Someone recently invited me into a conversation about feminism, wanting to know my views on the subject. It’s a hard question for me, but I’m going to try to articulate them here. I think it matters that we think about these occasionally controversial subjects, and that we talk openly and honestly about them. Preferably without name-calling and finger-pointing. So, here goes:
First of all, I am ridiculously thankful for many things the “original” feminist movement wrought. I’m glad to have the right to vote so that my opinion matters in the greater scope of my world. I’m glad to have the opportunity to pursue a career of my choosing, knowing that I (for the most part) won’t be relegated to fetching coffee, making the lunch order, typing & filing… unless I want to be. I’m glad to live in a country (and increasingly a world) where true male-chauvinism is a dying trait, and where my human rights are protected by law. All these things (and others) have arisen due in part to the women who stared-down the status-quo and changed things that were wrong. And I am really, truly grateful.
Unfortunately, where those original feminist sisters did so many things right, I think that there are some side-effects of the “modern” feminist movement that aren’t doing women any favors. Here are a few of the ways I think modern feminism has it wrong:
I am part of the generation of young women that grew up hearing “you can have it all”. We were encouraged to further our education, pursue careers, and to take marriage and children as they might (or might not) come. Somehow, this turned into the idea that any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home-mom is a lesser being than a woman who has a career. It is implied that she is setting her sisters back by not “fulfilling her potential”. Sorry, but I don’t believe it. It actually makes me a little angry. SAHM’s are functioning as chief operations officers of their families – doubling as doctor, chef, sanitation worker, secretary, chauffeur, butler, housekeeper, counselor, and whatever other responsibility as the need arises. How is that not fulfilling your multi-tasking, have-it-all potential?! Meanwhile, working moms are spreading themselves thin for their families while trying to help make sure bills are paid and that there’s clean laundry, food on the table and a story at bedtime. Seriously — how are we pro-women if we draw battle lines between ourselves and fight over who’s doing it right? For mercy’s sake… look around! We’re all doing the best we can with whatever season of life we’re in.
Also, there’s an overarching problem with the aforementioned idea that “you can have it all”. We hear this in countless ways, but I don’t believe it anymore. Do we deserve to have options? Absolutely. Do we deserve the choice to focus on different things in different seasons of our lives? Certainly! But the idea of “having it all”, to me at least, has always carried the expectation of having it all at the same time. But honestly – is there any woman out there who can deal well with career, husband, family, home management and self-care (while giving her best to all of it and letting nothing slide)… all at the same time? Because you know that if you’re not doing it all well, it doesn’t count! ☺
I can only use myself as an example. Despite my best efforts, I have a really hard time juggling work, family, friends and other commitments. I find that I’m often frazzled and feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude (and multitude) of what I am doing. If I am giving my best efforts at work, chances are good that I’m so tired by the time I get home that I don’t give quality time and attention to my daughter and my husband. If I am concerned about something going on with my friends or family, I sometimes don’t give my best effort to my job. One of my greatest sources of stress is the idea that I have to keep up some unspoken standard of near-perfection at home, at work, and everywhere else… all at the same time. And that’s where the trouble starts, I think. If we can shake loose from the lie of “having it all” and the exhausting expectations that go with it, then we have the freedom during each different season of our lives to decide what is best for our family, our community, and ourselves. And then to revise our plans when circumstances change – because they always do. Can we have it all? I guess so – but maybe it’s better for us if we only have a little bit at a time.
I believe that the most insidious side-effect of the modern incarnation of feminism is what has been called “reverse sexism”. This perspective perpetrated by feminists has turned men into something that they ‘re really not. It’s obvious if you’re paying attention. Start by taking a close look at the commercials next time you watch television. Observe carefully how the men are portrayed, and watch for these characters: The Sniveling Idiot (this is the man whose wife has to step in and save him from his stupidity); The Animal Appetite (I really think those Hardee’s commercials with scantily clad women noshing huge burgers are targeted to this guy); The Thoughtless Clod (these are the guys who spill food all over the floor while watching sports… good thing their wife uses Product X to clean!); The Helpful Bungler (this guy tries to help the kids – changes a diaper, does the science project – but he ends up making a mess for his wife to clean).
Take a look at this one (Piece of Cake) that seems to be saying: “Hey, moms! Dads are unreliable idiots, but with an AT&T Home Automation System you hardly need them at all.” I get the humor — no really, I get it — but why not have one of the kids forget to turn off the lights and have dad fix it while in the school drop-off line? Or have dad ask himself, “Did I close the garage door?” and then fix his own mistake.
This disastrous depiction of men is probably the side effect I despise most. I watch commercials and sitcoms, and think “I don’t know these men”. Do I know men who do silly things? Of course — but they usually figure it out on their own and take steps to make corrections and fix things. Do I know wives who give their husbands occasional “Bless Your Heart” looks? Um, yes. Of course I do! But the thing is this: my husband helps at home, and almost never leaves a mess for me to clean up. He cooks, cleans, and helps take care of our daughter. He also works a very time-consuming and emotionally draining job to serve others. I know I’m lucky (he’s taken, ladies) and I know not every man is like him. But I also know tons of good men who are. I am acquainted with men who are hard workers, committed to their families, honest, steadfast – admirable in every way. Sure, there are some selfish jerks out there — idiotic, selfish and thoughtless. But while they’re portrayed as the most common variety of man, I suspect that they’re more likely the exception to the rule.
Equality is a wonderful thing. But why can’t the feminist movement lift up women (and I know there are a great many women around the world who need to be lifted up) without using men as stepping-stones? Why are women who won’t “toe the party line” not allowed into the feminist club? If we want to be equal, but achieve that equality by shoving others down – what good are we? I believe that women are a compassionate and capable creation of a God who loves us. We are able to do so much for the people who are influenced by our lives, but I think when we get tangled up in the web of confusing propaganda that is so prevalent these days we are diminished. We are stymied in our attempts to “do it all at once” so that nothing we’re doing is achieving its full potential. We are bound by the views we’re told to have of men such that we cannot see their willingness to come along beside us and help. We are blinded by the desire to be equal to the point that we often cannot receive the grace that is intended when a man seeks to shield, protect or defer to us.
What I want for my daughter is freedom: freedom to vote, to think, to study, to participate and to choose; but also freedom from expectation and formulas for who she should be and how she should act. I want her to live into the fullness of a life that God designed for her, realizing that all people have inherent worth and that all people are worthy of respect. I want her to understand that we show God’s grace to one another when we love and help, guide and shield, work and play – together.