Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Career Women vs. SAHMs: Cage Match Round I

There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.
-- Madeleine Albright

One of the biggest challenges to feminism is the fact that females make up more than half of the population. I've seen people mistakenly refer to women as "a minority." In fact, we're not a minority.

So why's that a problem? Having the advantage of numbers should be an advantage, right?

The problem is that it's hard to empathize with people of another rage, age, economic class, education level, belief system, language, culture, etc. So it's hard to come up with a movement that represents the interests of women in general. "Women's interests" are just too diverse, and, in fact, the interests of one group of women can conflict with the interests of another.

As with addressing racism, however, the fact that it's hard isn't a reason to give up. Some things that are hard are worth the effort. I'm just saying that you shouldn't walk into feminism expecting it to be completely simple with nothing but obvious answers.

I feel like Madeline Albright's quote above kind of epitomizes the problem. On the one hand, I agree with the sentiment that it's terrible when women don't help each other. On the other hand, I find it kind of ironic that the quote itself is an example of a woman heaping blame/scorn on other women for failing at something that's hard. I'd rather propose a special place in heaven for women who help other women -- especially women who are different than themselves.

One of our challenges is the fact that the feminist movement is often dominated by the concerns and perspectives of middle-to-upper class white women. This is a bit of an endemic problem: Those who already have the most power are the ones with the most opportunity to speak out and have their voices heard. And even if we make an effort to compensate, the people with the microphone will naturally feel most passionate about issues that concern them personally.

My one piece of advice to women would be this: Don't give up on feminism just because some feminists hold opinions that you disagree with. What I mean is that if you read/hear someone say "X is the feminist position on issue Y" -- and you strongly disagree with X -- you shouldn't immediately conclude "Well, I guess I'm not a feminist, then." Often women assume that the position that benefits themselves is (or should be) "the feminist position" -- without thinking hard about the fact that what benefits one woman may not benefit another. In my opinion, "the feminist position" (when an issue has one) is the position that one that brings the greatest benefit to women in general. If you think some women are claiming the label "feminist" for a position that benefits one class of women at the expense of another class of women, then stand up and dissent. As a feminist.

Let's take a classic example from middle-class-white-women feminism: career women vs. stay-at-home-moms. Ultimately, there's no real reason to have a conflict. As I said back in 2006, since homemaking doesn't require formal training nor is it paid, it's very easy to place homemakers on a pedestal of empty slogans of respect and esteem while deep down thinking "you do this because you don't have the skills or talents to do something more challenging."

In our modern feminist world, the situation is the opposite. Plenty of women (and even men) who have the talents and opportunity (or potential opportunity) to earn money and respect in the business and professional world choose nonetheless to stay home with their kids instead, demonstrating that homemaker is not just a role that one settles for but is a role that has value.

Similarly, as I discussed back in 2007, women's economic power has transformed marriage in ways that benefit all women. Specifically, since women can expect to be able to support themselves and their children, staying with an abusive husband is no longer considered a virtue, and wife-beating has changed from being a man's right to being a crime.

Plus, things that benefit kids (like education and health care) benefit moms in both of the above categories.

That said, it's not always easy to reach across the boundaries and cooperate. Especially when the two groups may have real criticisms of each other -- possibly mixed with a little personal dislike. So I hope you'll be back for "Round II: Other Women's Choices." :D


Aerin said...

I am very suspicious whenever I hear people say "this is the feminist position" or "you can't be a feminist if you believe x". So I agree.

But I also think the issue is complicated. Often when something works for one family, person or couple, some people assume that it will work for everyone. Which is not the case.

CuddlyBunny said...

I read this post and finished in agreement, then ended up scrolling down, for some reason, where I again read your "sig line."

You know ... where you describe yourself as Friendly, exMormon, atheist and so on.

Here I thought, "THAT's the problem ... at least MY problem and that of many of the women I know ... we're not even concerned with feminism ... we've moved on. We're world travelers and atheists and supporters of this or that."

Many of us have forgotten about Feminism as an important topic because we're worrying about everything ELSE -- that is, now that our grandmothers and mothers made it so that we are allowed to worry about those things.

On the other hand ... I might simply have scrolled myself down into confusion. :D