Saturday, January 18, 2014

What is Feminism? Part 1: The Waves of History

Don't run, it's okay to learn about the history of feminism without you catching the "feminism" virus.   Historical feminism has been categorized into 3 waves.   I think it's important to note that not all players in the history of feminism claimed the term (as it was first suggested derogatorily) and in every era feminists have disagreed about the whys and hows of issues and activism. 

First Wave Feminism:  1800s - Early 1900s
Jane Austen could be considered a precursor to the feminist movement for her work in popularizing the social critique of limited choices available to women.  During this era industrialization and global politics came to the forefront and informed the movement.  The main goals were to create more opportunities for women and to gain suffrage.  In addition to fighting for the right to vote, they also fought for the right to an education, the right to work, the right to work safely, the right to the money they earned when they worked, the right to a divorce, and the right to not be property of their fathers or husbands or lose their children in marital conflicts.  First wave feminists were also very active in abolition and temperance.  This period is where women would be the "firsts": first female reporter, Nellie Bly; first female doctor, Elizabeth Blackwell; etc.   The right to vote was granted in the 19th amendment in 1920.  This period of feminism is probably taken for granted; most women who "hate feminism" would shudder at the thought to give up the rights gained during this period. 

Second Wave Feminism:  1960s - 1980s
This period was one of anti-war and civil rights movements, where I think the movement was being overshadowed and women became a little more radicalized to be heard.  This wave fought for equal pay, equal hiring opportunities, rights to contraception/abortions***, for divorce, a right to property in the case of a divorce, and the right to have marital rape be outlawed.  They established "women's studies" programs in academia.  They staged a counter-protest at the 1968 & 1969 Miss America Pageant where, "feminists parodied what they held to be a degrading "cattle parade" that reduced women to objects of beauty dominated by a patriarchy that sought to keep them in the home or in dull, low-paying jobs.(1)  Many militant and radicalized feminists looked down on women and mothers who were traditional and stayed home.  Four legal wins for the 2nd wave include the outlaw of marital rape, the pregnancy discrimination act of 1978, Title IX (1972), and Title VII (1964).  They failed to pass the  ERA amendment: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."  Opposition argued that this would eliminate the all male draft.  The STOP ERA leader "Schlafly defended traditional gender roles and would often heckle feminists by opening her speeches with quips like "I'd like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight." (2)  They argued legal protection for women under the law would destroy the family and even eliminate the existence of single-sex bathrooms.  p.s.  traditional Mormons, here is the feminism you love to hate.  Many in the church associate the word feminist with negative connotations from this era as well as the Church's active campaign against the feminists ERA amendment. 

Third Wave Feminism:  1990s - ??
Third wave feminism is often seen as a response and push-back against some second-wave principles.  Sometimes they love lipstick, high-heels, cleavage which the first two waves identified with male oppression.  "Pinkfloor expressed this new position when she said; "It's possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time."(3)  This wave focuses less on laws and politics and more on individual identity and choices - realizing there are many different backgrounds and many different ways to be a woman, it challenges the assumption there is a universal way to be a 'good woman.'  "It allows women to define feminism for themselves by incorporating their own identities into their belief system of what feminism is and what it can become."(4) This wave challenges stereotypes in the media, words used to describe gender, rape culture, gender expectations, body image issues, institutionalized patriarchy, etc.  This wave also attempts to avoid "us-vs.-them mentalities" thus often avoiding the label of feminist themselves.  Often described today feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too.

Historical Perspective
Throughout the history of the world, power had been held by those with the most strength.  World history is basically a story of one empire becoming stronger than another and defeating it.  Because strength = power, men did have all the power, decision making, access to education, etc. which consolidated their power.  Survival in past society was dependent upon using the strength of men:  it is true that men were the hunters, warriors, builders, farmers in the fields, etc.  Families needed the muscles of men to provide and protect them.  In today's society providing for oneself and protecting oneself is no longer dependent upon muscles and strength, but brains and talent.  The historically weak (women) are no longer kept from literacy and education, which are keys to success in today's world.  A woman no longer *needs* to stay at home and be the one cooking and cleaning to survive.  For the first time in history, success and survival are not dependent upon your role or your gender.  There has been a great equalization, and those in power will always be reluctant to give up their hold on it. 

What will the world look like in the future where more of the leaders of the business and political world are women?  I don't know but I look forward to it.  Based on some gender studies I read about in the book The Big Short about the global meltdown, females take less risks and have a buy-and-hold strategy.  So female-led investment banks didn't take during the financial crash because they never fell for the lies of easy money.  There would also be less wars and government shutdowns  (Women the Only Adults Left in Washington, TIME)  as women are more likely to reach across the aisle and negotiate. 

I think it's important to note that in the history of the world women have only been allowed to vote in (arguably) the most free country on the planet for less than 100 years.  For less than 100 years (and only in the most democratic countries) have women not been considered the property of men.  I get a little confused when people talk about how feminism is bad and we don't need feminism.  Does gender inequality and sexism still exist?

Have you seen the latest RAINN statistics, 97% of rapists are never prosecuted?  That the Stubenville rapists were defended by everyone in town?  That teenage sexual assault is written off as a prank?  Are women starving themselves with eating disorders because of body image issues?  Are women equally and fairly represented in media?  Do they continue to be objectified by others (ex. porn) and ourselves? Could we attempt to get more momentum for family friendly employment policies?

Pause for a moment.  Have I said anything about how they hate men?  How they think they are stupid and worthless?  That men and women are the same?  Sure, some feminist thinkers despise men and motherhood.  Some feminist thinkers love men and motherhood.  Some feminist thinkers are vegans and some eat Paleo.  Some feminists thinkers support gay marriage, some don't.  Some feminist thinkers are man-loving stay-at-home mothers who honor womanhood and cherish motherhood (hi! that's me!).

Keep that in mind as you read in part 2 about Modern American & Global Feminism.

Read more:
What are the Three Waves of Feminism?, Ehow
Feminism, New World Encyclopedia
353 Feminist Glossary
(2) ERA, Wikipedia
(4) Being Feminist Blog
(1)(3) The Three Waves of Feminism, 

What is Feminism? Part 2: Modern US & Global Feminism

Modern American Feminism
Feminism doesn't mean women and men are the same and have to be treated exactly the same, it does mean they shouldn't be treated less just because they are female.  Women don't have to be treated equally - but they should be treated equitably.  Studies have proven that men and women are different, but there are more variances within a gender than there is variance between the two genders.  
The image below shows the suggested results in Google when I type "women should" or "women shouldn't".  Google suggestions are items that are frequently searched for. 
Which is why today's feminism is founded on choice, because there is more than one way to be a good woman.  There shouldn't be a set standard of what a woman looks like or does.  A woman can choose her path in life, and there shouldn't be anyone telling her she can't do something. 

Women are able to make their own choices.  She can choose to work or she can choose to stay at home.  She can choose to be an engineer or she can choose to be a stripper.  She can choose to be a mother or to not have children.  She can choose to dress in all skirts and makeup or she can choose to dress in pants and short hair.  She can like gossip mags or she can like comic books.  She can choose to use contraception or not, she can choose abortion or not***.  Where do men fit in?  Wherever they want, the beauty is that feminism seeks to empower expanding choices for men and women, as an acknowledgement that some men are better nurturers than women, because we are individuals first.  He can to choose to be stay-at-home dads or to work.  He can choose to be school teachers or nurses or welders.  He should have more support in custody cases where fathers rarely win.

But, but -- women are choosing bad things, you say?  Like being a stripper or working or not having children?  Or by choosing no-fault divorce just because you fell out of love (when no other abuse is present)?  Sure, by gaining the freedom for women to make choices, some of them will make poor choices.  Some of those poor choices harm families.  But does that mean we should restrict and take their choices away from them?  Go back to the days when women suffering in abuse couldn't escape?  That they weren't considered for employment positions by being female?   I don't think so.  I also don't think that by making choices outside of cultural expectations (short hair, no makeup, pants, working PHd in bio-nuclear engineering) that it precludes me from raising a family in love.  Being a good woman has everything to do with your character and who you are on the inside. 

***p.s. I'm going to save this topic for another post (abortion)

Modern Global Feminism
Has there been and does there continue to exist a systematic oppression of women, a restriction of their choices in life, and ability to empower themselves to succeed?  You know that women still can't drive a car in many countries because it would require them to uncover their face and leave their homes?  Um, have you seen Half the Sky?  Two journalists whose mission is to spread the word about the worldwide, under-reported oppression of women.  You don't have to be feminist to care about the plight and suffering of fellow humans (all statistics taken from their website):
  1. Economic Empowerment: Women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poorest people and own only 1 percent of the titled land, according to a U.N. report. They suffer not only from unequal access to education and training, but also from discrimination by their employers. For every dollar a woman earns, she invests 80 cents in her family. Men, on the other hand, invest around 30 cents and are more likely to squander money on alcohol and other vices.
  2.  Education:  Today more than 75 million primary school-age children are not in school. More than half of these children are girls and 75 percent of them live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Of all the primary-school age girls globally, 20 percent are not in school, compared to 16 percent of boys in this age group. That’s 1-in-5 eligible girls worldwide who aren’t going to primary school.
  3. Forced Prostitution:  Economic necessity, a lack of employment options, drug addiction or coercion by family, pimps or traffickers are all factors that can force women into sexual slavery. Paradoxically, it’s the countries with the most straitlaced and sexually conservative societies, such as India, Pakistan and Iran, that have disproportionately large numbers of forced prostitutes. Since having sex with girlfriends may not be an option for most men in these cultures, prostitutes have become an acceptable solution.
  4. Gender Based Violence:  A leading expert on safety and violence, Gavin de Becker, says, "Men's number one fear is that a woman will reject them.  Women's number one fear is that a man will kill them." In fact, women aged 15 through 45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. This violence can take many different forms, and is constantly mutating into new forms, be it acid attacks, bride burnings, rape or domestic violence. Surveys suggest that about one-third of all women globally face beatings in the home. Another major study found that in most countries between 30 and 60 percent of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or a boyfriend. The figures for female murder by male partners are also astounding: Up to 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners, according to the World Health Organization. 
  5. Maternal Mortality. Around 1,000 women die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications globally every day, according to the World Health Organization. That’s one every 90 seconds. Some 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in poor countries, particularly in Africa and Asia.  A majority of these causes are easily preventable with access to basic health care.
  6. Sex Trafficking.  Far more women and girls are shipped into brothels annually now, in the early 21st century, than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the 18th century.  And the problem of sex slavery is getting worse.  Trafficking for sexual exploitation is one of the fastest-growing organized crimes, generating $27.8 billion each year. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and Indochina, which opened up markets for commercial sex, and globalization have added to the problem. So has the fear of AIDS, leading some customers to prefer younger girls, whom they think are less likely to be infected. Some men target virgins, believing the girls can cure AIDS.
There are many different kinds of feminists.  Yes some are more radical and militant than others - but that doesn't mean we limit the definition of the term to loud outliers and extremists.  Please, before judging a feminist, try finding out what issues they care about and are passionate about.  It may surprise you that one-on-one, you have more in common with a feminist than you think you do.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Eve and her Honorable Disobedience

The Basics
The Mormon understanding of Eve is one of the reasons our doctrine is inherently feminist.  Other religions have a different understanding of the Fall of Man and Original Sin.  We do not believe she sinned or was cursed, but was blessed for her wisdom and courage!

In Mormon doctrine in premortal life our Father and Mother in Heaven created a plan for us to progress on a path back to God.  By its nature it requires the Three Pillars of God's Plan: The Creation, The Fall, and The Atonement.  It took seven "days" (periods of indeterminate time, since earthly time is not measured to God) for the creation to be completed.  At that time Adam and Eve were living in the garden of Eden.  Our belief is that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve had physical lives but unable to have children or be subject to mortal death.
2 Nephi 2:22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.   23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
So for God's plan to progress, Adam and Eve must leave the Garden of Eden.  Since the greatest gift we have been given is freedom to choose, they had to leave the Garden by choice.  God created a choice that had opposition - an opportunity for them to choose to fall.   And thus the commandment not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil is in opposition to the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth. 

We honor Eve.  For it was her wisdom, her thoughtful consideration of partaking of the fruit that caused the plan to progress.  If they had not left the Garden, the Plan would have been frustrated.  We believe that she saw this and chose to disobey, and that she understood this even before Adam understood it.  That the natural consequences of that choice was to be thrust out of God's presence (out of the garden) and into a mortal world where men had to work by the sweat of their brow and women would labor to bring life into this world.  That they would be subject to life and death, sickness and health, joy and sorrow, and the knowledge of good and evil.  We do not believe in Original Sin, but that "men are punished for their own sins and not for Adam [and Eve]'s transgression" and as found in Mosiah 3:19:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

This is one of the reasons why I believe the doctrine of Mormonism to be feminist.  It honors and empowers women.  The Lord honors and empowers us, not on a pedestal, but for who we are.  Valerie Hudson Cassler, a Catholic Feminist convert to Mormonism, has a beautiful post over at Mormon Scholars, "I Am Mormon Because I am A Feminist":
"After decades of studying LDS doctrine concerning women, I have been liberated as a woman from the erroneous and harmful beliefs about women that haunt those raised in Abrahamic traditions. How remarkable and in some senses ironic it still seems to me to have experienced “women’s lib” by conversion to Mormonism!  I will review the main points of doctrine that make Mormonism the most feminist of all the Christianities"
A quick aside: This post is often used to equate priesthood to motherhood, a concept which I do not believe in (ps fatherhood is equal to motherhood).  But it contains the reason I'm fine with men administering ordinances for salvation, while believing many positions of administration of the church do not require priesthood but stewardship (which is due to policy, not doctrine). 

Digging Deeper
I recently came across a beautiful post over at Rational Faiths about Leaving the Garden.  I don't read over there often, but was researching the Fall and came across this essay by Jared Mooney.  I've always been a little confused about the set-up of the choices in the Garden of Eden and the description of Eve's choice here is one of the most beautiful accounts I've ever read.  So I'm going to go ahead and quote the last portion of his essay here:

"One of the things that the temple narrative has helped to make clear to me, is that good and evil, agency and accountability are almost never clear-cut. Even in Mormonism’s fundamental allegory, choice is established as a complex, rather than a simple reality. What Eve did was decidedly the most important act of disobedience in our canon. Many past leaders who place a high value on the principle of obedience have had to do some significant intellectual parsing of the terms sin and transgression, to try and get around the fact that is plainly manifest in the Eden narrative… that our eternal progression hinges on an act of blatant disobedience to the Gods. Notice that there’s no blaming going on. Both Adam and Eve supply a reason for their act, but plainly admit their fault to the Lord, “and I did eat.”

It’s also vital to distinguish that Eve was not duped. She was beguiled. According to Dr. Nehama Aschenasy, the Hebrew word that King James translators rendered as beguiled “is a rare verb that has rich and connotative meanings, indicating an intense multilevel experience evoking great emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual trauma.” He suggests it was a catalyst for Eve to undergo a deep internal process, wherein she pondered at length the consequences of her prospective choice and its relation to her ultimate purpose in the garden. That sounds like a faith crisis to me.

It’s also important to note that the tree is never identified as a symbol of evil or wrongdoing. The language surrounding the tree is overwhelmingly positive. “the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise”. Furthermore, God told Adam and Eve that it was THEIR tree. “Nevertheless thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.” In the English sentence it appears as if the “it” pronoun refers to “choice”, but in the Hebrew it is clearly referring to the tree. God was, in essence telling them, “I am now commanding you to avoid this particular tree, but like all of them here, it’s YOUR TREE and you can do what you like with it… but remember that I told you no”. This is the equivalent of your mom telling you, “Don’t eat your halloween candy before dinner, because it’ll spoil your appetite… buuuut, it is your candy and you can do whatever you want with it.”

The Mother of all Living."The world has invented narratives that cast her as the fool, the simpleton, the bystander, and even the whore. Even in the church, we try to have her both as the foresighted heroine and the servile mute. But Eve, the mother of all living is what she always has been: an incredible woman who was brave enough to see that her disobedience was the only way forward. I think we should bear her in mind before we decry the efforts or motives of women who wear pants to church or ask to attend priesthood session… acts that don’t even constitute disobedience.

If life were only about choosing right and wrong, with rewards for correct behavior and punishment for incorrect, I truly think most of us would catch on. Almost all choices, though, upon closer examination are actually a choice between two slightly differentiated possibilities. Often it’s a choice between the greater of two goods, or the lesser of two evils. And by choosing any one reality we, by necessity, omit all others. Eve’s courageous choice brought both tremendous positive AND negative consequences into being. Obtaining a knowledge of good and evil necessarily brings the understanding that good and evil are actually abstract concepts, as are choice and accountability. Sometimes we DO ask for bread and receive stones, and sometimes our loaves come with serpents instead of fishes. Those who seek God with a pure heart sometimes live in crushing poverty their whole lives, while those who exploit the meek and lowly sometimes prosper phenomenally. Sometimes good women with no greater desire in the wide world, miscarry their babies or fail to conceive them at all. Sometimes children (the only innocents among us) are raised in situations of almost constant abuse or neglect. Sometimes the just are imprisoned and the evil go free. That is the true nature of our world. That is the substance of a knowledge of good and evil. One cannot simply go and do, like Nephi, without eventually coming up against a Laban moment, where good is now evil and evil is good, and the sword is in the last place we would want it… in our hand. One of the realities we have to wake up to is that just like life, the scriptures are positively brimming with contradiction. I personally think that’s one of the things that make them beautiful and useful. Prayers aren’t always answered. Faith isn’t always rewarded with knowledge. Sometimes people ask and do not receive. Sometimes they knock on doors always closed, and yet….

I still believe in a loving and perfect God. I believe I am capable of love because he first loved us. I have a family here on earth and I want to share my life with them through all eternity. I believe that a wildly imperfect young man received revelations from God and tried to offer them to the world in his wildly imperfect way, and I love those revelations. I love the wildly imperfect kingdom of God we have established on Earth with our meaty hands, and I want nothing more than for it to become a Zion. I have covenanted literally everything I have and will ever obtain to making that happen. I believe that’s the most wildly irresponsible promise I’ve ever made, and I’m deeply grateful that I was given the opportunity to make it."