Last week, I read a post “If I Had a Million Dollars (Why I’m Not a Feminist)” by Shannon Popkin. It’s an article written in response to another post, “If I Had a Dollar (Why I Am a Feminist)” by Anna Fonte. Both women wrote about their experiences: growing up, fathers, mothers, daughters, families, men, fulfillment as a woman. Both articles make some interesting points, but each falls short of getting to the heart of what feminism is and why it should be embraced or rejected.
The terms “feminist” and “feminism” are used often but the meaning is variable. Most historians consider there to have been three waves of feminism. First wave feminism took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It was mainly concerned with legal rights. Most people are familiar with the suffrage movement to give women the right to vote. But there were other legal rights that the first wave feminists sought. These include: the right to inherit property, shared ownership of their children, the right to own property, the ability to execute wills and make legal decisions for their children, and the ability to be a legal witness in a court case. The first wave feminists also wanted to improve opportunities for women in education and in the workplace.
While some may argue with me about this, these goals were admirable ones. Before this time women were truly at the mercy of others and often unprotected. A woman whose husband died or left her might find herself with no money, no shelter, and very few good options for employment.
In the 1960s, a second wave of feminism began. While these feminists were also concerned about inequalities in the workplace and in the laws, many were pushing for what would be called “reproductive rights.” Abortion, contraception, and less restrictions on sexuality were part of what this wave is known for. Not all women agreed, however. Many women who were for “equal pay for equal work” were not in favor of abortion. There is still a significant group of feminists who are pro-life.
Other goals from the 1960s-1980s include ending discrimination in the workplace and courts, awareness of domestic violence, and confronting the objectification and exploitation of women through prostitution and pornography.
Second wave feminism is more of a mixed bag when considering the good and bad of the movement’s goals. Abortion and “casual sex” have, and continue to, hurt many women. No fault divorce, along with these, has allowed many men to abandon women and children with little responsibility for their welfare.
Interestingly enough, it was a disagreement among some feminists over issues such as prostitution and pornography that lead to a distinct third wave. The third wave of feminism began in the 1990s and has been well-known for it’s focus on gender and sexuality. Many third wave feminists embrace a very fluid definition of gender and an unrestrained and open sexuality. There is nothing that I can commend in these goals.
Considering the three waves of feminism, there are some good things that have come from the first and second waves. If you are a single woman who lives on her own, owns her own home, and has a good job you have these women to thank for much of that. If you have never been asked in a job interview when your last period was (they wanted to know if you might be pregnant and likely to leave the job) you owe that to these women. If you are a woman who has an education and job opportunities for decent employment, you are benefiting from the work of these women.
But it isn’t all good. As I pointed out above, there are some really awful things that have been brought about by the various waves of feminism. Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.
There is also a very ugly side to the modern feminist movement: the demeaning and devaluing of men. It is very common today to hear women say that men are worthless, that women don’t need men, that women are better than men. Men are often the butt of jokes as clueless or useless. This is very ugly and completely wrong.
Back to the two articles I mentioned at the start. I believe that both articles are weak because they focus mainly on experiences and on stereotypes. Anna (why I am a feminist) explains how men have hurt her and her mother. She chooses abortion because of what was happening in her life at the time. She uses her life history to show that she doesn’t need a man because from her history men are not to be trusted.
Shannon (why I am not a feminist) explains from her own history how her dad and her husband have cared and provided for her and her family. She and her mother embraced traditional roles as homemakers and mothers. She feels happy and fulfilled because being a mother and homemaker is better and more fulfilling than any career or other way of life. She sees feminists as angry and less happy. She uses her life history to show what it means to be “not a feminist.”
Anna’s piece is very sad to me. She has been hurt by men and lied to by those who told her abortion was the answer. She has scars from her childhood and needs desperately to be loved and forgiven as only Christ can. She’s wrong about men. Some men are wicked and untrustworthy. But that’s not the way it should be.
Shannon’s article is frustrating to me. She’s had a good life. She has a husband and children. Her husband has been able to provide in such a way that she is able to be at home and care for her family. But I’m concerned that her emphasis on fulfillment through husband and children will hurt women who do not have the same experiences.
Is this the only way or even the best way for Christian women to find fulfillment? There are many single women around, godly women who would love to be married and have a family. But God has not provided that for them. Are they less fulfilled? Do they have less value if they serve God through their career and friendships? What about women who help to provide for their families through their work? Are they less worthy of praise? Are they “feminists” because they work outside their homes? And what about the barren women? Are they less fulfilled because God hasn’t filled their arms with children?
While I think it’s very important to stand for good things life family, homes, marriages, and child-rearing, we should not created a checklist of what it means to be a good woman beyond what Scripture teaches. The Proverbs 31 woman, among other examples, was a woman of many talents who was busy providing for her home as well as caring for her household.
So as far as feminism goes, I’m thankful for the good, and I reject the bad. Would I call myself a feminist? No, especially not given the modern feminist movement. My life experiences, both good and bad, are not the reason I’m “not a feminist.” My reasons are based not on stereotypes, but on objective truth.
My own list would look like this:
- Men and women are both created in the image of God and equal in Christ
- Husbands and wives are different and need each other
- Husbands are called to be the spiritual leaders of their homes and wives are called to submit to that leadership
- Ordained leaders in the church should be men
- Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually
- What that looks like will be different for each man and woman
- Abortion is always to be rejected.
- Sexuality is to be expressed in marriage.
- Marriage is between one man and one woman.
- Divorce should only be the result of adultery, abandonment, or abuse.
When we move past experience and stereotypes to biblical truth, we find that there are some things that are absolutes on which we should not budge. And there are other things that are matters of discernment and liberty. We should be kind but firm on the one, and gracious and flexible on the other. May we build each other up in Christ.
9 thoughts on “My 2 Cents: Feminism, Stereotypes, and Experiences”
Thank you for this! I’ve been mulling over my thoughts about feminism since high school and I wrote I wrote my college thesis on the topic as well. I agree that I certainly wouldn’t label myself a feminist given all the baggage associated with the name, but I am also frustrated when people disparage every part of the movements as being straight from the devil.
“Abortion, casual sex, open sexuality, fluid gender: these are wrong and have brought about nothing but hurt.”
I think I disagree subtly here. The point of feminism is to treat women equally with men. This means giving them the same chances to make poor choices as men have. Freedom always brings with it the consequences of making bad choices, but it is better to have the ability to make those choices than to not have the freedom*.
Men have always had more freedom than women- including that freedom to make bad choices. In a sense, women were the gatekeepers of sexuality, because while men were expected to make bad choices, women were supposed to keep them in check. Feminism makes both parties responsible for their own choices, and the result has indeed been that there is more casual sex and such, but I don’t think it’s fair to lay this charge at the feet of the feminists. If both genders behaved, it wouldn’t be an issue, but clearly both genders *do* want casual sex. Rather than blaming women for this, the better choice is to convince both genders that casual sex is not the best choice.
I am happy to wear the label of feminist if I am called that (I have been!) and I don’t think fighting for equality should ever been a shameful concept. I don’t agree with how that is always expressed (for example, the man-hating you talk about, which IMO is certainly NOT feminism).
*Note than in this case I’m not talking about the freedom to abort, but rather the freedom to pursue a pro-choice agenda. The first is directly pitting a woman’s freedom vs an unborn, which is not about “feminism”, whereas the latter is about the freedom to pursue a political position.
“Men and Women are fulfilled by glorifying God in all they do through the callings and gifts that God has given them individually” This is a very important admission and needs to be stated and restated. There is fulfillment in having a family; it is fulfilling for both men and women in an overarching kind of way. It’s foundational. Society couldn’t function w/o people getting married and having children. But it isn’t the end-all and be-all of the purpose to an individual’s life. I’m saddened by women who believe it is because when their children grow up and leave the house, they often end up empty and depressed.
I find it ominous how liberalism has hijacked so many causes that started out as productive movements. Feminism, Civil Rights, etc. have all been twisted and used as a cloak to push “progressive” ideals. It’s fascinating to look back at the dawn of these movements, and how they actually started out with a lot of Christian principals: we’re created equal, abuse is wrong, tyranny is wrong, and mercy, humility, self-sacrifice, and sharing the Gospel with “all nations” and “every race” in “every tongue” is right. But isn’t that just the way Satan and sin has always operated? It takes something good and Godly and twists it into something bad and damaging, until (like modern feminism) it’s unrecognizable as anything remotely Godly.
Rachel, I really enjoyed this and found it to be fair and well balanced.
The “demeaning and devaluing of men” was also very strong in the 2nd wave of feminism in the 60’s. I graduated high school in ’69 and the negative attitudes towards men was incredibly strong. Many of my friends loved bashing men.
I was heavy into the counter culture and didn’t become a Christian until ’72 (age 20) but I never considered myself to be a feminist. I was against abortion but pro equal rights and mutual respect.
Rachel, brilliant as ever. As usual, you get right to the heart of the problem.
This tendency to reason exclusively from one’s own experience destroys the ability to draw any universal principles. It is imperative that we examine our experience in light of Scripture and reason, not the other way ’round. I think Wesley got to that epiphany before me, but it bears restating. Experience is exclusive to the individual. It is necessarily fragmenting, un-generalizable. It causes people to focus on their differences rather than commonalities.
More disturbingly, in my university work, I notice that this system of reasoning often puts individuals into ridiculous thought silos. Failure to think like your arbitrarily assigned silo–with its asserted, never demonstrated, shared experiences–makes you a traitor.
For example, Clarence Thomas (raised in great poverty in segregated Georgia to rise to Yale Law and SCOTUS) is a traitor to his race because he disapproves of affirmative action policies. Conservative women are fair targets for misogynistic profanity because they’re “not really women,” meaning they’ve failed to toe some party line. Over at the He-Man-Woman-Haters Club, women who have failed to embrace an idealized Victorian ethic aren’t “real women” either and may therefore be subjected to verbal abuse that would be ungentlemanly toward real women. These silos are predominantly the product of the thought constable’s experience (or imaginative fiction derived from experience) only.
Often, arguments from personal experience fail to actively engage with an opponent’s position in an honest, reasonable way and descend instead into name-calling and accusations of treachery (as if you could be a traitor to your ovaries). The debate would be better served with less sad/happy personal stories and more careful reasoning from first principles.
As I consider you, Rachel, one of the chief proponents of non-silly, enlightened discourse on all the world-wide Interwebs, I would like to welcome you to the Dorothy Sayer sisterhood of women who refuse to be called Feminists. But who also aren’t hep on imposing the burka and denying women property ownership. You walk that line as a full and free human being, and we would all be well-advised to follow you.
“I am occasionally desired by congenital imbeciles and the editors of magazines to say something about the writing of detective fiction “from the woman’s point of view.” To such demands, one can only say “Go away and don’t be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle.” -Dorothy Sayers
I will be 62 soon. I marched with Gloria Steinem and Rev Jesse Jackson, in IL, for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70’s. Thank you for acknowledging the women that worked to help women have choices in the home and the workplace. I am confounded, however, of some women’s need to disassociate themselves from the feminist movement–while enjoying the fruits of the progress toward equality of the sexes. Seems as non-productive as the debate over the working mother vs the stay-at-home mother–as does this never-ending discussion ever move women forward? (When women are treated equally, all lives move forward.) Frequently, it seems some writers have an air of superiority attached to distancing oneself from the feminist movement. It is easy to sit back and pick at something–harder to be the innovators of change–when things are changing. No one gives you a rule book on how to effect cultural change. Of course many feminists were not/are not representative of all women that support equality of all people. Not every politician represents each one of their constituents. Not every pastor “speaks” to every Believer. In the case of feminism, we “feminists” have to agree to disagree–as any movement of people has to, to stay viable. An example: Some of us will be wanting alternatives to abortion whenever possible, and some of us will be adamant about a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Insisting we all fit one definition of feminism, that doesn’t offend someone’s sensibilities, is unlikely to be productive, either. Don’t believe in abortion? Start your own group to work for whatever facet of women’s equality you support. People can work for common ground. Instead of pitting belief against belief/or lack there of–why not advance an idea such as: starting small group homes to help pregnant girls and women of any age have their babies–and keep them. We could help these women start home-businesses and start collective childcare among groups of moms and move them to financial independence–suggesting pairing up in households to reduce costs and provide support. We can talk about how terrible abortion is–or we can become instruments to save lives. Move this academic discussion of feminism to a rational conclusion–and actually become a part of a movement to help someone–rather than another blog entry to critique a movement that should be classified in history as a movement to enhance all people’s lives, so all can feel the freedom to create the life they want/the life the Creator wants them to have. Peace. Still groovy after all these years–Marcy 🙂
Hey, Rachel! I wish I would have seen this post, back when you wrote it. I didn’t get a pingback because I was writing for True Woman’s site. (I’m the writer of the “Why I’m not a Feminist” post).
This is a really nicely laid out history. I really appreciate the way you segmented out the good and the bad parts of feminism. Also, you have made an excellent point about arguing from a point of experience. I agree that experience is a weak argument. But sometime, I think experience is a nice place to start the discussion. It’s always the place that feminists begin. It’s were Anna began. And like you, her story fills me with such sadness.
But how can we respond to someone’s ugly, negative experiences? Hopefully we begin with compassion. And we can also offer your list of objective truth–which I am a big fan of! Those truths are what bring freedom and joy and hope. But sometimes, to start the conversation that leads to that list, our friends need a compelling reason to even talk about it, question their reference point, or be open to other ideas.
When you read Anna’s story, you’re compelled to fight back, protect your rights, and be more independent. But by offering my story in response to hers, I was ultimately trying to sell hope. To offer a pretty picture of what could be. Feminism doesn’t do that. And experience doesn’t either. Ultimately, as you know, hope is found in Jesus and his designs for men and women.
Thanks for your thoughtful review. I hope it will help me think more carefully about how to tell stories that point people to Christ.