Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Feminists despise motherhood, and other myths

Two articles have stirred some controversy in the last few months. One (Amy Glass' unfortunate article "I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I'm Not Sorry") represents what could almost be called a straw-man version of feminism: the author declares motherhood and marriage all but worthless. 
The other, professor Louis Markos' essay "Why Homeschooled Girls Are Feminism's Worst Nightmare", depicts an equally straw-man-filled image of feminism, and makes some other glaring logical fallacies as well. The author sings the praises of 'homeschool girls' (really college-aged women) who, he says, are the antidote for a 'masculine', abrasive feminism. 

Both articles have been convincingly refuted elsewhere (Samantha Field gives an excellent critique of Markos' article, focusing on the false dichotomy in particular, and some of the top-rated comments both on the original article and here at Jezebel provide thoughtful feminist take-downs of Glass' essay). I think they've covered all the bases, but I'd like to address the two articles together. 

   Glass says that feminism is not about validating every choice a woman makes--that a stay-at-home mom is not "really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself". 

First, I don't think feminism should celebrate selfish choices or "choices" that a woman is coerced into by her family or social group. *

 Glass presents a snobbish, materialistic dismissal of women who are only wives or mothers. She makes a laudable point about how nice it would be if we gave baby-shower-type parties for women who backpack through Asia or get a job promotion. I can definitely get behind this: social media, I think, has spotlighted the tendency of our culture to glamorize engagements, weddings and births. I suspect some people would say that women are selfish for wanting to be celebrated for personal accomplishments, but I think it would be a nice adaptation to a changing society to recognize accomplishments besides marriage or motherhood. 

   She makes the valid point that the mere act of getting married or pregnant is not really that difficult. Yet, she ignores that the fact that motherhood, or having a successful marriage or long-term relationship, is both very difficult and very important. If people didn't raise children well, or provide a stable healthy family environment for them, where would these fabulous high-achieving women come from? 
   Glass makes it abundantly clear that "doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business."--I agree that the simple act of doing a load of laundry is not important. Yet, the act of holding a house together and nourishing a family is immensely important. I also argue that homemaking is not just woman's work either: I have the utmost respect for men who willingly make the choice (often sacrificial) to be the stay-at-home parent. 
   Some critiques of Glass' article have come from angered housewives who, it seems to me, merely lash out against Glass because of their own insecurity--dismissing the very valid contributions of female scientists, authors, and businesspeople. Can't we just accept both childcare and external careers as valid and praiseworthy, if done with appropriate motives and worthwhile results? 
   In short, Glass claims that feminism should not treat a woman's choice to be a stay-at-home mother with as much respect as the decision to have a career. I think this is a rare, though problematic and damaging, take on feminism. The feminist response to this article, almost entirely negative, assures me that most feminists do in fact value motherhood and homemaking--they fight instead against the social pressures that declare motherhood the highest and only valid career path for a woman. 

   The next article, "Why Homeschooled Girls Are Feminism's Worst Nightmare," takes this branch of "feminist" thought and sets it up as a straw man. Markos, a professor at Houston Baptist University, claims that he can pick out homeschooled women though a variety of excellent (to his eyes) traits. He paints a flattering picture of these young women, who have a sharp wit, but do not spar verbally unless "sorely provoked"; who, "like the aristocratic ladies of the Old South", are gifted in the arts and can almost universally sing; who challenge his "masculine view of the world", though they are certainly not feministic! 

   Markos assumes a false dichotomy: women are either nice, thoughtful "homeschooled girls", or they are feminists. While he only identifies three-fourths of the homeschooled women he teaches as following the mold he describes, it's clear that he thinks this is the normative, descriptive path for a homeschooled female. 
   Most of the writers who've provided critical responses to Markos' article emphasize the point that they are, in his eyes, a contradiction: homeschool graduates who identify as feminists. He says that, while he's "been challenged by feminist students and colleagues," it's "never in a deep or lasting way. Their challenge is political or ideological and, as such, is ultimately superficial." But "homeschooling girls…[take] to task my masculine view of the world." Feminists, he says, "snidely degrade the very things [homeschooled women] hold sacred," and say that there are no "essential differences" between men and women. 
   Feminism also, according to Markos, "systematically privileges masculine initiative, reason, logic, analysis, compartmentalization, and competition over feminine response, emotion, intuition, synthesis, holism, and nurture." This is grossly false on two counts. 
   First, in my experience feminism absolutely rejects the idea that women must become "masculine" in order to succeed or be valued. Certain radical branches of feminism are actually all about reordering society in ways that respect and value "feminine" characteristics. The two experiences I've had with the sort of mainstream feminism that may be common at universities (secular feminist textbooks for psychology of gender and global women courses) detail the frustration and unfairness that women experience through being forced to "be a man" to succeed in work environments. Just today I was reading an article that offers a feminist critique of a work culture that penalizes women for motherhood. 

   Second, does Markos really think that nurture is feminine, and that reason is a solely masculine virtue? His lists absolutely represent societal norms, and may represent general biological or psychological trends--but I adamantly disagree with his attempts to file human traits away along a rigid gender binary. I personally know women who are far less emotional and intuitive, and more logical and reasonable, than some men. Some complementarians go so far as to admit that, yes, "some men want to be nurturers and some women want to fight, because of the Fall" (can't find the quote! I looked and looked--pretty sure it was someone on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood site). I think there's a problem when we are saying that men wanting to nurture is an indication of a sinful world. How about Jesus longing to gather the children of Jerusalem together "as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings"? What about Jesus' telling Peter to "feed My sheep", a metaphor for the people of the church? 

   Markos admits that feminism may have had some success in addressing the workplace pay equality issue--he mentions none of feminism's other efforts, save for a vague reference to "the politics of identity and victimization," while homeschooled women "don the robes of the lawyer…not to win a debate or to air their bitterness in public or to settle old scores," but "to defend those they love." 
I rarely see in feminists the desire to settle old scores; bitterness is the standby accusation against those who speak up against abuse and inequity. Instead, I see a host of rather selfless reasons that men and women call themselves feminists. I'm not going to call myself selfless, but let me state the reasons besides my own concerns that I am a feminist….

   I am a feminist because I want to defend those I love against the abuses of patriarchal religion. I am a feminist because so many people consider half the world systematically subordinate to the other half. I am a feminist because women are mutilated as children to ensure their chastity, forced into child marriage that threatens their health and education, and blamed for their own rape. I am a feminist because in my own country homeschool "leaders" denigrate women who go to college

And I'm a feminist because I don't think Jesus would stand for any of that, and I think feminism offers tools to help us battle injustice. 

*The issue of women's choice, particularly as it relates to "choices" that seem to be the result of restrictive, anti-human-rights cultures, is a topic for another day.