"These, otherwise rational, people seem to be incapable of moving outside of their religious beliefs about women. Hm."
First time on this blog and already loving it! I like your discussion about what does and does not lead to feminist ideologies. My question is: where does this critical thinking ability come from? I hate to say natural intelligence–because many smart women are not feminists, plus it just sounds condescending. Does it come from having a mentor or education that teaches you this way of looking at things? Is it some intersection of the two? Can it be either? What about women (and men) who are exposed to these arguments and learn this way of thinking in college, yet never seem to develop this ability to think critically about gender relations?
First off…Hi Whitney! Sorry it’s been so long. Since I don’t know you personally, I wonder how you stumbled upon this blog, but you are more than welcome to stick around if you’d like. Love to have you.
Your comment was insightful, so I figure I better just put down a quickwrite of what I’ve been thinking about in response.
No need for me to freak myself out of writing anything here, I’ve just decided. I want all my posts to be long and perfect. But if I waited for things to be perfect…I’d never do anything.
So, let’s quickly tackle this.
Question 1: Where does this critical thinking ability come from?
My initial gut reaction is to say that it must be taught to us. But I’m not entirely sure that’s true. I spend a lot of time “teaching” critical thinking skills to little kids, but really all I have to do is ask them some questions and a few are bound to respond with good answers. The “teaching” part comes from pointing out aspects of what the student said to other students who might not have grasped it yet.
So, though it seems like a cop-out , I’m going to be honest. I would say that some people come upon critical thinking naturally and some people have to have it explicitly taught—but it CAN be taught, and like any skill, it can be improved upon. We could all be better critical thinkers in some way..I think.
( I mean…I reserve the right to change my opinion at any given moment in time. Like, tomorrow morning I might have an epiphany over the Captain Crunch or something.)
I guess I see it kind of like walking or swimming. One can argue that babies walk naturally, or, are the constantly getting “taught” by the examples and systems around them? And yet, some babies can’t walk for a lot longer times than others, and require more explicit teaching. It’s hard to gage whether something that is kind of a vital key to human and social function is “natural” or “taught”. Like, you can drop a newborn in a pool and they can swim just fine, but we still find community swimming lessons full of 6-70 years olds. So, which one is it?
Question 2: What about women (and men) who are exposed to these arguments and learn this way of thinking in college, yet never seem to develop this ability to think critically about gender relations?
And this is the part that might get a little sticky and controversial.
I think that the issue here is religion.
(Gasp! * somewhere a penguin falls over*)
Here is the thing, Whitney. Early on to my feminist realization phase I noticed something that you seem to have noticed too. There were people knew who would gladly critically analyze literature, movies, political policies, even other cultures and religions in all sorts of ways ( even in feminist ways in some cases!) but could NOT….could NOT seem to be able to jump the hurdle into their own religious traditions. (See The Crock-o-denial* for example)
Now, I was not raised particularly liberal in a woman’s rights type of way ( but I was in many other ways. Believe it or not, liberal agendas do not come in an all inclusive package of all the issues. ) and I was about as orthodox a Mormon as you could really find—-but it drove (drives) me absolutely bonkers when people would do this.
You know: “They won’t let women be members of the board in legislative committees! Those awful Middle Eastern countries! No taxation without representation! Those awful British!
And, anyway Sis. Harris…. did you read that statement sent out by The Brethren and are you here to drop off your tithing…?
And I’ll be standing there at the door with a spatula or pen in my hand thinking…”Can they hear themselves when they speak?” *smile*
And it was (is!) particularly infuriating when it is coming from women. And, since I come in contact with women more often than men day-to-day….most of these experiences happen with women. My. Gosh.
So, more to the point….
- In psychology, a circular thought process that is easily spread from one person to another is called a “meme.” Pretty much any big idea or concept that travels among a large group of people is considered a meme.
- Religions are major spreaders of memes. In fact, that’s pretty much what they are designed to do. Including ours. Especially ours.
- Some memes are very powerful and can be very VERY dangerous.
- These memes are designed to be impenetrable, unbreakably circular and inhibit aspects of critical thinking. The primary characteristic of these memes is the ability to make anything seem rational and possible. ANYTHING.
Now WAIT….hold the phone. I am actually NOT saying that this is 100% bad. Take our Christian religion, for example. It takes a pretty powerful anti-critical thinking meme to convince the rational human brain that
A: When people die, and are obviously, seriously dead…..they are not REALLY dead, and will be alive again.
B: You should love your enemies and be nice to people who are mean to you and you will be rewarded for your goodness…not just in-spite of the fact nobody may notice….but especailly if nobody notices.
C: No matter how bad of a thing you do, you can make it right through the unstoppable love and infinite power of a spiritual brother that you cannot see…and on top of which also used to be dead, and is now alive again.
And I sincerely believe all these things and have found these memes, while sometimes fragile these days, to be huge forces for good, not only in my life, but in the world.
I have powerful Christian Mormon memes which shut off critical thinking so much so that I actually believe that when I pray, someone who cares hears me…every time. I honestly believe that I, little old me, a collection of atoms on a kind of mediocre planet…have limitless potential, a life’s purpose and an immortal soul.
That’s powerful, and while I may never see this limitless potential, or this immortal soul, this meme has helped me go through things and push harder in situations where I otherwise might have cracked.
BUT, such powerful circular memes can also do BAD BAAAD things because they shut off critical thinking.
As an example, I’ve found this presentation by a former cult member, where she explains some of this.
(Now, I thought I would explain my thinking first *above* before posting this, because it must be said that I know that this presenter is generally against all organized religions . I think that some of that comes out in this presentation, in the undertones. I felt I needed to preface with the positives I see in some religious memes.)
And Mormonism has it’s own freaky-dangerous memes to be found from the pulpit sometimes. This idea that This is God’s Church-Therefore what the leaders say and do is exactly what God would have them do- God would not let anything incorrect happen-God loves and leads his children perfectly- God’s leaders lead his children perfectly- Simple obedience is the answer in….God’s church- Therefore what the leaders s…..
And around and around and around. God=perfect, Church=God, Policy/Leaders= Church.
That’s some scary mess, yo, when you really get down to it.
But the thing about meme’s is that they are often subject specific- but can grow.
(Example of subject specific meme= “God was merciful to his people in the scriptures when they repented” can be understood, but sometimes it is really easy to fail to apply this same meme to ourselves. We can be really hard on ourselves sometimes.
Example of meme that grows= Darwinism becomes “social darwinism” when the meme became applied to a larger context outside of its original sphere)
So, while many Mormons have either inherent or are taught critical thinking skills, sometimes a subject-specific meme can shut them off ( which is a meme’s job). Often the subject is “Mormonism” and the meme is “Sexism (Oops…sorry, I mean “sacred gender roles”) is an eternal truth taught by prophets- Prophets say what God would say- God imparts eternal truths- Sexism (Oops….sorry, I mean sacred gender roles”) is an eternal truth taught by prophets- Prophet say what God would say …”
And every once in an often you will see someone with a broadened religious sexism meme, applying it to everything. Hi-lar-ious. Sad….but funny.
At other times, however, you will see people who just can’t see the sexism, or any number of flaws, in Mormonism due to the “perfect church” meme. Kind of weird and disconcerting ,really.
And that was the first painful part of feminism really, as a young mormon; the initial part where the meme exploded in my mind.
So, what I’m saying is, people can have the critical thinking skills in the world, but if a deeply ingrained, circular thought process inhibits it–it won’t matter. The difference between a feminist and a not-feminist is critical thinking- and an absence of a meme that makes you a wack-job.