Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Info Babe and the One with the Apron

I am a feminist.

A false antagonism has been constructed between the feminists and the conservatives in pop culture. The general line of reasoning is that the "three waves of feminism" rose up in necessary opposition to conservatives, and conservatives are still actively trying to suppress their efforts, lobbying instead for a submissive attitude and supportive role for women. The two groups are seen as diametrically opposed to one another, and each seems to support and build upon a social construction or "fiction" of the other.  The misconceptions built into these constructions should deeply concern those of us who wish that everyone be able to represent themselves in as fair and honest an environment as possible.

I want to tackle two big myths: "the ugly (or shrill) feminist" and the constructed identity of the typical "conservative woman".

But before I get into this, it is necessary to do what far too many scholars and social critics have neglected to do: define the terminology. Specifically, to the term feminist. 

Feminists believe, in short, that women are people, too. I know, mind-blowing. If you believe that women are people, too, then you're a feminist. If you don't, then you are what is called a "misogynist" (a.k.a. pig-head and drag on social relations of all types).

I like to think that I'm a person, and that I deserve to be treated like a person. It has always been accepted that men are people, so in practical terms, what I'm saying is that women deserve the same levels of respect and the same expectations of capability (except in physical labor) that men deserve.
Equal respect should translate into equal compensation for goods and services rendered...which hasn't happened yet.

Equal respect should mean the nonexistence of denigrating feminine tags, like "cop lady" or Rush Limbaugh's "info babe". Still there.

Equal expectations of capability should mean the elimination of patronizing and denigrating extra "support" in the workplace. Still there.

The point is that feminism as a social movement, not just as a theory of equality, is justified in its existence. I don't consider myself an activist, and I'll readily admit that there are certain strains of feminist ideology that I find idiotic and counterproductive, but I do respect those who take this issue to heart and actually try to change their world for the better.

Now that I've covered my definition of feminism, it's important to define conservative. We must keep in mind that not everyone who self-identifies as a conservative holds exactly the same beliefs, values, and priorities that other conservatives hold. On the social side of things, you might say that a typical conservative has a general acceptance or promotion of religion (well, Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism, and Mormonism, at least) in public, is pro-life, and considers marriage to be between a man and a woman.

But this is tenuous. I would wager that the majority of those who identify as "conservative" (taking into account polling choices like "moderately", "very") don't believe in everything in this list. In fact, a "conservative" doesn't really exist. It's simply a category we put ourselves and others into, based on how well we think they fit what a conservative "should" be, or if you're not "a conservative", what you think conservatives "really believe".

My assertion here is that we must destroy the pervasive stereotype of the Conservative, who also happens to be a Fundamentalist, a Creationist, a Male Supremacist,  or a Subservient Housewife. These associations have been dangerously generalized to encompass all who bear this title, thus making people less receptive to what a "conservative" has to say, and even swaying the vote away from those who have been unfortunately stigmatized.

This stigmatization and antipathy toward conservatives is probably nowhere more evident than among feminist liberals. Conservatives want you to stay home and cook, conservatives want to rob you of your rights, conservatives actively discriminate against women, conservatives want to ban birth control, conservatives hate public education, conservatives are racist, and so on, ad nausea. This is simply not true, at least not as a generalization about conservative ideology. For example, it is a lie that Mitt Romney wanted to ban birth control. A myth. A fabrication. A mis-characterization. An untruth...whatever you want to call it.

The Subservient Housewife

And if you believe all these things about conservatives, then it is logical to assume that  conservative women are submissive, believe themselves to be ever relegated to the secondary, "supportive" role, that they must be married, that birth control is wrong, that children must be sheltered and disciplined etc. They are therefore both the enemy and the victims that must be released from their bondage.

My parents are conservative. They pretty much adhere to everything on the list of conservative beliefs. Did my mom tell me I shouldn't bother going to college, because I need to get married and start having children, and I must be home to attend to my husband's every need? Did she force their opinions on me and fill my head with fundamentalist dogma? Did she prevent me from interacting with "the world", and from accessing worldly knowledge? No. Did she tell me I shouldn't be on the pill? No. Did she tell me to just stay back and let my husband make all decisions on his own, and who was I to involve myself in the decision-making process? No again.

And my mom isn't the only woman I know who doesn't fit the largely liberal-generated image of the conservative woman. I, of course, don't match up with this image either, nor do the vast majority of my friends.

The Ugly Feminist

Conservatives are just as guilty of misrepresentation as the feminists; they are equally as irresponsible with their characterizations and ignorant of accurate information that's readily available. The stereotype set forth by conservatives is that of the ugly feminist.

The epitome of this imagery is put forth by none quite so audacious as Rush Limbaugh. Rush, a

leading conservative talk show host whom millions of conservatives lend their ears and their credence, subscribes to and purports the idea that women become feminists (at least nowadays) because they are unattractive and therefore marginalized, have experienced mistreatment at the hands of the male species, or are female supremacists, or some combination thereof. He specializes in supplying snide remarks on the unattractiveness of many feminist politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, or Janet Nepolitano. He paints feminists as whiners who let cries of victimization ring out from media strongholds. I'm not saying Rush is evil or that I hate him, but this is one area where I believe he's just flat out wrong, and should be ashamed of his conduct.

As I've said, feminists are a much broader group than El Rushbo interprets. While you certainly may find some women who are motivated by the emotions evoked through marginalization and personal claims to suffering caused by men, there are thousands upon thousands of feminists who sincerely uphold the ideal of gender equality for its own sake, and may (surprise!) actually be quite attractive. Feminism is not a reactionary movement formed through personal bitterness toward the male species, it is a belief that women are people, too.

There are feminists are working to stop the sex-slave trade, feminists who run women's shelters, counselling, and rehab, feminists who push for equal pay for equal work, and feminists who push for higher penalties for rapists and domestic abusers. Those are projects we all should promote, no matter what you call yourself.

Stop and Reflect...

The antagonism between conservatives and feminists portrayed by popular media, although it seems clearly evident among a few prominent politicians and activists, has been built up to such great heights as to overshadow all those who do not find themselves comfortable in one ideological box or the other, even if they identify themselves as conservative or feminist. Their representation has been mailed pre-printed to their door like a magazine they didn't subscribe to, and confusion, undeserved antipathy, and misplaced anger are the results. Before we assume a set of beliefs and attitudes to a perceived group of people, we must pause and consider whether we are giving priority to our own preconceived notions of their ideology, or their voice as individuals--the former will only lead to further misrepresentation. A better, fairer world for men and women, conservatives and feminists, begins with understanding each other.



  1. We just had a sermon at my church about the biblical definitions of male-ness and female-ness. They talked about how both radical feminism and radical conservatism take things too far.

    I think you kind of touched on it, but in many ways, modern feminism is trying to deny that there is any difference between the sexes. Not only is that just not true, but they talked about how in Genesis is says "in his image, male and female, he created them." Both sexes are needed to present to the world a full image of God.

    Also, there are many conservative who say that it is unbiblical for a woman to work outside the house. This is funny, because the idea of working inside or outside the house is such a relatively new one. For years, both men and women worked side by side to run a their household. Were they living unbiblically?

    Well, I enjoyed reading you post, Georgi! I just thought I'd add some of my thought to yours.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts, Becky! There are certainly feminists who want to erase the distinctions between men and women...particularly by way of the LGBTQ movement. I choose to preserve them, because not only do I see distinctiveness as a reality, but both male and female, as God created them, are beautiful and whole in themselves, different from each other and yet complementary. I believe, though, that what you call modern feminism is only one color of thread in the complexly woven tapestry of feminism. This kind that seeks hetero-erasure I think has its roots in LGBTQ ideologies...I might blog more about this relationship, but it's a fine line to walk in terms of audience receptivity.