There’s a delightful little nugget called Feminism Equals Happiness? over at Mormon Times. While this article won’t attract much attention due to its lack of fresh insight and its sycophantic bias, it displays the common thread that runs through societies that treat women as second-class citizens: it’s usually the women who do the best work in keeping women down in patriarchal culture.
The author, Beth Palmer, comments on a recent article in Newsweek that describes how women have more opportunity than they used to, but aren’t that much happier. What does this pundit blame? Feminism, of course! A couple of problems that undermine Ms. Palmer’s credibility here:
1. She’s writing in Mormon Times, hardly an unbiased source that would even contemplate running a story that fully addressed the complexities of gender politics. The fact that you can’t even comment on stories published there makes it impossible for this site to be considered anything other than propaganda.
2. She starts off by saying that she has knee-jerk reactions regarding issues of gender, but doesn’t seem to demonstrate the realization that knee-jerk reactions are a problem that she ought to confront.
3. She goes on to write an article criticizing feminism after demonstrating that she hasn’t got a clue about what feminism actually is.
She starts off by claiming that feminism’s “initial tacit implication that in order for women to have worth they had to be just like men.”
Palmer, feminism has nothing to do with making women into men. Okay, so maybe some bad 80’s fashion tried to make women look like men with bad short haircuts and football player shoulder pads in those power suits. Feminism is not about making women into men. It’s about making women into people. But we already know all of this.
The more telling part of Palmer’s editorial is the cognitive dissonance. She acknowledges that feminism has greatly benefited her life; she can have a job and cannot be discriminated on in matters of pay or advancement. But she doesn’t want to sink to the level of approving of the F word:
Clearly, as a woman who’s supported by no one but herself, it’s very important to me that my work won’t be undervalued based on my gender, and that I’ll have access to the best educational opportunities out there and the potential to excel in my career. And it’s quite likely I wouldn’t have those things without the feminists whose ideologies I don’t personally always want to get behind. So, OK; I’ll grudgingly admit that feminism has been valuable — even necessary.
Darn. So that whole business where women shouldn’t be treated as second class citizens does have some use? But here’s where she really misses the point:
I think it’s also possible that the general sense of unhappiness we women are apparently feeling in the wake of nearly 40 years of feminism is a product of the crashing reality that, no matter what we may have heard, and despite all our options, we still can’t have it all. No matter what we choose, it will inescapably come at the cost of something else.
I feel bad for her. She’s clearly intelligent and articulate. But she’s also a faithful Mormon, which means she can’t operate with a critical concept as true: the “cost of something else” that she is referring to is the idea that men would need to adjust their roles in order to accommodate women as full equals in society. If a woman is to emphasize her career, that would mean that her husband would need to be on board with adjustments to his career and lifestyle to make sure everything’s covered. Feeding the kids. Cleaning the house. Cooking. In the Mormon mindset, there is no acceptable scenario where a man could be the primary caregiver of children, or even split homemaking duties 50/50 with his wife as they each worked half time. That’s not what’s preached, and it’s not socially or doctrinally acceptable.
Feminism doesn’t work for Mormons because to them (and other patriarchal-based societies) it means that while a man would have one full-time job, a woman would have two. Small wonder that the men are happier and the women are not. The men have more money and the same domestic support that they experienced before. Women just have double shifts and no time for themselves.
The way patriarchal cultures keep women in line is usually by using the women to monitor and undermine one another. The only way to get recognition is to out-patriarch the patriarchs. We see this over and over — it is women who supervise female genital mutilation in Africa. It was women who bound the feet of their daughters in China. It is Mormon women who train their daughters to cram themselves into the mould they’ve been forced to live in. Self-mutilation is preached as self-sacrifice, all in the name of the greater good, and men are more than happy to allow the women to do their dirty work:
Or perhaps the win-lose phenomenon here would be better revealed by the gospel aspect of the debate, which is far less concerned with how a person wants to spend their time, with where they’d rather be, than it is with what will serve a greater overall good — whatever that may be and however it may be done. Perhaps the problem is that ever since feminism helped give women greater access to more worldly roles, we’ve collectively spent a lot less time losing ourselves in the service of others.
Ah, yes. That’s what we needed. One more guilt trip laid on any potential rebel women who think that they can get away with pursuing individual passions, shaking off the predestined role designed for them by men and their male god. Thanks. That’s really fresh material you’ve got there. What is this, 1977?
She does show some potential. After all, she actually questioned the usefulness of professional wingnut Glenn Beck, something most Mormons would consider akin to implying the prophet doesn’t have a red phone in the church office building that rings God’s top-floor suite in the Celestial Church Office Building. But the hand-wringing, qualified way Palmer expresses her somewhat unorthodox opinions demonstrates the horrible position a bright, articulate woman finds herself in when she lives in a society that does not value women as full human beings.
Mormonism’s patronizing screed about women is lifted straight out of the Victorian “Angel in the Home” playbook. Women are stuck on pedestals, where they can neither live up to the idealised vision of limited femininity or step down to fully participate with the men. The only way to cope or gain any kind of recognition is to spout the party line. Orwell nailed it in Nineteen Eighty-four when he wrote, “It was always the women, and above all the young ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the Party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodoxy.”
So Palmer dismisses feminism with a brush stroke: “It’s interesting, important stuff, feminism, I’m just not sure why anybody ever believed it was the ticket to happiness.” That’s exactly the kind of statement that will get you a benevolent, patronizing pat on the head from the male leadership.
Yes, Ms. Palmer. Just because feminism triumphs the idea that all people should have the ability to vote, obtain credit, get a divorce, have a job, get educated, speak in public, have legal custody of their children, own property, be protected from violence, say no to unwanted sex, run businesses, and travel freely doesn’t mean it’s the ticket to happiness at all.