A while back, Seraphine was interviewed for Mormon Stories podcast. The topic was on the three major waves of American feminism. You can listen to it online here.
But one part got me thinking.
In her discussion of First Wave Feminism ,John asked her to describe the life of a woman in that era. She described the various bad things that could legally happen to a woman in the 1800’s if her husband was less than stellar or absent or human or whatever. John further prodded, asking her to respond to the argument that women really didn’t have it so bad, and that, generally, men were kind and women benefited from a designated role and sense of purpose.
And Seraphine, and I’m paraphrasing here, basically said- well, if your husband was nice then you were probably pretty happy, but on the off chance that your husband was a jerk or you were poor, then THAT was when your lack of rights really started to suck.
And this is something I disagree with. When I first listened to this podcast, sitting alone in my classroom cutting up papers, I literally threw back and my head and yelled “Nooooooooo!” at this part.
I went back later and re-listened, and admit that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I originally felt it was, but I still want to address the point.
But first, let me take you back to my Fresh(wo)man year Honors American Heritage class. (Why Honors and why Fresh(wo)man year, you ask? Because I live for the challenge.)
While covering slavery in the class, the idea was brought up that the slaves might not have had it so bad. As far as technical “standard of living” was concerned, a regular slave family in the south had it loads better in regular food, housing and stability than did most poor european immigrants who began flooding into the factories up North in the same period. Now, I had heard this argument before in my junior year of high school ( a white teacher in Montgomery, Alabama), so I was familiar with it, but I was not as familiar with the counter argument.
The AmHer teacher obviously did not seem to agree with the sentiment, but never really spoke about why. He left it to one very articulate, and brave soul in the class who raised his/her hand and said.
“Well, oppression is not manifest in standard of living. What slavery does is take a psychological toll. Poor Irish families and chosen their lives, and expected to have a chance to improve. They had freedom. African Americans could not expect choice, or self mastery. African Americans went through far worse hardships than necessary on the trail to freedom than if they stayed home. Humans are willing to go through very difficult things to improve opportunity, if they choose them.”
Or something to that effect.
( That person is forever immortalized on a list of people who spoke up in crowds, whose faces I never saw, who I never met, but who changed my life. It’s a pretty big list, considering.)
And that little comment in a crowded auditorium put a little tiny spark in my brain, that I’d never experienced before, but I knew was true, because like the true word= seed analogy (Alma 32), it began to enlarge my soul and enlighten my understanding.
You see, the women’s rights, or any civil rights movement is only really in small part about the big-and-few atrocities (though they are connected), but even in the face of “good treatment” the real abuse is in the mind. It’s the little things that build up, like drip-by-drip methods of water torture. You may put food on my table and buy me nice things, but if I am forced to comply with a belief that I am inferior, that I am weaker, that I ought to have no voice in my choices in life and my relationship to God, that I am to revolve around men like the earth around the Sun…then I would rather starve to death as a ragged El Ed major with at least a little control of my destiny.
Though I am going to lay out that there is something G– D— terrifying about being in control of one’s own destiny. I have to live in fear of my own mediocrity. Things approach paralyzing at times.
It always reminds me a little bit of the issues in the War in Heaven—-if I’m this scared about self-actualization now….I must’ve been out of my premortal skull scared before.
And here is my problem with Seraphine’s breakdown of what was so wrong about being a woman before feminist. If there was no reason to complain if you had a good, wealthy husband who fed you and clothed you- then why was the forefront of the Women’s Rights Movement a silver spoon fed upper class woman, who was married in her early 20’s to the wealthy and super kind and awesome Henry Brewster Stanton? She never had to work a day in her life and her husband was as super liberal and compassionate and well-off as you could really get in the 1800’s….and yet she was STILL pissed off enough to be the leader of the hard-pushing first wave of feminism.
So I think it is important to point out that I do not think that what kind of a man you marry and what kind of a profession (homemaker or CEO ) you have, or how high your “standard of living” is that pushes you from or towards desiring Women’s Rights and equality.
Most of my friends are married to absolutely spectacular men, and yet they still see the need for further respect, rights and equality. Marriage to men, great or not so great, does not seem to be the distinguishing factor between my feminist and non-feminist friends. In fact, I’m going to say that the state of marriage has almost no effect on how much my friends are pissed over wrongs that happen to women. Marriage is not a trial for smart women. ( That’s right. I’m talking to you Jessica McQueen and Harmony Groves, and your totally awesome marriages!)
Many of my friends are unmarried, and are vehement anti-feminists ( way to shoot yourselves, and the females around you in the foot.). Singleness vs. marriage does not seem to be the distinguishing factor between my feminist and non-feminist friends.
Some of my friends are broke or have crappy lives, or have been treated badly by the men in their lives, and have family issues…and yet having a poor “standard of living” does not seem to be the distinguishing factor between feminists and non-feminists. They are all over the board.
The ONE thing that distinguishes my feminist and non-feminist friends? The power of critical thinking.
- Those people who can step back and sort out how the little things all add up.
- Those who can imagine what the world would and should be like, and have a developed sense of self worth and morality.
- Those who can look at problems and located the actual causes instead of blaming who they were taught to blame.
- Those who believe that they can deserve as much as every other human being—-
They are problem solvers of all kinds ( from human rights to copy machines), who honestly believe they deserve the solution.
They are the ones who are feminists. They are the one’s who fight, because there is something worth fighting for….
Even if you have the nicest house with the straightest white-picket fence in the neighborhood.