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The founding fathers get a free pass. The feminists? Not so much.

Painting by Junius Brutus Stearns

It is more than acceptable in our society to quote one of the founding fathers to prove a point. I see liberals and conservatives do this alike, and, even though I rarely quote these men, I am not necessarily going to criticize those who do (so if you’re going to skip straight to the comments and argue with me about why it’s okay to quote the founding fathers, save it).

But many of our founding fathers were racists and slave-owners. This is undeniable. We know this, yet we quote their words anyway. Why?

Well, those quoting ol’ George and Thomas and the rest might  say, “Well, not ALL of our founding fathers owned slaves. In fact, some were abolitionists.” A great point here.

Others might say, “Even those who did own slaves had some good, revolutionary ideas. We shouldn’t throw out the good.” This I would agree with as well, although, I believe any good George Washington said must be interpreted in light of the fact that he owned over three hundred slaves, etc. We cannot ignore the horrible aspects of the lives of these men, but we can acknowledge intelligent things they may have said.

The general public okay with quoting the founding fathers. Most see them as having some degree of authority over how we currently run our country–whether you’re using them to oppose gun control or asserting that “all men are created equal.”

Yet, I’ve been into more arguments than I count in which someone has said to me, concerning feminism, “Well, feminists hate men.”

When I object to this, they provide examples: “Andrea Dworkin says all sex is rape!” “Mary Daly was a female supremacist!” etc., etc.

I often respond the way many do when confronted about the founding fathers. First, not all feminists are Andrea Dworkin or Mary Daly. In fact, radical feminists who actually believe in female supremacy are a fringe group who are widely criticized by the wider feminist movement. Many, if not most, feminists love the men in their lives–their brothers, their fathers, their partners, or their friends–and want to see them freed from the oppressive standards and from the hatred and fear that patriarchy tries to impose on them. Many, if not most, feminists would say that reversing the system of domination so that women are in charge would not solve anything. Domination is domination. The goal is not matriarchy, but equality or justice.

Even feminists who do seem to believe that men are inferior, like Dworkin or Daly, have good things to say, just like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson did. Dworkin criticized the objectification of women and relentlessly fought against sexual harassment and rape. Daly was a highly influential feminist theologian. We can recognize their contributions to the feminist movement, but filter those contributions through their flaws (man-hating not being the only flaw. Mary Daly was extremely transphobic, for example. Many feminists were and are racists and classist. Some second-wave feminists, in order to prove they didn’t hate men, blatantly discriminated against lesbians, etc.). It’s part of critical thinking.

But these arguments never seem to be enough, even for the very people who quote our founding fathers with authority.

I could even go further and remind them that, unlike some of the founding fathers, no feminist ever started a movement that led to the genocide or enslavement of men. That many of the “man-haters” spoke from a place of oppression or had a experienced marginalization or abuse. That many examples of feminist “man-hating” were meant to be hyperbolic or metaphorical–for example, when modern feminists joke that viagra shouldn’t be covered by health insurance. They are not literally arguing for this, but are making a point.

Still, this doesn’t matter. I am demanded to account for every man-hating feminist that a Google-search can come up with. My points are dismissed. My decision to self-identify as an advocate of feminism is criticized. I encounter this from conservatives, from liberals, from complementarians, and from egalitarians. 

I believe this says volumes about the power structure in our society. Why is it so widely acceptable to quote the founding fathers but not the feminists?

The founding fathers can only be accused of hating black people (and women, and Native Americans…).

The feminists can be accused of hating all men (especially white men).

One form of hate is obviously more socially acceptable than the other. The group that it is less socially acceptable to hate (and please note: I am not advocating hate at all, but pointing out an inconsistency) is the group that is in power: white men.

 

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We have it “so good.”

What if I told you a story about a Muslim girl from the Middle East?

She is dating a man. They’re probably going to get married. She doesn’t really want this to happen but she’s afraid to leave him. Besides, she’s given him her virginity (well, he took it, anyway) so she’s now damaged goods. “No other man could ever want you,” he tells her. Every day. And she believes him because her religious leaders have always taught her the same thing. 

He dictates what she wears. He tells her she must dress hyper-modestly, and she does. But sometimes she catches the eye of other men anyway. Her boyfriend blames her for this. If she gets any attention from other men, he forbids her from showering or otherwise tending to her personal hygiene.

She is smart. She goes to school. She wants to earn her doctorate some day. This makes him feel threatened, so he yells at her for doing her homework, for taking advanced classes, for applying to colleges. He tells her that her role is in the home, caring for children, cleaning the house. The public sphere is a “man’s world.” He belittles her, tells her she is weak, tells her she will never be able to handle it. That she is too stupid to finish college because she is not a man. 

Sometimes he hurts her. He tells her she deserved it. She shouldn’t have disrespected him, because he is a man and she is a woman. It is his job to keep her in her place. Sometimes he rapes her. He tells her she deserved that too.

She doesn’t complain, though, because she’s been taught by her religious leaders her whole life that she must submit to men’s leadership.

I hear stories like this all the time. On the news, on other blogs, in documentaries, and in presidential debates. There’s a woman in a different country being oppressed by the men of that country. “Look at how backward that culture is!” they say. “Women in the United States have it so good!” Often, when I talk about the oppression of women in the United States, people will respond telling me, “If you don’t like it, move to Iraq/China/India. You’ve got it so good here.” 

So good.

But what if I told you this story, the one I told above, was not the story of a Muslim girl living in the Middle East? What if I told you it was MY story?

It is my story. The story of the abusive man I dated in high school. The story of the abusive man who I met in my conservative Christian church. The story of the abusive man that I stayed with for a year because I thought I had to submit to him. Because I thought that I was damaged goods and would never find anyone else.

But I have it so good.

The abuse didn’t happen out of nowhere. It was part of the culture I was raised in. Part of the society I lived in. Supported by religious teachings and social attitudes toward women and women’s bodies.

But I have it so good.

Now, I have privilege. There are things that I do have “so good,” as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual American born into a middle-class family. I am not denying that. I am also not excusing or dismissing the abuse that goes on in other countries.

My point?

It’s happening here too. We Americans are not great saviors who have got it all together. Who have achieved a state of egalitarian nirvana and now can exercise the right to judge the temporal position of other countries (“They’re so backward OVER THERE.” “THAT country is stuck in the Middle Ages”)

We don’t have the right to talk about other countries, other religions, other cultures as if they are “backward,” and we don’t have the right to use the problems in other countries to divert attention from our own problems. From the 3 women who are murdered by an intimate partner every day in the United States. From the 600 women in the U.S. who are raped or sexually assault every day. 

And we sure as hell don’t have the right to tell these hurting, oppressed women here in America to quit complaining because they have it “so good.”

Things can be shit here for women. They were for me.

I’m tired of people trying to silence me by telling me I have it “so good.” As I pop my anti-depressant pills every day and deal with panic attacks and PTSD and other after effects from the abuse I’ve suffered, I don’t feel like I have it “so good.” I don’t feel like the liberated woman the media is telling me that I am.

I don’t feel like feminists in this country have “won.”

There are hurting women overseas. There are hurting women here. They aren’t backward, and we aren’t forward.

We’ve all got a lot of work to do.


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Veiled Muslim women and revolutionary modesty

I saw this floating around Facebook:

Could it be, I wonder, that for a Muslim woman, wearing a veil is not a symbol of oppression or male dominance, but a sign of religious commitment?

Could we perhaps even call it revolutionary modesty?

Now, all y’all who read my blog on a regular basis know that I am no fan of the way the church handles discussions of women’s clothing. So, don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you all what to wear or what not to wear.

But I want us to take some second looks.

I want us to take a second look at the Muslim woman in this picture.

I want us to take a second look at our so-called liberated American society.

I want us to take a second look at the church’s run-of-the-mill modesty sermon.

I want us to take a look at the clothes we wear and the reasons we wear them.

Last night, to prepare for my class the next day, I read a chapter in the book Shattering Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out. In the chapter “Tapping Our Strength,” Eisa Nefertari Ulen, an American Muslim feminist, shares her thoughts on veiled Muslim women in America (emphasis mine):

Are women who insist on wearing the hajib unselfconsciously oppressed, or–particularly in the land that gave us wet t-shirt contests–are they performing daily acts of resistance by covering their hair? In the West, where long blonde tresses signify a certain power through sexuality and set the standard for beauty, are veiled women the most daring revolutionaries? 

She continues:

By living in constant alignment with faith, they challenge the misogynist systems that compel too many Western women and girls to binge, purge, and starve themselves…American Muslim women who choose to cover undeniably act out real life resistance to the hyper-sexualization of women and girls in the West…

It takes a warrior to be a Muslim woman.

So often we non-veiled, non-Muslim women look at our veiled sisters and we feel pity that they do not have the freedoms that we have.

But what freedoms?

Is it free to feel the constant need to compare ourselves to photo-shopped bodies in magazines? Is it free to be enslaved by the ever-evolving capitalist fashion industry?  Is it free to have see those of our sex constantly objectified and sexualized by the media? Is it free to dress for the male gaze?

Is that really freedom?

Of course, some of you are already preparing your comments which are going to say, “Well, some veiled women really are oppressed!” And you’d be right.

But here’s another quote by  Ulen to ponder:

I think about the women I know who cover themselves and their daughters for the wrong reason, and then I remember I know some women who wear push-up bras for the same wrong reason: to please men.

And, I’d add, the modesty sermons in the Christian church are almost always fueled by that same wrong reason.

“Don’t let your brothers stumble!”

“A good Christian man will be more attracted to a modest woman!”

“Modest is hottest!”

…to please men.

As Ulen says,

Right now, half of American non-Muslim women encourage other women to be free by being naked and the other half desperately tries to get women and girls to cover up. Meanwhile, the men simply get dressed in the morning.

Whether we’re wearing hajibs or jeans or baggy t-shirts or mini-skirts, are our clothes making us slaves to patriarchy and consumerism? Are we letting debates over clothing keep us from being truly free? Or from embracing and loving and banding together with our sisters who dress differently?

Let’s think about that today.

I’d like to add that, it is about as easy to talk about Muslim women as it is to talk about Christian women. Islam is the second largest religion in the world and has billions of followers. Muslim women are diverse–some wear veils, some wear mini-skirts. Another thing to keep in mind!