Conservative Feminist Views
Is Conservative Feminism an Oxymoron?
I have to stop and wonder if conservative feminism is actually real. To me its just conservatism coming from a woman (typically a bible thumper) who thinks just because she's a woman that she can automatically label herself a "feminist" and pretend to be protecting women's rights and at the same time shouting against the rights of women to have abortions, get a divorce, run for public office, get a job and do ANYTHING a man would normally do.
If a woman wants to stay at home and pump out babies, I say: "Good luck! Have fun with that!"
But the moment that woman steps outside and says "You can't do that! You're a woman!" I cringe.
And then I remember that this woman CHOSE her life. Postfeminist theory says that women have a choice when it comes to everything. She chose not to get an education. She chose to not get a job. She chose to be dependent on her husband. She chose not to have an abortion. She chose to have X number of kids.
But she's not a postfeminist... because she wants to deny other women the right to make their own choices. She wants women to stay at home and make babies just like she does, and wants (real) feminists to stop making fun of homemakers.
Except, we all have to admit, homemakers are REALLY easy to make fun of. I've already made fun of them several times already writing this. What with the bible-thumping cliches, the willingness to let a man do all the work... the general laziness.
Add in a good ol' fashioned husband who adulterates and the homemaking wife who turns a blind eye to it all (while secretly putting rat poison in his lunches)... and that's my viewpoint of a so-called "conservative feminist"... she's not a real feminist. She's just an uneducated conservative (and possibly a murderer if he eats the rat poison she gave her husband).
She might even constitute a "man-hater" by the time her divorce rolls around.
If only she'd learn to get an education (part time and evening studies are available) and become more self-sufficient. Maybe then getting divorced wouldn't be such a scary thing because she'd be more economically independent. (Half of all American marriages end in a divorce in the first 5 years, but how many of those women have their own career to fall back on?)
Having a career is a safety net. If the marriage fails, well at least you'll always have your university degree.
But from a conservative perspective women don't even have the right to go to university... I say: "Hogwash! Get out there and hit the books grrl!"
Ideas for columns come from many places. Recently one came from an unexpected source. My San Francisco twenty-something grandson wrote a very indignant e-mail about an article he had read in the Bay Guardian, and suggested that I would probably want to address the subject. When my grandchild shares my beliefs and issues enough to get this mad, I'm going to listen.
When he calmed down after reading the article by Analee Newitz he wrote me about it. I have changed his language somewhat to get it past my editor. "What the hell is this stuff about women "surrendering" to their husbands to make a happy marriage? This weird working woman who considers herself a feminist wrote a book about women giving up any semblance of control or sharing of "power" in marriage and how happy everybody would be. What's going on? I hesitate to ask you to read the book because I'm afraid it might make you go into a fit."
He was quite right about my not reading the book. I would have "gone into a fit," But I looked up the article and found several others, along with a review of the book and the first chapter. Wow, where did that woman come from in the year A. D. 2001? She must have met up with Dr. Laura somewhere.
"The Surrendered Wife" by Laura Doyle sounds like a Middle Ages romance with men in suits of armor charging up and down the field with lances raised, while their women gently waved their scarves in a delicate ladylike fashion. Her thesis is that women should be allowed to keep their hard won careers and be their assertive selves at work, but leave their brains and ability on the subway on the way home. When they arrive home they should abandon the myth of equality, and surrender all their identity to their husbands. I'm not sure what happens to the children.
Well now. I wonder how many hard working American women will buy that. Doyle calls herself a "conservative feminist," whatever that means. That is an oxymoron anyway. Conservative means conserve things the way they are. Feminist means shake 'em up a little. Sounds as though "conservative feminists" are trying to create a brave new world of submissive women. Sorry, too late. I'm afraid the genie is out of the bottle.
Thanks to the women's movement (I will consider the sensitivity of some of my readers and avoid the "F" word) women have made great strides in thirty years. We have had to contend with male attitudes, and that has not been easy. But more recently we are faced with a female backlash. Susan Faludi pretty much explained it in 1991 in her book "Backlash". But hers was a carefully reasoned, intelligent analysis. Now we have Laura Doyle and Dr. Laura. Doyle says, "My mission is to teach women about the power of surrender. It is my own world peace crusade."
Women have known about surrender throughout history. Their only route to power has been in the manipulation of their men. Now they are gradually gaining some power of their own and approaching equality in the work place and in their private lives.
"Conservative Feminsim" wants to have it both ways. Newitz writes, "Women will be aggressive breadwinners at work and submissive wives in the home. The fantasy is that once women have surrendered, the domestic sphere will become peaceful, a welcome respite after a long day of getting whiplash from smacking one's head against the glass ceiling."
In its essence feminism has never meant anything more frightening than a belief in political, social and economic equality for women and men. Like all social movements, it was radical in the beginning, and has grown very slowly. But since the seventies a lot of doors have opened, doors that had always been closed, and we are now approaching some rational equality between men and women. I hope the "Conservative Feminists" are don't succeed in slamming the doors shut.
Gloria Steinem said it best. "Men of quality want women of equality."
Thanks for the idea, Ian. Keep up the good fight.
The Minneapolis paper had an interesting column today about a debate between "conservative feminist" Katherine Kersten and liberal feminist Arvonne Fraser. I put Kersten's label in quotes because it is a self-designation and because it is very hard to see *anything* that looks feminist in Kersten's philosophy. To me, it looks like an attempt to appropriate a word and combine it into an oxymoron that makes a joke out of it.
Kersten's philosophy says "woman have it made, the war is over." Like Clarence Thomas, she benefitted from such changes made during the women's movement as the opening of two all-male universities, Notre Dame and Yale, to women. And now that she *has* it made, she wants all the cries for equality quashed. She says that organizations like NOW are just a bunch of manhaters who would ruin the country if they got any real power. To quote a paragraph from the article:
She also said that if these contemporary feminists from such organizations as the National Organization for Women ran the country, it would be a mess. "It would be long on sensitivity but short on common courtesy," she said. She said that men would be in constant danger of wearing "the red letter S (for sexist)" and that they "would have to walk on eggshells." She said it would be a world filled with "women blaming their disappointments on patriarchy."
There's quite a bit more, but you get the drift. The columnist then went on to describe, much more briefly, Arvonne Fraser's response: That "conservative feminism" is great if you are in a committed marriage with a man in excellent health, that it depends upon that, that such a condition is becoming increasingly irrelevant [especially inasmuch as one-income families today would be poorer than when the women's movement began, due to the fading position of the US economy]. She pointed out that every wave of political activists for women's rights had been branded extremist. And finally, about choices: "Some are sort of like Clarence Thomas," she said. "They chose to rest on the work and accomplishments of those in the past....I like the feminists who she calls excessive. They make me look respectable, and they'll make life better for my granddaughter."
When I was reading the 75 percent of the column describing Katherine Kersten, I couldnt help wondering: Who *is* her chosen audience? Seems very unlikely that it is all the women who are making 70 percent or less of what men make. Or the women who are losing abortion rights. Or women with kids who see all programs in government that address their problems cut while there seems to be lots of money for weapons, for bailing out one business after another trashed in the 80's for personal profit by men. Who could it be? The shrinking group of white women with the luxury of staying home? Perhaps. The Phyllis Schlafly contingent. But more than anything else, her comments seemed to echo what she has heard resentful men say.
It seems clear to me that she is pandering to those sentiments with her "red S" remarks. "Walk on eggshells", indeed! I don't feel like I walk on eggshells. I speak my mind, but I *don't* create fantasies like women walking around hoping to get raped. Rather, I talk about dysfunctional behavior of abuse victims, which I feel is a lot closer to the truth because it acknowledges the heavy layers of denial built into our system. We ignore 23,000 homicides a year; a tendency to go into debt on *every* level (personal, business, government) with seemingly no thought of tomorrow; mushrooming homelessness; a narcissistic tendency to see all trouble in the world as part of a worldwide conspiracy against our system of government; and much, much more. There's always some rationalization or other, which is a symptom of most neuroses. So, it seems to me that those who walk on eggshells are *creating* the eggshells. They are struggling to protect a tissue of lies while pretending to favor progress. And that is indeed a hard act to play. Give up protecting the lies and it gets a whole lot easier, a lot less complicated. But once the lies go, then it becomes a necessity to go for wholesale reaction or take the risks of progressing. And many men base some of their self-esteem on being "democrats", that is, believing in freedom for everyone. What happens to that self-esteem when they have to admit what they want is their *own* freedom, to live well and control and abuse others when it is convenient? Hence, the walking on eggshells.
Projecting one's own responsibility on others is not exactly unusual. But hearing a woman encourage men in that projection is intriguing. But maybe not *that* unusual. Many a woman with an alcoholic husband has enabled his sickness in a similar manner. Maybe Kersten's platform is just plain old enabling/codependent behavior, with a little self-interest thrown in since she is traveling to promote a book she has written.