throwing feminism under the bus


So, I read this article by Amy Julia Becker yesterday: “Why We Need Paternity Leave.” First off, I want to applaud Becker for supporting this idea. One of the more significant problems facing families and parents today in America is that there are rarely good options in all things money and career related. Very often, men and women are forced to make decisions that they’d rather not make in order to simply be practical. These decisions, while more than understandable and completely justifiable on an individual level, can frequently have the long-term effect of hurting both men’s and women’s options in the long term and as a society.

Paternity leave– a concept thoroughly discussed by feminists (and argued against by anti-feminists)– could be a very excellent step forward in eliminating some problems. I’m not an expert, and I’m not thoroughly read up on the idea, but what I have read about it has a common-sense appeal. Thusly, I was happy when Becker decided to write a post about it.

And then she said this:

Much of the feminist movement has not empowered and protected women or called men to greater responsibility for their actions and relationships. Rather, it has encouraged women to become just like men.

First of all, this is not the first time that Becker has made a claim like this. While most of her writing for her.meneutics is related to motherhood, she does have a few posts like “Hookup Culture is Good for Women and other Feminist Myths.” While I’ve really appreciated the sorts of thoughts she shares in her motherhood-related posts, anytime she writes about– or even casually mentions– feminism, I’m left with not a whole lot else except irritation.

And I’m irritated by this because this post had so much promise. I’m thrilled anytime anyone introduces a feminist or non-traditional-gender-roles conversation into a mainstream Christian media outlet like Christianity Today, and it’s beginning to happen more frequently. While her.meneutics, the part of Christianity Today set apart for “the Christian woman,” tends to be a little (or a lot) more conservative than I am, I still fairly loyally read their articles. I think it’s important to at least be aware of what everyone is saying.

So here’s Becker, writing about a feminist idea, advocating for it, and suddenly there’s a whole paragraph awkwardly placed slap dab in the middle that seems to scream “I KNOW I’M TALKING ABOUT A FEMINIST THING PLEASE NO ONE THINK I’M A FEMINIST BECAUSE I’M ABSOLUTELY NOT.”

Also, the editors at her.meneutics used this quote in their initial facebook link for the post– I don’t want to stretch that too far, but choosing this particular quote when it doesn’t represent the body of her argument? Seems a little click-bait-y.

Frankly, it’s getting a little exhausting to be attracted to an article coming from a Christian media source because it’s promoting a feminist concept only to get there and have the rug ripped out from under me– and then be run over by the bus I just got thrown under. And, just to be fair, it’s not just Christians:

The arguments, the language, the ideas of feminism are co-opted– stolen– and then the writer advocating for this feminist idea spends over 10% of her time (104 words in a 997 word post) seemingly doing her best to demonize feminism and feminists. This only exacerbates and perpetuates the problem– women like Becker want nothing to do with feminism because of what they think feminism is, and then they take our arguments– but add the statement that this can’t possibly be feminism because see, I think feminists are baby-killers.*

And, because I used to say pretty much exactly the same thing, I understand why Becker made this statement. I used to believe that feminism was almost single-handedly responsible for the destruction of America. However, the first time I actually started engaging with modern feminism? That all ended. Because I know now that statements like “much of the feminist movement has not empowered or protected women” are categorically false.**

Feminism got women the vote.
Feminism set up domestic violence shelters and hotlines.
Feminism made it illegal for a man to abuse his wife.
Feminism made it possible for a woman to leave her abusive husband.
Feminism ensured that women could own property.
Feminism allowed Becker to argue for paternity leave (or anything) in public.

And this frustrates me, because when Becker (and others) write posts like these, they are so close. This is where we could start a conversation. This is where I could join together with them in a common cause. These times, these posts, are where we could sit down over a cup of coffee and hash out our similarities as well as our differences.

But, when I read like post like this one, all I get is: “you’re not invited.”

*please read the whole post. She did make a slightly less hyperbolic version of that argument.
**the “much” in the beginning of that sentence, while technically there to prevent an absolutist statement, doesn’t suceed.

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  • I am somehow ambivalent about policies that encourage having children. Because lack of people is definitely and absolutely not a problem on this planet. Overpopulation, on the other hand, is. You can’t put infinite number of people into finite space.

  • I have a really hard time seeing the good in this article through the blatant racism and misogyny present, not to mention the *extremely* screwed up theology and blatant liberal trolling. All quotes from the article:

    “The viral response to this photo demonstrates how unusual it is to see a dad (and an African-American dad too)”

    “Instead of advocating for self-control and mutual respect and care in sexual relationships, we’ve determined that girls can be just like boys in their hookups, infidelities, and exploits.”

    “Paternity leave certainly counts as progressive social policy. But for once it supports families rather than undercutting them. ”

    “Jesus teaches us to pray to our Daddy”

    The entire article seems constructed as a way to alienate the people who are most likely to agree with her. It’s disturbing to see that even when she advocates for a social position that could be seen as remotely helping people actually make families stronger, she needs to make sure that everyone reading understands she isn’t one of THOSE PEOPLE.

    I mean, I support paid paternity leave for the same reason that I support paid maternity leave: it’s good for families to have time when people are infants to bond as a family and those first few months are easily the hardest in terms of constant time intensive critical care. But I’m not fond of someone who is ostensibly working for the same thing I’m working toward to feel the need to make it so crystal clear that people like me are still horrible, terrible people who make Jesus angry. That’s really frustrating.

    • Frustrating indeed.

      • I can unequivocally say that your blog post here is a lot nicer than the things I wanted to say in response when I first read it.

  • There seem to be two different versions of feminism.

    There’s the version that says “women are real people, and should be treated and respected for who they are, just as we do for anyone.” I like that version of feminism.

    Then there’s the other version, the one that conservative groups like to attack. I might have met one feminist who advocated for that version of feminism. And that’s no different from there being the occasional obnoxious male.

    The trouble with the critics of feminism, is that they are attacking a feminism that doesn’t really exist. Worse still, I think they know that. They don’t like the good kind of feminism, but they mainly attack the more extreme version, because they find that gets them more support.

    • There have been a few radical feminists– like Dworkin, for example. However, they self-identified as “radical” and the rest of the movement saw them as radical. Even women like Dworkin, however, had valuable ideas to contribute to the conversation– such as how most of our ideas about heterosexual sex is violent (we use words like “take,” “break,” etc.). However, a few radical feminists (I think there have been maybe 10? I’m not sure. Radical feminism isn’t an interest of mine atm) have been used by conservative Christians and anti-feminists to paint the entire movement, and that’s unfortunate.

      I truly believe that many people who are currently anti-feminism, if they engaged with the actual arguments and ideas of feminism would be far more receptive.

      • But they don’t want to engage; they are too scared.

        That paragraph really jars, coming in the middle of an otherwise reasonable article. I was also jarred by the remarks on African-American fathers.

        One has to be careful in rejecting radicalism: one doesn’t know what ideas will turn out to be valid, no matter how shocking they are when first propounded. Women’s suffrage, women’s property rights, outlawing abuse: these things were all radical in their times.

        (Forgive me, this is most likely something you have already hashed over, but perhaps some of your readers have not.) Women have been mistreated for so long that the mind cannot take it in. It is not surprising, therefore, that many women are angry. But it is not only feminists. Many “traditional” women display a searing contempt for men in private, all the while being submissive when men are present. Somehow, however, conservative authors omit this part of the story when they start slamming feminists for being angry.

    • So what group of feminists are the ones that fall under the definition of feminism?
      “The Advocacy of women’s rights based on social political and economic equality with men”
      Because this is the “version” of feminism that I have a problem with.

      • You have a problem with the idea that women should be socially, politically and economically equal with men? I’m hoping I’m misunderstanding you here, because the alternative is a very clear-cut case of misogyny.

        • You are misunderstanding. As always with feminists, you are focusing on the second half of the definition. I do think that men and women should be socially, politically and economically equal. The equality between men and women is not the full definition, or even the most important part of the definition. My problem with feminism is not the concept of equality. My problem with feminism is the unfounded, untrue, sexist bigotry of the “The Advocacy of women’s rights” part of the definition.

          Women are not nor have ever been oppressed second class citizens. Both men and women have outdated regressive and burdensome gender roles. To argue “equality” but only when it’s a benefit to people with the correct genitalia is not “equality” but female dominance.

          Just look at the articles linked in support of Paid Paternity Leave.
          We need it to benefit women by closing the wage gap.
          We need it to benefit women by breaking the glass ceiling.
          Paternity leave will make startups more female friendly.
          We need it to benefit women by keeping more women in the workforce.

          What is missing from this? Why isn’t the discussion about how Men Make great fathers and love their children? Where is the argument that paternity leave will help men feel more connected with the children and the home? Where is the argument that paternity leave will benefit the children by having a male influence? It is feminism, the argument isn’t gender equality, but women’s rights, changing things to benefit women.

          • Women are not nor have ever been oppressed second class citizens.

            You appear to have missed those whole centuries in United States and European history where men were able to vote for their leaders nationally and women were not. That’s a second class citizen. Women still earn significantly less than men. Women have a harder time getting jobs in most professional fields.

            You have based your entire opposition to the term based on a horribly misunderstood view of the world around you. I would suggest taking some time to research what the world actually looks like (women are still very much second class citizens in many ways) and reevaluate whether what you’re saying really lines up with your view points.

          • In the US there was an 87 year period when “Men” could vote but not women. In the UK it was just 9. So yea I missed the part where 9 years is centuries.

            Women have a harder time getting “professional” jobs. Men have a harder time getting “caring” jobs. Men as emotionless robots and women as delecate flowers are stereotypes that hurt both men and women. To fix things, but only for the people with the correct genitalia, is sexist bigotry.

          • To fix things, but only for the people with the correct genitalia, is sexist bigotry.

            Great news. There’s this thing called intersectional feminism. You should check it out.

          • Pat Griffin

            “Women are not nor have ever been oppressed second class citizens.”

            I’m racking my brain here, but I can’t come up with a remotely plausible interpretation of this sentence that doesn’t render it obviously blatantly false. Whatever could you mean by this?

          • There are outdated regressive harmful restrictive and oppressive gender stereotypes for both men and women. We have spent the last 50 years exploring and describing how these stereotypes “oppress” women while calling the male stereotypes “Privilege” and describing how they help men. Because feminism chooses to ignore the ways gender roles hurt men and help women does not mean that gender roles never hurt men or help women.

            Women are not nor have ever been oppressed. The much larger group called “people” have been oppressed. This group does include women, but is not exclusive to women. Men and women have faced restrictions and abuses on par with each other.

    • “The trouble with the critics of feminism, is that they are attacking a feminism that doesn’t really exist. Worse still, I think they know that.”

      I can’t speak much about feminism, but I had to comment about this. I have a problem with you saying that you think they know they’re wrong. Because very few people know they are wrong, and the kind of people who continue to speak out against something that they know isn’t real are the worst kinds of liars. I do not appreciate it when people make accusations like that. How would you like it if I said “You made that comment even though you KNOW that all feminists are crazy and evil.” It’s not a cool statement to make. I know, it’s the kind of thing people say pretty regularly on the internet, but it’s not cool to assume that the people you disagree with aren’t just wrong but have to be evil liars as well.

  • Jeff

    If I understand correctly, your principal objection to Ms. Becker is that she co-opts some positions that /are/ compatible with feminism, but criticizes others (specifically, pro-choice, and pro-promiscuity or “sex positive”, as you’d put it) that you consider inherent to feminism. In other words, she’s not allowed to pick and choose which aspects of feminism she wants to support. If you, a feminist, are saying that one can’t be pro-life and a feminist, then how can you criticize her for identifying herself as pro-life and therefore, by extension, not-feminist?

    • My principle objection with Becker is that she doesn’t just co-opt ideas that are “compatible” with feminism– she co-opts feminist ideas and then does absolutely nothing to indicate that they’re feminist. What she does, instead, is in the single solitary time she talks about feminism at all is to describe it in the absolute worst terms imaginable for a reader or writer like her. In fact, she out-right misrepresents feminism.

      She says that feminism doesn’t advocate for “greater social and personal supports for women with unplanned pregnancies,” when, in fact, they DO. Frequently, feminists have to fight with social conservatives who want to remove support structures for women.

      Anyone is perfectly free to shape and mold their own feminism– any person’s feminism isn’t going to look exactly like any other person’s feminism, and I think that’s good. I’m not arguing here that you can’t be a feminist and also be pro-life, or a feminist and _____.

      If you don’t want to identify as a feminist at all, that’s fine, too. To each their own. But if you’re not going to be a feminist and instead openly demonize feminism, at least do us the favor or representing us honestly– and don’t steal our ideas while you decry and condemn us.

      Also, please do me the courtesy of not accusing me of being “pro-promiscuity, or ‘sex positive’ as you’d say it” when you have no idea what I think about the topic since I’ve never written about my views on sex positivity here or anywhere else.

      • Jeff

        Maybe we’re just reading the article differently. I read her as saying, “since feminism has been, in my view, wrong with respect to abortion and promiscuity, it’s encouraging that it’s right in the case of paternal leave, because the latter strengthens families and the former two do not.”

        You’re correct that feminist organizations do advocate for various forms of support for mothers facing unplanned pregnancy; at the same time, you’d have to grant that the overwhelming message one hears from NOW, NARAL, etc, is to push for “reproductive rights”, which means, abortion (and contraception).

        I was simply saying that Ms. Becker’s piece argued that to the extent that /feminism/ (not you personally) is pro-promiscuity, that this is a bad thing. That said, I could swear that I recall a post in which you self-identified as sex-positive, but maybe I’m thinking of another blog. Sorry about that.

        • I disagree. Everything she says about feminism or “progressive social policy” is dismissive in the extreme, and her language is subtly condescending (“But for once it supports families rather than undercutting them” etc).

          NARAL is explicitly a pro-reproductive rights organization. Of course the message you’re going to hear from them is going to be about pro-choice issues. NARAL is FAR from the first or last voice on feminism. They’re just an organization.

          However, I disagree that the “overwhelming message one hears from NOW” is reproductive rights. I follow them on facebook and twitter and just looked over their home page, and they talk about a lot of things– women in the military, LGBTQ equality, SSN, body image, immigration, violence against women, rape, income inequality . . . when they’re quoted in the media, however, most of the time they’re being quoted or talked about regarding their position for women’s reproductive choices. So, part of what you’re reacting to by seeing this issue as “overwhelming” is frequently based on what happens in the media– both conservative and liberal outlets.

          Also, defining feminism as a movement as being “pro-promiscuity” is … complicated. I understand why we are frequently painted this way, but being pro-promiscuity and being sex positive are NOT the same thing. Related, and perhaps seem similar at first, but they’re not.

          I’ve never identified as sex-positive. I’m still doing a massive amount of research into what that term means to me. I’ve identified as being against slut shaming and purity culture, and of not demonizing women as a “whore” or “slut” or “promiscuous” based on someone else’s perception of sexual purity.

          And, in my personal experience, reproductive rights rarely ever come up in conversations between feminists about feminism. If you’d like to see the sorts of conversations I’m talking about, you should look at @jaythenerdkid, @thetrudz, @janetmock, @lovejoyfeminism, @belle_vierge, @CarisAdel, @NaomirWolf, @flyingteacosy, @pixiemania, @graceishuman, @onesarahjones, @diannaanderson, @seelolago . . .

          Actually, just subscribe to this: https://twitter.com/virtusetveritas/lists/new-ideas and pay attention to it for a week or two.

          • Jeff

            Fair enough; how frequently would you say that your writings about the pro-life movement are non-dismissive and non-condescending? Always? Usually? Occasionally?

            Ms. Becker is Princeton-educated, she’s smart and a good writer. She appears to take the view that abortion and promiscuity are bad for women and their families. I don’t think she said or implied that these are the sum total of feminism, but she is (correctly, I think) saying that they are generally associated with it, and that, to the extent that they are, that feminism is in error.

            While I commend your open-mindedness regarding the possibility of being pro-life and feminist, would you grant that, for example, a pro-life woman is probably not likely to rise to leadership in NOW anytime soon? In other words, while you yourself, commendably, may not insist on ideological purity, there are certainly feminists who do. That’s a bad thing, because it conflates being “pro-woman” with being “pro-feminist”, when in fact, it’s possible to be one but not the other.

            As a parallel example, it’s possible to oppose illegal immigration without being a xenophobe, or to believe that the welfare system is harmful to the poor without being anti-poor.

            I’ll leave you the last word; thank you for the discussion.

          • I wasn’t part of the original conversation, so I hope that you’ll forgive me from butting in here, but there were a couple of points I wanted to address in what you wrote.

            “would you grant that, for example, a pro-life woman is probably not likely to rise to leadership in NOW anytime soon? “

            You’ve done this a couple of times in this thread, and I want to address it here. You’re conflating the idea of being “pro-life” with “one who advocates for the outlaw of abortion”. To avoid launching into a debate about the legality of abortion here, most of the supporters of NOW that I would expect you’d interact with on a regular basis would agree that abortion is bad; many of NOW’s pieces of advocacy legislation (required paid maternity leave, required paid sick time, universal health care, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, etc) are either explicitly designed to or have the desirable side effect of reducing abortions. Their problem is with those who advocate banning abortion believing that somehow reducing access to abortions reduces their number (this has been shown to be untrue). Someone who advocates banning abortion is probably going to have a number of other significant differences with NOW beyond the abortion concept, which means that the point is essentially moot.

          • Thank you for explaining this. I was just too worn out yesterday to keep going in multiple conversations.

          • Jeff

            I would say, rather, that I’m using the term “pro-life” in its conventionally understood sense, which as you note, is associated with the view that legalized abortion is net-harmful. If you want to introduce a different sense in which one could claim to be “pro-life”, but not actually be “pro-life” in the colloquial sense, I wouldn’t disagree, but I don’t entirely see how that’s relevant or helpful. Ms. Becker’s article contends that legalized abortion is a bad thing for women and families, and that feminism is therefore in the wrong.

          • I think there’s a conversation worth having between all understandings of “pro-life.”

            Hilary Clinton really sums up where I think pro-life and pro-choice advocates could come together:

            I think abortion should remain legal, but it needs to be safe and rare. And I have spent many years now, as a private citizen, as first lady, and now as senator, trying to make it rare, trying to create the conditions where women had other choices.

            Both pro-choice people and pro-life people want to see the abortion rate decline. All sides (and there are a lot more than two) think that abortion is at the very least a tragedy. However, what we do know is that the abortion rate before and after Roe vs. Wade was the same– and that America’s abortion rate is double that of other first-world countries. That’s a problem, and everyone can agree on that.

  • Mhud

    I used to think feminism was about women being respected as people, and I lived through the sixties and seventies, but then I read When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. It opened my eyes in a new way to things that I had observed way back when and continue to see now. I strongly encourage you to get a copy from the library and read it.

    • I checked it out from my library during Women’s History Month last year, but thank you for suggesting it!

  • Aibird

    Your post sums up why I stopped bothering with these conversations with my evangelical friends. As soon as the word “feminist” enters the conversation, it’s like I cease to exist and suddenly they are sprouting all sorts of mis-truths and terrible characterizations that aren’t based on reality, and nothing I say or do can convince them otherwise. It’s terribly disheartening. I just don’t have the energy or spirit to try to show them the truth, especially when many of them seem so unwilling to even consider the idea they may be wrong about how they view feminism.

  • Lizzy L

    Instead of talking about maternity or paternity leave, we could talk about parental leave.

    • Fia

      Yes. Feminism really does need to step up and be more inclusive of trans people and genderqueer/genderfluid/agender* people. I, too, have criticisms of feminism to the point where I sometimes do not even want to identify with societies’ definition of feminism, but my criticisms are very different from Becker’s.

      • Yes, I can completely understand why a lot of people don’t want to identify as feminist for exactly these sorts of reasons. Feminists have a history of racism and homophobia, and that’s something that needs to be continually addressed since it’s ongoing in a lot of places. Don’t even get me started on TERFs.

        • Feminists have a history of racism and homophobia,

          For what it’s worth, the term “Womanism” seems to have sprung up as an alternative to the racist oversights of especially second-wave feminism.

          Be forewarned: if you start describing yourself as a womanist, it’s likely that you’re going to have people ask you what that is, and except in specific circles, any explanation that’s going to start diving into the racial divides of women’s roles in the 1960’s is usually going to generate some glass-eyed responses.

          • I have thought about switching to “womanist” a few times, but having to explain it over and over again sounds… exhausting.

            The problem with that is that as a white woman, the racist history of feminism doesn’t personally affect me and I can afford to make this decision.

  • The pushback you received on this post demonstrates that women still have a long way to go. Labels are still being put onto women, and there are still so many attempts to isolate them. Feminism is not a dirty word. How sad that so many still see it as such.

  • I just wanted to comment and give you props for linking the video to Feminist Frequency. It is by far my favorite youtube channel.

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  • I’ve written a response to this post here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thinplaces/2014/01/why-im-grateful-for-feminism/

    To clarify two things that I didn’t include in the post, I debated whether to include the reference to the African-American dad at the end of my her.meneutics piece, but he himself wrote about how his photo would counter stereotypes of African-American fathers. You can read more here: http://shine.yahoo.com/parenting/awesome-dad-styles-daughter-39-hair-breaks-internet-204400163.html

    Moreover, I agree with the comments that Hilary Clinton’s approach to abortion–safe, legal, and rare–presents a positive, proactive way to reduce abortion that would benefit women and could find middle ground between pro-life and pro-choice forces. I wrote about that for parents.com during the past presidential election: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thinplaces/2012/08/abortion-and-the-election/