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A Woman's Place- Part 2

In 2007, Benjamin R. Barber, a political theorist and director of the Interdependence Movement, published a book about how consumer capitalism is breaking down the fabric of society. I mention this because the home and church are part of the fabric of society, and while there are those who blame feminism for the implosion of solid, stable homes, I believe there is a simpler explanation.
  In Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, Barber shows how the commercial economies in the western world have forced children to grow up faster, made sweat shops in underdeveloped countries thrive, and pressured adults in capitalistic societies to put off saving in favor of spending money they don’t have. He then takes his premise one step further by saying consumers have taken the place of citizens.
For centuries, women have entered into marriage expecting to work and take on more responsibility. While some wives have labored alongside their husbands, others have cultivated their own garden, educated children, or found a separate job to increase the household budget. My maternal grandmother helped out at a local grocery store for one dollar a week during the Great Depression. My father’s mother had nine children and spent her evenings changing bedpans and nursing the sick at the local hospital.
I believe our expectations of marriage have changed since the introduction of modern conveniences like online shopping, streaming video, credit cards, and Disney movies that portray love and marriage as a sugar-coated, happily-ever-after experience. As American consumers, we are bombarded with commercials on television, Facebook, YouTube, the newspaper, Google, blogs, and magazines. Barber writes that this pushing of “stuff” does wonders for the US economy, but that by giving buyers whatever they want right now, adults have forgotten how to delay gratification.
Ironically, the ability to give up something now for future payoff is vital for building a fulfilling marriage and successful family. The “Peter Pan tendency” described by Barber as the infantilization of adults for consumer gain, isn’t just a money thing. It has bled into the very fiber of our culture. Nowhere is this plainer than on shows like Two and a Half Men, where the commitment phobic leading man avoids marriage and fatherhood while sleeping with a different woman almost every night. His lifestyle allows him to have all kinds of grownup toys: a big screen television, a cook to make his meals, expensive clothes, a leather couch, walls without smudges and brown fingerprints from children’s hands—the benefits of success without the work of family life. Why grow up when you can stay a kid forever?
In a society where we prize material wealth, there are all kinds of reasons not to start a family. My local Safeway store sells Huggies for $30 a box, one tin of powdered formula is $25, every few months I fork out hundreds of dollars for shoes, but this pales in comparison to the $900 a month charged by the preschool three blocks from my house. According to a study done by the USDA in 2009, the cost of raising a child in a middle income family from birth to age 17 sits at around $222,000 (a figure that doesn’t include college).
Raising kids requires sacrifice, and dealing with the judgments of other people doesn’t make this sacrifice any easier. As a Gen Xer stuck between baby boomers who used mostly physical forms of discipline and young trendy parents who think Time Outs are abusive, I’m always receiving unsolicited advice. At the drug store a few months ago, one man told me to chill out after I reprimanded my daughter for not coming when I called her. A few weeks later a different sort of parent confronted me at Barnes & Noble, “Do you hit your kids?” he asked.
“Of course I don’t,” I said.
“Well . . . you’d be surprised what one controlled smack will do.” Maybe it’s bad, but I wanted to smack him. Parenting is hard enough without heading up a PR campaign. And let’s face it; mothers of small children could use some positive press.
They could also do without having others label them “breeders” and “baby factories.” To have morning sickness, labor, sleep deprivation, diaper duty, loss of privacy, and the constant stress of setting a good example for your child even when they’re throwing a massive tantrum in the middle of the post office, referred to as merely “popping out babies” is demeaning to all women, not just those who reproduce.
Do I recognize there are people who think my choice to raise a family make me anti-feminist? You bet. Just as I realize that my ability to own property, vote, and plan my own life are made possible through the hard won efforts of feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in addition to her work as an activist, reared seven children and remained faithful to one man for 47 years until his death in 1887. By today’s standards, she’d be called an anti-feminist too, and chances are she’d be appalled at the article I ran across on a few months ago, where William Bennett, author of The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood writes, “A shift in cultural norms, a changing workforce and the rise of women have left many men in an identity crisis. It makes for good comedy, but bad families. . . .  Most feminists aren’t celebrating the decline of men and shouting it from the rooftops.”
Bennett blames the deterioration of the male condition on the rights and opportunities of women, but provides no evidence to back up his assertion. In an article printed in the November 2011 Atlantic Monthly, Kate Bolick tries to connect the rise of women with the decline of men by pointing out that “in 2010, 55 percent of college graduates ages 25 to 29 were women.” She tells us that “as of last year, women held 51.4 percent of all managerial and professional positions,” and writes that “male median wages have fallen by 32 percent since their peak in 1973.” But correlation is not causation, and even she doesn’t have the gumption to state that the deterioration of the male condition is a direct consequence of feminism. Unfortunately, logic is not enough to counter the conviction of those who insist feminism is ruining men and destroying the family. Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than in the LDS church.
The gender roles assigned by the Mormon patriarchy are at odds with Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s vision of equality. Women have limited authority in the church and strive to live laws which they have no voice in forming. Though a twelve-year old boy ordained to the Aaronic priesthood can pass the sacrament and collect fast offerings for the poor, no woman, no matter her age, is permitted to serve in like manner. When appearing before a church court, women appeal only to men, making a jury of her peers impossible. And if ever she commits a sin requiring forgiveness from higher authority, she must confess to a man who holds apostolic power from God. 
While the Declaration of Sentiments written at the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention in 1850 might use this as an example of man usurping “ . . . the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming his right to assign for her (woman) a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and to her God,” most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe any woman who asks to serve in the same capacity as a man is ungodly and prideful, and that the significance of motherhood disqualifies her from such service.
In “Daughters of My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society,” put out by the church in 2011, we learn of the experience of a 16-year-old girl, who finds comfort in the words of her leaders. “In her innermost feelings, this young woman had always wanted to be a mother, but she had been concerned that motherhood was unpopular and even denigrated by many people in the world. She was comforted when she heard prophets and apostles affirm the goodness of her ideals.”
A woman’s most noble path in the church is defined by her gender. Without motherhood she cannot reach her full potential, give service equal to that of a priesthood holder, or fulfill the most important duty God wants her to perform: raising righteous children unto The Lord.

I can see a number of benefits to this value system and understand why so many people embrace it. As a stay-at-home mother who is on this path, I don’t like hearing my life choices denigrated anymore than a career woman does. For years I believed what was preached from the pulpit: that feminism is waging a war on the family. Now I think those who blame female rights for the destruction of the family are setting up a straw man.


Roslyn Ross said...

I think what is overlooked when people talk about 'stay-at-home' mothers is that in the best of worlds, if any of us had a choice, male or female, we would have a 'wife.'(of any gender). To have someone create, maintain and provide a home and a life for the family as a whole is fantastic. It is also fantasy. The reality is that most women in the world who do not go pursue a career path not only do all of this work in the home but toil in fields or factories for 12-15 hours a day as well.
Spend time in the Third World, and actually, also in some patriarchal First World countries like Greece, and men have time to drink coffee, chat, play chess or draughts while women wash, clean, cook, rear,organise and till farms and fields....patriarchy is alive and well in the modern age and religous patriarchy is no more than a backward hangover from more primitive times which has managed to hold on because, well, it provides the optimum lifestyle for men, who run most religions and much of our society. Who wouldn't want a wife?
It is disingenous at best and dishonest at worst to 'talk' about women needing fulfillment in the home when what women want is what men want - to pursue work which satisfies and fulfills them, wherever it may be, and if it is outside the home, then to have a 'wife' to do what needs to be done. In this day and age there are more men who are prepared to do this but the stark reality is that even women who work fulltime and pursue careers will still, in most developed nations, do more of the work which needs to be done at home.
As someone who has spent time working while my husband stayed home and cared for hearth, home and kids, I know that I never actually had the choice that he did as to whether or not I really wanted to be a stay at home mother or pursue a career path. We realised that one career path would work better and so I opted for part-time work because I felt the mix would work better for me than for him - but that doesn't make it a choice.
The irony is that most women in the world have less choice than men and religions seek to limit that choice even more. And they do it in the name of whatever general 'good' they can invent simply because it makes their lives more comfortable.
There is a saying that women hold up half the sky but the reality is that women,because of their unpaid labour, often slavery, hold up something like 90% of the world because they are also holding up men who don't want to grow up and take full and equal responsibility for everything in their lives - and that includes home.
It isn't feminism which wages war on the family it is patriarchy which not only limits women, it weakens men, and encourages to believe that when they marry they will still have 'mum' to look after them.
It's time for men to grow up - women have been carrying them for too long.

Infertility Manifesto said...

Excellent posting. I highly enjoyed it. It's incredible to look at the "founding women" of feminism and realize how far we have come, only to look again and realize how far feminism still has to go. To think so many think we no longer need feminism.

Anonymous said...

And what about the girl who never longed to be a mother...?

ifrit said...

I have decided that people who think women are taking from the men are thinking like a group of 3-year olds who have been given ten cookies. They see another group of three year olds with five cookies. Then they see that other group is given another three cookies, and they start whining, saying, "why are they getting more than us?" because now that they are not ahead by so much, it seems to them that they have less.

I have actually participated in discussions where the other party argued that since the majority of physical labor and the majority of dangerous labor is done by men, men deserved to be paid more than women. How this should affect the salary of a female web designer working with a bunch of male web designers who have never been to war or worked a physically strenuous job, I don't know. In this discussion, the other side also argued that women use men to get pregnant and then leech of of them while they raise the children, thus obtaining a cushy lifestyle and years of ill-gotten extra lifespan over their male partner. Oh, and women shouldn't get so much special attention regarding rape and abuse, because men get raped and abused too. The logic of this sort of argument is so clearly flawed that I can't believe anyone over the age of 9 could accept it.

Kaylie said...

The thing that amazes me most about Elizabeth Cady Stanton (OK, well besides the active feminism while taking care of seven kids thing) is her friendship with Susan B. Anthony. The two of them were like polar opposites. ECS had 7 kids, SBA was single. ECS was more comfotable writing, SBA preferred speaking. They argued often. They had many different opinions on individual issues. Yet they worked together beautifully because they had a common purpose. They are an example of how women can find common ground and achieve their goals. If women cut each other down because they disagree or have different lives, we won't achieve anything.

Angela Felsted said...

Kaylie, agreed! It makes me so sad the way women criticize each others life choices. And not just in politics, either.

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