowledge of human culture prehistory.

I think how to obtain this goal is where the message and focus has gone off the mark. The denial of differences between men and women does not and cannot resonant deeply....it just isn't true. Personally, I don't think it matters whether the differences are biological, cultural, or by choice; they just are.

For me, the problem lies in what gets rewarded with economic independence. Okay, now I am going to do something you clearly do not like; I am going to focus on language.

"So let me use 'Level 2 Feminism' to mean the ascent of women into traditionally male roles." Ascent? So women ascend when they are masculinized?

If you are strictly referring to an economic ascent or an achieving economic independence, then I agree. Inherent in this is a less than or lower than view of women. Maybe it is just an acknowledgement of the historical position of women. But I can never view a woman as ascending when she is rewarded by male values.

The problem is really what is being rewarded. Women are being rewarded and the core goal is being achieved if women are able to embody characteristics that are typically, but not always, male. If we can ever create a culture that provides economic freedom to women by rewarding the expression and manifestation of what we value most in women, then women will truly be liberated.

This misalignment of rewards and gifts, is most clearly demonstrated by the tension around the decision for a women who has achieved economic independence to give it up to stay home with her children. Most of my friends have grappled with this decision. All but one has chosen to leave the workforce and stay at home with her children.

I know this is anecdotal, and is does conform to scientific proof, but, honestly, I am get incredibly annoyed by our definition of "knowing."

The biological desire or rightness to be with her children is incredibly compelling. Not a single woman that I know has ever expressed regret over her choice.

That being said, in those instances when the marriage did not survive, and it has happened to more of my friends than I can even comprehend, there has been a price to pay for choosing dependence. Lost earning potential, often the need for expensive and time consuming retraining, and also, sometimes a reluctance to step back into the male defined world. It seems to be a real desire to align her work life with her soul life....the opportunity to align independence with her women-ness.

I have yet to meet a soon to be ex-husband that has said, "Thank you for all that you did for our family. Whatever support you need financially or logistically to reclaim your independence, you can count on me." Consistently, the message is, "you do not deserve my support and I resent your dependence on me." Divorce court is full of couples fighting over money.

Can we really do nothing to support a women's choice to be with her children without it requiring becoming dependent? In what situations are men ever asked to voluntarily choose dependence? Does a women's pull towards family and children and nurturing, all the things we profess to recognize and value about women, automatically subject her to dependence?

Can a woman be independent by manifesting female characteristics? Can we begin to value and reward what women are?



From: Kenny Felder
March 13, 2010

There is a lot in your core message that I passionately agree with. And there are also some things I may disagree with, and there are some things that I definitely don't understand.

Let's start with the big agreement: the work that a woman does in raising her children is wonderful and valuable, and should never be denigrated as "less than" or "inferior to" paying jobs. I think that is in the heart of your message, and I want to shout it from the rooftops.

You are also saying, I think, that women who follow this wonderful vocation often do not receive their due. By way of agreeing with that, I want to tell an important story from my own life.

My parents had a wonderful marriage for many years. It was a very traditional arrangement: he made the money, she raised the children and kept the house, and in this way, they were a team. (My mother, by the way, has Master's degrees in both math and English. Like the women you discuss, she was staying home with her children because she felt called to do so, not because she couldn't find anything else to do.)

When my parents' marriage went bad, the courts came to the usual sort of settlement, where Dad had to pay a certain amount of alimony and child support until the kids were grown and moved out. And he certainly paid his share of our college expenses, and so on. But all the retirement accounts went to him. (This was not his fault, and he was not the bad guy: it's just how the system worked at that time.) Today, thirty years later, as they face retirement, his financial future is secure and hers is not. The laws that created this situation were grossly unfair, and they have since been changed: today, a divorce court will make sure that the mother gets her share of the money and the retirement. That change happened too late to help my mother, but younger divorcées will get a much better deal.

So...bottom line...we (society) are, in fact, doing something to reward a woman for taking care of her kids. We have fixed the unfair laws that penalized my mother. Beyond that, I'm not sure what we can or should do. You and I both want to support women in deciding to focus on their children. But what do you suggest?



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