Zelophehad’s Daughters

Mark IV’s Final Question: Changing Feminism

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6. If you were elected president of NOW, what three things about feminism would you try to change? And you can’t say its perception!

32 Responses to “Mark IV’s Final Question: Changing Feminism”

  1. 1.

    Number one priority would be to work to counter anti-feminist messages given to young women. Primarily these have to do with body image.

    Second priority would be to do more for mothers: particularly with regards to giving social security credits to mothers. I also think that one should be able to *draw* social security as a full-time parent in exchange for retiring later.

    Not sure about #3 . . .

  2. 2.

    I agree with Julie’s first two. My number three would be to take on the pornography industry- with a goal not to outlaw but to strictly regulate it. Huge amounts of money get passed around under the table with little to no mandatory disclosure laws. The average consumer has no way to ‘vote with their dollars’ in regards to what kind of companies they will do business with. We’re left assuming that any given media corporation may or may not produce and distribute porn and that we are helpless as citizens to inform ourselves and regulate our purchases accordingly. Incresed transparency into the business practices on all levels would help protect *all* the actors and actresses who are frequently abused (mentally, physically and monetarily) by the current system. I also think that increasing the rights of women specifically within the industry would help to change the tone and content of the media produced- which is beneficial to society at large.

  3. 3.

    Just a note: I think those are wonderful suggestions, Julie and Starfoxy, but I’m not sure if they’re answering Mark IV’s question. You both seem to be answering the question: “what suggestions for change would you make for society at large if you were the head of NOW”? I think Mark IV was wondering what suggestions for change we would have for feminist ideology, etc. I think he’s curious about what changes we would make to feminism itself (though, of course, keeping in mind that the president of NOW is not the ultimate authority on feminism, and doesn’t have power to make unilateral changes to feminism, etc.)

    Anyway, Mark IV, you can correct me if I’m wrong about your question.

  4. 4.

    Seraphine, you are correct. While there is much merit in the suggestions made by Julie and Starfoxy, my question is really meant to elicit responses about feminism itself, however we want to define it. Are there any regrets, anything we could have done in a more productive way, etc. We are not shy in the bloggernacle about sounding off on what the church should have done in this or that circumstance. I would hope we could have a similar conversation about feminism.

  5. 5.

    My priorities would be, in order of precedence, a stronger focus on the economic and social status of working-class women; Julie’s #2; and movement away from gender essentialism in thinking and policy making about intellect and abilities. I should note that it’s actually difficult for me to separate my first and second priorities because they’re closely interrelated. They’d be very much part of the same campaign.

  6. 6.

    Mark IV and Serenity–

    That was the question I was answering. Having a rather practical bend, I wouldn’t choose to spend my time trying to change the minds of people in NOW about philosophical issues; I’d rather dig in to policy changes.

  7. 7.

    I think it is answering Mark IV’s question. The changes I would make to NOW isn’t necessarily getting rid of anything or doing a 180 on any topic, but rather shifting priorities. It seems to me that all I ever hear NOW involved in (in the US at least) is abortion rights and sexual harrassment laws. Those are still important topics, but if I were put in charge of NOW I would move those to a lower priority and move the wide-ranging society-at-large changes up a notch. The ulitmate goal being to increase the appeal and efficacy of the organization.

    Now, if he wants to know what I wish were different about feminism, those are things that the President of NOW (or any other individual) has no control over whatsoever. Those wishes are as follows:
    1. Get rid of or clarify the (supposed) anti-men rhetoric. There are feminists who really do hate men. They aren’t doing anyone a favor by trying to promote that hatred as feminism. “Independence” should never be thought to mean “I don’t want a man in my life.” it should be understood to mean “I am not worthless or helpless without a man in my life.”
    2. Debunk the notion that being pretty or sexy is a legitimate form of social power. The Spice Girls were not feminists, they were sell-outs (with catchy tunes). The advantages one gets from wasting oodles of time, money and thought on appearance are based on the notion that garnering positive attention from men is the key to survival in this society. Women should be encouraged to and rewarded for prioritizing legtimate assets (education, experience, physical strength) over physical assets aimed at being attractive. (IE the goal for exercising should be avoiding heart disease rather than fitting into the size six you wore three years ago.)
    3. I’m having trouble making this last one coherent, so bear with me. The current structure of our society favors male oriented thinking and behaviors. Many (probably most) feminists see their goal as proving that women can think/be/act that way too. While this is a good goal (as a girl who is good at math I’m very glad that I was able to be accepted as an equal in my math classes, and wasn’t discouraged by my teachers), I think it is insufficient. We should be striving to recognize and legitimatize female oriented thinking and behaviors. In short “being girly” shouldn’t be an insult to anyone, male or female.

  8. 8.

    1. More complexity in the discussion of abortion. I really liked fMhLisa’s recent post on this topic; I find myself reluctant to identify with either camp because of the tendency on both sides to oversimplify the issue and caricature anyone who disagrees with them. I think pro-choice feminists have been as guilty of this as pro-life conservatives. I also suspect that this is by far the issue which makes people the most wary of feminism, even if they support other feminist goals.

    2. In response to Mark IV’s question about regrets or things that could have been done differently: In fighting for the legitimacy of a women’s choice to work outside the home, many second-wave feminists went too far when they denounced those who opted to stay home and raise children. I think the fall-out from this (in terms of women being suspicious of feminism) is still with us, and that would be something worth addressing.

    3. I think that too often feminists have demonized religion, and I’d like to see more of what I might call faith-based feminism. I personally don’t see myself as a feminist despite my belief in Christianity; rather, the worldview I get from Christianity, one in which all human beings are valued children of God, actually plays a strong role in informing my belief in feminist ideals.  I’d love to see feminists and religious organizations working together toward mutually held goals like economic justice, rather than sniping at each other.

  9. 9.

    Julie, do you mean Mike and Seraphine?

    Question to all and sundry: are you aware of any person or group doing legal work or public campaigning on the Social Security issue? I’d love to see whether they’re making any progress…

  10. 10.

    Ooh, Starfoxy, I like yours, especially #2. On #3: what I’d really like to see is the disassociation of gender and cognitive style. While it’s true that cognitive differences exist between women and men, it’s also true that there’s lots of (frequently more dramatic) variation within genders. I’ve seen arguments that single-sex education is a good idea, because then educators could put girls and boys in environments focused on their “female” and “male” learning styles; I find myself concerned that while many kids could benefit from this, the little girl or boy who doesn’t match our gendered expectations will be neglected educationally. So maybe if we could get away not only from value judgements, but from gender labels, we could untangle this stuff more effectively?

  11. 11.

    Julie and Starfoxy, thanks for the clarification. I think practice-based approaches focused on shifting priorities are great. One sidenote to the discussion: while NOW might have a lot of name recognition, there are large numbers feminists doing activist work that is in no way related to NOW, and much of the activist work is being done by women in their individual communities on a practical level. (Sorry, all–feminist activism was the topic of my women’s studies 101 class this past week.) :)

  12. 12.

    I’d like to take a stab at this. First off, just by being voted the president of NOW I would have elicited some huge change in the feminist movement as I am male. So, here it is from a (limited?) male perspective.

    1st-Get rid of the concept that only women can help further the cause of feminism. Saying that men cannot help would be like saying that caucasians should have stayed out of the civil rights movement back in the 60s. The more people you have struggling for a social goal I think the more chance you have of being heard and sparking some kind of change.

    2nd-Start accentuating the positive. For a movement to feel empowered they have to feel like all the work up until now has done some sort of good. Perhaps mistakenly so, but it seems to me that the NOW organization spends a great deal of time on how bad things are and that things are getting worse. Maybe, I’m being too idealistic, but I say let’s celebrate how far things have come in the past 100 years. Let’s spend more time talking about and studying the women (and men) who have helped make a difference. You never learn more about your future than you do by studying your past.

    3rd-Teach feminists that it is okay to disagree with some of the topics that feminism deals with. That does not mean that people are not working as a team for similar goals, but we do a disservice by alienating and ostracizing those who want to create equality and empowerment for women, who perhaps do not share all of the same political ideolgies that other members of the movement do, i.e. do not let hot-button political items like abortion, religious afiliation, motherhood/employment choices, etc. get in the way of the greater good. I would think that a large percentage of feminists believe in embracing diversity. Why not so within its own ranks?

    Okay, all done. ttfn

  13. 13.

    Starfoxy, those are all great suggestions. Those are actually all arguments currently being made within the feminist movement, so I think those attitudes are slowly changing. The anti-male rhetoric is slowly dying (yay!); feminists are actually quite critical of power that women gain through their sexuality (I end up in arguments with my students about this issue most semesters when they start claiming that many women have power over the men in their lives and this is a legitimate form of power, and I ask them whether that’s a power available to all women, and whether it’s a power that can be used against women); and quite a lot of feminists, while critical of women being labeled as “naturally feminine” are also critical of the fact that behaviors that are normally associated with women (nurturing, etc.) have been devalued by our society.

  14. 14.

    The first thing I would do as president of NOW would be to ignore men who say, “Ladies, I believe your ideology is wrongheaded and needs to be changed. Please critique yourselves publicly. Don’t hold back. This assignment will be graded.”

  15. 15.

    ouch!
    I think that men on this site who are trying to be civil should be respected. (even if they try to find fault with feminism)
    I really liked the comments by cew-smoke, #12.
    My brother-in-law, who is in law school right now, supports feminism. I think people like him can add to the cause. Why not have more help than less?
    I don’t know much about organized feminism, is there push-back from feminists against male feminists (or pro-feminists)?

  16. 16.

    jessawhy, I suspect that some female feminists have issues with male feminists and some don’t. My hubby is a feminist, and he’s never recieved a negative reception from feminist women.

  17. 17.

    SV, my husband has recently self-identified as feminist as well. He hadn’t really thought about it before.

    I’m interested in this social security idea, I haven’t heard of it before. Is the plan explained in more detail anywhere that I could go to hear more?

  18. 18.

    jessawhy, here’s some history on the whole men and feminism issue:

    –Second Wave feminism wasn’t sure if they wanted to include men as part of the feminist movement. It wasn’t that they didn’t want men to support the changes they were trying to make. However, many feminists didn’t want men to be part of the direct organizing of the movement because they were afraid that it would be taken over by men (and then it would no longer be their movement).

    –As feminism has grown and evolved, feminists have slowly warmed up to the idea that men need to be part of feminism. Most Third Wave feminists make the argument that in order to enact the kinds of changes we need, men *need* to be either pro-feminist or part of the feminist movement.

  19. 19.

    Despite having loathed Sheri Dew’s “Are We Not All Mothers” talk and being wary of equating womanhood with motherhood, I think I would want feminism to get serious about creating a culture that is healthy for both mothers and children. This would benefit all women because (duh) half of our children will grow up to be women, and because I think we can’t really tackle issues like abortion or universal healthcare or work-life balance until we see what it would be like for women to be mothers in a culture that was not harmful and sometimes downright hostile to children.

  20. 20.

    I’d like to know more about what this means:

    a culture that was not harmful and sometimes downright hostile to children.

    I’m not clear what you’re talking about.
    As for feminism embracing motherhood, it’s true. I think there are a lot of women out there who feel guilty towards the feminist movement for not working full-time. Or, who feel guilty for staying home with their kids, and enjoying it! (although that varies from day to day) For me, I think it has everything to do with education. I know this is an old feminist topic, but maybe it should be back at number one.

  21. 21.

    I should read more about feminism, because I find it completely counterproductive to exclude men from the feminist movement. I guess I intuitively understand why women would want to do their own thing and stop sleeping with the enemy so to speak, but unless men are supportive and involved and engaged, any progress will be inched out an environment of a zero-sum trench warfare.

    I think this is one of the reasons no changes have been made in recent years in the Mormon Church – because Mormon men who hold all the power have no idea what all the fuss is about over temple covenants or women wanting to be ordained to the priesthood. Until men are affected as much as women by these inequities, no changes will be made.

    To address Mark IV’s very good question about NOW, I agree wholeheartedly with Kristine’s comment above about integrating women with children into the feminist movement. Mormonism is the antidote to feminism, because the Mormon religion celebrates and supports (to a certain extent) traditional womens’ roles that feminism has so soundly rejected. Because feminism hasn’t integrated women who prefer to fulfill traditional roles (query as to whether that’s even possible under the rubric of “feminism”), feminism has reached its saturation point in mainstream American culture.

  22. 22.

    Wow, the comments here were really educational to me. I really should learn more about this stuff. I don’t feel like I can add anything because I just feel so ignorant about the whole thing.

  23. 23.

    I think this is one of the reasons no changes have been made in recent years in the Mormon Church – because Mormon men who hold all the power

    I don’t buy into this notion. God holds all the power, but whatever….

    have no idea what all the fuss is about over temple covenants or women wanting to be ordained to the priesthood. Until men are affected as much as women by these inequities, no changes will be made.

    First of all, I don’t think it is true that “no changes” have been made. Since I first went to to the temple, there was a massive change in the temple endowment that changed significantly the relationship between women and men. Also, the public visibility of women in church (such a closing prayer at Sunday’s FP devotional broadcast) has greatly increased during the last decade.

    Also, I’m not sure that there isn’t more differences among women than there is between women and men on such issues. Please understand that lots of LDS women don’t have a problem with a male-only priesthood, for a variety of different reasons.

    Mormonism is the antidote to feminism, because the Mormon religion celebrates and supports (to a certain extent) traditional womens’ roles that feminism has so soundly rejected.

    I don’t think this is true. I think that Mormonism CREATES NEW GENDER ROLES. On the face and from the outside, they may seem to appear like traditional womens’ roles, but if you ever met any bona fide traditional women (which pretty much make me shudder), it’s clear in a minute how different we are from them.

    I was home fulltime with our children when they were little, which may appear traditional to outsiders. In a traditional marriage, the woman would just stay home because she is a woman. In my marriage, influenced by President Kimball’s teachings on marriage as a full partnership, such decisions were a matter of discussion, negotion and prayer among two equal partners.

  24. 24.

    As I read through the comments, I sense a tension between feminism as it is popularly defined, and the feminisms that have sprouted in the past couple of decades. The observations that feminism hasn’t integrated children and women who espouse traditional roles is referring to the vestiges of militant second wave feminism (represented in large part by NOW and the extremists in the pro-choice lobby). But I can’t help but feel that the recent breastfeeding protest against Delta Airlines and the popularity of sites like Feminist Mormon Housewives are signs of the growing acceptability of non-militant feminism.

    Some feminists today argue that traditional roles are feminist-friendly if the woman has options and the social and economic power to choose the role (SAHM, working mom, choosing not to have children, etc.) In this sense, I agree with Naismith, though I’m with ECS concerning where power lies in the Church. If God has all the power, it seems that he has chosen to express it symbolically, institutionally, administratively, and most visibly through men.

    Regarding the exclusion/inclusion of men: I think that second wave feminism was very successful in creating a necessary safe-space for women. I think it’s matured to the point where men can and need to be included, with caveats.

    Earlier expressions of feminism essentialized men, collectively, as the big bad, which helped to mobilize women against sexism. But just as women should have options for how they want to express their womanhood, men should have the freedom to break free of the narrow roles that society prescribes, to become more nurturing, less sexually aggressive, and more accepting of women’s power.

  25. 25.

    First of all, I don’t think it is true that “no changes” have been made. Since I first went to to the temple, there was a massive change in the temple endowment that changed significantly the relationship between women and men. Also, the public visibility of women in church (such a closing prayer at Sunday’s FP devotional broadcast) has greatly increased during the last decade.

    Naismith – this is my point. Why do you think these changes were made? Because the male leaders who directly administer God’s church on this earth realized that they had been wrongly interpreting the endowment ceremony relegating Eve to a subservient position. (please note in my comment that I did not say no changes had ever been made).

    God holds all the power, but men are in the unique position to wield that power in administering and directing the affairs of the Church.

    I’m also curious as to who you are referring to as “bona fide” traditional women. Who are these women, and how do they compare to “traditional” Mormon women?

  26. 26.

    I’m also curious as to who you are referring to as “bona fide” traditional women. Who are these women, and how do they compare to “traditional” Mormon women?

    ECS- There is a sizable group of women who call themselves Prairie Muffins who, I’m guessing, could be an example of the bona fide traditional women Naismith mentions. You can read the Manifesto here.

    The manifesto itself isn’t something that the average LDS women would disagree with simply because so much of what the general authorities say sound rather similar. However the contexts in which these things are said are very very different. When they say wives should sumbit to their husband’s authority they mean it in the most thorough way possible. For example from critque of Louisa May Alcott found on the same site:

    Now, it is not a woman’s place to vote. All this about “earning the right” to use God-given talents is nonsense. These talents that she writes of can be used to God’s glory without women having to do everything that men are called to. A woman simply should not be voting. It is the men’s job to elect leaders of our country; it is not necessary for women to assist, much less run for office. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection, ….For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:11,13).

    Browse around for a bit and you’ll see that most LDS women, even the most traditional, would not fit in with that crowd at all.

  27. 27.

    LOL! That Prairie Muffin website is a joke, right? I love when they say Laura Ingalls Wilder is a sketchy role model for young women. How can a Prairie Muffin (PMs) not love Little House on the Prairie? :)

    They do not idolize Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) or Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); while they may enjoy aspects of home life presented in their books, PMs understand that the latent humanism and feminism in these stories and in the lives of these women is not worthy of emulation.

  28. 28.

    jessawhy, I should have been more clear. I don’t think that feminism is hostile to children, but that our society as a whole is structured in a way that hurts kids–you have to figure that something has gone seriously awry when 1st graders are having recess time cut so that they can practice more for standardized tests. American corporate culture, which demands employees unencumbered by family responsibilities ghettoizes children and the people who care for them (mostly women, either SAHMs or poorly paid childcare workers and teachers), and thwarts attempts at healthy family life by making it impossible for either fathers or mothers to earn decent wages and benefits on a reasonable work schedule. So I think feminists should be engaged in changing the structure of American work life–making opportunities for part-time workers, convincing CEOs that it is their responsibility to make sure men take paternity leave, getting serious about compensated maternity leave, etc. I think the public education system is also a feminist concern, but I’m getting pretty utopian already!!

  29. 29.

    ECS, when I first saw it I thought it was a joke too, (especially the bit about leading an army with wooden spoons). But they are really very serious about the whole thing. Poke around more, especially through the links on the sidebar of her Weblog and you’ll see just how serious she and the rest of that community is about living what they’re preaching.

  30. 30.

    Alright Starfoxy and ECS, you two knock it off right now. Although this isn’t my blog, the post does have my name in the title. I can put up with Beijing dissing me, but I won’t stand for my name being associated with a discussion of prairie muffins. Among my peeps in rural Utah, that term has an entirely different meaning. :-)

  31. 31.

    Kristine,
    I understand what you mean. The paternity leave issues is a big one for me, as is childcare.
    I’ve always felt like that was the biggest problem with feminism, was the way it dealt with motherhood. (that’s probably an old notion, not used much now) But, it doesn’t seem logical that women shouldn’t be “burdened” with the chore of motherhood, when so many women find great value in it, and it’s so important for society. Not to mention, when mothers value motherhood, I think it helps fathers value fatherhood, which is good for everyone, especially the children. (mine is screaming right now, so he doesn’t appreciate me very much)
    As far as the prarie muffins: (sorry Mark IV)
    They are unbelieveable. Incredible. It is good to see this group and realize the church isn’t on the far right here.

  32. 32.

    Starfoxy, thanks for the link. That’s very much what I was thinking. Once we left BYU, we have always lives in areas where conservative Christians outnumber LDS, and while the families may look similar from the outside, the flow of power and decisionmaking, etc. is not remotely similar.

    I also think that my mom and mother-in-law are much more traditional than my own marriage. Those women did all the housework no matter what, with the sad result that when he retired, she didn’t. We’ve talked about what our retirement is going to look like, and that ain’t it. We will share the housework, etc.

    Right now it would be very bad for my husband to attempt to do half the household stuff, because of his church and work commitments at this stage of his life. But when he is home, he is pitching in. And he cooks dinner every Saturday so that the kids see him cooking at least some.

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