Saturday, January 12, 2002

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

"Deadbeat Dads":

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.

All rights reserved.

So, I'm migrating the stuff I've already posted in this section of the site:

Social Responsiblity and the Artist

This started out because of a discussion of sexist stereotyping in children's
books, specifically Harry Potter.

Lyn Millett, my Evil Triplet, of Medley fame, has asked on occasion,

"Does greater influence necessarily imply greater responsibility?"

This is my first attempt at an answer.

Let's consider the specific example of Harry Potter novels.

Rowlings didn't plan on having this great influence when she wrote this, and she was just as influenced by everything she's read as anyone else is. On the one hand she wrote what she wrote because she wanted to, and none of us should tell her to do different, and on the other hand, she wrote what she wrote as a socialized woman of particular literary heritage who probably didn't notice she was perpetuating sexist stereotypes.

Would I hold her to higher standard for works written after she realized herself to be of great influence? Yes, I would. Would I blast her for not changing her writing style to minimize certain stereotypes? Probably not -- because I know my response as an author: my responsibility is to the story I'm telling, and if some 'you' wants it different, you'd best get on to writing it yourself. Would I share my disappointment about the lack of positive role models for girls in her books? Yes. Publicly?
Yes. Would I expect her to change for me? No.

This is a specific example of discussing the greater influence &/or responsibility of a creative artist. Is there a general case? All of us are role models for someone, and should be cognizant of that as a result. So, my nutshell answer is yes, greater influence does require greater responsiblity, with the caveat that the world is rarely a straightforward enough one that nutshell answers have real merit.

Here's the poser:

Looking at the specific situation of a creative artist: what is the social responsibility of the artist? To what must an artist have their first loyalty?

© Sidra Vitale, Jan 2000.

All rights reserved.

Well, blame Medley

Well, blame Medley, home of my Evil Triplet. Or more particularly, blame the fact that we had dinner last night [Royal Siam, Palo Alto, thank you so much], as she's out visiting from DC for work reasons. I'm succumbing to the lure of semi-regular web postings, i.e., blogs, journals, etc, via a tool like Blogger or Greymatter, etc. Given the restrictions of my account, it seemed a good idea to use Blogger, which just FTPs stuff around for you.