Fundamentalism and Feminism
I was thinking about Promise Keepers, actually, but my question comes down to this: which weighs more, the means, or the end? The good or the bad, that can come from religion?
Stipulate the following:
- women and men should be equal
- judaism, christianity, islam, all include in their writings indications that
women and men should be inequal, and that men should be set over women.
- having a mom is a good thing, for a kid
- having a dad is a good thing, for a kid
In America, we have the pleasantly mediagenic problem of men not behaving as responsible fathers. Is it, in the end, a good thing or a bad thing, to use a religion that says men should be placed over women to encourage men to be providing, caring fathers involved in their children's lives? Does the potential harm in the sexist messages of the religion outweigh the father behaving like a father, or is it better to have Dad around no matter his reliance on religiously supported gender roles?
Those last two stipulations in my list are ones that we hear used in arguments regarding the "problem of deadbeat dads" -- men who become fathers and take basically no responsibility, economic or social, for their actions. The whole reason "deadbeat dads" is considered a problem is because of the idea that a child must have a mom and a dad in order to be "well-adjusted" and raised "properly". That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish.
So my question is, "Is a sexist religious upbringing, with father, a better preparation for citizenship then a gender-equal upbringing with single parent mom?"
Would a 3 year old boy today be well prepared by his upbringing to go out into the world 15-20 years from now and deal with a workplace containing
- women in managerial positions above him;
- women in subordinate positions; and with,
- pursuing loving relationships with women from that workplace
(* women in all three above statements being assumed to find it normal and acceptable to be social equals to men)
Now, as I type this, I'm thinking that using religion to try to get someone to behave better as a dad is like using a nuclear weapon to swat a fly. Recommitting yourself to a religion doesn't just impact your parenting style.
Is the "religion is necessary to bring back family values" argument particularly suspect, then? Because, it's not just about [hopefully] learning to listen to one's kids, it's about changing a belief system, where one of the side effects may be that Dad becomes more responsible and stops being a
One friend had a highly pertinent comment to make, that many of today's problems with men supporting their families [or not] may be seen as "originating from the sexist notions perpetrated by religions (and other institutions), and hence more adherence to those selfsame institutions isn't going to help. "
If the argument is that kids need a dad, which we hear all the time, then my potential argument is that they dont need a dad who's going to hamstring them as adults, so using a sexist religion to browbeat deadbeat men into being a dad to their kids is not necessarily a good thing.
It seems to me this is a key argument made by PK'ers and their ilk as to why we [women, feminists, whatever] should turn a blind eye to the sexist rhetoric embedded in their ideas of how to make Mr. Whomever a responsible parent. Keep in mind that I view religious organizations and their activities through a big ignorant distant filter. But. That's what it sounds like -- "oh, yeah, sure we're telling Mr. W here to retake the reins of his family and make his wife submit to him, but, gosh, Sidra, isn't a little rhetoric worth it, if it means kids have a Dad[tm] who commits to them, at least economically? Because kids need dads, right? Right? Sidra? Hmm?"
How am I going to answer this argument? By answering the underlying question, 'is it better to have that Dad present, with sexist rhetoric in tow, and the damage he could inflict on said kid(s), or better to not have him around at all'. We have statistics for American families that can be used to show how
vital it is for a young boy to have a male role model in his life [and we all know how well stats can be munged to say what you want], and the American obsession with the nuclear family means that role model has to be dad, but do we have any corresponding stats of "how poorly a rampantly sexist upbringing would prepare a child to function in a egalitarian community"? Would such a kid be severely
hamstrung? I think the answer to this question is that it's better to not have that Dad around, if the only way to get him is with the Big Book of Sexism.
© Sidra Vitale, Jan 2000.
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