Feminism and Femininity in the 21st Century

(Kathy)

I wrote this last year and Sight magazine in Australia published it here:

http://www.sightmagazine.com.au/stories/sight-seeing/feminism6.6.08.php

I’m reprinting it here.  Please reference it correctly if you use it.

——

Have we reached our goal?  Are women and men equal in today’s society?  Are women achieving the most they can?  Or has our society become derailed somewhere along the trek to gender equality?
I have many girlfriends who struggle with ideas of what, how and how much they should work.  One friend confided years ago that she felt that the money she earned, she could spend on herself, but not the money her husband earned.  Is that equality?  What about the couples who put all the money in the pot, and then split it 50-50?  Is that equality?  Where are we – the golden age of true comradery and partnership, still mired in a dungheap of injustice, or just confused?

Before I go on, I know that many people will not listen to my opinion until they know where I’m coming from…well, neither would I.  So, I am now 30, raised by an old-school feminist, currently staying at home full-time and raising our three children (3, 2 and under 1).  There – got me fitted nicely into that box?

I spent my childhood listening to my mother’s ideology of gender equality.  A college fund was started at my birth so that I could eventually get my two college degrees (skipping college was NOT an option for me, according to my family).  I grew up convinced that men and women should be equal. . .especially in my house, where, for all the talk, I was my mother’s helper for cleaning the house and my little brother didn’t have any chores beyond an occasional lawn mowing.

And yet…I also spent my childhood in pre-pre-school (at 3 1/2), pre-school, kindergarten, day care, after-school care, day camps….you name it, I went to it, as long as it meant my parents could keep working.  Eventually I grew old enough, or they grew poor enough, that they stopped working long enough to pick me up at school and bring me to the jobsite (both parents worked long hours as manual laborers installing ceramic tile)…at least until I was finally old enough to become a latch-key kid, taking care of my younger brother.  Gender equality certainly had my mother working full time, just like a man, although I didn’t see her enjoying the long hours and backbreaking labor very much.  She came home tired, tried to hurriedly fix us some supper (I remember a whole year of choosing my own tv dinners!), and then spent Saturday trying to get the house clean.  Maybe this sounds familiar to some women?

So where has gender equality brought us as a society?  Are we happier, more fulfilled, the most womanly women we can be?  Somehow, as a teenager, I didn`t see it.

I had a friend in high school whose mom stayed at home. He came to school with home-made lunches and went home to where his mom was waiting, usually with a homemade snack.  It seemed pretty nice to me, although I understood the economic reasons for my mother working.  Eventually, partly due to my friend’s influence, I began attending church and became a Christian.  As I read the Bible for the first time, I found many examples of “bad women”  – enough for Liz Higgs to release a whole series of ‘Bad Girls of the Bible’.  Yet the description here of “holy women”, in 1 Peter 3:5-6,
For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.
made my ears burn.  “Called him her Master “!!!  Fighting words for a feminist!  What’s a modern woman to think?

Eventually I started working full-time.  While I enjoyed dressing up in a suit, getting my own paycheck and living a life unbeholden to anyone, I quickly tired of the novelty and settled in to the day in-day out drudgery of being my company’s servant.  Yup, I figured out pretty quickly that working full time is no picnic, and anyone who says it is is trying to sell you on something.  Was this the golden dream of feminism?  If so, I thought all those women were suckers for pain!  (this is an exaggeration, I know I and many other women do enjoy their jobs).

When I married, I soon realized that the theoretical 50-50 of gender equality runs into the brick wall of reality.  Once over that doorstep, 50% means while you get 50, you also have to give 50…..somehow I had absorbed the idea somewhere that being married meant I finally got to be the princess, have the castle and the knight, and ‘be the goddess’ as any commercial for body care will tell you that you are.  In fact, to live such a life means that the other person must become the servant, always giving your wants and needs the priority.  Well, let’s just say my husband didn’t want a princess, and if you’ve vouchsafed for the idea of gender equality it’s hard to argue in the middle of the night that that means he has to be the one to get up every time for the kids.  To live the “princess” life means that you’re married to a lap dog, not the manly knight of your dreams.  Some friends asked the other day if I’d seen the ‘Home Videos’ on Oprah.  Apparently one home video was of a modern couple.  When the woman was mad, she’d lock her husband out of the house and make him do a dance or song before she’d let him back in (videotaping all the while).  If such a video was played with the genders reversed, a woman dancing and singing away, humiliated in front of her neighbors, just to be allowed back into her own house, there would be a national outcry, and the offending man shamed into at least outwardly changing his behaviour.   Yet, this woman is chuckled at over coffee.  She has turned her husband into a lap dog, and all we do is smile.  Is this gender equality???  Is this what our mothers and grandmothers fought for?  Or has feminism degraded into simple male-bashing, ensuring our husbands, brothers and sons are squashed into submission to us, the all-powerful Woman?

I remember how my mother explained to me that abortion is giving women freedom.  Now, I know that I’ve just mentioned the a-word, that anything I say will probably offend someone, but as a mother I discovered the truth.  There is no such thing as a ‘fetus’, there are only babies, and once you’ve heard your babies heartbeat (even at 8 weeks, well within the “safety zone” for abortion), you know in your heart that that’s a child, a person, your child. Anything said to the contrary is a lie.

So has feminism made us the most fulfilled, womanly women possible?  Or have we become like the short-haired suit-wearing unisex women of Chinese communism?  Have we gotten freedom or chosen to add Adam’s curse to our own, that of laboring (the same word is used for women in labor and men working) to fill our mouths?  As I write this my back aches because I helped my husband move some furniture yesterday, and I appreciate anew his committment to go to work every day to provide for us.  For several years, he was a furniture mover and he came home every night after lifting literally tons of weight.  You can’t tell me that giving birth, a one or two day labor of love, is harder than working 5 days a week, every week, at a difficult job, whether the difficulty is physical or other.  The fact is, both giving birth as a woman and working every day as a man are both demanding, strenuous, difficult jobs.  We women need to take a break from whinging about how hard we have it and acknowledge that gender equality goes both ways;  we should appreciate how hard our men have worked for us.

And where is femininity in this discussion?  Well, I’m learning to trust the Bible and God.  I’m trying to follow Peter’s advice and do what is right and not give way to fear, to submit to my husband.  After all, the Bible was the first to espouse gender equality, as we are all equal in Christ, and we must submit one to each other.  For my husband and myself, we have chosen to live on a smaller income so I can stay home with our children, and maybe even homeschool later on.  I’m working at the most fulfilling job I can imagine, with daily benefits that far exceed retirement funds.  I’m trusting that as I try to be a woman in God’s image, he will make me the most feminine woman I can be….

After all, He is the expert.

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About nathankathy

Nathan and Katherine Born are two Christians trying to serve God as best they can.
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