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Friday, October 1, 2010

What Has Happened to Feminism and Does it Matter that it is Gone?

I read an article today that has given me the reason I was looking for to write about my deep anguish over the demise of feminism. Jessica Valenti's article, "Who Stole Feminism?" in the September 29, 2010 The Nation magazine opened my path. So, what has happened to feminism? Does it matter that it has disappeared from mainstream culture? Should we allow the erasure of feminist principles continue in our nation and culture? What difference does it make?

This is opening the can on a huge bunch of worms for most people, I realize, but I'm going there because I think it's essential for our future in every arena of life. Today is my son's 17th birthday. I choose to open this can for his sake, for the sake of the women he will know, will work with, possibly marry, and perhaps father someday. I open this can of worms for my daughters, for their friends, for all my female friends, their husbands and children, and for my own self, who was reborn a feminist in a period shortly after my rebirth as a Christian, and for whom the two are inextricably linked. This is the biggest issue that I face every day of my life as a woman in a "man's" profession, and the issue is getting more pronounced, not less.

I believe our culture, our nation, the church and society are losing ground rapidly because we have stopped inviting the unique wisdom of women into all discourse, and have stopped realizing what a treasure we have to yet learn from women's ways of knowing, doing and thinking. I am deeply concerned that my daughters will be unable to achieve even as much as I have, and that in fact they might not even want to try as the costs personally are too high. This is why I go walking in this fire pit that no one else wants to walk in.

As I see it, generally, feminists really stopped active discourse in approximately the year 2000. I haven't yet figured out why that year particularly marked a sort of the demise of feminist conversation, other than to suspect that the "old line" feminists had gotten to an age when they retired from lecturing and teaching or just left the fight. I have tracked the publications of feminist literature to that time, and then a huge void occurs. Consequentially, I believe, everyone thinks the feminist conversation is over, the issues have all been settled and equality between the sexes has been satisfactorily achieved. That is miserably incorrect. I am as reasonable as they come, and I want no priority over men, but I have to tell you, my voice is not valued, nor are my sister's voices valued in the leadership of our culture. We permit some women "in", but having done that, we think the equality issue is resolved. It's not a question of "ceilings" at all, but a question of who gets listened to. All voices dominating all discourse in this country, with very, very few exceptions are male, or male coming out of female mouths. For me this has really nothing to do with Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton or anyone political at all. They are just the form of the argument that most people are familiar with. I'm concerned about much more than one or two political races. I'm concerned about the very soul of our nation, the church and our future.

Essentially since September 11, 2001 every aspect of our culture has taken a huge step backward and towards more conservative thinking. For some reason, the form this giant step backward has taken has led to the disappearance of dialog in virtually every arena of our culture. Instead of dialog we now have shouting, finger-pointing, and hated. The news industry has simultaneously become another source of entertainment, and does little legitimate news analysis that might lead to questioning of current cultural systems, it instead fans the flames of disrespect and anger as the latest form of entertainment. Add to this the extreme sexualization of women by the advertising industry in this same period, and the increase in poverty for a tremendous segment of Americans which tends to neutralize philosophical conversations even taking place, and we have all the makings for a real crisis.

I wouldn't necessarily say that feminism has been stolen as this article does, but I do believe that feminism has stopped being a significant factor in the public debate. My sense is that we need to reclaim it before we lose all the progress we have made as a nation that values all of its citizens of every age, race, gender, sexual-orientation, religion, color or creed.

This is just the first chapter of a lot of chapters that need to be written, sort of an introduction to the topic, but I cannot write them alone. I am looking for other women and men who feel that there is something that needs to be said, or done, or written, or spoken about, or just share their stories. Join me, if you will, in beginning again to rewrite the book that moves the course of our history forward as a shared work by both women and men alike.

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