Apr 16, 2008

Flunking Feminist

I'm a "bad" feminist.

Honestly, I'm grateful for just about everything in my life and I can honestly say that I take very little for granted. I'm extremely grateful for good health of body and mind, freedom, peace, and an abundance of good food, clean water. I often feel guilty that most of the world is lacking the basics, while everything has more or less been served to me on a silver platter. I think about this frequently and try to make up for it by doing what I can to make a positive impact in this world.

There is, perhaps, one thing that I do take for granted. All my life, I've basically assumed that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. I am the oldest of 5 children and the only girl. My parents provided us all with anything a kid could realistically ever require and they never said I couldn't do something just because I was a girl, whether it was becoming a paleontoligist or a hockey player. It never really occurred to me that I couldn't do any of these things just because of my sex. And, had I decided to pursue any of these careers, I probably would have had few, if any, obstacles due to being female.

As a girl and young woman, I gave little thought to feminism. Perhaps I shunned it because I was such a tomboy growing up. I felt ashamed of acting (and for a while, even looking) feminine, but luckily that was just a phase. If you had asked me what I thought about for example women's suffrage, I would have told you I thought it was important, but I probably couldn't (and still don't) fully appreciate the struggle of women that have gone before me. Things like the bra-burning era were before my time and I must admit that I've given little thought to the feminist movement in general. In fact, if you had asked me what I thought about feminism, it would have mostly been negative. I looked at feminists, for the most part, as haughty and career-obsessed women who were out to put down women like my mother, who doesn't have a college degree (yet is still one of the smartest and wisest people I know) and has been a stay-at-home mom since I was born. I felt like these women would look down upon me if I wanted to get married and raise a family. At the same time, I knew from a young age that I was never going to be Molly Mormon. Now, as an adult, I live in a part of the world where gender equality is as good as it gets and I get angry when I see that "traditional" women are mocked and looked down upon; not by men, but by fellow women.

Last night I read an interesting excerpt from a speech given by Claudia L. Bushman entitled Should Mormon Women Speak Out? There was one paragraph in particular that reminded me of when I was in YW. She says:

"Many of us have visited the Nauvoo statuary garden where there are sculptures of women at various stages of their lives: Little girls, students, brides, mothers. I thought that this was all very nice until I came to the end of the line. The last statue shows an elderly woman, frail, alone. She sits in a rocking chair sewing on a quilt. The title of this sculpture, which haunts me, is Fulfillment. I like to rock. I like to quilt, and it is true that the quilt pattern she is stitching is called "Eternal Marriage," but she is still quiet and alone. That sculpture is not my idea of fulfillment. Surely there is something more for the wise, experienced, creative women of the Church to do than sit, rock, and stitch. My conclusion from this little exercise is that, in general, women of the Church live much more passive, isolated, and silent lives than men."

Fulfillment is an interesting topic because I've come to learn that, just like one man's trash is another's treasure, one man's (or woman's) fulfillment is another's nightmare. In YW, we would always get the usual lessons about chastity, temple marriage and motherhood, along with appropriate activities. I used to get angry when I saw the YW playing floor hockey or basketball while we were sewing or baking cookies. I remember being a Mia Maid and having our leader telling us how when we married our future husbands, we would love them so much that our biggest desire would be to bear their children. I remember thinking to myself that I would never love anyone THAT much. Now I'm married and I was right.

I often feel caught in the middle because I resent both sides. I resent being made to feel like a "tool" to be used at my husband's will to beget his children and yet, at the same time, I resent those who say that it's wrong or weak-minded of me to do so if I choose. And it's being able to choose that is most important to me. I came to appreciate that precious gift of choice even more after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini last year. So many girls and women in this world are the victims of circumstance and the class that they are born into will often determine virtually every aspect of their lives. I think every woman needs to read that book because it will humble you to the point of outrage and open your eyes to the injustices in this world. You think you know, but I can say that unless you've read this book, you haven't even begun to know. Who knows, it might even turn you into a feminist!


Sanford said...

Hey Faithful D, I miss your posts. I am not much of a feminist and I don't have a temple recommend so I haven't commented for a while but I have been checking every day for new posts. I loved Kite Runner but have yet to read A Thousand Splended Suns. Your a great writer and really tee up an issue nicely. I hope you'll post more soon.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hey Sanford, thanks for stopping by every day. I check your blog regularly as well, I enjoy your postings and the interesting discussions that follow. :) I'm currently on a sort of vacation, visiting my folks, so my Mormon musings seem to be taking a hiatus as well. But as soon as I can collect my thoughts enough to put them into sentences, I will post again. :)

I read The Kite Runner after A Thousand Splendid Suns, and although I did enjoy TKR very much, the storyline of A Thousand Splendid Suns just blew me away. I think it's one of those few books that will stay with you forever. I'm not much of a sap, but I would be lying if I said I didn't shed a few tears while I read that book.