It's time for 'family feminism'BARBARA KAY
More than 70% of American women today reject the "feminist" label, partly because, in Hof Summers' words, "they don't want to be liberated from their womanhood."
But in fact, emancipation activism has been evolving for more than 200 years, beginning with free-thinking (and free-loving) Mary Wollstonecraft's widely-read Vindication of the Rights of Woman in the 18th century, which demanded nothing less than full citizenship for women.
The movement diverged along progressive and conservative lines, with the latter presently in eclipse in the West.
Friedan is a product of the egalitarian, progressive line, which perceived women independently of their roles as wives and mothers and as essentially the same as men. That became the "correct," and indeed the only feminist perspective most women from Friedan on ever encountered.
The conservative school, not extinguished in fact, but minimized in elite cultural circles today, is more biology-friendly and family-centric. Conservative feminists embrace women as equal in value to men, but in key respects different in function. They honour the home, usually presided over by women, as the source of family strength and tranquility.
In a 2008 American Spectator essay, "Feminism and Freedom," American Enterprise Institute affiliate Christina Hoff Sommers explores the two schools of feminist activism of the 18th and 19th centuries, and their respective fortunes in the 21st century.
One of the most successful militants in the conservative line, for example, was the "redoubtable" Hannah More (1745-1833). Novelist, pamphleteer, abolitionist, she was the most prominent woman activist of her day. Her pamphlets sold in the millions.
A spinster, More was active in the intellectual Bluestocking society, created to satisfy bright women's yearning for higher education and salon life. A "Christian capitalist," More called for moral improvement, compassion for the poor and the elevation of women's lot through serious education as well as political and legal freedoms.
Another successful conservative feminist was Frances Willard, who served as president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) from 1879 until her death in 1898. Under her aegis, the WCTU became the largest, most influential women's organization in America.
Willard went on to militate for women's suffrage with the support of more familiar names such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but Willard was the enfranchisement rainmaker. It was her approach — the non-adversarial "angel in the house" — and her pitch that women's votes would preserve family values that won both male and female hearts and minds. But Willard's triumph is not honoured by feminists today, because she triumphed for politically incorrect reasons.
Summers concludes that this champion of a feminism "that granted women the liberty to be themselves without ceasing to be women" might, if she had not been "brushed out of women's history," be a role model for many women today.
Conservative feminism is still extant in the West, but culturally marginalized. Where the phenomenon is growing by leaps and bounds, however, is in patriarchal cultures such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Iraq.
Islamic feminists in these countries are proud of their roles as mothers and caregivers. They want "liberty," but not "liberation." As one Iraqi woman's advocate told academic Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, who has researched and written on the subject, "We see feminism in America as dividing women from men, separating women from the family. This is bad for everyone." Fernea calls the phenomenon "family feminism."
More than 70% of American women today reject the "feminist" label, partly because, in Hof Summers' words, "they don't want to be liberated from their womanhood." In the interest of freedom of choice, young women have the right to be exposed to both traditions of feminist activism. Many of them might find that "family feminism" is right for them.
Barbara Kay "It's time for 'family feminism'." National Post, (Canada) 6 February, 2013.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.
Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.
Copyright © 2013 National Post
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.