Friday, July 3, 2009

Catching Up With Fifty Years of Feminism

In my last two posts I turned toward feminism as a blog topic and I've continued to read up on it. I'm reading Mary Kassian's books more closely now for starters. (They're both online at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website -- just put "Mary Kassian" in the search box.)

Her focus is on modern feminism from the sixties on, and reliving that period through her book, The Feminist Mistake, seems to be bringing up old feelings of my own that go back years, feelings I've apparently suppressed, which is evidenced by the fact that I haven't felt them in all this time -- not since the 60s or 70s at least, some of them anyway. Some of them, however, I've been discovering, go all the way back to early childhood. Hurt feelings, angry feelings, depressed feelings, confused and conflicted feelings, all surrounding my sense of myself as female or my sense of the world's attitude to femaleness, and particularly of course, feelings encountered in specific relationships with others -- parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends, authorities, institutions etc.

So feminism could turn out to be an emotionally very bumpy topic for me. That probably explains why I've avoided the whole arena of women's situation as much as I have. For instance, I researched the woman's head covering quite thoroughly, which is discussed in some cases as part of a broader discussion of women's position as defined by the Bible, but quite definitely did NOT want to read beyond the head covering in any of those discussions. Partly I've just never known how to understand a great deal of what the Bible teaches about women's role and I didn't want to encumber my study of the head covering with other issues. But I have to admit I'm not sure I really want to know too much about the subject. Insofar as I grasp that it places me in a class beneath men, and that this is God's own decree, I've more or less gritted my teeth and determined to accept it, hoping the Lord comes soon and rescues me from this benighted world (since there is no distinction between the sexes, or even sexes at all, in the Kingdom of God). There's a defensive disdain for the whole subject I've cultivated in my attitude, that says something like "I don't need to know all the particulars, just tell me what my role is and because I love God I will make myself live it." It's a cross to bear after all. In other words, a recipe for ignoring the very feelings I'm now having to recognize.

The idea that one could be wholly emotionally in harmony with God's decree doesn't enter into my mental set. Perhaps there are women for whom it is completely fulfilling, but I would have to surmise that there's some conflict for a great many of us. Not because there's anything wrong with God's decree, but because, in this fallen world, God's decrees are distorted in so many ways, and our own natures are so distorted in so many ways, finding such a happy correspondence must be rare. Even God's own good decree is an instrument of death. Just living in this broken world is a cross if we face it rightly.

I should add, however, that I am aware of factors in my personal experience that predisposed me to my own peculiar conflicts about sex roles. If it adds to the topic I'll include some of that as I go, but I really don't want my blogs to turn into a place to vent my own personal angsts. It may be that as I continue my pursuit of understanding these issues it won't really be necessary. I'll have to see as the subject continues. I did want to write some in that direction, though.

See, I lived through the sixties, in a university town where ALL the "liberationisms" of the day were in-your-face all the time. Since becoming a Christian I've come to recognize all that as the amazingly fertile seedbed of what really should be called the Sin Liberation Front, that has now grown up and put out tentacles like some horror-movie monster to engulf the entire world. Not that it was all bad of course. Violations of civil rights needed to be confronted after all. Unfortunately the way it unfolded in the sixties involved "liberating" some very unsavory elements such as the criminal Black Panthers (read David Horowitz's Radical Son for the best expose of that movement and that whole period I've ever seen). The sixties "liberated" such types as Charles Manson and the Symbionese Liberation Army. Everywhere you looked there was some kind of Liberation Army rising up. There were gut-wrenchingly spooky and scary militant feminists too, who wore overalls and heavy boots and carried around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book as their Bible. There was the Society for Cutting Up Men, or SCUM.

I also attended a "lecture" once in those years about "Gay Liberation," still new in those days, which was nothing but an abusive harangue against heterosexuality and against anybody who didn't think they had any homosexual impulses, insisting we're all "bisexual" and in such violently angry terms it was hard to sit and listen to it, but impossible to leave at the same time. If the speaker had had any political power half the audience would have been thrown into concentration camps for claiming to be exclusively heterosexual.

Those years were very depressing to me. I thought the world had gone completely mad. I'd entered the sixties with idealistic notions about the value of reason and intellectual integrity building a sane and civilized world -- you know, truth, beauty and goodness etc. -- only to find the sixties ending up by throwing it all out as the evil fruit of evil Western Civilization ("hey hey ho ho, Western Civ has got to go"), and I just wanted it all to vanish as a bad dream. All I wanted to do was suppress the whole thing -- and apparently I succeeded.

Before it all reached such a fever pitch, of course, the feminist ideas were circulating in a quieter way. Betty Friedan's Feminist Mystique was a conversation piece early in the decade, along with De Beauvoir's Second Sex. Neither of those books interested me one bit, however. It's certainly not that I was immune to the problems of being female in a prejudiced world that they were trying to address -- far from it, as I indicate in my first few paragraphs above -- but for some reason the way they addressed them didn't speak to me, and that continued to be the case throughout the whole development of feminism since the sixties. Although I'm about as temperamentally unsuited to the traditional woman's role as it's possible to get (I'm not bragging and I'm not apologizing, it's just, perhaps sadly, true), I gravitated more to the traditionalist arguments against the feminism I was encountering. The feminist argument was just irritatingly irrelevant and alienating simply BECAUSE I wasn't immune to the same problems they thought they were addressing. But the traditional arguments left me out too after all, so I was philosophically stranded in a no-man's land (or no-woman's land) with respect to both sides of the argument.

Mary Kassian only glancingly touches on the nightmare side of sixties feminism, and sticks to the major theories that launched the saner side, or at least the more intellectual side, of the feminist movement, including Friedan and De Beauvoir as the beginnings but continuing through names unfamiliar to me. She follows the history of both the secular and the religious feminist arguments which she says developed in parallel to one another.

Again, none of this was relevant to me for some reason, and in a way still isn't. Kassian does speak partly for me when she says she believes the feminist movement raised legitimate questions but came up with wrong answers. I can recognize my own experience in that to some extent, but mostly I just want to get to Kassian's own answers to see if I find my experience recognized there. (I don't mean to be making my own experience the important thing, by the way, it's God's word that must determine everything, but the point is that Kassian is right that something in the feminist movement IS legitimate and DOES reflect a social and psychological injustice to women that needs to be sorted out). Yes, I've skimmed ahead but don't see what I'm looking for yet. I suppose I have to read through it all for it to fall into place.

Which I will now continue to do.