Zelophehad’s Daughters

Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: Diversity within Feminism

Posted by Guest

In case people aren’t completely burned out on the topic of feminism, I thought we’d continue with Mark IV’s questions. Here are the next two.

4. It is assumed that feminists value diversity. Why, then, is feminism in America almost exclusively espoused by well educated white women? Is this a coincidence, or is that fact trying to tell us something important? Is our assumption false from the start?

5. Mormons in Utah vote in a pattern that is about 80% predictable. This fact is often viewed as evidence of a sort of narrow dogmatism and intolerance of diversity. Feminists vote in a pattern that is about 90% predictable. Do the same assumptions apply? Why or why not?

15 Responses to “Mark IV’s Next Two Questions: Diversity within Feminism”

  1. 1.

    Mark IV,
    Where are you getting these generalizations? I highly doubt that any of these numbers are accurate.

    As for 4, the fact that there are more white women than women of other ethnicities in this country might explain this. The levels of education of “espoused” feminists is probably because most coherent ideologies are “espoused” by educated people.

    As for 5, I am not sure what voting patterns have anything to do with dogmatism and intolerance.

  2. 2.

    for question #5: maybe it’s because Mormons and Feminists are both right.

  3. 3.

    Yes, but how do Mormon feminists vote?

  4. 4.

    I’d also like to see some type of back up or documentation for those numbers. I am aware that feminism is more represented by white women of higher socioeconomic status. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lends one contributing factor. People who are poorer are more worried about basic needs like housing and food, and getting by day to day. For people who don’t have to worry about these, they can worry about needs higher up the pyramid. Self-actualization, toward the top of Maslow’s heirarchy, would be the point at which many women might be more inclined toward feminism. For me personally, my feminism is tied into my drive for self-actualization.

  5. 5.

    #4: Third wave feminism is a repudiation of the Western-centric, white, middle to upper class feminism of the 60s and 70s. Outside of LDS circles, I read and hear more about feminisms. African-American womanist bell hooks, lesbian Judith Butler, and Muslim Amina Wadud are iconic. Mujerista scholars are injecting their influence into liberation theology, adding the perspective of poor Latina women.

    I’m not saying that minority feminists dominate mainstream feminism; but they have a powerful and growing influence in today’s feminist discourse that was absent before the 90s. I think that it will take longer for that to percolate into Mormon feminist discussion.

    #5: Mark, I think that you are comparing apples to oranges. Feminism is a critique of society and arguably a political ideology. ‘Mormonism’ is much broader than that.

  6. 6.

    For what it’s worth, whenever I’ve discussed feminism in an academic setting, #4 has come up as an issue of serious concern–that historically, the movement has too often neglected the experiences of non-white and/or lower class women. I don’t know about other disciplines, but in theology there’s actually both “feminist theology” and “womanist theology,” the former being done from a female perspective in general, and the latter being done specifically from the perspective of black women. So at least in my experience with academic feminism, these issues are definitely getting air time.

  7. 7.

    Yes! Amina Wadud was mentioned on our blog and it wasn’t even by me! :)

    So at least in my experience with academic feminism, these issues are definitely getting air time.

    This has been my limited experience as well, that it’s generally acknowledged that womanists (among others) have made important critiques of some of the assumptions of second-wave feminism.

    Also, in the contexts in which diversity has been mentioned in previous conversations on this blog, I think the point has been less to parade our own diversity for its own sake as to point out that not everyone self-identifying as a feminist accepts every position that one might advance in the name of feminism.

  8. 8.

    I’ve recently come to the realization that the word feminism has little to no meaning for me anymore. As self-identified feminists are quick to point out, there is no “one, true” definition of it. It’s sort of a useless term that way.

    The fact is, though, that outside of academic circles “feminism” is generally identified with the feminism of groups like NOW and the Ms. Foundation. Obviously not every self-identified feminist is going to endorse every principle that NOW/Ms. characterizes as a feminist essential. Not every self-identified social conservative is going to vote Republican. But “social conservatism” is most readily tied to the Republican party, and “feminism” to the NOW/Ms. strain of the women’s movement. They’re the most visible and media-dominant feminist groups out there. That they don’t represent all self-identified feminists doesn’t change that.

    There is always considerable hand-wringing over the fact that the NOW/Ms. school of feminism is overwhelmingly white and upper-class (and aging). But it’s inconceivable to them that women of other races/ethnicities and socio-economic levels might be loath to identify themselves as feminist because the dominant school of feminism does not represent their values. Instead they conclude that these poor women are too oppressed to see their way out of darkness. They profess to advocate for all women, but only because they believe that what’s good for them is good for all women. A lot of women disagree with them and therefore don’t think of themselves as feminists.

    I only very recently stopped self-identifying as a feminist because I realized that while I can define feminism however I like, I can’t control how others define it. If I use the word “feminist,” I have to carry all the baggage that comes with it, and I am sick of carrying that baggage. I used to say that I wouldn’t surrender a perfectly good word to the loonies (those on both sides of the political spectrum who narrowly define the term), but I’ve come to accept that my definition of feminism is archaic and perhaps obsolete. I’m okay with that. Anyway, I have enough baggage to carry with my other labels.

  9. 9.

    Re 8
    That’s exactly how I feel, only you said it so much better. Thanks.

  10. 10.

    I adopted the feminist label a couple of years ago to demonstrate (to myself and others) my commitment to fighting sexism and improving the situation of women around the world. “Male feminist” is rare enough (unfortunately) that it has some educational/PR value, and it doesn’t have quite the range that the word “feminist” has when applied to women. It’s still problematic, though.

    I agree that you have to pick and choose your labels/baggage/fights. As for me, I welcome the opportunities to show why straight men should be concerned about how gender and power intersect (gay men already seem to be very conscious of this). “Feminist” is like my black name tag, and men are the people I’m called to preach to. :)

  11. 11.

    John Remy,
    Random questions:
    Are you married?
    If so, is your wife a feminist?
    When did you become a “male feminist”? (a few years/months/days ago?)
    I don’t know anything about “male feminists” so I’m gathering all the data that I can. . .
    I think you’re an endangered species. : )

  12. 12.

    jessawhy, my wife is a feminist (she blogs at the Exponent II blog–see the sidebar above). But the main source of my feminism comes from having one son and one daughter and comparing the challenges they have to face in this world. I’ve sort of grown into feminism over the past 4-5 years, and have been explicit about it for the past 2-3 years or so. I’ve sat on a couple of feminist panels at Sunstone (there was one on “Mormon Male Feminism” a couple of summers ago). Gender studies is my secondary research interest as a religious studies grad student, after my primary (ritual).

    Hugo Schwyzer is a prominent male feminist (his link is also in the sidebar, under ‘Misc Fun Blogs’) and is one of my heroes. He’s a good place to start if you’re interested in male feminism. Also, male feminists are often called ‘profeminists’ by women who welcome our support but who object to men taking on the ‘feminist’ label.

    I wish we weren’t so endangered! :’-(

  13. 13.

    I’m thinking a little more about my self-identification as a feminist. I find that I’m less likely to do it in academic settings because a) those feminist views which make me a bit radical in a Church setting are generally taken for granted, and b) while I certainly make use of it, I don’t primarily work in the area of feminist theology. (And at times I even find myself being critical of views expressed by some feminists; for example, I’ve been told that I shouldn’t study the writings of dead white males, and I’ve taken strong exception to that.)

    On the other hand, I’ve found identifying myself as a “feminist” in Mormon circles to be useful. If nothing else, the term enabled me to quickly realize that a blog called “Feminist Mormon Housewives” might possibly be of interest to me. ;)

    I do think madhousewife makes a good point about how even if you can re-define a term for yourself, you can’t do it for other people. I’ve often hesitated to identify myself as a “Christian” for just that reason; there’s a lot of baggage that comes with it, and I get tired of explaining that just because I’m Christian doesn’t mean that I identify with particular conservative political positions. On the other hand, I find that I’m not quite willing to give up the label, because it still means something to me.

  14. 14.

    John Remy,
    It’s good to hear your sympathies, I’m not surprised that your are married or that your wife entertains feminist ideas as well. It doesn’t seem like there are many single LDS men with feminist leanings. If there are, they should start their own blog. : ) (sound of crickets chirping)
    As for the voting patterns, I’m interested to see the data. (I did exit polls in Utah during my polisci study there) The voting blocks themselves doesn’t surprise me. I do wonder about feminist Mormons. That is definately a cross-cutting cleavage. Hmmm, more study needed into that area. (Maybe I should go get my masters and study that!)

  15. 15.

    Trailer Trash,

    You and google can look all over for election results. The county by county breakdown for the 2004 election at CNN.com shows that the three most “Mormon” counties in Utah (Cache, Davis, and Utah) voted 82%, 79%, and 81% respectively for George W. Bush. Those aren’t generalities, those are facts

    The Foundation for a Feminist Majority (publisher of Ms. Magazine) recently conducted a poll of unmarried women. It found that about 75% of them identify very strongly or somewhat strongly with the label “feminist”. The poll also revealed that about 66% of the respondents classified themselves as either liberal or progressive in their political attitudes.

    AmyB,

    I think your point about self-actualization is a very good one. I had never thought of that before, so thanks.

    John R.,

    #4. I hope you are correct, but I also hope you will understand if I want to wait and see.

    #5. I am not claiming that Mormonism and feminism are comparable. I am drawing conclusions about the observable behavior of two groups. A common feminist complaint is that people in the church are narrow and dogmatic in their political views. I think I have demonstrated that, while Mormons certainly are predictable, feminists are as well, and it does not behoove either group to describe the other as narrow-minded or lacking in diversity. I believe that feminism, to the extent it is an ideology, has its fair share of what Orwell called “smelly little orthodoxies”. There is more than enough groupthink to go around, and you don’t have to look very hard to find as much herd behavior among feminists as you will at the local ward. That was my only point, but if you still think I am comparing apples to oranges, please elucidate.

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