Monday, November 14, 2011

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 6

Chapter 6: The Mommy Wars

McCulley addresses the devaluing of both women (as wives/child-raisers/homemakers) and children that has occurred over the last two centuries.

It’s a long chapter and well worth reading yourself. In brief, the concept of motherhood being less valued than all other pursuits has occurred in three stages:
  • It began in the 19th C when the bulk of economic activity moved from farms and homes into factories. Therefore the household was no longer the workplace, but rather a place of replenishment for workers.
  • It continued as a form of social Darwinism, when it was claimed that child-rearing should become a professionalised collective activity. This followed from the idea that most women were unproductive and indolent.
  • The third stage was with Margaret Sanger, the founder of modern birth control, who believed that large families, especially from parents she deemed unfit were the cause of most evils. She believed in the possibility of a superior race and eugenics, a cause later promoted by Nazi Germany.

Then, McCulley moves from women to children:
of the myriad changes created by second-wave feminism, the most pronounced would be the movement’s unwavering commitment to abortion. (p132)
What is also clearly a result of abortion becoming legalised (or at least tolerated) in most societies, is that female feticide (the aborting of female fetuses) has cost millions of women’s lives. It is estimated that over 100 million girls should have been born in the world, but have not. 50 million of these in China and 43 million in India. For cultures that value a son much more highly than a daughter, there is now a huge disproportion between the sexes.

I remember reading an article about this a few years ago –this first generation of selective sex children are now reaching adulthood. But there are not enough wives to go around. So, you have a large group of men, with no prospective wives and a lot of excess testosterone in society. Not a recipe for peace.

McCulley then turns to briefly address some other issues, including:
  • surrogacy, egg and sperm donation and implications of such technology
  • fertility and that refusal of many to acknowledge it’s limited window

I think, as I watch younger women and the choices they make, fertility is one area where few are prepared to think about it honestly. Many women (and I include myself in this) fell for the line “You can have it all”, yet
those of us who have tried, however, know that it is not true. It may be possible to have it all, but not at the same time. (p138)
Yet I continue to watch young women in our churches mapping out their future with little idea of the reality of fertility or lack of it: “I’ll develop my career till my thirties, and get married in there, then sometime in my mid-thirties we’ll have children.”

I often have to ask young (married) women now, “Do you want to have a family, and if so, when do you plan to fit it in?” And this is not just women who would like a career, this is also women planning their life of ministry service, but thinking that having a family would be the end of their ‘ministry’. Please hear me correctly, I am fully supportive of women in jobs they like and find satisfying. It’s just that the message of ‘I can do it all’ has so permeated us as women, that often we do not stop and think ‘maybe I can’t’ until it’s too late.

She finishes the chapter with words of encouragement to mothers currently ‘in the trenches’:
I think it is easy for mothers to lose sight of the big picture when they are consumed with the daily ‘ordinariness’ of life. I hope that this chapter has helped you… to take the long view of what you are doing in training the next generation to be worshipers of God.’ (p140)
and also to older women. She encourages ‘empty nesters’ to start thinking of themselves as ‘open nesters’ – open to ministering to other people. Younger women need advice, help, guidance and instruction – from God’s word, as well as how to love their husbands, train their children and manage their home (Titus 2). There is a dearth of godly wisdom out there – for those of you who have lived it, please share it with the rest of us!

Things to think about:
  • If you are a mother, do you value it as a role? Why or why not?
  • If you are not a mother, do you value it as a role? Why or why not?
  • Do you / or did you think you could have it all – husband, kids, career, personal satisfaction, etc? Have you managed to?
  • If you are an ‘empty nester’, are you prepared to become an ‘open nester’?

Next week: Chapter 7: Raunch Culture Rip Off


Tamie said...

Hi Wendy

Let me know if my comments on this series are getting a little old, but I thought it might be worth a few historical clarifications.

First, the association of Margaret Sanger with Nazi Germany. The Nazis adopted ideas and motifs from a number of different sources (including Christianity!). I don't agree with Sanger's view of eugenics but it must be pointed out that she didn't agree with the Nazis' eugenics program either! In fact, she joined the American Council Against Nazi Propaganda, saying her goal was to combat Hitler's rise to power in Germany. She was seen as a threat by the Nazis and in 1933 her books were added to the list to be burnt.

Second, I'm also not pro-abortion but the idea that it's abortion that's cost millions of women their lives is a little anachronistic. The stats from the Middle Ages are shockingly similar - they just drowned their little girls instead of aborting them. Humans have long oppressed women. Abortion may be one way that happens today but it's not the cause of that evil - we've always comes up with ways to do it.

That said, I appreciate her point about 'having it all'. I think there's an element of this for all women, that is, coming to terms with limitations. For some women, there's the fertility / career issue. Other women face the grief of seeing their fertility fade having not had the opportunity to do much about it because they haven't found a husband. As you say, we need to work out how to educate and support each other as we discover our limitations.

Wendy said...

Hi Tamie,

Thanks for the comments, shows someone is reading closely!

1. McCulley draws the connection between Sanger and Nazi Germany about as closely as I did, that is as just a comment that the idea of selective eugenics and race improvement (which she strongly held) became a cornerstone of Nazi policy, not that they followed her policy as such. That’s all McCulley said, which I think still holds. She is no way specifically linked any of the Nazi’s policies to Sanger, just made the comment that it was also a cause promoted by Nazi Germany later. Much more (4 pages compared to one paragraph) shows Sanger’s views of eugenics, and includes a number of her writings, including “The most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it”, and “The most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective”.

So, the extra history is helpful, but it doesn’t contradict anything McCulley said. Perhaps I chose the wrong emphasis in that point by mentioning Nazi Germany, rather than more of Sanger’s beliefs.

2. You are right, there have long been ways to dispose of unwanted babies, including girls. However, it’s still true that millions of children, and many of them female, have been aborted since sex-identification was made possible in utero. This is the first time in history that millions of feticides (pre-birth) have been undertaken. And considering how wide scale abortion is, I would imagine the numbers probably add up pretty quickly to tip the balance to abortion as having the highest number of casualties for all other methods (especially considering those numbers probably only account for the last few decades).

Do you think, though, that feminism does have something to answer for here? It seems to me that the claim that ‘women can have it all’, combined with ‘I am in charge of my own body’ and an incredible freedom to (mostly) safely choose when or whether to have children; has left us feeling like we really are in control. Then, we feel like it is our right to be in control of everything that happens to our bodies, so when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, it is tempting to say ‘it is not convenient and because I am in control, I will manage it’.

I would have much more respect for feminism if it acknowledged that women are not in control of their bodies and their lives and can never be, and it’s not because men are in control, it’s because God is. (although I realise that is also an unhelpfully simplistic comment).

I like your point about coming to terms with limitations. That’s not just an issue for women either, men also need to come to terms with limits. What a relief it is to know that God is not limited, and he is the one in control!

Tamie said...

Yes Wendy, I think one of the great failings of feminism is the pretense that we are (or even can be) in charge of ourselves and our bodies. It's the classic fight for autonomy, the desire to be God that goes way back to the garden of Eden!

I think my respect for feminism comes, not because it's a particularly Christian worldview, but because it values the voice of the marginalized which seems to me to be very close to God's heart. I know many Christians argue that, being pro-choice, feminism doesn't actually care about the oppressed because it doesn't advocate for fetuses. I don't think feminists get that right at all. But I also see them advocating for marginalized women around the world where Christians are often silent.

Tamie said...

I was very interested to see this discussion come up in my RSS feed this morning:

Jezebel's a feminist website and here there's a real sense of struggling with the realities of biology (we might call it 'God's design'!) and the goals of feminism.

Wendy said...

That's a helpful point Tamie - about feminism having a voice for (some) marginalised. It's soretimes easy to discard all of something, because you disagree with some of it. A smarter view is to interact with it on several levels and agree that there are some points of agreement and some of disagreement.

Thanks for the reference - interesting article. I think many women struggle with the fertility issue, no matter what their belief system - it is after all, a reality of life.