from Ben's mom
I was in the store last week when I heard two middle-aged (40s) women approaching. They proceeded to ask two males (one in his later 30s and another in his 40s) working in the produce section: "Boys, don't get turned on, but where are your nuts?" They were stunned and one was so mortified he walked away. The other answered the question. The women trotted off with one saying, "Thank you boys," and the other saying mockingly, "I think you offended him. He left." I turned to the male worker that was still standing there and said, "If you had said something like that to a woman, you would have been facing a sexual harrassment charge. That is horrible." He agreed with me and appreciated that I understood the indignity.
It is interesting that I should feel the indignity of sexual harrassment by overhearing two women make comments to two men. But the reality is that feminism has won for me the right to not be addressed in a derogatory manner, at least not in a public place. And while I have had men in power try to solicit sexual favors from me and that is a pretty horrible feeling, I have never been casually insulted in public in a way these two men were. It doesn't happen much anymore.
I've been thinking about feminism for awhile. In college I avoided women's issues because I didn't want to limit my education to my gender. And the women I saw that were doing their work in women's studies were jumping around acting abused if a man held the door for them. They carried boulders on their shoulders for imaginary injustices done to them and it looked silly. By the time I had graduated I had experienced a thing or two and understood their frustration a little better, but I could still see that men as a category were not "oppressors." But after four years of silence, I wrote my last college essay on feminism and my relationship to it. (Alas, it was in an in-class essay in my final final and I don't have a copy or I'd be curious to see what I thought about the subject ten years ago.)
When my thoughts turned to the subject again, I could vaguely remember different categories of feminism (radical, socialist, liberal), probably from discussing them with my roommate Dia, who was getting her sociology degree from a state university while I studied humanities at my Christian one.
For a long while I would not have called myself a feminist and what has really made me rethink the whole issue has been my introduction (more recently) to what I call the anti-feminist. The person who tells me on the phone that he won't send his sons to the college I work for because we educate women and that my being in the workplace is contrary to Scripture and an affront to my husband; the homeschooling speaker who only allows women to work for him if they are working under the supervision of their husband, father, or brother, who also receives their wages; the woman who tells me that she doesn't know anything about the family finances because that would be usurping her husband's authority; the woman who tells me that our country would be much better off if women didn't have the right to vote; the girl I met with at her high school who speaks four languages (several of them self-taught) and whose eyes light up when we she asks me what they teach at my college but whose high school counselor tells me privately later will never be allowed to go to college because her parents are afraid that if she were educated "no man would have her." It is these people who have shown me what I am, a feminist.
But I am uncomfortable with the term. Probably because of the name that socialist, radical and liberal feminists have made for the movement. But wait! There's a new label. (Actually several. Cultural and eco-feminism have been added too.) Conservative feminism. And that is the label I feel the most comfortable with, even if there are those in this arena that I am not entirely too sure about.
Recently I read an excellent book, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us" by Danielle Crittenden. Ms. Crittenden (or Mrs. David Frum as she doesn't mind being called), writes an excellent book which fits firmly into the category of conservative feminism, which is defined as "the feminism which criticizes the feminism which 'adopts a male model of careerism and public achievement as female goals, thereby denying women's need for intimacy, family, and children.' They fear that 'equality means death to the family.' (Equality as in "sameness" not "value.") They often reject the popular feminist epigram, 'the personal is political'." (For definitions of other kinds of feminism, go here or here.) Indeed Mirabella magazine has named Ms. Crittenden "the most dangerous feminist in America." I liked Ms. Crittenden's book, even though my mother did tell me those things for which I am grateful.
However, there was something which made me uncomfortable. At one point, Crittenden states that women who marry younger are happier and less agitated because they have settled a major question of their life and are able to be more productive even if they do divorce later. (I have returned the book to the library so I don't have the actual citation.) I was happily reading along and that stopped me short. My interpretation is that it is better to make the wrong decision if you make it early so that you can achieve your goals of family when your body is young and healthy. Forget the needs of the children born to this ill-fated union or the devastation (economic, emotional, spiritual) that divorces wreaks on men and women. Perhaps Crittenden didn't mean to sound quite that way, but she does evoke her mother as one of her heroes, a woman who married young and then divorced her father and later remarried.
So I would have to disagree. One of the beauties of living in a feminist era is that women have the right and ability to wait for the best, not only for themselves, but for their families. (And if they don't marry, they unleash a huge potential to impact in other areas that better society.) Fifty years ago, I would have been labeled an "old maid" for waiting until 32 to marry and the likelihood of being able to marry my best match who is 8 years my junior would be significantly slimmer. Now maybe I would have been surrounded by more traditional males, whose culture would have made them more apt to marry younger, and found true happiness. But maybe not. I kind of think things were as they were meant to be. And I like to think that I have bettered my family and others by obtaining an education, and, I hope, doing some good in the work force. In fact, studies show that children born to mothers who don't have their first child until 30 are intellectually and educationally advantaged. (Source: Levitt, Steven D. and Dubner, Stephen J. Freakanomics, Wm Morrow Publishers, 2005.) (This is a source of consolation since my physical body would have appreciated giving birth in my 20's more.)
Thanks to a former colleague who married very young and several friends who married in their early 20's and have been quite happy, I have come to recognize that early marriage is not necessarily a negative. But the beauty of conservative feminism is that I can recognize that marriage and family (relational achievement) probably will affect my happiness more than education and career (economic/educational achievement). The feminist movement for all its negative baggage has given me the right to be educated, employed, and to vote; the conservative feminist sees these things as tools to building and maintaining positive lifelong relationships. Oh, and the right to not be asked in the grocery store: "Girls, where do you keep your breasts?" Maybe it is time to refocus on equality and respect for men.