Jennifer Garner made waves in Hollywood last fall by pointing out the world's double standard in expecting moms to take a larger role in the family than dads do. But is she saying more should be expected of men, or less should be expected of women? If you read the full speech and notice her humorous but jaded take on the questions posed to her husband, you might be inclined to think with me that Garner objects not to the low standards her husband gets by with, but the very high standard still set for mothers.
I'm not sure why this even made the news. Feminism and its basic tenets have been broadcast by the media at a deafening volume for oh, the last fifty years. Is there a single person still in doubt as to where Hollywood and the media elite stand on issues of the family? And yet we are still having this conversation--because godly men and women just don't buy it.
We Think We're Feminists, But We're Not
The funny thing about feminism and Mormons is that even though we reject some of the more outrageous demands made by the movement, such as abortion, we believe in our hearts that feminism has done us some good. Heck, if you had asked me a few months ago about it, I probably would have told you that I was a feminist. This comes from a basic misunderstanding of the origins and aims of the movement, since I was born into a world that only told one side of the story. And this confusion about feminism is harmful, especially if it’s never even addressed--because it leads us to allow harmful attitudes and mores to permeate and damage our families.
Feminism is typically divided into three main eras, or waves. First wave feminists never even really identified themselves as anything but suffragettes, but since feminists like to claim that victory, let them have it. Second wave feminism, which started in the sixties, focused primarily on social and economic equality for women. Third wave feminism, which started in the nineties, is usually described as a backlash against some of the more egregious errors of its predecessor, but is so wide in its scope and includes so many varying viewpoints--women under this umbrella come down on opposite sides on such issues as prostitution and pornography-- that it barely qualifies as a movement. In this paper, I focus primarily on second wave feminism, which is the root of so many of our problems.
So forget about what possible gains feminism may have given us for just a few minutes; ask yourself what we have lost either directly or indirectly because of the feminist movement.
What do you come up with?
Perhaps your first thought is that feminism has decimated a generation of relationships by driving a wedge between husbands and wives. Feminism encourages women to think of themselves as victims of male domination, and to focus almost exclusively on self-fulfillment as a method of getting back what they've been denied for so long. They are taught to use every means to subvert and castigate the men in their lives. As Gloria Steinem famously said, "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." This negative attitude toward men has become so entrenched in American culture that it is taken for granted that men are unnecessary--both in the lives of women and in the lives of their children. It's not surprising that in this atmosphere marriages have declined and divorces increased in the past fifty years--rather, it's surprising that any survive.
But maybe you weren't thinking about men suffering. Maybe you were thinking of what the kids have lost. Obviously, a feminist culture that condones and even promotes premarital sex produces a lot of children born out of wedlock; and a culture that glorifies and encourages divorce means that even kids whose parents were married have no guarantee of knowing their dads. Studies show that kids who don't live with their biological dads are at unbelievably higher risk for problems with poverty, physical and emotional health, incarceration, crime, teen pregnancy, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, education, and childhood obesity. And they’re not just missing out on their fathers--many children are missing out on their mothers, too, since mothers have flown the coop. Third-rate day care takes its toll, and so does too much time at home without a parent.
So the men suffer. And the children suffer. But at least feminism has helped and empowered women. Right?
“Despite the evidence that feminism has been a failure, women still think they identify with its basic premise. Even conservative women believe the mass exodus of mothers from the home has been the "consequence of the great feminist revolution that stormed the barricades of the patriarchy and won a glorious victory.”
This never happened.
The most important factor that influenced the significant shift of American women into the workplace is the invention of laborsaving devices. The folks to whom women are truly indebted are inventors Thomas Edison (electric lights), Elias Howe (the sewing machine), Clarence Birdseye (the process for frozen foods), and Henry Ford (the automobile). Technology and the mechanization of housework—such as the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and vacuum cleaner—allowed women to turn their attention away from household duties.
The birth control pill was another factor. Americans love to associate “the Pill” with feminism; but it, along with machines of convenience, was invented before the 1960s—by men. It was the contributions of men that gave women the time to work outside the home in record numbers. Women should be thanking “the men who came before us”—not feminists.
Moreover, the Great Depression forced women to seek employment when the men in their families could not get jobs. During World War II, women in large numbers began to fill jobs for which men were unavailable. The Equal Pay act of 1963 was also helpful. It abolished wage disparity based on sex. None of these factors—America’s inventors, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Equal Pay Act—have anything to do with feminism. Dishesh D’Souza, the conservative author and president of King’s College in New York City, called the notion that feminism is responsible for the freedoms women have today “a lovely fairy tale.”
--Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly, The Flipside of Feminism, page 53
Hmm. So the one and only thing I thought feminism had done right, it has stolen the credit for. Women already had the freedom to work outside the home before the feminist movement came along--they did not need a feminist badge or picket line to create opportunities for themselves. Great women such as Amelia Earhart, Harriett Tubman, Marie Curie, Liz Taylor, Susan B. Anthony, and Louisa May Alcott, Mary Cassatt, and Helen Keller were using their time and talents to inspire and bless the world decades before the feminist movement gave them permission to do so. Did the workplace role out the red carpet for them? Perhaps not. But these powerhouses of women seemed to gain strength, if anything, from the obstacles they tackled.
The fact that most women stayed home while raising families illustrates not the closed nature of the workplace, but the order of priorities most women had. Feminism didn’t give us the ability to leave the home. What feminism did do was to indoctrinate a generation of women with the notion that financial dependence on men was submission to male oppression, and to denigrate the titles of wife and mother.
Women have not been empowered by the feminist movement, but enslaved. We used to have one role to fill; now we have two. And it’s stressing us out. Now, according to The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness, published by The American Economic Journal, “The lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years by many objective measures, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.”
The Atlantic highlights the fact that our new-found “power” has not really liberated women:And it's not just single women who are feeling the pressure to be in two places at once. For a comical but beautifully honest take on the modern woman's angst, we can thank Jennifer Garner herself. She plays a loving mother torn between work demands and the needs of her family in "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." Strangely, even though this woman's character is supported by a loving husband who is willing to stay home while she pursues her career--and he does a great job of being a "fommy"--she feels both guilty and jealous about missing out on the daily trials and joys of her family. She is so conflicted that, up to the last minute we're not sure if she'll choose to continue her hectic pace--but she does.
The situation today is not, as Edin likes to say, a "feminist nirvana." The phenomenon of children being born to unmarried parents "has spread to barrios and trailer parks and rural areas and small towns," Edin says, and it is creeping up the class ladder. After staying steady for a while, the portion of American children born to unmarried parents jumped to 40 percent in the past few years. Many of their mothers are struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children, and then falling asleep in the elevator of the community college.
Feminism has hurt men. Feminism has hurt children. And feminism has especially hurt women.
I recently listened to an interview with Patricia and Jefferey R. Holland in which they discussed the early days of the feminist movement--which they lived through when they were at Yale together. Patricia commented on how, even in the sixties, it was easy to see that this cultural shift would be harmful to families, and especially to children. I was especially struck by Elder Holland's comments:
I think the model was wrong. What seemed to be the talk was..."how does a woman get out of the home, so to speak, or maybe even out of marriage...' When I think that that model should have been turned 180 degrees then, to 'what do we do to guarantee that men stay in the home? Or that men contribute in the home?'
I'm all for shared workload. We can do the dishes together, we can do the laundry together, and we can pay the bills together and figure out what the income tax is together. But it seems to me that just to think of ways to get away from family and away from home was exactly, diametrically opposite to the model we should have been pursuing, and that is, in such times, how do you keep fighting to stay in the home? Including a husband, including a father. That he does not just blissfully walk out the door and take his little briefcase and go off and never have another thought all day...about the greatest responsibility he has and that is to be a husband and a father... I think all the forces that spin us centrifugally away from the home, we have to fight that, and have those forces reversed as best we can, and have that circle coming back into the home.And this brings me to the reason I've felt moved to write about this. Sitting in General Conference this April I was inspired when Sister Bonnie Oscarson echoed Elder Holland's sentiments:
We need to take a term which is sometimes spoken of with derision and elevate it. It is the term homemaker. All of us--women, men, youth, and children, single or married--can work at being homemakers. We should "make our homes" places of order, refuge, holiness, and safety. Our homes should be places where the Spirit of the Lord is felt in rich abundance and where the scriptures and the gospel are studied, taught and lived. What a difference it would make in the world if all people sould see themselves as makers o righteous homes. Let us defend the home as a place which is second only to the temple in holiness.Feminism laughs at our traditional roles of mother and wife, and then it demands that we pay homage to it for "liberating" us from the work and commitments that can give us the most joy. Well, I'm sorry but this is one former feminist who now calls herself by a new name: I am a homemaker.
(I hope you'll come back next week, when I'll be addressing some of the negative effects the feminist movement still has in LDS homes--and how we can combat them!)