This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to see a heroine from my childhood - Gloria Steinem - and I loved every minute of it. Ms. Steinem spoke at a local private girls' school and fortunately the evening event was open to the public. After introductions, Ms. Steinem gave a definition of a feminist. It was very similar to this one found on dictionary.com:
"feminist: advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men"Living in the Bible belt, I often hear people demonize and twist the definition of this adjective. I hear people say that feminism has "ruined it for women." It seems as if it is a threat to Christianity when that couldn't be further from the truth.
First, when one looks at the life of Jesus, one sees how he went against the status quo and treated women as equals. Religious Tolerance gives some great examples of how Jesus defied tradition in his treatment of women:
- he ignored religious impurity laws
- he talked to foreign women
- he taught women students
- he used terminology which treated women as equal to men
- he accepted women into his inner circle
- he told parallel male/female stories
Second, I'm afraid these people don't know their history or else have a short memory. Women were treated as second class citizens and routinely discriminated against before the feminist movement. Ms. Steinem pointed out that in order for a woman to be believed when she accused a man of rape, she had to have a witness to the event to testify on her behalf. When Connie Chung, one of the first female news anchors, got her start, I heard men complain how wrong it was for a woman to fill that role. My mother told me that when she was pregnant with me, she had to quit her job at the bank where she worked as soon as she started "showing." Apparently, it was scandalous to be pregnant in public. And the feminist movement put domestic violence on the radar. Up until that time, it was considered a "private" matter between a man and a woman, even if the man chose to beat and rape his wife. The idea of a domestic violence shelter was unheard of.
And I think of all the conservative Christians, especially women, who were thrilled when Sarah Palin was selected to be John McCain's running mate. If not for the feminist movement, she would not have had that opportunity. Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court could not even get a job as an attorney after graduating from Stanford Law School, one of the top law schools in the country. She was forced to begin her career as a secretary, a job for which she was not actually trained but it was considered the only acceptable job in the legal field for a woman. Of course, politics was out of the question.
The conservatives that I hear complain about feminism do not understand what the world was like for women. They seem to accept the freedom and benefits that their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters have received from the movement without giving credit to that movement. And then they focus on any and all perceived negatives they can attribute to it. I submit that, while many conservatives like to find fault with the feminist movement, they are really the beneficiaries of that movement.
I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Gloria Steinem talk. She was charming and funny and engaging and optimistic and does not at all show her 77 years of age. At the end of her talk, she gave the audience a challenge for the next day. She asked that we each go out and do something outrageous. Not only could we help change the world, but she said it would be fun. I can't say I had the opportunity to do anything outrageous that day (although I wanted to). However, I did sign an online petition protesting the attempt to censor the internet and then posted information about it on facebook. I suppose that's a start.