A woman who is admittedly hostile to feminism, Typhonblue, posted the following recently at the Feminist Critics blog:
Feminists disavow or ignore violence that happens to women when it does not follow their ideology. Namely, violence done to women by other women, or violence done to daughters by their mothers.Ouch! She brought me up short with that one. In attempting to refute her statement, the best I was able to do is offer the example of Phyllis Chesler's book, Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, (as well as an old thread here at DEAD AIR, on female friendship).
This suggests it’s not women’s suffering, per se, that’s important to them, but upholding their ideology.
And then I thought, ohhh wait a minute. Phyllis is now in the business of adversely judging Muslim women, isn't she?
Not a good example, maybe.
Of course, this left me no examples at all. I was then forced to face Typhonblue's words.
It is important for feminists to remember, always, that feminists (not just women, but feminist women) have oppressed other women. Leni Riefenstahl was considered a feminist, you know. Feminist heroine Margaret Sanger was a racist and eugenicist. Feminists have freely collaborated with men in brutal communist regimes, as well as within terrorist factions worldwide.
My question is, are we to ignore the agency and free choices of these feminists and other feminists like them? Are all women so oppressed by "The Patriarchy" that we unable to choose a proper, moral course of action?
Are we also, then, mere puppets, mouthing the words? Because if so, why do we bother?
All of this came to mind as I read an interesting post at Palin PUMA Watch. This post deftly deconstructed Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff's (aka Heart at Women's Space) impassioned defense of fundamentalist Christian women and Sarah Palin in particular. Heart and other feminists such as Violet Socks at Reclusive Leftist have been zealous in their defense of Palin. This has left me somewhat dumbfounded.
I was hopeful that after the election, this embarrassing state of affairs would just go away. I was wrong. Both blogs are attacking Obama for his (very bad, no question about it) choice of Rick Warren to lead the invocation at his inaugural. This is, they claim, because Warren is a well-known homophobe, which of course begs the question: Have they checked out Palin's positions on gay rights? They are the same as Warren's.
This disconnect, I find very strange. Heart begins:
I have been intending to write a post about the way so many feminists, leftists, liberals and progressives consummately misunderstand conservative Christianity and conservative Christian women in particular. I keep feeling overwhelmed by this writing project and so deciding against it. But given the across-the-board anger among women over the misogyny of the 2008 Presidential elections, it seems important to me to at least begin to take a stab at offering some of my thoughts in the interests of working towards uniting women, bringing women together, something that is not going to be possible so long as feminists simply, again, don’t get conservative Christian women (and too often don’t even try because despite all the evidence to the contrary, they think they know.)As my regular readers know, I live in what is possibly the most conservative county in the USA. A quick look at an electoral map of 2008, shows us that Heart's state, Washington, is blue and went Democrat. Mine, South Carolina, is red, and has been that way for a very long time.
In addition, I speak to conservative Christian women every single day, on my job, as both customers and co-workers. I consider some of these women to be my friends. Although once a proud Quiverfull fundamentalist, Heart is now a political lesbian feminist. Her dealings with fundamentalist women are in the past, not the present. Thus, I think I qualify as one who can critique this rather bizarre broadside. Heart continues:
During the 2008 election campaigns the staggering amounts of misunderstanding, misinformation, disinformation and absolute hogwash circulating about Sarah Palin and her connections with conservative Christianity were startling and, honestly, shocking to me. Cluelessness reigned, with all sorts of people claiming Palin was a “dominionist,” a “reconstructionist,” a stealth member of various kinds of secret, fascist Christian cabals and cults, and you name it. There was little to no concern for facts or for accuracy; worse, leftists, progressives, you name it, just spouted off randomly, continually, without bothering to do a bare minimum of homework, you know, talk to folks, talk to dominionists and reconstructionists and theoretically secret-cabal-and-cult-members, or if not that, at least read their writings, which are available in superfluity, in abundance, nay, in a GLUT, all over the internet.They are not just all over the internet, but right here on DEAD AIR, as a matter of fact. (see argument in comments here)
Is Cheryl saying here that Pentecostals are never Dominionists or Reconstructionists? My seminarian (see link) tells me they can overlap fine, although they don't always. (Why can't they?) If one believes that religious laws (i.e. abortion, gay marriage) should apply to the government, then one is arguing from a Reconstructionist position. The concept is that the government should be reconstructed to reflect Christian values. The Bob Jones University people sometimes refer to this philosophy as theonomy.
What homework are people supposed to be doing, exactly? You either want the government to be an arm of the church or directly reflect church law/morality, or you don't. Period. It isn't complicated. Palin's positions are in perfect keeping with this perspective. Considering that she does attend a very right-wing church with conservative theology, is Cheryl/Heart saying that she doesn't really believe what her church teaches?
And here we come to the heart of it. How responsible is Palin, the governor of the largest land-area in the USA, for what she says? Is she merely mouthing the words, but somehow doesn't really believe them? She calls herself a feminist and is a member in good standing of "Feminists for Life." Is this why we are supposed to look the other way when she makes offensive or theocratic statements? Why?
If women are to be equal, then we must take complete responsibility for our actions, our politics, our beliefs, our ideology, as men have historically been held accountable. And you know, I think Sarah Palin would totally agree with me about that.
But Heart doesn't. We are not supposed to call Palin a homophobe or point out that her policies would actually hurt women, if made law.
And Heart reminds us that she was once a leader in this right-wing:
I walked among these scary Christians for many years. During those years, I was a leader of women, and among those women were my closest friends, mentors, sisters.Does this mean that Heart/Cheryl was "scary" too? Well, if she was a LEADER, of course it does. But look at how she abdicates responsibility for being a leader, while still wanting to brag about being a leader. How does that work, exactly?
This is exactly her approach to Palin: Isn't she fabulous? But she can't help being deeply indoctrinated by her church, poor dear.
Which is it? Both cannot be true.
I show Sarah Palin respect by taking her at her word, that yes, that she believes what she says she believes. She has never said that she is dissenting from the teaching of her church (as I have said I dissent from mine, for instance). We are not putting Sarah Palin down for being a Christian. This is utter bullshit--we are putting her down for what she has SAID SHE BELIEVES AND WANTS TO MAKE LAW. She wants to overturn Roe v. Wade, and has never made a secret of that, among other radical measures that would adversely affect the lives of millions of women.
Why are we supposed to grant her an exception for being a woman? Is that feminist?
But then, this isn't the only recent post in which Cheryl/Heart has made it clear that we are not to hold women to the same standard as men, except when we should.
Ampersand, at Alas, A Blog, weighed in a couple of weeks ago, about the term Christianism, which upset me terribly (as a Christian, even a slipshod, bad one) ...and yet, it did make sense. What other word could there be for the Christian-supremacy of the USA, such as the "Christian litmus test" for political office, which I have written about also? Ampersand also made fun of the idea (as I would, too) that Christians are oppressed. Heart responded that Christian women ARE oppressed, so Ampersand is terribly misogynist and wrong for laughing at the very idea:
“Christians” are not oppressed in the same way “Americans” are not oppressed in the same way “whites” are not oppressed — they are not oppressed if they are male. They are not oppressed unless they are female persons, in which case they are oppressed by men in their group or by men who are at war with or in other kinds of conflict with the men in their group. “Christians” are not a sexless, genderless monolith; there are male Christians and female Christians and many, many members of the former group severely, and in a dedicated fashion, oppress the latter; as well, men from other religious groups oppress the latter in times of conflict or war.And with this, I get dizzy.
What about the female nazi officers, many of whom were proud members of Deutsche Christen? I was suddenly reminded of the movie made from Fania Fenelon's biography, Playing for Time. There is a terrifying sequence in which a female nazi officer at Auschwitz, played by Shirley Knight, brings a sweet, gurgling baby in to show the Jewish women prisoners. Knight is happy, laughing, ecstatic; the women prisoners have never seen her so human, so real, so feminine. But... whose baby is it? Where did the baby come from? They know where: she has stolen the baby from some executed, Jewish mother. They obediently coo over the baby, in a forced, frozen manner. They want to stay in the Kommandant's good graces; she has power over life and death, after all. But the horror in their faces is evident.
This searing scene has never left me, all of these years. It was true, an actual event in Fania Fenelon's imprisonment. I saw the movie once, 28 years ago... and I never forgot it. Know why? This was a woman's story, and a woman's moment. It pressed into my consciousness, and reminded me: Women can be evil, too, and don't forget it.
Did Christian women help identify the witches for burning? Did especially pious women volunteer to clean up the blood after the Inquisition? (You didn't expect MEN to do that, did you?) Christian women owned slaves; Christian women sent the dogs out to retrieve them when they ran off. YES, THEY DID. As a Christian woman, let me take full responsibility and admit what other Christian women have done.
And Heart/Cheryl tells us she was "a leader of women" among the fundamentalists, so let me be very clear: Heart counseled women to homeschool, to abstain from birth control, to have as many babies as they could, as part of the Quiverfull movement. She proudly spoke at podiums, organized groups, and published/wrote/edited a magazine that they read. In short, Heart oppressed women, as a Christian leader. She has never taken responsibility for this. The reason she has not apologized is that she was too oppressed as a woman to NOT do this, so she is off the hook. As are all the women I have mentioned above. Right?
(((ethical dizziness ensues)))
This is an important part of my own reality and story, because, as I’ve also written about frequently, I suffered tremendous harm and loss at the hands of these men and eventually sued several of them (and won). As is true of so many other Christian women now and throughout history (consider the witch burnings in Europe and the U.S.), I was specifically targeted, subjugated and harmed as a Christian woman by the men and male-led organizations in my Christian group with the goal that I would remain in subordination to them.(Note: She also sued TWO WOMEN, Sue Welch and Mary Pride, but has conveniently left that part out.)
Heart says she was a leader. But then, she says she was subordinate to men. Well, which was it?
Which is Sarah Palin?
Heart decides Ampersand is full of shit:
As to Amp’s post about “Christianism,” that would have to be “Christian Male-ism,” Christian Patriarchy, the “fathers of the faith” so-called having played, along with other fathers of other fundamentalisms, a crucial and central role as an architect of male heterosupremacy. But that has nothing to do with women.Christian women, oppressing other women, DOES have to do with women. And anyone who can't get this, is politically a mess, and does not deserve to be listened to.
And in closing, I am reminded of Sudy's post, in which she declares the word PATRIARCHY to be "old school"--it doesn't quite account for the twisting and turning realities we are discussing here, does it?
Sudy proposes the word Kyriarchy(read the whole thing!):
When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination -- they're talking about kyriarchy. When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that's kyriarchy. When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that's kyriarchy. It's about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid. At it best heights, studying kyriarchy displays that it's more than just rich, white Christian men at the tip top and, personally, they're not the ones I find most dangerous. There's a helluva lot more people a few levels down the pyramid who are more interested in keeping their place in the structure than to turning the pyramid upside down.Learning does not take place in the face of open denial. Learning can not happen when we are busy abdicating our role in society. Yes, I have more status and money than a newly-arrived male immigrant from Mexico. The Guatemalan waiter in my local diner is not "oppressing" me, because he is male and I am female. This just doesn't cover the intricacies of social arrangements in these modern times.
Who's at the bottom of the pyramid? Who do you think are at the bottom of the pyramid who are less likely to scheme and spend extravagant resources to further perpetuate oppression? I think of poor children with no roads out of hell, the mentally ill who are never "credible," un-gendered or non-gender identified people, farm workers, modern day slaves...But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom. And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom - here's my advice: don't bother. The pyramid shifts with context. The point is not to rank. The point is to learn.
And yes, Sarah Palin can be a woman, even a feminist, and oppress other women. I take her at her word that she believes what she says she believes, and will do as she promises she will do.
Let us proceed, then, from there.