Social Justice is about everyone, isn’t it?

So lately I’ve been encountering some troubling stuff. Stuff that makes me question myallegiance to the feminist tribe. (Well, sort of.) In particular I have encountered three conversations with feminists that make note of the idea of limiting the sphere in which one can truly be a feminist.

The first instance was a comment from a good friend – one I know to be an active advocate for social justice of all kinds. In fact, I would argue that I have almost never hung out with her without discussing some way in which the current social systems are hurting or inhibiting the needs and desires of honest hard-working people or animals.  A few years ago she had a baby – a beautiful strong-minded little girl – and after much toss and turn – she decided that she was not going to return to work as a teacher. So now she is a stay at home mom.  Her comment to me was that most of her feminist friends no longer respect her. REALLY?!! I was shocked – horrified even. This is like the best mom ever, a woman who studies and thinks out all her moves as a mom – what food her daughter should eat, what fabrics should be close to her skin, how much television is too much television – or is she better off with non at all?  This woman who washes her own diapers because she’s worried about the earth and yes, she has a partner – who happens to be a man – who works day and night so that she can stay home and raise their daughter in the way she thinks is best.  This is a job, and important one, is it not?  It is also a job she loves and one that she feels has great meaning for her.

I’ve done some research and there are definitely women who rage against this idea. Like this one . And this one. But, I will continue to defend women who choose to stay home.  Mothering is a key element of society. It is a valuable and honorable profession. Viewing childcare as a less than scenario relies on philosophical framework of importance or success that  is defined by the masculine identity – in other words one of the key issues, early on for feminism was the idea that men’s lives are defined as free – potent and subject oriented. 

Ringing in the second wave of Feminism by writing The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, explained the nature of women’s cultural standing. She said, “man represents both positive and neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative.”   In other words, masculinity is perceived as the norm or the superior state of humanity and femininity exists as “inessential” opposition to this norm. Beauvoir’s theory on implementing male/female equality was grounded in the understanding of womanhood as a limiting state.  Beauvoir advocated the rise of a woman from subordinate to dominate by becoming more like a man, i.e. disconnecting from her connection to ‘her own nature,’ her physicality, particularly her womb and the job of child rearing.  Later feminists recognized a fundamental flaw in Beauvoir’s perspective. In “Humanism, Gynocentrism, and Feminist Politics,” Iris Young explains, “Beauvoir does not call into question the definition of being human that traditional western society holds, and she devalues traditionally female activity in the same way that the patriarchy does.”  In other words, Beauvior’s perspective equates the true state of humanity with masculinity. In light of this understanding, it is my contention, that femininity is not the problem, rather inequality is caused by the “the denial and devaluation of specifically feminine virtues” (Young). The road to compassionate equality does not require that women become more like men, but rather that we cease to devalue and define femininity and masculinity as constructs in opposition, with hegemonic masculinity functioning as the superior form and femininity an inferior reflection.  This idea can be explored further in the works of Val Plumwood.

I am off on a tangent from where I began…So let me just circle round a bit. While I’ve focused on this discussion of stay at home mom’s, I mentioned that there were three conversations that threw me for a loop. The second conversation occurred with Gail Dines and some of the current  key players in FAU’s Women, Gender and Sexuality department at the Florida Consortium for Women’s Studies Conference. The topic of the actual discussion eludes me by the basic premise was a number of female  feminists met to discuss pornography and anti-porn strategies and the told a transgender feminist that her attendance was not appreciated. Ouch…REALLY! Isn’t the ultimate goal empowering and accepting each other as we are and want to be? 

My final issue was a conversation with friends about sexuality – one friend, who is in a long-term relationship with a man but used to date only women – mentioned that when she started dating a man all her lesbian friends disowned her. REALLY!  – I can’t really say that the women who disowned her are feminists, but I can say that they bear the burdens of unequal social justice issues – wouldn’t they want to let people be and choose whatever makes them happy? Obviously not.

What is that? 

I am a proponent of the morality detailed by the principles of feminist care ethics, i.e. acknowledging and examining how one’s personal background, experience and viewpoint affect one’s moral choices, focusing on responses that are person and situation specific, and creating solutions that focus on care and empathy for others. If you are interested in these ideas read Maternal Thinking: Toword a Politics of Peace by Sara Ruddick. I guess my point here is that in the end, the ultimate goal, breaking down abstract prejudice and oppression is the only goal – and these behaviors – judgement and criticism of the choices people make – these are the behaviors of the oppressor.


10 responses

  1. Hey Lindsey – Great post. Really got me thinking.
    Especially about your first point. As a working mom, I have found it difficult to connect with Stay-at-home-moms. There is defensiveness on both sides. Even within the working-moms group that I started, there can me a lot of perceived judgement. For example, the room tends to go quiet when I mention that I make all of Henrietta’s food. And my own insecurity of wanting to be accepted I have weird dissociative episodes where I hear myself making excuses (It’s cheaper. She eats more when its homemade. I have a flexible work schedule. Stephen helps me sometimes.) I don’t want to be perceived as putting down their choices simply by stating what mine are.

    Maybe the rejection from the (presumably working) feminists or, to your third point, from the lesbian community the other woman felt — maybe those feelings are a combination of your friends feeling vulnerable/afraid of rejection so they pick it up heavily where it might only be slight. If someone tries to judge my marketing abilities, I am smug and confident b/c I’ve practiced it over and over and I’m confident that I’m good. I see it as a difference of opinion, not a personal attack. If someone tries to judge my parenting, I feel anxious and concerned – it’s the first time I’m doing this, I’m making it up as I go along and, goodness, the stakes are high. It’s hard to not second guess yourself when there are no right answers.

    And maybe part of it is a feeling of initial rejection/judgement on the part of the rejector. Lashing out b/c they feel by the changes your friends made, it is implying that the way they have lived all along was deemed wrong or not good enough.

    Isn’t it grounded in evolutionary psychology that we are inherently in (sometimes subtle) competition with pretty much everyone except for our offspring? Yes, women are judgmental and often vicious stemming from some kind of insecurity and trying to find and stake a claim on a position in society. The folks that fight the hardest for their definition of “norm” (and can, in turn, be the meanest) have pretty much been proven to not be the happiest. The most peaceful, happy, generous folks out there are the ones who’s consciousness, thoughtfulness, and self-awareness have them rising above instinct and making choices that net out to be the most beneficial across self, tribe/community and world all together (not in silos).

    Side note:
    I cringed when I used the word “choice” more than once above based on the linked-to posts, but couldn’t find a better word. Maybe I am a choice-feminist?? I don’t know, but from a general perspective, that part of your post (and the linked-to posts) sounds like they stem from not truly speaking a common language. (A very simple and often noted cause of friction in feminist communities.) The authors take quite some liberty in comparing different “choices” as right and wrong — when really, the examples are on completely different moral playgrounds. Even to the basic inability for some women to claim to be a feminist – not liking the word – but still identifying and believing in feminist ideology and principles.

    Anyhoo – this post was a nice way for to me to start the day with some “out of routine” thinking. Thanks for the jolt!

    • El –

      So glad I could be the thoughts that began your day 🙂

      In response to your comments – I recently worked on a paper about the divergence of Feminisms (vs. one feminism) and I think it forced me to once again think about the boundaries I draw myself – like I think the Duggars are pretty crazy and I have a tendency to judge them – but do I really have a right to? I’m not sure.

      Is there a spectrum of acceptable practices – or are all practices to be examined in the context of the individual practicing? Third wave feminism (allow me to tread lightly here) is pretty much what you call “choice” feminism – arguing that people should feel empowered to do as they please – for example a woman who chooses to capitalize on being a sex object – let’s say spice girls (forgetting the reality of their male producers) or the girls at the bunny ranch (forgetting the reality their male ‘madame’, a.k.a the male owners of the bunny ranch) – then she is an “empowered” object. Or the girl who opts for plastic surgery because she wants it – for herself. In these cases “choice” becomes an issue for me because WHY? Why do these women want to chose plastic surgery or why do we live in a society where being an object can make women money – the foundation/framework is flawed at some point – creating a situation where the woman thinks she’s making a choice but in reality she is partaking in a system that controls her so deeply that she fails to realize she is left without genuine choices or empowered experiences.

      Considering I am not a mom yet – I cannot speak from experiential notes regarding the stay at home business – but I do know that it’s hard, as hard as, if not harder than my job as a college professor – and the understanding of this role as one for the ‘brainless’ scares me. Particularly, with regard to the idea that we are formulated, morally, by seven years old. In that case I think we should put our best and brightest in the child rearing roles – because we need decent, ethical adults who care and think. That said – this doesn’t mean all women need to stay home with their kids (Evaporate Dr. Laura, Please). El, you seem to be the living example that you can care and consider your child as a working mom – I love that you make her food! And I am sure that you have someone caring for Henrietta who you find to be smart and intelligent and genuinely someone whose ethic and morality are in line with yours because you know that caring for Henrietta is as important as your marketing job.

      Finally, I have a fine tuning response to a point in your third paragraph – you generalize the idea that being judgmental or whatever is female – but is there really any one thing that “women” are? Not getting into a biological conversation – which with some effort I might be able to argue about – I can say with all certainty philosophical idea of the category “woman” is a generalized abstraction. So we can’t really say that there are practices that are inherent to women, can we?

  2. Wow, great post! I agree with you completely and have found myself just as frustrated with this sort of “judgmental” feminism.

    With regards to Beauvoir’s position on femininity, I think it’s ridiculous. We don’t solve the problem of racism by suggesting that POC conform to the “ideal” of Whiteness, do we? No, we acknowledge and respect people’s differences. Why can’t some feminists acknowledge and respect the fact that some women may choose femininity?

  3. Hey Lindsey. You know me. I’ve never read Simone de Beauvoir, but your post gave me goose bumps.

    As a worker/mom/student I’m constantly in a state of ‘torn’. I never don’t feel guilty. When I’m working I feel guilty (and always a little heart broken) for not being with my son. If I was a stay at home mom I would feel an emptiness about not fulfilling my potential in my field of choice.

    The right path for every woman is the path that’s right for her. And you certainly can’t make everyone happy. Those who place judgement on either side are all just full of shit. And ultimately people are judgmental because they are angry or uncertain or desperate for approval. Because if that other person isn’t wrong that might mean that you are.

    You have to do what’s right for you. It’s only when you are truly happy and feel complete that you are empowered.

    I love your posts!

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