Earlier this year, Maria Niles wrote a post on BlogHer called Why I’m Pro-Choice. Maria is a great writer, so I read it. While discussing how we can find common ground on abortion, she said this:
What I would love to see is that we focus our energy towards loving women.
To me, this seemed like the perfect description of feminism. When you love someone, you try to help her, and you want her to grow into the person she was meant to be, using all of her talents and gifts to the fullest extent possible. No one is perfect, of course, so the WAY we love is sometimes messed up by our own individual dramas. If you can pare that all away, though, real love is something wonderful.
Borrowing from Maria’s words, to me being a feminist means loving women.
That definition might not work for everyone. I’m specifically thinking about women of color here. Quite understandably, women of color might need more details, since they’re fed up with white feminists like myself claiming they care about all women but only focusing on middle- and upper-class white women’s concerns. That behavior by white women is racist. We’re letting our f&*%ed up cultural behavior hurt the people we should be loving. In my personal universal definition of feminism, to truly love someone and love them well, you have to hear them, respect them, and find out what they need to be happy – not just what you think they need. It’s hard work. And if you’re running around focusing on yourself and your needs exclusively while claiming to help others, you’re dong it wrong.
So if we can agree (at least for the purposes of this post) that I actually mean loving ALL women properly and not just when it’s convenient or self-serving, then let’s also talk about conservative Christian women.
I don’t know any in real life, not close to my age. I have read a bunch of their blogs, though, and I’ve found smart, funny, generous women who are trying to get through their day to day lives and be good people and get the laundry done.
Unfortunately for my desire to just read and enjoy their writing, quite a few conservative Christian women seem to revile feminism. Many of them believe that feminists look down on mothers, especially stay at home mothers. In their view, feminists hate children. They hate men. Feminists screwed up society by causing an epidemic of divorce. They created a culture of sexual promiscuity. They think men and women should be exactly the same. They’re Marxists. They don’t believe in God. They hate America. They kill babies AND THEY LIKE IT.
Since I find a lot of these women to be smart, funny, nice people, it stings when I read stuff like this on their blogs or in their readers’ comments.
Being on the receiving end, though, does make me stop and wonder what those women hear when they listen to us. Let me tell you, many feminists don’t have good things to say about conservative Christian women either. We call them brainwashed. They’re benefiting from feminism while spitting on it. They think women are second class citizens. They’re backwards. They’re stupid. They’re victims. They’re hypocrites. They’re collaborators in oppression. They’re crazy. They’re wackjobs. They’re theocratic zealots.
Shannon of ThreeSeven.ca has a pretty good description of what goes on, again in the context of the abortion debate, but I see this type of discourse on a variety of topics:
…words that polarize, that on one side demonize women as militant feminists who just want to sleep around willy nilly with no consequences and kill their babies anytime for any old reason, and on the other side that classes those against abortion as religious, deceptive wingnuts who insist they know better what Women should do with their bodies than the women themselves, who place the life of the fetus above the life of the woman at all costs.
Political speech often intends to rally the faithful as much or more than it intends to bring in new converts. You’re not trying to provide new information or convince anyone, you’re just preaching to the choir in the hopes that they’ll take action. So often you go for what works, which can mean invoking an enemy that will rile people up. I understand that.
I do wonder, though, whether this is really how we want to talk about ANY women? Ignorant, narrow-minded, backwards, stupid, crazy, and evil?
Feminism and conservative Christianity have something in common, and it’s this: many people have forgotten that there are actual people in those groups, most of whom are just trying to live their lives. They aren’t one dimensional targets for political diatribes. They’re not part of some master scheme to Destroy Everything Good. Conservative Christian women are not all Ann Coulter, and feminist women aren’t all… okay, someone help me out with a lunatic fringe feminist who makes a career out of hating on people?
So what do we do?
Women of color are frustrated with white feminists because we routinely ignore them, shut them out, and even steal their ideas. We act as though we speak for them, when really they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves if we’d just shut up already. We refuse to acknowledge our privilege, and as a result our priorities are all out of whack. We don’t support things when we should and we don’t see the unintended consequences of our actions even when they are being loudly pointed out to us. Given that I’m in a position of privilege, I may be oversimplifying. If so, please let me know and I will update this post.
With conservative Christian women, it’s almost more complicated. Feminism has given women in America access to college and the workforce and a chance to be treated halfway decently in both settings, the right to vote, the right to live where they choose and own property, rape crisis hotlines, battered women’s shelters, and a host of other things that almost everyone would agree are good and necessary. So is it frustrating when women who benefit from all of those advances are hostile to feminism? Yes. But whatever these women have gained from feminism, they aren’t obligated to agree with us about even the definition of current problems, let alone the solutions.
And we do not agree. We’re not just leaving them out, ignoring them, or pushing them to one side, which is something we could remedy if we’d just act right. On a good number of policy issues, we’re their opponents. So if feminism is loving women, how do we love them? How do you love someone while doing something that you think is in their best interest, even though they don’t agree?
Feminists did not struggle for rights for women on the condition that women had to be grateful, or forfeit their right to have an opinion unless it was approved by The Great Feminist Collective. So here’s a hint: don’t start by assuming that any woman who disagrees with you is stupid, or that if she just UNDERSTOOD the issue then she would agree with you. Respect her intelligence and the fact that she’s arrived at a different conclusion. Listen to what she has to say.
That’s what I’m trying to do, even when my feelings get hurt or my temper flares or my comprehension is challenged. I think it’s making me a better feminist. I think it’s making me a person who genuinely wants to find solutions where we can all work together wholeheartedly, instead of just looking for a place where we can gain something if we give lip service to cooperation.
Whatever policies I champion, I’m just not interested in trash talking another woman to get there.