Zelophehad’s Daughters

Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: The Contradictions and Costs of Feminism

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OK, let’s try a couple more. (Sorry, Mark, in looking over these again, I realize I probaby should have paired your second question with your first.)

2. Does feminism have any built-in limitations or internal contradictions? If so, what are they?

3. We often (rightly) enumerate the ways in which women’s lives have improved as a result of feminism. Has there also been an offsetting downside? Have the gains been made entirely without cost?

41 Responses to “Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: The Contradictions and Costs of Feminism”

  1. 1.

    I would like to see Mark IV’s definition of feminism before I spend a lot of energy trying to answer those questions. Based on question 1, it seems he defines feminism as a habit of alleging gender bias. Webster’s defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should be politically, economically, and socially equal : the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” The contradictions and costs are very different, depending on which of these definitions is used (or some other definition).

  2. 2.

    Another wrinkle to the definition of feminism would be “what actually happened on the ground in this country since 1970.” And I can think of a few ways in which that has been harmful to women:

    (1) There is now the cultural expectation that a woman can have small children and a full time job at the same time. There is little mention of the fact that this is a hell of a lot of work and leaves the woman with very, very little discretionary time or energy. This is a loss for women who want to work w/o children (the 1920s model of ‘feminism’) or be home w/o a job because they look “lazy.”

    (2) The increasing number of working women causes single income families to, comparatively, fall behind economically–especially in the ability to afford homes in neighborhoods with good schools–which removes a certain amount of “choice” from a mother’s decision to work.

    (3) Societal resources to support at-home mothers and their children are comparatively limited because there are fewer of them. We all know the stereotypical 50s home where the kids played outside all day with all the other kids while mothers periodically departed from their bridge game or coffee talk to count heads. I can’t send my kids out to play because no one else on the street is out to play with and I don’t have any other mothers on my street to support me. Similarly, one assumes that there would be more library storytimes, kids at the park, etc., etc., if there were more children at home.

    That said, I think that “what happened on the ground since 1970″ has been overwhelmingly beneficial for women, but there is no sense in ignoring some very real disadvantages.

  3. 3.

    Regarding comment #2, numbers (2) and (3) are problematic, but the reason why (1) is so bad for working women is that men/husbands are not pitching in to do housework or to take care of the children. Study upon study shows that even though women are welcomed into the workforce as equals, most married women who work outside the home are still hamstrung by traditional gender roles by being responsible for all of the housework (overseeing it or actually doing it) and for arranging child care, etc. If working men took more responsibility for domestic duties during the second and third shifts, working women could enjoy more discretionary time.

  4. 4.

    (1) There is now the cultural expectation that a woman can have small children and a full time job at the same time.

    The other downside is that so many women have a full-time-or-nothing choice when it comes to education and employment. Folks who believe this are less likely to be supportive of the idea of part-time opportunities or extended maternity leaves for women.

    I’m sad to say that the university where I work no longer allows part-time undergraduate enrollment, which I think is a tragedy because so many moms have gotten their degrees over a period of yearas by going to school when their kids go to school.

    I have been able to build a part-time career, but I am constantly having to defend that choice, and although my work lends itself to working part-time, I am sad to say that there only maybe a dozen folks at my level working part-time among 8,000 staff.

    Back in the 1970s, I thought as feminism progressed we would be having year-long maternity leaves like they do in Europe, and increasing part-time opportunities. Hasn’t happened, and I think this (false) assumption is a big reason.

  5. 5.

    Since my name is on the title to the post, I might as well come clean with what I meant.

    Most feminists I know believe two things:

    1. There are no essential differences between men and women.

    2. Women are inherently better than men.

    Among the general church membership, I would guess that more than 70% of the adults believe # 2 above, including many general authorities. Outside the church, we often see articles expressing the sentiment that if only women were in charge, there would be no more crime or wars.

  6. 6.

    Mark IV, you must know some very different feminists than I do. All the feminists I have ever associated with (which have been quite a few) have never, ever espoused beliefs #1 or #2 on your list.

  7. 7.

    Heh. Here’s the quote from the random quote generator that just popped up on my screen! :)

    A feminist is a person who answers “yes” to the question, “Are women human?” Feminism is not about whether women are better than, worse than or identical with men. And it’s certainly not about trading personal liberty–abortion, divorce, sexual self-expression–for social protection as wives and mothers, as pro-life feminists propose. It’s about justice, fairness, and access to the broad range of human experience. It’s about women consulting their own well-being and being judged as individuals rather than as members of a class with one personality, one social function, one road to happiness. It’s about women having intrinsic value as persons rather than contingent value as a means to an end for others: fetuses, children, the “family,” men. –Katha Pollitt

  8. 8.

    Mark, thank you, thank you for explaining what exactly your beef with feminism is! Now we have a hope of getting somewhere.

    Feminism isn’t like the Mormon church; there’s no ritual that inducts one into the feminist community nor a set of identifying behaviors or basic doctrines. I suspect that simple difference accounts for at least some of the frustration you’ve expressed on other threads; there simply is no single feminist answer to many of the questions you pose. Given that fact, we might get further if you pose specific propositions often or usually subscribed to by feminists. Considering whether those propositions or policies really are compatible with (or made obligatory by) feminist commitments seems to me more likely to result in fruitful discussion.

    I have encountered feminists who subscribe to (1). The debate on gender essentialism is one that rages on, and we can certainly host a round of it here if you’d like (although probably after finals are over). But (2)? The irony is that, as you note, that position seems to be far more widely maintained among Mormon traditionalists and General Authorities than among feminists. There I’m afraid your beef may be with the Church, not with feminism.

    All I can speak for is my feminism, which is thoroughly constrained by Mormonism; personally, I subscribe to neither (1) nor (2), and I’ll go so far as to dare you to find a single statement made by any permablogger on this blog that does.

    I will personally compose and post a lengthy defense of the patriarchal order of the priesthood, with copiuos footnotes, if you can. ;)

  9. 9.

    p.s. to amend my last comment, when I say that I don’t know any feminists who subscribe to belief #1, I think most (if not all) feminists will argue that men and women are reproductively different and that it’s important to take that into account when we think about women’s issues. (As for other issues related to gender essentialism, that is, as Eve noted, a long debate that we can perhaps have at a later date). :)

  10. 10.

    I think that Mark’s assumption on what most feminists believe are common misconceptions which have contributed to the villification of feminists and why so many women today refuse to identify with the movement.

    I see this as one of the major failures of the feminist movement. The 2nd wave during the 60’s and 70’s was incredibly successful at opening doors and propagating its message. They were so successful that many women and men today don’t realize that there are still more advances to be made (such as a year-long maternity leave.) Combine that with the backlash that came as a result of the battle over the ERA and the feminist movement is now practically impotent.

    Maybe this is a built in limitation of feminism, the inability to effectively communicate the message of
    equality between the sexes without coming over as superior to men. In an attempt to correct this situation, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Too many young women buy into the idea that they cannot be feminine and feminist.

    In many ways, feminism has been its own worst enemy. Today girls have the advantage of almost full equality but in today’s world, claiming these advantages also means accepting the feminist stigma. Being unable to come to a popular platform has stunted any further advancement for women’s rights. Feminists have not yet found an effective way to attract new blood to the movement, fight for the things most dear to them and still come across as inherently feminine.

  11. 11.

    mraynes,

    Please clarify what you mean by “inherently feminine.” Femininity is a construct that usually implies or encourages deference, passivity, and self-abnegation and as such would be at odds with feminism. If this is not what you mean by “femininity,” then you must offer an alternative definition.

    In an interpretation of the Proclamation, Margaret Naduald (then president of the Young Women) taught that “every girl was feminine and female in spirit long before her mortal birth.” She then quotes President Faust to give the following (fairly typical) account of what femininity means.

    “Femininity ‘is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your . . . capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength. . . Femininity is part of your inner beauty.’ “

    There is nothing “inherent” in females that is delicate, gentle, gracious, or charming. These learned traits are socially constructed ways of performing gender that most feminists would oppose because of the developmental havoc that such essentializing discourse can wreak on men and women alike.

    Lest I be misunderstood, this critique of Mormon gender essentialism does not mean that Mormon feminists would agree with 1). A rejection of this kind of socializing discourse is not the same thing as denying the physiological differences between males and females. As for 2), every Mormon feminist I know would strongly oppose the claim even though some statements by Church leaders seem to imply this.

  12. 12.

    Julie, ECS’ information on inequality of labor in marriage is correct, so far as I know. As for points 2 and 3:

    2) According to the data and analysis I’ve seen, women have joined the work force in unprecedented numbers because they’ve had to; the real worth of individual salaries has been decreasing for decades. It started its decline before feminism was widely supported. In fact, the economic situation of the 1950s – in which a factory worker could comfortably support a wife and children on his own – was a historical anomaly. Generally speaking, only the most affluent classes have ever been able to remove women from economically productive pursuits.

    3) I’d love to see your evidence that social resources for SAHMs have decreased. I’d never actually seen that claim anywhere before; in fact, Betty Friedan actually felt that the horrible lack of social resources, the extreme isolation of suburban SAHMs, was one of the most serious problems with the 1950s model of the family. If a woman was really lucky, she’d get to go to a PTA meeting once in a while; otherwise, she spent her time alone in her house, cooking and cleaning. Her kids were at school, or roaming the neighborhood; her husband worked.

  13. 13.

    Melissa,

    I was not commenting on the intrinsic value of femininity. I agree with you that there are no inherent female traits. Rather, what I meant by my last statement was that most women have a difficult time rejecting the gender roles that they have been socialized to accept, and that this puts them in direct conflict with established feminist philosophy.

    I see this as a “built-in limitation” of feminism. Women in, and out of the church, are hesitant to spurn the concept of femininity and therefore the feminist movement is limited to those who have left the mainstream. This in turn makes it harder for a feminist agenda to gain much traction in society.

  14. 14.

    A feminist is a person who answers “yes” to the question, “Are women human?” Feminism is not about whether women are better than, worse than or identical with men. And it’s certainly not about trading personal liberty–abortion, divorce, sexual self-expression–for social protection as wives and mothers, as pro-life feminists propose. It’s about justice, fairness, and access to the broad range of human experience. It’s about women consulting their own well-being and being judged as individuals rather than as members of a class with one personality, one social function, one road to happiness. It’s about women having intrinsic value as persons rather than contingent value as a means to an end for others: fetuses, children, the “family,” men. –Katha Pollitt

    Actually, I find that quote offensive. Do I believe women are human? Yes. I also believe fetuses are human and I hold that no one has a right to kill them. Further, I strongly object to the idea that I have traded anything in becoming a wife. I did not do so for “society protection;” I “consulted my own well-being” and concluded that my husband is the man I wanted to share my life experiences with, the man who made me feel supported and confident and the man who would make a good father to the children that I desired to have some day.

    In general, society takes a dim view of people who put their own desires above the good of others. Yet somehow the woman who has an abortion because it’s just too much of a burden to take care of herself for nine months is strong and virtuous. Every child should be wanted and every child can be. That’s what adoption is for. No child should be killed because it is unwanted, no matter at what stage of growth it’s at.

    I really, really fail to see how it’s bad to think of women as “not human” but just fine to define a growing human being as not. If you tested its blood, it would register as human blood. If you tested its DNA it would register as human. It IS human and that modern feminist movement includes belief in abortion as part of the criteria for whether or not you believe in feminism is one of the reasons I hesitate to consider myself feminist.

  15. 15.

    Proud Daughter of Eve – your perspective that all modern feminists support abortion is not an educated one. For example, check out the website “Feminists for Life“. You should also read this excellent article, which is highly critical of abortion written by uber-feminist Naomi Wolf.

  16. 16.

    P.S. I liked the quote, Seraphine – especially this part:

    It’s about women consulting their own well-being and being judged as individuals rather than as members of a class with one personality, one social function, one road to happiness.

  17. 17.

    Most feminists I know believe two things:

    1. There are no essential differences between men and women.

    2. Women are inherently better than men.

    That sounds like a parody of feminism to me, perhaps designed to point out the ridiculousness of simultaneously believing in “no essential differences the two” and “one is inherently better”?

    Just to pile on a bit, none of the feminists I know believe those things, either. One would think that if there were a critical mass of feminists writing about those beliefs as central to their philosophy, those beliefs would make it into the dictionary definition of feminism. And yet the dictionary persists in defining feminism as the belief in equality of the sexes, not the sameness of the sexes nor the superiority of one sex.

  18. 18.

    mraynes,

    I know you weren’t commenting on the intrinsic value of femininity, but invoking such a controversial term without offering a definition of what you mean is problematic in a discussion like this one.

    For example, you write,

    “Women in, and out of the church, are hesitant to spurn the concept of femininity and therefore the feminist movement is limited to those who have left the mainstream.”

    Au contraire! Lots of women both in and out of the church are gleefully abandoning the sort of “femininity” that Nadauld and Faust speak of. Without further nuancing the term you’re using, your argument seems flawed and easily refuted. Much of the younger generation of women especially, would cringe were they described as “feminine” meaning “gentle,” “delicate,” or “charming.”

    That said, I think there are alternative conceptions of “femininity” that women might indeed be “hesitant to spurn.” Where the “feminine” meets the “beautiful,” or the “sexy,” for example, there are serious problems. Today’s bloody battles over the female body constitute one war that feminists are losing badly.

    * Incidentally, the church isn’t doing much better on this front. I just found out that my brother and sister in-law’s bishop is a plastic surgeon that specializes in breast implants. They don’t dare ask how many women in their ward he’s worked on. Wrap your mind around that one . . .

  19. 19.

    ECS, I resent your comment. How dare you decide my perspective is not educated? That was very presumptuous and offensive. My perspective is based on the knowledge that I have, on the experiences I have had, on the things I have heard and read and all of that has led me to conclude that “mainstream feminism” does indeed consider abortion to be fundamental. I’m glad to know that there are other feminist groups with different perspectives but you really could have written your comment better. How can feminists ask for their views to be treated with respect then turn around and treat other views with such disrespect?

    An example of how your comment might have been:
    Actually, there are feminist groups that do not approve of abortion. For example, check out the website “Feminists for Life“. There is also this excellent article, which is highly critical of abortion written by uber-feminist Naomi Wolf.

    A simple “here, let me share some information with you” style is much better than attacking someone’s views.

  20. 20.

    Serenity Valley and ECS:

    Of course if men did 50 or 80 percent of the housework, the lives of working women would be easier. But the point is that if you compare a working woman to a non-working woman (regardless of the amount of work her husband does around the house), the non-working woman has more discretionary time. My point was simply that we have normalized a radically increased work load for working women.

    Serenity Valley writes, “According to the data and analysis I’ve seen, women have joined the work force in unprecedented numbers because they’ve had to”

    I suppose this depends on how you define “had to” and what you consider a necessity or a luxury. I think a more accurate description of events is that we’ve reclassified a lot of “wants” as “needs.”

    Serenity Valley writes, “I’d love to see your evidence that social resources for SAHMs have decreased.”

    Uh . . . this seems so obvious on the face of it that I’m not sure how to defend it. Friedan talked about isolation from academic and cultural and professional life, yes, but the context was still a suburban block that had a dozen other adults present on it from 9-5 each day. Maybe the hausfrau next door is no intellectual’s idea of someone to hang out with, but it is still a warm body who could chat over the fence or watch your kids if you have a doctor’s appointment.

    “I just found out that my brother and sister in-law’s bishop is a plastic surgeon that specializes in breast implants.”

    Ewwww.

  21. 21.

    C’mon, PDOE. Your accusation that all feminists must support abortion is inaccurate and, thus, based on a lack of education on the matter.

  22. 22.

    Most feminists I know believe two things:

    1. There are no essential differences between men and women.

    2. Women are inherently better than men.

    Wow, Mark IV, this makes me see you in a whole new light. I have two questions for you. 1. If you really see feminists as espousing these two ideals, why do you have any interest in reading what they say or engaging in a blog conversation with them? Don’t you find them repugnant? 2. How is it possible that you’ve been reading Zelophehad’s Daughters and coming away with the idea that “most feminists” believe these things? I’m completely stunned and speechless. Is it possible you posted that as a joke, or a tongue-in-cheek comment?

  23. 23.

    ECS, the issue here is not about what I said it’s about what you said and how you said it. You have no cause to cast aspersions on my education simply because you know a thing or two that I don’t. You could have tried to share it in an edifying manner but you chose to insult me.

  24. 24.

    PDOE, just because I pointed out your lack of education on a particular issue does not mean that I was “casting aspersions” on your education in general. You may well be quite educated.

    Additionally, I didn’t choose insult you or your views. I stated clearly that you did not have sufficient information to conclude that all feminists believe in abortion. You were wrong about a factual issue. Notwithstanding your feelings or views regarding the feminist movement, you should know that feminists who do not believe in abortion would be quite offended by your statement that all feminists must believe in abortion to be considered a feminist.

    Choosing to insult you presupposes an intent to insult you. Let me be clear, I did not intend to insult you.

  25. 25.

    Just a friendly warning: anyone deemed to be engaging in excessive contention on this thread may be required to favor us all with a rendition of “Love at Home.”

  26. 26.

    But isn’t excessive contention one of the more admirable traits of a true feminist? :)

  27. 27.

    Julie, three points:

    first, we’ve increased women’s workload because for the entire working class and much of the middle class, the choice is between paying for the kids’ medical care and keeping moms home. During the last thirty years, the bottom 3/5 (economically speaking) of American families’ real median income has risen by less than 33%. During the same period, we’ve seen a more than 50% rise in the rate of women who enter the workforce. That means that hours worked per family are rising much more quickly than income; QED.

    Regarding wants vs. needs: this is an argument that may stand up in families with middle to high incomes. In families with limited access to health care or other basic necessities – that is, the majority of American families – such questions aren’t very likely to come up.

    Second, the survey data I’ve seen indicate that women who stay home don’t have radically more free time than women who work; in fact, SAHMs still have 1.5 hours’ less daily leisure than their husbands. Here’s a source on that. The relevant comparison here isn’t SAHMs and women who work; it’s women and men. Since we’ve had to redistribute our economically productive labor as the purchasing power of a single salary has gone down, I’m not sure why redistribution of labor in the household shouldn’t happen, as well. For that matter, if a woman is going to stay home and do twelve hours housework work while her husband works ten hours and then gets to relax, rearranging things so that Dad does a couple of hours of housework, evening out the load, makes sense. All healthy adults can and should contribute equal labor to their family’s well-being.

    “It’s obvious” is not an answer to my request for evidence on any changes in social resources for SAHMs. Please provide some data. By the way, SAHMs are, in my experience, just as stimulating conversationally as anyone else is likely to be. Why the disdain?

    You say that SAHMs have less access to social resources – social networks, you seem to be saying – than they did in the 1950s. Is your argument on this that nowadays, women who stay at home are not as likely to live next to other women who stay at home as was the case in the 1950s, so working women should quit their jobs in case their neighbors need them to be home during the day? That’s all I can draw from what you’ve said.

    Quite aside from the fact that such a course is neither the most obvious nor the most efficient solution to the hypothetical problem, most folks nowadays have telephones in their houses and many people have access to the internet. They can call friends or IM someone when they need to talk. Since 40% of women still haven’t entered the workforce, and a good many of those who have work on computers, social isolation is not necessary.

    On the other hand, I can’t find a relevant quote from Friedan, so I’m going to have to concede on her. I must have imported it from someone else; my apologies.

    By the way, I didn’t say anything about breast implants…

  28. 28.

    Dude, I would never punish you by making you listen to me sing. Nobody can deserve that. ;)

    ECS, I don’t think I was saying that all femenists must believe that. I wasn’t trying to say that all femenists believe that. (I know there’s at least one over at FHM that doesn’t.) I may have accidentally left out an adjective or a conditiona as I left out a definitive or two. However, it does seem to me that mainstream femenism (for what that’s worth) or what society seems to have accepted and regurgitated of femenism has abortion as a big plank of the platform. I’m sorry for any misunderstanding.

  29. 29.

    ECS, thank you for the link to that Naomi Wolf article. I found it interesting, informative and full of things I could actually agree with.

  30. 30.

    Hi, PDOE, you are very welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  31. 31.

    Serenity Valley, I’m going to bow out of our discussion at this point–I don’t feel like taking the time to respond to what strike me as irrelevant and nonsensical arguments.

    (The breast implant thing had nothing to do with you–separate comment.)

  32. 32.

    For that matter, if a woman is going to stay home and do twelve hours housework work while her husband works ten hours and then gets to relax, rearranging things so that Dad does a couple of hours of housework, evening out the load, makes sense.

    Except that when we are talking about LDS men, they may not be using their leisure time to “relax.” They are often using their leisure time to do church work. For the last 10 years, my husband has been in callings that require at least 10 hours on Sundays and every Tues, Wed and Thurs night during the week. And then there are the baptisms and funerals.

    “It’s obvious” is not an answer to my request for evidence on any changes in social resources for SAHMs. Please provide some data.

    This makes an assumption that such studies exist. In fact, mothers at home are considered a dying breed not worthy of study by social scientists.

    You say that SAHMs have less access to social resources – social networks, you seem to be saying – than they did in the 1950s. Is your argument on this that nowadays, women who stay at home are not as likely to live next to other women who stay at home as was the case in the 1950s, so working women should quit their jobs in case their neighbors need them to be home during the day? That’s all I can draw from what you’ve said.

    Ouch! Julie never suggested that anyone quit their job. I have never know her to question other folks’ choices like that.

    The basic question was whether there is a downside to feminism, and I agree with Julie that this is one. When I started having children in the 1970s, most moms were at home during the day, and we had informal arrangements for kids playing together, covering childcare for doctor’s appointments or whatever. Also borrowing a can of this or an egg from a neighbor when cooking. It was all very unstructured and informal.

    By the time I had my last children in the 1990s, there were lots of kids on our street, but none of them were available to play during the day, as they were in childcare all day, followed by gymnastics lessons, etc. When I organized a play group for my 3-year-old, had to put up a flyer in a grocery store. I did get support for trading child care, but it was through a babysitting co-op where points were kept, etc. All play dates had to be arranged in advanced. It was much more formal than in the 1970s.

    In the mid-1990s, I tried to organize a library story hour at our branch library, and the librarian insisted that most kids are in day care so there was no interest.

    So I absolutely do think it much harder to be a parent at home today as a result of the rarity, and this is a downside/byproduct of feminism that should be recognized, if the question is being asked.

  33. 33.

    In fact, mothers at home are considered a dying breed not worthy of study by social scientists.

    Hmmm…

  34. 34.

    Julie, I was responding quite directly to what you’d said.

    Thanks for the explanation on the breast implant thing; I hadn’t been following the other comments, so it seemed like that bit was addressing me. I went back and found it, and you’re right… ewwww.

    Naismith, if your husband spends his non-work time on unpaid work – work you clearly value – I’d hardly call that leisure time.

    Only 60% of adult women are in the work force, a much smaller portion than men. That means that 40% of women are in the home during the day; hardly a dying breed. And social scientists do indeed think such women are interesting and worthy of study. Developmental psychologists, for example, are constantly studying single-income families, moms who stay home with their kids, and how that affects child development in comparison with situations where moms work. Other psychologists study the way women who stay home fare mentally and emotionally. Economists study the way female employment patterns affect… well, all kinds of things. Family income, for example.

    Outside the social sciences, historians discuss women who stay home; it’s basic, important social history. Beyond that, there’s always a lively conversation about the way women in the home have affected our society. (Example: the release of middle-class women from domestic or paid labor during the Victorian era contributed quite directly to the development of women’s charitable organizations. This led to temperance, female suffrage, the elimination of child labor in the U.S., the eight-hour work week… really important stuff, stuff which academics talk a lot about). I think sometimes that most people have real misconceptions about what academics study, and this is an instance of that. Maybe it’s because this stuff doesn’t make it into the corner bookstore, but that’s not the authors’ fault. Really, only sexy academic subjects – wars, adolescent mental health, and so on – get into the popular press. Publishers generally feel that other history and social science topics won’t find a market.

    What Julie actually said was that social resources for women who stay home have decreased. When I asked for some evidence, she referenced my misquote of Friedan and said that women used to be surrounded by neighbors who were also staying at home; social support was therefore easily accessible. Earlier, she said, “I can’t send my kids out to play because no one else on the street is out to play with and I don’t have any other mothers on my street to support me.” She says social resources are less available to women who stay home than in the past because their neighbors are going to work; they’re not available for chatting or babysitting. In context of her first post, it looks like she’s attributing the perceived lack of resources to the choices of feminists – the women who aren’t at home during the day.

    Since the increase in women who work probably has more to do with economic necessity than ideology, I don’t think the changes you or Julie report in your social network can be attributed to feminism. Rather, they are failures on the part of the community to meet the needs of women who are able to, and who choose to, stay home.

    Re: your unhappy anecdote: my real concern here is that I’d trust a nonprofit library’s story time over a day care’s story time; professional librarians have more knowledge of appropriate books and may be more likely to pick things the kids will really enjoy than many minimum-wage day care employees. Beyond that, kids enjoy going to libraries. Why aren’t the day cares taking kids on regular excursions to the library? This would enrich the kids’ experiences and prepare them for school. Hey, even kids at really well-equipped day care facilities will enjoy a change in scenery. And it would solve problems of the type you describe.

  35. 35.

    Naismith and Julie, one more thing I should have mentioned: for all that women have poured into the marketplace, there’s only been at 10% rise (from 50% to 60%) in women who’ve entered the workplace since the late 1970s. We haven’t seen a drastic daytime depopulation of the suburbs. What other factors may play into lack of availability of playmates and formalization of formerly informal resource networks? We’d need to consider that before we could begin to say whether those changes are effects of feminism, much less downsides.

    I have to go write a Relief Society lesson now, so I think I’ll check out of this thread. Thank you for the interesting conversation; I’ve enjoyed it.

  36. 36.

    “This would enrich the kids’ experiences and prepare them for school. Hey, even kids at really well-equipped day care facilities will enjoy a change in scenery.”

    I break my resolve to bow out of the conversation to note that you have obviously never attended a library storytime where a daycare has been brought in. If you had, you would, instead of encouraging such things, believe that they should be capital offenses.

  37. 37.

    Naismith, if your husband spends his non-work time on unpaid work – work you clearly value – I’d hardly call that leisure time.

    Yet it would be classified as leisure time in most surveys, since it is voluntary and thus the equivalent of any hobby such as building radio-cotrolled model airplanes or watching football. That’s why it is hard to take survey data from outside the church and apply it directly to our LDS families.

    Since the increase in women who work probably has more to do with economic necessity than ideology, I don’t think the changes you or Julie report in your social network can be attributed to feminism.

    What’s new is the framing of the issue, and for that feminism can take credit. Of course lots and lots of mothers worked during World Ward II, but they did not see that situation as “ideal” or the norm.

    By labelling parents at home as “stay at home,” it implies that they are an aberration from the “normal” situation which is to leave home to work (which is why I refuse to use that term). I did a LexisNexis search to try to track the etymology of the phrase “stay-at-home mom” and not surprisingly it appears to have been coined by WORKING WOMAN magazine, a feminist publication.

    Rather, they are failures on the part of the community to meet the needs of women who are able to, and who choose to, stay home

    First of all, it has nothing to do with “women;” I have a son-in-law who is the primary caretaker for his child while my daughter is in grad school and he would also benefit from an infrastructure that supported parents at home. Second, in the old days we didn’t need any “community response;” such needs were met effortlessly.

    Finally, I find your arguments about the financial pressure towards employment to be less than compelling. Most families with preschool children are NOT better off with two parents in the workforce. There are several online calculators, and books like TWO INCOMES AND STILL BROKE? by Linda Kelley or THE TWO-INCOME TRAP by Elizabeth Warren et al.

  38. 38.

    Among the general church membership, I would guess that more than 70% of the adults believe # 2 above, including many general authorities.

    Do they believe this in the name of feminism, though?

  39. 39.

    Mark,
    It seems like a while since you’ve been on the site, but this discussion is just fascinating to me (with our without you, there’s plenty of points of view to go around). I stay home with my 2 kids and my husband is a full-times MBA student. Neither of us work now, that’s right, no income. We’re living on loans (any books on how to do that?) But the program is 11 mths, and I keep saying, it’s only 2 mths longer than a pregnancy, I can do it!
    The only comment that I disagree with, perhaps b/c of my socialization in the church is this from mraynes:

    I agree with you that there are no inherent female traits.

    I am not an academic feminist, by any means (aka please don’t beat me up!), although I am learning so much from all of you about it, but I wonder if there are feminists out there who would disagree with that?
    I know the nature/nurture debate is ongoing in many areas of academia, but isn’t there data to support the idea that men and women are born with some traits?

  40. 40.

    I’m no academic feminist either (don’t beat me up either!), and I’m not entirely sure what to make of this situation, but here’s where I currently stand.

    I’ve dipped my toe into feminist writings that claim not just gender but sex is socially constructed. On the other side of the spectrum I’ve read some claims that observed physical differences between the sexes can be used to account for a significant range of social behaviors.

    On the one hand, I (perhaps naively) still believe in sexual dimorphism–that, although it is sometimes difficult to see where the boundary between sex and gender lies, and nature produces a number of individuals who are not easily classified by our binary male-female opposition, men and women are useful physical categories with a fair degree of internal consistency (women ordinarily cannot grow beards, for example–I’m trying to choose an example of physical differences that’s not terribly scandalous :)). So I’m not convinced by the first claim.

    But while I tend to agree with the second claim as I’ve stated it here, I’m quite suspicious of the specifics which are assigned to it. In his recent book The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker points to physical differences in men’s and women’s brain structure (women have smaller brains but more gray matter and stronger corpus callosums, for example). Pinker argues that it’s very unlikely such differences do not play a role in behavior. (So far so good.) But in a bizarre move, he says something to the effect of “we don’t yet understand what the significance of these differences is” but then turns around and explains how they likely account for most differences between men and women! (Um, do we understand them or don’t we?)

    Where I disagree with him is that I think it’s fair to leave it with “we don’t fully understand the significance of these differences,” rather than leaping to the conclusion that any observed difference is the result of different brain structures (as if scientists play no role in the phenomena they investigate). The fact is, there’s quite a lot of overlap between men’s and women’s behavior, and although there may be certain tendencies, what’s defined as male and female can change pretty drastically between societies.

    (I’ve also read about interesting studies indicating that when women are in traditionally masculine positions at the top of hierarchies, they tend to behave in traditionally masculine ways; equally, when men are subordinate, they tend to show behaviors that have been coded as feminine, such as increased concern for other people’s feelings. Obviously the situation is complicated and there’s a lot going on, but it’s plausible that the dynamics of hierarchical relationships themselves can account for at least some of the stereotypical differences.)

    This all leads me to an interesting contradiction I sometimes encounter which (sorry!) I find more interesting than the one posed above: women and men are inherently different; therefore different roles and activities should be prescribed for them. Okay, maybe, if we’re positive that we understand exactly what the differences mean and how they manifest themselves in all situations. But we’re absolutely not positive at all. So, since men and women are inherently different, why do we need gender roles? Why do we need to prescribe certain behaviors for each? Won’t those differences manifest themselves naturally, if we give people free rein?

  41. 41.

    (I realize the claim that we can allow something to manifest itself “naturally” is already charged and problematic, since there is nothing outside of “culture.” But to what degree is there value in espousing explicit gender roles, or repeating and reinforcing stereotypes about male and female behavior?)

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