Sunday, May 22, 2011

What advice would you give a budding feminist (who just happens to have an anti-feminist stepmom)?

It can be extremely frustrating when
people just don't *get* what
we're about.
There's no escaping it: at some point or another every feminist is going to have to deal with people who aren't exactly supportive of our cause. 

But what happens when these people are our best friends, our neighbors, or our very own parents?

The question below was submitted to me by Serena, a relatively new feminist who's experiencing some friction with her stepmom. Serena gave me permission to post this question on Experimentations in hopes of hearing different perspectives.


What would YOU do in Serena's situation?
Hello! My name is Serena. I have been reading your blog off and on for a while now and well, I finally feel comfortable asking you something. 
Here goes: I am really new to feminism and . . . enjoy learning everything I can. My problem is my parents, my stepmother in particular. Feminists are the enemy and there is no changing her mind, which is fine, but I don't like being backed into a corner. 
Recently, I was [arguing] that pregnancy was unfair and that men got the lucky end of the reproductive stick. Well anyway, she starts talking about men's rights and it's all the feminists fault for taking away men's parental rights. Her comments really took me by surprise and I had nothing to [say back] . . . so I was wondering if you had any material that I should read so I can have an intelligible debate with her. Now that I think about it, every time I say something good about feminism, she comes back with "they took men's rights away from them." 
I hope I made sense. Thank you for any help that you give me, I really do appreciate it.

7 comments:

  1. Read some stuff at feministsforchoice.com - they link to some good resources. A lot of it is also just using your commonfeministsense. I independently thought of arguments that many feminists use before I was even officially a feminist. And honestly, if nothing works, just ignore your stepmom. Everyone's allowed to an opinion.

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  2. Feminism is about choice. Some may think pregnancy is unfair, for example, others may think women are the lucky ones who get to have this wonderful experience. I am a mother and for me, being a parent is one of the best things in my life. I have been a feminist my whole life and I have a husband who considers himself a feminist also which he defines as someone who is in favor of equal social, political and economic rights for men and women.

    Your stepmother is speaking from an uninformed place and it can definitely be frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is not aware of the facts. Of course MS. magazine is fantastic for the latest updates on women's issues. Also check the Women's Studies sections of libraries; a good library should carry a selection of material.

    One reply to 'feminism took men's rights away from them' is that 'feminism, in fact, has allowed you to enjoy the freedoms and rights that you have today.' I don't know how someone could refute that.

    Women still do not have equal opportunies or representation. Men are still living lives of advantage--they do not have to fear walking down the street at night the way women do. Maybe your stepmother had a bad experience with what she considers a man's parental rights being taken away and is looking for someone to blame.

    Feminism, in fact, has given men more opportunites as parents. I know my grandfathers never changed any diapers or were involved much in looking after their babies or small children. This wasn't something considered appropriate for men to do at the time so even if they wanted to do it, they couldn't admit it since it wasn't considered 'manly'. Now fathers take a more active role in their children's lives. It's certainly not unusual to see a man pushing a baby stroller or cuddling a baby in public. This has brought an added dimension of enrichment to men's lives and that of their children. Instead of 'taking away' in this instance, feminism has opened the doors to allow men to participate more in child care and the men I know wouldn't have it any other way. They love spending time with their children and bonding with them. Men were never allowed to be present at their baby's birth in the past...there are so many examples of positive change.

    Keep reading as much feminist material as you can and that will give you the backing to challenge your stepmother's ideas. You may say: "I understand why you may feel that way based on...your experience of..etc, but have you considered....? At which time you can mention the positive impact that feminism has made on society and how your stepmother currently enjoys many of those benefits (more job opportunities, don't have to have husband's permission to do things, have a choice of career, motherhood or both,...look at MAD MEN..all the men are bosses, all the women are secrectaries in the 1960's) Try to speak as an educator, someone who is informing and teaching and that way it won't seem like an argument and more of a discussion. Ask her to please remain open-minded to listen to your thoughts and to respect your ideas even if she is not completely in agreement with them. Speak calmly and confidently and hopefully your points will sink in and she will come to understand that feminism is not an enemy. Not holding women back can only enhance our society--a female scientist could find the cure for cancer. Allowing men to show their emotions, for example, enriches their relationships and helps stop them from dying of stress-induced heart attacks. There is no benefit to forcing people into gender-based stereotypes. Everyone should be considered for their individual strengths and shouldn't be held back because they're male or female.

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  3. Your stepmom is actually promoting feminism when she complains about the unfairness in parental rights. Feminism is about equality, not women being better than men. So, men deserve an equal chance in custody battles. The fact that it is unfair is promoting the stereotype that women are inherently better at child rearing.

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  4. I have the same problem with my family, and my experience is that you cannot win a debate with people who use bad faith against you.
    Still, in your case I think that I would try to tell your stepmother about everyday examples of men having a higher status in society than women (wages, credibility &c.). But it's often the case with people who have an anti-feminist discourse that they'll use gender essentialism against you, as in "yeah, but women *want* to earn less, because they prefer caring for their families -- that's what they're *made* for."
    The question you raised, about "men's rights," is interesting, because it's a sort of paradox. People who say that feminists took away men's parental rights often overlook the fact that in most "traditional" Western societies, men always have the possibility to enjoy time with their children (though they're not usually changing diapers or anything... poor men), whereas women (as a group) do *not* have the possibility to go out of the house, work and be as successful as men. So basically, women getting more and more power in the workplace and in society at large (as opposed to the inside of the house) is only fair, and not "going too far." Women being seen as the primary carers of children (in cases of custody &c.) was not caused by feminism in any way, because caring for children has *always* been seen as our primary role.
    In the end, some people will never change their minds. Find supportive, feminist people online or amongst your friends, there's not much else you can do.

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  5. First, a big hug to you, Serena (and you, Danielle, for putting your situation out here for us!).

    You are an independent young woman, learning how to make your way in a very patriarchal society. Many people, and many women, believe that the situation for women is so much better now than it was for our mothers. It is, to a certain extent--for example I am no longer required to wear dresses/skirts in the workplace, as I was at 18. But, there is so much more to be done from a feminist perspective. You see that--I see that. Your stepmom doesn't. It is possible that your stepmom is struggling with the disparity that appears in family court systems. Good men, good fathers, sometimes get the shaft in the court system with regard to custody and child support issues. I know this primarily because I am a stepmom, married to just such a man. But I don't believe that feminists created this situation for fathers. The old adage, "a woman's place is in the home" theory is what perpetuated the struggle that men face in family court. (This is my opinion, of course, just as blaming feminism is your stepmom's opinion.)

    So, advice? Keep reaching out to like-minded friends/mentors. Keep learning, keep questioning, keep calling out sexism when you see it. If you find yourself wanting to bang your head against a wall when your stepmom makes these anti-feminist proclamations, try to remember that she's coming from a totally different space than you are, and she may be feeling protective of your dad. You may not be able to shift her perspective, but you sure can make your own way. If she's unwilling to hear your side, you may be wasting your energy with her. If that's the case, stop engaging her in such conversations. You may never change her mind.

    Good luck!

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  6. Thank you everyone for advice and the info. It will take baby steps, but I'm sure at the very least, I can get her to stop throw "it's feminism fault for *whatever* at me. :)

    Oh, and I was whining about pregency only because I was have major cramps. Not because I really believe babies suck. Just a pity me moment. One of these days I hope I'm brave enough to be a mom as well. :D

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  7. hi. I 'googled' "feminists, give me the best you got" and this page came up. This is better than other websites.(thanks). So What i got from reading the entries is that feminism is for equality. But... feminists only push and advocate for the side of the feminist equality that benefits women.So as it is now,feminism doesn't play out as "for equality". Who should push for the male side of feminist equality-the side of feminism that benefits men? Should men form a group that advocates the fathers corresponding right to Roe vs Wade- to disassociate with legal responsibility to an unborn child? Would this group be considered one of fellow feminists? I remember watching 'The View,' a TV show, long ago and they had a guest with such a stance. Co-host Star Jones responded somewhat along the lines of " if you play, you gota pay!"... "just Keep it Zipped". Is star Jones anti-feminist? I'm pretty sure shes a supporter of Roe vs. Wade considering how she didn't object to it here:
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/827482/posts

    Because of this double standard -is she anti-feminist? Is she considered anti-feminist by many prominent feminists? Any?
    I suppose Serena's step-mom is anti abortion any ways though... But it is one of many double standards that feminists Seem pretty content about. I have a lot more to say, many more examples... but thats it for now. hope i helped

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