Saturday, June 29, 2013

Women, Feminism, Jesus, and You

Here's another excellent guest post, this time from our friend Samantha. She is proud, revengeful, and ambitious—like Hamlet! Just kidding, but we're not kidding when we say she is a brilliant person who is always on an adventure. Her next adventure will take her to Cuba, and soon after she will graduate from BYU.

Feminism is a pretty stigmatized topic even though it shouldn’t be. I like what The Encyclopedia of Mormonism says: Feminism is the philosophical belief that advocates the equality of women and men and seeks to remove inequities and to redress injustices against women.

Feminism in this light can be universally accepted in the church as something morally right. Doctrinally, it makes sense that before an omnibenevolent God women and men are, though different, completely equal. For the record, I firmly believe that He does not send one category of His children to the earth spiritually impaired thus requiring the bestowal of priesthood responsibilities to compensate for said impairment. Also, there is no monopoly on certain virtues depending on whether you are male or female. Men and women play different and equal parts in God’s great Plan of Salvation. We cannot come into this life without the combined power of a woman and a man and we cannot fulfill the requirements of the Gospel without that same combined power.

It’s refreshing and relieving, really, when I remember these facts about God—because culturally, it’s a whole different, really crappy story. I think Satan’s had it out for women after he got duped by Eve in the Garden of Eden. In this world of ours, women and girls are simply means for evil to achieve its end. For instance, women are about 1/2 of the world’s population, perform 2/3 of its labor, receive 1/10 of its income and own less than 1/100 of its property. Women earn 73 cents to a man’s dollar. 1 in 4 women will be a victim of rape or other sexual assault. The facts that prove women’s subservient position in the world are endless. For goodness sake, just look at how women are portrayed in the media. Intelligent and powerful women are virtually absent from mainstream movies and TV shows.

Invisibility is one of society’s greatest tools against women and girls. Babies, boys and girls alike, are born the most obviously vulnerable creatures in existence. Later in life, girls face the harsh reality that the vulnerability they are born with will last throughout their entire lives. Perhaps the cruelest thing about a woman’s existence is that she is expected to pass through the horrors that will come to her silently—silently and invisibly. Indeed, this invisibility is a common state women live in throughout the globe and throughout time. Invisibility impacts the life of every woman in varying degrees. For some it could simply be a sense of disrespect in the work place. For another, the hegemonic forces that work to define the roles of women in any society. Regardless of the degree of invisibility any woman faces, the effects are always harmful. As one woman in India stated, “In any case, if we say we are suffering, who is going to bother? We will still be left with only one solution, to pray to God. It is our life, and we must live it, and hope for better in the next.”

Peace is multifaceted. One great issue that disturbs the chance for national or global peace is the lack of women’s security. In the book Sex & World Peace, Valerie Hudson and her colleagues address this issue. They expose the reader to three wounds that women must face in this world. These wounds punctuate the lives of women all over the world. They define the core issues that are associated with being invisible. The first wound discussed is the lack of bodily integrity and physical security. At one or many points of any woman’s life, rape is either a nightmare come true or dangerously close to being a reality. Women also experience domestic violence seven times more often than men do. The other night as I walked home with a male friend, I asked if he was ever afraid of walking home when it was dark out. To my surprise, he laughed in response and said quite simply, “No. Never.” Women lack such security. In turn, this creates restrictions on a woman’s mobility. I don’t think national or global security stands a chance until women’s insecurities are righted. Well, I actually don’t think any type of security makes sense when it’s based off of another’s insecurity but we’ll get to that another day.

To conclude, I’d just like to share a few ideas for standing up to the man (figuratively and literally).
1. Remember that these “women’s issues” affect the entire population. We’re all in this together, dangit! Instead of teaching girls “don’t get raped,” let’s work to undo the everyday, ingrained ways of thinking that lead to violence against anyone. Don’t say or do anything that supports this power disparity between men and women.
Real quick, let’s talk about rape. In no way at all is it simply a matter of fulfilling libidinal desires or impulses. Rape is about power. In societies where the honor of men is equivalent to the virtue of women, rape is used to break apart societal, communal, or even familial bonds. After the attack, a woman is ostracized from the community (and she could even spend years in prison… or be killed). She becomes a stain on the family’s honor. Families break apart and as we learn so often in church, that means adios to a happy society. It is also used to preserve the power relations between the strong (manly, aggressive) and the weak (passive, feminine). These same power preservations are the basis of most conflict. In the article "Pandora’s Sons: The Nominal Paradox of Patriarchy and War", Thom Workman explains that war is related to patriarchy and is rooted in patriarchal culture. War is a manifestation of the violent characteristics of a gendered society. It is a tool used by patriarchal societies to “ensure the replication and reproduction of masculine traits” (big, strong, powerful, dominant) and to “repress all things ‘womanly’” (peace, love, weakness). In the same way, rape can be used to define a society’s power dynamics.
The important thing is that this can change. When you hear about rape cases in the news, don’t question what the victim was wearing, where they may have been walking, or if anything in their behavior somehow indicated “they had it coming.” 
2. On a more light-hearted note, my next suggestion is to stop talking about Sheri Dew as “that one lady in the church that’s still single” and start talking about her as, you know, the Kansas girl who grew up to be a bestselling author, a publisher and a CEO of a popular company. In other words, recognize women for more than just their sexual function. I’m just tired of hearing things like, “You’re going to grad school so you can get a job? Don’t you know you’ll just end up going wherever your husband gets a job?” or “Law school? Don’t you know you’re taking the place of a righteous priesthood holder?” or “So…when are you just gonna settle down?” I would like to see not only my, but all academic achievements of women and girls to be as celebrated as marriages and parenthood. Yes, marriage is necessary to eternal progression. But so is knowledge. Knowledge, our friend Shakespeare once said, is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. Just sayin’. 
3. In the end I think the biggest suggestion to end gender inequality is to just follow Jesus Christ. I end with one of my favorite quotes of all time, from Dorothy Sayers: 
Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them…who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend.
Jesus Christ, the Great Equalizer, is our perfect example. I know before Him I am just as great as anybody else. He wants me to be powerful and confident in my life. He wants me to go to college and to do other marvelous things! And His desires reflect the desires of our Heavenly Parents! It’s amazing! Be like Jesus, be excellent and change the world around you in the process.