Sunday, June 14, 2015

How Feminism is Still Hurting LDS Families--Part II

Last week I discussed some of the harmful outcomes of the feminist movement in our society at large.  If you missed it, I hope you'll go back and take a look.

So what does feminism mean to a woman who has already rejected most of its principles in her life, as I have?  What about those of us who never bought the liberal propaganda that told us to sleep around, delay marriage and family for as long as possible, and then to outsource our children to caregivers so that we can climb the corporate ladder?  In what some have called a post-feminist society, what part does its ideology even play in the lives of women like me?  And yes, I am finally getting to the point, so thank you for sticking with me this long:  Feminism has taken the fun out of being a woman. 

Thinking men as the enemy is no fun, and neither is thinking of our children as obstacles to self-fulfillment.  

As Wives
Do we treat our husbands with the same respect we demand of them?  Or have we fallen easy prey to the Orwellian trap of the oppressed becoming the oppressors?  Sometimes I try to imagine men saying and doing things that women get away with, and it makes me laugh.  It TJ demanded things of me the same way I do of him, we might not even still be married.  It's a huge double standard.

Where the feminist movement at large cultivates a grudge against men who have treated women wrongly, women in the church take up the same banner against men who have not.  We did not marry the losers Laura Schlessinger designated as "the three As" worth leaving altogether: adulterers, abusers, and addicts.  By and large we married men who honor the priesthood, strive to support us as wives and mothers, and want to be good fathers to their children.  We married men worthy of our respect, but we fail to give it to them.

Sadly, we have abandoned the spirit of meekness to embrace a spirit of competition and combativeness.  Instead of building our husbands up as leaders protectors, and providers in our homes, we sometimes undermine the very efforts they make to fulfill their God-given role.  When husbands lead out, wives often express doubt in their abilities; we show a lack of gratitude for them, we show resentment when their leadership succeeds and criticism when it fails; we loudly complain that our men are not more like women, and then when they try to please us by helping us in our role as nurturers, we laugh at their mistakes.  Worst of all is our tendency to discount our husbands' ideas, plans, hopes, skills, and desires.

It's tempting to think there is no problem here because there is no complaining.  But you won't hear husbands complain about overbearing wives to their overbearing wives, for two reasons: they are trying to be patient and unselfish; and they are afraid of backlash if they don't.  So they take this treatment for years and even decades before danger signs arise.  But eventually we see our husbands lose confidence in their abilities, and give up trying to lead.  And this is the terrible moment of self-fulfilling prophecy: when a man becomes the weakling his wife has always believed he was.

As Mothers
Feminism doesn't just take the fun out of being a wife.  It also takes the fun out of being a mother. And it does this by telling us a few key lies.

Gloria Steinem, one of the founders of the feminist movement, asserted, "A liberated woman is one who has sex before marriage and a job after."  That one's pretty easy for LDS women to reject, but similar ideas are promoted everywhere in modern culture, and because they are so subtle, they're hard to identify.  We are told that we're wasting our time and talents on raising children.  We're told that a woman who stays home to take care of her family is bored, frustrated, and unhappy.  We're told that if our lives revolve around our husband and children, we are somehow missing out on a more fulfilling experience.  We are told that women who stay home for awhile with little ones become irrelevant by the time they choose to re-enter the workforce.  We are told that in order to raise a child right, you must take that extra work in order to afford the things that will make him happy, such as the latest gadgets, designer clothes, and a trip to Disneyland at least once a year.

Do we believe these lies?  No!  Well, maybe just a little.  Just enough to make us pause before we write "homemaker" next to the box marked "other" on that government form.  I am so grateful that I get to be a stay-at-home mom, but I fervently hope that people can stop thinking of my lot as frumpy, exhausted slaves to our families.  And to be perfectly honest, I need to get this misconception out of my own head, as well.

Working moms suffer, too--and maybe, especially.  Feminism robs mothers of enjoying their children by insisting that we can and should "have it all"--which is liberal lingo for pursuing a career during the demanding early years of raising a family.

The great news is that most American women fit work around their families' needs, rather than giving in to feminist demands that professional advancement should come first.  Women work shorter hours, try to be home when their children are, and try as much as possible to have them cared for by family members.  They may miss out on career and pay advancements by doing this, but by and large moms are willing to make that sacrifice because they put their families first.

Some women simply have to work to provide basic necessities for their families.  And some work because they are happier that way.  I am not addressing these two groups of women.  I am addressing women who have been told all their lives that in order to be valuable members of society, they have to work while they're raising kids--and who are really suffering because of it.  Women who feel compelled to provide for their families often feel anxiety, stress, frustration, and guilt for what they're missing at home.  Which, needless to say, is not fun.

Jennifer Garner's simplistic view of what it means to be a mother illustrates the selfishness pushed by feminist thinkers, but it also begs the question: are mothers indeed under too much pressure?  Yes. We are.  But the pressure comes from feminism's lies--not from our own expectations of life with a family.  We are missing out on the joy of being mothers because we've forgotten it's the most important thing we'll ever do!

As Latter-Day Saint women, we can do better.

Forsaking Feminism
Let's go retro for a second and think about the archetypal housewife of the 1950s.  She looks great in her full skirt and her red lipstick.  She's overjoyed that the vacuum and washing machine are making her life easier.  She considers the state of her home an expression of who she is--she is "house-proud."  Her near-constant presence in the home allows her to know what is going on in her kids' lives and hearts.  When her husband comes home, she brings him a drink so he can relax with the paper.  Then she puts the finishing touches on a dinner the whole family can share together.  She is creative, resourceful, focused, grateful, and happy--and she seems to be having a whole lot of fun. Women back then did it with flair.

Feminists have been howling about these images of womanly contentment for half a century now. And I think this has us all a little skittish about fully embracing our work as homemakers.  Even when we choose to make our homes and families the centers of our lives, we're a little embarrassed about being too happy about it.  It's all so hopelessly out of fashion.  When was the last time you saw a woman waiting on her husband, getting excited about homemaking hacks, or priding herself on a beautiful meal?

I'm not saying we should try to look and act like Mary Tyler Moore.  A sincere focus on home and family does not necessarily mean our homes will look like a Pinterest board or that we will be slim, gorgeous, and smiling all the time.  Rather, I am suggesting that we stop listening for howling feminists and embrace our natural talent for nurturing.  I think we'd enjoy ourselves more if we did. LDS women are powerful not because we are seeking to wrest control of the world from men. We are powerful because we embrace the control we've always had--which power we share with men--the power to build up families.

Taking Femininity Back

Gordon B. Hinckley said, "People wonder what we do for our women.  I will tell you what we do. We get out of their way and look with wonder at what they are accomplishing."  That is the way a prophet of God views the women of the church.  Do we view ourselves that way?

We can take back the joy of motherhood by taking back our identity.  Where the world insists we are wasting our talents, we can persist in the knowledge that there is no better place for them to be used than the home.  Where the world markets a sleek, expensive version of child-rearing, we can be secure in the knowledge that no materialistic lifestyle can equal the impact a mother has on her child's life.

As women of God, we must eschew the subtle treachery of worldly teachings that would undermine our strength.  We can cling instead to the teachings of living prophets.  It is tempting for me to devote this entire section to quoting "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" verbatim.  It is simple.  It is profound.  It is the most inspired counsel to families I have ever read.  Have you read it lately?  I confess I don't read it nearly often enough, and I challenge you to take a close look at its teachings in light of what I've discussed here.  What does the Proclamation teach women about how to live a joyful life? Here are just a few noteworthy phrases:

Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose... The family is ordained of God.  Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan... Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Successful marriages and families are established and maintained upon principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.  By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.  Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.  In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
The amount of fun--the amount of joy and satisfaction--we have as women depends on whose vision of ourselves we buy.  And it would be lovely if we could just choose once and for all to buy God's vision, but I believe it has to be an ongoing process of searching His word and implementing it in our lives.

Here are a few scriptures that might be useful for a feminist seeking to reclaim her femininity.  The first one, ironically, was specifically given as counsel to the priesthood:
No power or influence can our ought to be maintained by virtue of [being a woman], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile...  
 D&C 121:41-42
Forgive me for taking such a huge liberty in applying that to us as sisters, but with the entitlement we've come to feel from the feminist movement, it's worth considering.  Do we consider it our place to rule the home, simply because we are women?
And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.   
Alma 7:23
Humility, patience, and gentleness are not exactly watchwords of the feminist movement, are they? But it's time for us to re-embrace these traditionally feminine traits.  If we love our husbands, we should speak well of them, serve them, seek their counsel, thank them for their hard work, and speak to them with love and respect.

Margaret D. Nadauld said:
Women of God can never be like women of the world.  The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender.  There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind.  There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined.  We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith.  We have enough greed; we need more goodness.  We have enough vanity; we need more virtue.  We have enough popularity; we need more purity.
James E. Talmage wrote, "The greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ."  I know this is true.  He is the source of our freedoms, our joys, our triumphs, and our hope.  As we strive to emulate his magnificent life, we will find our powers increase in ways that feminism never even dreamed.

* * *

P.S.:  Thank you so much for reading this post and for sharing it with friends.  Despite the staggering amount of time it took me to put it together, I'm well-aware that it is no masterpiece.  I found courage to publish it, however, because I feel strongly that LDS women deserve better.  There is so much to this topic that I really only got the tip of the iceberg here. If you are ready to challenge your ideas on feminism, I highly recommend the following reading:

The Flipside of Feminism by Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly
The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Laura Schlessinger
"The Joy of Motherhood" by Margaret D. Nadauld
"Mothers Who Know" by Julie B. Beck
"Be Meek and Lowly of Heart" by Ulisses Soares

and, of course,

"The Family: A Proclamation to the World"


MyDonkeySix said...

I wouldn't mind looking like Mary Tyler Moore. She had such cute outfits and hair! Seriously, though, I have often thought about the double standard as well. Men would be killed if they acted the way women do and say the things we sometimes say. It makes you think. I spoke about this in my Father's Day talk via Linda K. Burton's last Conference address. How we women need to be kinder and support, encourage, and sustain our husbands as fathers. Just as mothers need help and growth, so do fathers. So let's stop worrying about fairness and worry more about helping each other! Great thoughts, as always!

Karen Dick said...

Haha! Yes! Let's bring red lipstick back together, Sue!
Your comment reminds me so much of Eliza Snow's:
“We want to be ladies in very deed, not according to the term of the word as the world judges, but fit companions of the Gods and Holy Ones. In an organized capacity we can assist each other in not only doing good but in refining ourselves, and whether few or many come forward and help to prosecute this great work, they will be those that will fill honorable positions in the Kingdom of God. … Women should be women and not babies that need petting and correction all the time. I know we like to be appreciated but if we do not get all the appreciation which we think is our due, what matters? We know the Lord has laid high responsibility upon us, and there is not a wish or desire that the Lord has implanted in our hearts in righteousness but will be realized, and the greatest good we can do to ourselves and each other is to refine and cultivate ourselves in everything that is good and ennobling to qualify us for those responsibilities.”

Jessie said...

THANK YOU for this post. I am grateful that women can vote, but I'm very sad that now my daughter will be forced to register for the draft when she is 18, because of 'feminists.' I agree that femininity has a power all its own and I am sad at the she-man woman warrior culture that is pervading our society. My daughter will be taught to be feminine and proud of it.

Karen Dick said...

Thank you Jessie! I am so grateful to live in this modern age, when we can truly have the best of both worlds if we lead with our hearts.