Growing up Mormon, it seemed like the women around me fought against their own interests all the time.
In the 70’s my Mormon piano teacher spent an hour post-lesson talking to my mom about stopping feminists from setting up battered women’s shelters! Read the rest of this entry
Growing up Mormon, it seemed women fought against their own interests all the time. In the 70’s my Mormon piano teacher spent an hour post-lesson talking to my mom about stopping feminists from setting up battered women’s shelters!
Other Mormon women followed orders to pack a lunch, get on a bus, and vote everything down at women’s conferences, hoping to keep the Equal Rights Amendment from passing.
Today women are still not allowed priesthood, but few seem disturbed.
And it’s not just Mormons.
Over a century ago some women ridiculed and ostracized suffragettes who sought the vote.
Even today sororities receive invitations addressed to “bitches and sluts” and accept
the invite – and the degradation.
Outside the U.S., Egyptian women defend men who murder their lovers because the women “must have done something to deserve it.”
Until recently, Saudi women couldn’t vote. They still can’t drive a car. Some have said they like it that way.
In North Africa and parts of the Middle East women cut girls’ genitals to preserve virginity until marriage. The girls may end up crippled or living in pain. Many die.
Women aren’t the only ones who accept second-class status. “Uncle Tom” brands African-Americans who accept threads of racist society. “Untouchables” accept their lot within the Hindu caste system. And Karl Marx coined the term “false consciousness” to describe workers who accept low wages and poor working conditions.
Why do underprivileged people so often accept limitations?
In a nut shell, it’s all they know, and as such, the world’s ways seem natural, normal and “right.”
Basically, society ends up in our own minds through a little process called internalization.
We are born without many thoughts in our heads. The world seems chaotic. But we must cope. So unconsciously we notice patterns and start classifying things. Reducing a complex world to simple categories leads to oversimplification and stereotyping. “Men are leaders in business, politics, and priesthood. Women stay home with kids or work outside the home as nurses, teachers, and secretaries.”
The stronger the pattern, the stronger the stereotype. Few thought to think outside the box in 1950’s America. Diversity (e.g., coming into contact with other cultures) can offer expanded vision.
Some do move out of “normal” ways of seeing: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Gloria Steinem, for instance. These leaders have often had unusual lives that help to remove the blinders.
But if people believe God wants things “the old way,” minds quickly close. Yes, add God to the brew (our ways are God’s ways) and you’ve got a strong tonic.
Other processes specific to sexism add to women’s acceptance of inferior status, like eroticized male dominance and women’s close relationships to men, but I’ll save that discussion for a later post.
So women acquiesce.
Some will call this victim-blaming: blaming the oppressed for their compliance. But you can’t blame someone for doing something that’s unconscious. It all becomes so taken-for-granted that few realize there are other ways of seeing and being.
In the Mormon church I see some improvement. When visiting my mom’s congregation the bishop said they were raising money for a battered women’s shelter. I have also heard “unequal relationships” cited as a primary cause of family disintegration. Though, the “Proclamation on the Family” diminishes that sentiment. “Men and women are equal, but men are the head”? I guess some are still more equal than others.
Change will only come when we take off our taken-for-granted blinders to see the light.
I originally wrote this piece for Feminist Mormon Housewives
“Burqa bans” are arising throughout Europe, with France voting their approval this past Tuesday. But many are concerned that the prohibitions limit the individual rights of Muslims.
First, the garment itself limits individual rights – women’s. Second, to what extent is the burqa wearer exercising actual choice? Finally, is a ban the best way to go?
Let’s start with the question of women’s choice.
When a society’s way of seeing becomes our own – even when it harms us – the belief is “internalized.” My interest in this phenomenon was sparked by my upbringing. In the early years of the feminist movement women from my church were bused to various conventions to vote down things like equal pay for equal work. I spent afternoons listening to women in my church talk about keeping battered women’s shelters from opening. They were against women receiving priesthood authority, and they were for male leadership in the home.
I didn’t understand why they worked so hard to disempower themselves, their daughters, and other women. But people don’t tend to question the taken-for-granted notions of their culture. It’s simply what you do. So choice disappears.
The same phenomenon arises in other settings. Saudi women say they don’t want to vote or drive. Many 19th Century American women didn’t want the vote, either. In North Africa women defend the genital mutilations that kill and cripple them.
Burqas limit women’s autonomy and power. Yet some women voluntarily don them, keeping with their culture.
Burqas – or niqabs (face coverings) – prevent wearers from gaining driver’s licenses when they are strictly worn, since identity can’t be confirmed via picture ID. When a city or village lacks public transportation it is hard to get around without a car. That makes it tough to get a job.
Even with transportation it’s not easy finding work in a facemask. The mask seems dehumanizing and eerie, as does the subjugation it represents.
But ethnocentrism is thought weightier than sexism. “Isms” that affect men seem more important than those that affect women – even when women are harmed, as when a female German judge denied a Muslim woman’s appeal for divorce, claiming that being beaten was part of her culture.
Did women have equal power to create the cultures that harm them?
Some women do resist, but feel pressured, as one of my Muslim students told me when we discussed the matter of covering.
But bans may not be the best way to deal with burqas or niqabs. Bans can backfire since people cling more tightly to their groups when they feel persecuted. As restrictions go into effect more women might actually embrace the burqas that limit them.
A better way may lie in creating conversation so that different cultures can consider a variety of perspectives. I am sure that Westerners and Muslims can learn from each other and our different ways of seeing.