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My thoughts on… Feminism

March 15, 2013

ImageFeminism…. I don’t get it.  I just don’t. 

Ok, well here is what I DO get:

-Helping women in developing countries have access to education, opportunity, and health.  I get that.

– Ensuring equal payment for women in the corporate world.  That woman you are hiring may be equally or more intelligent or talented or may have worked harder to get to this place.

– Speaking out against ultra-conservative Christian legalism that says women must “stay at home.”

-Speaking out against any physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or suppression of wives by their husbands.

-Encouraging women not to find their identity in their sexual appeal.

-Maybe a few other things that I can’t think of right now.

But by most of the other stuff out there, I just feel personally insulted.  Insulted that I could ever be satisfied having my primary work as wife and mother.

What is sparking this?  An article from Reader’s Digest, in their “Family Digest” section, entitled “How Delilah Founder Her Voice” (November 2012).

I am deeply grateful to [my mother] for instilling in me the value of independence.  By the age of 12, I realized that a woman who is dependent on a man to provide for her has no freedom and no choices in life.  I have honored my mom by learning from her mistakes and keeping my options open – and by becoming a mom myself, 12 times over.” –Delilah Rene

Staying at home and being dependent on a man is inherently a weakness? Really? If a husband is only an obstacle to be squelched then why does anybody get married?

I am not saying that I look down on mothers who also have an outside career.  In fact there are some that I respect with that life situation, although I don’t identify with their decision.  Some don’t have a choice, economically.  And some just enjoy their careers.  Or both.

What makes me angry about this article is how falsely it represents homemaking.  I AM free…to do exactly what I’ve wanted to do all my life.  When I was younger, my father, a staunch conservative by the way, sought to instill some dreams in me of using my talents for a career- I was argumentative, so he encouraged me to become a lawyer.  I inherited his beautiful treble voice, so he paid for my voice lessons and encouraged me to pursue performing every chance I got.  But a career in law or singing isn’t what I wanted, even though I LOVE singing and, as you can see from this article, I have to speak out on what I think is right.

Am I WEAK, am I a FAILURE because I never pursued a career in opera and chose instead to be a wife and mother and to work together WITH my husband in ministry, or simply SUPPORT him in ministry while I primarily take care of our son? Am I making a drastic mistake?

Is my hardworking mother weak because her primary job the past 24 years was raising and homeschooling me and my siblings? Would she continue to be weak if she didn’t pursue the master’s degree in education she is getting right now?

What about the very woman who left this Readers Digest issue at our apartment in Prague- my mother-in-law?  Is she weak because “all” she has done is care for her family, substitute teach, serve at church, and (brilliantly) manage her family’s finances?

What about all the wonderful stay-at-home and/or homeschooling mothers I have gotten to know over the past 20 years?  They are some of the greatest examples to me of hard working, gracious, determined, gentle, patient, talented, and godly people I have ever met.  Are they….weak?

No, they are not.  They are some of the strongest women I know.

They deserve our respect.

Fellow young women out there, if you have the opportunity, don’t be afraid to follow their example.

Our society needs mothers (and fathers) who are dedicated to raising children to be adults who thrive independently and responsibly in every way, and this is only done by intentionally giving them time, love, and discipline. In his book Hurt 2.0, social scientist Chap Clark lays out evidence that today’s generation of American teenagers feels systematically abandoned by parents and other adults in their community.  This happens in two ways- parents are emotionally and/or physically absent, and/or they care more about their agenda for their children’s lives then on loving the kids for who they are and simply having a relationship.  My question is, is it at all possible that this is partially because today’s women, in general, are more focused on their jobs than their families?

Staying at home, raising the kids, and supporting their father emotionally is not a weakness.  It takes incredible character [1] and it is incredibly worthwhile.  Family is a beautiful thing, and if you see it as a cage, well, that’s your loss.

[1] Character which I am still developing!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Erik miller permalink
    March 15, 2013 12:33 pm

    Hey Kate,
    I don’t think that anyone can tell you what a feminist is or isn’t. Of course there are certain tenants of feminism that I think are universal, like the ones you listed on the beginning, but I believe that as long as you wish to elevate the position of women in the world, then you are a feminist. There are always going to be critics that say you aren’t feminist enough, or you aren’t really a feminist, but most of them will be wrong. I think it’s a personal choice, you have to be willing and passionate about women’s rights. You may not agree with all of them, but no one is going to agree with every aspect of radical feminist theory, for the most part. It’s kind of like being a christian. So many people have their own versions of what a Christian is supposed to be, but we have only one authority with whom we are accountable to, God. Unfortunately there isn’t a feminist Bible we can refer to, but I consider myself a feminist and I don’t believe that women should not be stay at home mothers if that is where their hearts lie. I do however, believe that a women should not feel pressured to be a stay at home mom because her husband wants it. That is where I draw the line. Hope this helps. Say congrats to your mom for getting her masters, and hope all is well in Prague as with Liam.

  2. March 15, 2013 12:43 pm

    Great article Kate!!! You said this so well!!!

  3. Kim veinberg permalink
    March 15, 2013 2:00 pm

    I have a BA from Calvin College and the equivalent of a Masters in Russian from the 5 years I spent studying at a Russian university while working there at the same time. I’m not tyring to toot my own horn, but I’m intelligent and well educated. I have a part time job as a secretary for a nonprofit Christian organization. Am I capable of something more challenging – something that is not just a “job”, but a career? Absolutely! Could we use the additional income a full time job would bring? Of course! But our family philosophy is that we work to live, we don’t live to work. Our income supports our (modest) lifestyle. We (both my husband and I) don’t find our identities in our occupations. We know our worth and value come from the fact that God made us and we are loved – individually and wholly – by Him. We believe in using the gifts and talents He has given us to glorify Him and expand His Kingdom. Right now, one of the most important ways we do that includes raising the precious gift He has entrusted to us in the form of our amazing daughter. Currently for me that means being a full time mom with a small, flexible part time job on the side. I don’t feel imprisoned by my dependence on my husband to provide for me financially. It’s actually the exact opposite! I feel incredibly blessed that I have a spouse who, because he works so hard, is able to give me the gift of the freedom to be at home with our precious child during the relatively few years she is totally ours. I am an intelligent, independent woman with a strong will. I have many gifts and talents. At this juncture in my life I choose to funnel all those things into the Godly raising of our daughter. Sometimes that takes more strength (intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually) than any career I could have.

    • Elizabeth Ulrich permalink
      March 15, 2013 3:26 pm

      Kate and Kim, thanks for this. As a graduating senior in college who is planning to get married this summer, the last three weeks have been all about the “What am I going to do with my life” issue.

      What it comes down to is that I really just want to just be a wife and a mom and have a flexible part-time job that works with people. But then sometimes I feel guilty because I know that I am smart and I could have a career if I wanted it and I’m scared of what people will think of me if I choose to work part-time or not at all. I could definitely go to grad school. I could go into sales. I’m a leader. I could start low and work my way up almost any organization, except that I plan to take time off to have kids. I could do a lot of different things and sometimes I feel like I’m not using what God has given me. And I’m also not sure I really want to be a full time stay at home wife/home. For the record, my fiance is an amazing man who just wants what is best for me and our future family and is NOT putting pressure on me to have a job/career or to stay at home. Neither one of us denies that an extra small income would be useful, but there really is no pressure to have a career. I am so blessed by that and it’s wonderful.

      But anyways, the compromise that I’ve come up with is working part-time. And Kim, when I read your post I got excited because I would love to work part-time for a non-profit. I’ve thought about hands on work with people (more the social work route) and I’ve also thought about being a secretary. So Kim, I know I don’t know you, but can you tell me more what you do? It sounds remarkably similar to what I’m considering and I would love to hear more about your job and the balance you’ve achieved! If you want to move this part of the conversation to email, mine is Thank you to the both of you for the encouragement. It’s difficult to be graduating from a highly academic school and looking at jobs I probably could have applied for without going to college.The cultural pressure is intense, even in the Christian community. I’ve been stressing about it and this was really what I needed. Love you Kate and I’m excited for walking through life together with values that are becoming more and more similar.

      • March 15, 2013 5:47 pm

        So glad it was an encouragement to you, sis. Love you 🙂

  4. Megan permalink
    March 15, 2013 2:39 pm

    You asked for discussion, so as a self-identifying feminist, I’m going to stick up for feminism.

    When evangelicalism considers gender roles, it persists in fending off straw men: the feminism of forty years ago. You probably know that there are three waves to feminism. With the firsts, women won the right to vote and the same legal status as men. Almost everybody today is a first-wave feminist.

    With the second, women were pushed to “burn their bras” (though apparently no bra-burning actually happened) & throw off the shackles of their traditional role in the family. This period produced Simone Beauvoir’s _The Second Sex_, its argument being that society expected men to be the Norm, and women to be the Other.

    With the third period, women realized that the push to deny motherhood and head out into the career world was forcing them to take up defacto masculine identities. In other words, third-wave feminists believed that the second wave, despite its valuable work on how women are seen in society, was only achieving progress by making women more like men. Thus, third wave feminism fell back on encouraging women to pursue what paths they desired: The push was not for women to throw off the shackles of the family, but for men and women alike to pursue life paths that they were interested in, regardless of faulty social expectations. Third-wave feminists are equally happy when a women finds success in a career or contentment staying home with their child; they are also happy when men choose to stay home if they so desire. The goal is equal, un-stereotyped treatment for both genders.

    Most evangelicals tend to react against second-wave feminism, which I think that your blog post does. You write this, “But by most of the other stuff out there, I just feel personally insulted. Insulted that I could ever be satisfied having my primary work as wife and mother.” Second-wave feminism would have been astonished at your life choice; third-wave feminism, not so much. Many feminists would support your choice to work as a wife & mother and rejoice with you in your contentment.

    But why does this matter?

    Feminism is important in the church today because the women & girls of the church need to know that they are not second-class citizens by virtue of their anatomy. I don’t buy, at least not completely, evangelical complementarian explanations: They may say that at a company the boss & the worker have different roles but are equally valuable as people, but that’s not actually the case within the context of the company. Within the context of the company, the boss actually IS more valuable. Thus, if we as the church go around re-asserting, every chance we get, male leadership structures with no place for the women, we are telling our women that they have less value in the church.

    Think that’s too strong?

    I read this in a student paper, by a female student, last semester: “Men have more privileges within the church than women do”. What the church is teaching women is that they are inherently less important than men, and women are believing it. It hurts me every time I read that in a student paper.

    Why else does this matter?

    We are teaching men and women that they are biologically, fundamentally meant for certain responsibilities, teaching them not to pursue their dreams. One of my young men wrote in another paper that men were not biologically meant to care for children, and women were set up for caring for children. (He was referring to child-rearing, not child-bearing.) I am very bad with children, and just like you would be offended by someone looking down on your life choice to be a wife & a mother, I would be offended by someone who thought I was a bad woman because I was bad with children. I would also hate for young men to think that they could not care for their own children & raise them if they so desire.

    I don’t think we have to install female pastors in every church to see gender equality, or even accept that women can be pastors. I DO think that we need to stop pretending that the Bible says quite as much as we think it does on gender roles. For instance, I watched a video last night in which Mark Driscoll (gag me) tried to make the argument that 1 Timothy says only the man should work, that women should never work. I also think that we need to stop pretending that feminism is always the enemy. Like most large movements, there are aspects of feminism that are dangerous or radical, but in general, its principle of gender equality and freedom from stereotypes are something that we should embrace.

    • March 15, 2013 5:45 pm

      I also gagged at that same Mark Driscoll video.

      Thanks for commenting…while I’m not sure I agree with your every point I think I understand. My only response would be that the Reader’s Digest article I referred to seemed to be coming form a second wave point of view, and that is what I was responding to.

      • March 15, 2013 6:04 pm

        well, I mean, both a second and third wave point a view, now that I reread your definitions and the quote.

  5. Rebecca Smiddy permalink
    March 15, 2013 3:01 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly. Thank you for sharing!

  6. March 15, 2013 4:10 pm

    I think we have to define feminism. How else can we use a word if it doesn’t have a definition? I think that the definition “elevate the position of women in the world” is pretty vague, and I couldn’t put myself there, and would ask anyone who put themselves in that definition of feminism what they mean: what are they elevating? How much are they elevating? Until they are above men?

    But bottom line, I think when the focus is on our rights, we’re missing the gospel. It’s not about rights.

    That said, I agree with the bullet point list at the beginning. We should be pushing for justice in all areas of life. But when I focus on MY rights, then my focus is in the wrong place. And when the world is telling ME I have a right to demand things, and it’s all about me and having whatever I want, I think my focus is in the wrong place. It’s not that the demands in themselves might be wrong (equal pay & job opportunities for women = good), but that we shouldn’t be aiming for these things first. Seek first the Kingdom of God… I think when we focus on God, the importance of my own rights and wishes fades away.

    From one Kate to another, I resonate with you. Kate, I think that when people say they could never be happy if they were dependent on a man are, though they might not (like to) admit it, also saying they don’t want to be dependent on God. But there is SO much freedom in being dependent on God, and when we’re not so wrapped up in doing things on our own, we can also experience freedom and joy in being dependent on a husband who provides outside the home, like you said, Kim. (And -this is a tiny bit tongue in cheek- we shouldn’t forget the flip-side that if the husband works outside the home all day and his wife is doing the shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc., then he’s pretty dependent on her!)

    • Erik miller permalink
      March 15, 2013 4:32 pm

      Hello KP,
      I mean elevate women so they are equal to men. When women make the same wage as a man and are promoted at the same rate as men then we can stop elevating them for starters. I’m a social worker and I work in a female dominated field, yet if you look at social workers in administration they are predominantly male. So I say elevate to a level of equality, not to put women above.

    • March 15, 2013 6:05 pm

      Thanks Kate! You hit the nail on the head.

  7. Rebecca permalink
    March 15, 2013 6:48 pm

    Hi Kate, so here’s my take … I am a feminist because I am proud of and committed to maintaining the history of the feminist movement that brought women the right to vote and the right to be treated as equals, and I believe that in order to maintain those rights, women need to be mindful of the work that feminists before us did in order to bring our society to its current state. I decided to work, not stay at home. This was both an economic decision and a family decision. I think that whatever decision a mother makes should be respected, to stay at home or to work. I never considered staying at home, even if I could have financially. It was not the path that seemed right for me or our family. I have seen my two girls thrive in daycare, loving their teachers, and developing strong social skills at an early age. I look forward to every evening and weekend moment that we spend together.

    I love seeing the pictures of Liam, he’s getting soooo grown up!!

    • March 15, 2013 7:41 pm

      Becca, thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate that I was able to not “preach to the choir” on this one. I always love hearing about your work with the museum!

  8. March 15, 2013 8:18 pm

    kate, i appreciate your thoughts. i think the key is in giving women the freedom to seek out what god has for them in their lives. i had always aspired to be both a mother, and a teacher. i felt strongly that god had a purpose for me in both these roles. when we are obedient to what he has for us, he will fill in the gaps. when i was home full time with my first child, i felt restless. not because i didn’t love my son, and want to spend time with him and raise him well, but because i felt that god had something else for me as well. now, as a mother of 3, and a school administrator-which, i might add, is a role i never saw myself in, but that god led me too, and that i have a gift for – i know that this is what he has for me, for now. the key is to not cement yourself into anything, but be open to the movement of god’s spirit within.
    in another vein, currently living in a country that has traditionally oppressed women, and where they are being given more opportunity and voice as the years go on, impresses upon me the importance of team. you eluded to this in your thoughts. a marriage is not about one person ‘providing’ for the other, or in any sense being superior, it is about each one being for the other what they cannot or choose not to be on their own. if you are the primary caregiver, he is the primary breadwinner. perhaps those roles are shared, or even reversed. this is not the important part, it is the support and care that you have for each other, regardless of who has which role for a given time period in your life together. it may stay the same, it may change, it may alternate. be open to what is best for each one in your family.
    thanks for sharing. good discussion.

    • March 15, 2013 8:39 pm

      yes sometimes I wonder if I will get restless as you described. In this case I would probably pray about teaching again….or maybe something else. 🙂

  9. March 15, 2013 9:15 pm

    As a 60-something and your aunt, I appreciate this chance to share my take on feminism. I consider myself a feminist, and I was fortunate enough – thanks to second-wave feminism’s impact on academia and the work-place and the nature of my partnership with the love of my life – to be able to pursue my passion for history by getting a doctorate in the 70’s alongside my husband – we met in the 16th century. We have two daughters-your cousins, the raising of whom we shared while we pursued careers we loved in international education.
    Women of my generation benefited significantly from progress toward the goals of gender equality and freedom from stereotypes that you refer to in your post. It is easy to forget how limited the opportunities were for married women with children in academia, my chosen field, and in other professions in 1965 when I graduated from high school. Rather than normal, it was exceptional that women were able to contribute their unique perspectives and insights to academic fields outside the arts and languages in those days. I was encouraged by my parents to pursue graduate work because they knew that I had a passion for history and that it would lead me where I was meant to go.
    I rejoice that what happened because of the feminism of the second-wave has led to opportunities for women – my daughters and 4 grandgirls and nieces – to be whatever they choose – engineers, historians (I entered a department dominated by men/ I got funding partly I was smart but also because so many of the men of my generation had been drafted for the war in Vietnam in the late 60’s), lawyers, doctors, members of the US Congress, Governors and hopefully soon President of the US. Pay equity is still to be achieved in many sectors, but we have come a long way. That is why Feminism is a very good word to me.
    By following the path my abilities led me to – not shackled by stereotypes – I feel that I have been able to contribute fully to my family, my community, my church and society in general using the talents that God gave me. In this I was inspired by my mother and my grandmothers. I would encourage and support you as you ponder your talents. Your own mother is a wonderful inspiration. Love Aunt ME Can’t wait to meet Liam and see you and Matt again.

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