PATRIARCHY AND FEMINISM

In my women’s lit class today we discussed the idea of patriarchy within a religious framework, and how the two seem dependent upon one another.  Whether or not this is a good idea according to feminism is slightly ambiguous.  It seems the natural disposition to agree that in the eyes of a feminist, patriarchy is “bad.”

I consider myself to be a feminist.  I advocate for equality of men and women in social, economic and political aspects of the community- I think it is the duty of any woman living in this period of time to do so.  Thankfully, these days most of us manage to do it without burning our bras.  I am not in favor of those women who really polish the corners of the argument: who argue that “women” should be spelled “womyn” to eliminate the “men” in the word.  Give me a break.  The long standing history of difficulty between the genders is not something that can be erased from history: women should spend their time on the here and now instead, and embrace the past of oppression: it only validates the strides that have been taken in the past century.

Anyway, our discussion surrounded the notion that families are traditionally anchored around male dominance as the providers and decision makers in the home.  Despite the fact that I think most of us can agree that our MOTHERS have been the ones to call the shots, whether secretly or otherwise in our own upbringing, I couldn’t help but feel like the argument that religion sustains this structure is incredibly outdated, at least as far as my own religion.

Most people who are unfamiliar with latter-day saint religious practices are quick to presume that women are oppressed and largely subject to male order.  They will note that the fact that only men are endowed with priesthood duties, and argue that this is an archaic  and offensive fact.  Even within my class, some women felt that the female structure of the Relief Society was a condescending imitation of a greater male program.  I found myself disappointed at the negative direction in which the class discussion had turned.

What many women in my class failed to realize was the lack of responsibility they had assumed in accordance with their so-called feminism.  They neglected to see the potential of their circumstances.  The Relief Society within the LDS church is by far the largest global organization that unites women across the world.  It is the same in every country.  It’s purpose is to educate, to enrich and to serve.  Yes, it embraces a typically female intuition: the responsibility and impulse to nurture and to serve.  But whoever said that was its only purpose?  These women are forgetting the immense opportunity they have to educate one another on the value of independence and of personal growth.

I am a firm believer that women and men are equal- but different. When I think of my own family unit, it is clear that there is a patriarchal order- but that order is headed by not one figure, but two.  My father and mother have parented and provided as a unit, as a partnership.  No decision has been made without being agreed and decided upon by both parties: compromises are often made, and each point of view is approached and accommodated.  One student in my class argued that women are called upon to “only be the mother.”  Only?!  I don’t doubt that my father works hard in his career- I know that he goes above and beyond in his role as a provider.  But my mother?  Maybe she works harder.  I think even he would advocate that she certainly works harder.  She has capably taken the reigns and raised four adults: four thinking, feeling, human beings who are proactive about their spirituality, their education, their social relationships and their roles within their communities.  She has raised human beings who are respectful and open minded, but who have the ability to independently seek out their own opinions, and conscientiously strive to “life where they stand.”  Of course we aren’t perfect at it- but we are relatively problem-free and have relatively good heads on our shoulders.  Our father has maintained that we ought to attribute this to our mother.

When we talk about the patriarchy of godly order, I believe it works on very much the same level.  I do not believe that one man sits alone on a throne and calls himself “god.”  I consider the very definition of “god” to be man + woman.  I have confidence in the idea that the patriarchy of God is a partnership: most probably one guy figuring out what color to make the grass and one girl rolling her eyes with the seemingly obvious choice- “green,” she says. That this female character is so unspoken of is only an affirmation of her sacredness.  My brothers open doors for girls, not because they truly believe these girls are too weak to open their own doors, but because they have been taught to have the appropriate amount of respect for those members of the opposite sex who truly, naturally have the capacity to do things just as great, if not greater than themselves.

Well, my thoughts are evidently scattered, but I guess what I’m trying to say is, frankly, progress in equality of thinking is not going to come about magically when women are so quick to doubt their own voice, so quick to dismiss their divine right to create life, and especially when we get caught up in old technicalities.

 

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3 comments

  1. Well put Hollie! It sounds like those girls in your class truly do not understand the purpose and history of Relief Society, nor do they do their visiting teaching. If they did, they would have read in the visiting teaching message FOR THE LAST TWO MONTHS that the Restoration was not complete until the women of the Church were organized. The prophet Joseph Smith himself proclaimed this.
    We actually talked about feminism a bit in my International Social Work class today. It turns out that as people are advocating for women to be “equal” with men, they are actually still promoting patriarchal values. The woman must be able to take take on (naturally) manly qualities and it is “cool” for a woman to be able to accomplish something which is traditionally a man’s job or role, but it is absolutely not acceptable for a man (unless he is gay) to do something traditionally done by women.
    For example, a woman who can fix things in her home or move heavy furniture has “girl power.” On the other hand, a man who enjoys arts and crafts such as cross stitch is a “sissy.” A woman who embarks on a career is “making something of herself” while a man who chooses to be a stay at home dad is berated for shirking his fatherly duties and responsibilities to provide for the family. A woman who is a victim of domestic violence is pitied and offered the lion’s share of the resources available for such situations, but her abused male counterpart needs to “man up” in such a terrible circumstances and has very few places he can turn to for validation and assistance.
    Thus we see the skills and attitudes valued in society are still very “manly” in nature. While pushing this thing called “feminism,” we have created a double standard, not recognizing that equality does not necessarily mean sameness. To me, true feminism should be a celebration of the talents and accomplishments of womanhood, NOT turning womanhood into manhood disguised in a female body. It makes me sad that the true and honorable role of women has been significantly devalued in recent decades.

  2. Love it. You are amazing.

  3. Harriet Mace · · Reply

    I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this blog. I’m sometimes a little critical of the Relief Society programme- I know its a wonderful and essential organisation but its far too easy sometimes to consider it as being largely involved with food and helping old people. But in reality RS is what we make it. Yes, we can be great providers of food and care but its so much more than that. Thanks for reminding me!

    Women and men are divine. Serving in the Yws programme has shown me just how much God loves His daughters. He gives us the responsibility for souls of others because He has confidence in us and our qualities. 🙂 Thinking about this has put a smile on my face; thanks!

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