Friday, December 26, 2008

Feminists on High Horses, pt. 2

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.

This suggests it’s not women’s suffering, per se, that’s important to them, but upholding their ideology.
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).

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)))

Heart writes:
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.

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.
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.

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.


BigFred said...

Wow Daisy. Good post.

And yes, Sarah Palin can be a woman, even a feminist, and oppress other women.

Feminists are just as fallible as the next person, they're human after all. The desire to sweep Palin's bad policies under the rug is mind boggling to me. The result of sweeping Palin's policies under the rug is to deny Palin's agency, even as Palin confirms that she does have agency.

palinpumawatch said...

My brain is fried.

So...right-wing Christian women are oppressed by right-wing Christian men, and the solution for those of us outside that community is not to try to remove these women from right-wing Christianity, but to...refrain from criticizing right-wing Christian women, even to the point of supporting their bids for high office *as* right-wing Christians?

When American Christians of either sex say they're being terribly oppressed as Christians (and of course the majority of Christians don't make this claim), they don't mean that their men are beating their women; they mean that they're angry they can't put a Nativity scene anywhere they want or make laws for everyone because they're in the Bible.

This "Christian men oppressed me AS a Christian" thing confuses me, too. If I were, say, sexually harassed by a boss, would I be harassed "as" (which I've always taken to mean "because I am") a white person, an able-bodied person, a middle-class person, a literate person, a person who wears a size 7 shoe? I would definitely have been harassed as someone who was in that particular workplace, but I don't see how that's a useful category of analysis. Likewise, of course right-wing Christian men oppress right-wing Christian women -- that doesn't mean they see Christian women as inferior to other women, or would treat non-Christian women better if they had the chance, or...anything.

Just confusing.

chaos said...

links back nicely with "There is not one righteous, no, not one" (from pt. 1)

Tom Nolan said...

Superb post.

You'll never get Cheryl to accept "Kyriarchy" over "Patriarchy", though, because "Patriarchy" carries the implication of male responsibility (whereas the "Kyr" of "Kyriarchy" could refer equally to Greek kyrios or kyria) for all the evil in the world. One of the reasons she loves it so is that it acts as a sort of siphon, draining guilt from women like herself - who have been happy to promote as reactionary a social and spiritual regime as one might wish for - and on to men, who are collectively responsible for womankind's unhappiness. Women can't be patriarchs, ergo women are definitionally incapable of oppressive behaviour and belong in category: innocent. Men, no matter what their actual behaviour, must be consigned to category: guilty.

chaos said...

I came back to read again and click on all your wonderful links. Damn, there's lots. Now my head is spinning too. So why is it that Palin won't go away? I try not to click on any link that mentions her name, still hoping, she'll go away.

Amber Rhea said...

I'm too sleepy at the moment to say much more, but just wanted to let you know I really enjoyed this post. It was great!

I'll have something slightly more eloquent to say later, I hope!

gwallan said...


I really enjoyed that. Well done.

Excellent primer on how multiple ideologies and belief systems are so problematic in such a plural, but fundamentally tribal, society.

LarryE said...

I read the two parts in one sitting and for some odd reason, the lyric "a fine and fancy ramble" popped into my head when I finished. Odd because the song it's from doesn't fit - but the line itself, intended in case it's unclear as a genuine compliment, does.

It fits because, to use another description, you've put together a argument both passionate and readable, sweeping widely across a section of our sociopolitical landscape too often ignored.

In fact, you cover so much territory, some of which is unfamiliar to me (I don't know several of the people you mention), that beyond saying I agree with what I take to be the central thrusts of your argument - that women can and do oppress other women, that as adults they are at least partly responsible for their own behavior and choices, that upper class women are not by virtue of being women free of the presumptions of privilege, and that the essence of feminism is the freedom and ability to choose - I'm not sure where I could begin a discussion.

So I'll just say I enjoyed reading it and hope I won't need to be the recipient of "No, no no! You don't get it!" explanations.

polerin said...

Excellent posts Daisy... Of course you always get my attention by calling CLS of her crap.

But as you said towards the end of the first post:
There is not one righteous, no, not one.

and that definitely includes me... so I try not too take too much pleasure out of haranguing CLS. Try and fail. :/

Mireille said...

Well, as regards to Heart, I've had my run-ins with her at IBtP before, but I didn't know her history. But I find it not very surprising to hear she was a fundie. A fundamentalist may change their beliefs, but not their rigid way of believing.

jovan b. said...

You're right, Daisy. Greenville is one of the most conservative counties in America. Aiken County, while not nearly as so, is still solidly conservative.

Obama won my home county of Barnwell, with my hometown of Williston being the town that gave him the county.

sheila said...

Im not so sure, that Sarah Palin actually understands Roe v Wade. Seriously. She seems to 'know' 'some' issues, but I don't think she understands them. Anyhow, i think that women mezzzzmorized by her are doing themselves an injustice. They don't understand that she's the latest 'two steps back' for women.

It's a shame really. I look at Sara and so many questions enter my mind. Questions on a personal level about her beliefs and intentions and also on a moral level and her beliefs brought into governance. And her politics.

She's a very danagerous woman and I hope that people realize that...or that some other person steps up to the plate in the Repub party to take the reigns. The world can NOT afford to have this ditzy holy roller running anything in 2012 or any other year for that matter. NOT because she's a woman...because of 'who' the woman is.

Daran said...

Excellent post, Daisy.

Although typhonblue's observation is significant, as you have appreciated, I do not agree with the conclusion she draws from it, that "it’s not women’s suffering, per se, that’s important to them, but upholding their ideology." Rather I would say that ideologues are generally incapable of apprehending data which contradicts their ideology.

This applies to ideologies in general, not just feminism.

musehunt said...

I'm with Palinpumawatch on this - watching my brain sizzling in the frying pan, that is. Lovely post, thank you.

She calls herself a feminist and is a member in good standing of "Feminists for Life."

I remember seeing an interview with Palin where she called herself a feminist, but please help me, it might just be the onset of dementia, but didn't we see another interview (I think one of those where MacCain was with her to hold her hand and step on her foot)where she said she was not a feminist, didn't like labels, unless they were Valentino, or something like that?

My simplistic view is that feminism means different things to different people, and I respect that. To me, it does not mean that I blindly support other women. I support women's rights. And there is a huge difference.

Even some so-called feminist issues, are not cut and dry bonfires of unified agreement. Take something like abortion. All feminists do not necessarily agree on all matters pertaining to abortion, mostly because it is a complex issue, and there are multiple vantage points from which to look at it. Your vantage point will have a huge influence on your position towards it. But that does not in itself make you more or less of a feminist. I think my problem is that there are people who want to think of feminist as one huge homogenous group of drones, spouting the same ideological lines. When in fact we are everything but.

belledame222 said...

I was actually just debating whether or not to add "Woman's Inhumanity Etc" to the recycle/sell pile, on account of Chesler became such a fuckwit. Thing is, though, it -is- actually a pretty good book, if admittedly a bit errm subjective. But I decided, reluctantly, that just because she's a neocon fuckstick now doesn't mean she retroactively never had anything good to say. "Women and Madness" is good too.

She really is a giant chode now, though.

belledame222 said...

and yes, great post.

Avi said...

Actually, Phyllis Chesler is one of the only feminists speaking out on the oppression of Muslim women. Unfortunately, when one addresses these subjects, one is always called an Islam-o-phobe. Her blog dealt, in depth, with the spate of honor-murders that happened in the USA. She contends that the "liberal" feminist spaces do not give her room because she contradicts the beliefs of the "collective (as Daisy described them in her last post)." I don't agree with every position she takes, but you will not find a better advocate for making real changes in the lives of Muslim women. Hmm. Isn't that what feminism is supposed to be about?

Daisy said...

Avi: I don't agree with every position she takes, but you will not find a better advocate for making real changes in the lives of Muslim women.

As long as Muslim women agree with her about what needs challenging/changing in their own culture/religion, that is all well and good. But to simply and unilaterally decide what is sexist in another culture, when we do not even agree (much less take action) on that here at home? Inappropriate at best, racist and xenophobic at worst.

As a Catholic feminist, I don't need people of other religions coming in and dictating to me what needs changing in my religion and religious hierarchy; I am painfully aware of it, and I know which changes can work and which won't (right now). I assume Muslim women are equally aware. If they ask us for help, then it is our job (as feminists) to give it. But it isn't our job to decide what their agenda should be, which as I gather, is what is getting Chesler labeled "Islamophobe"...head scarves are not the worst thing in the world.

Just like the old vaudeville routine about the boy scout helping the old lady across the street, who hits him with her umbrella because she didn't want to go across the street: we should ask first. We should not decide from our 'superior' (Western) vantage point, as if we have the better and more advanced knowledge and awareness. We don't. They know their religion better than we do.

Further, Chesler is quite brilliant, and therefore intelligent enough to understand that when a Jewish woman decides she is going to 'liberate' Muslim women, there is going to be skepticism, just as if liberal Protestant women decide to come in and rescue oppressed Catholic nuns. Say what? Excuse me, but there is far too much bad blood there. Don't expect them to welcome you as their enlightened liberators--show some awareness of history at least. The fact that Chesler doesn't? Seems disingenuous to me.

belledame222 said...

Uh, yeah, considering that Chesler is adamantly pro-war and that a lot of Muslim feminists actually live in the countries and/or have loved ones (yes, zomg, mens too) in the countries in question and would rather they not be killed or maimed or have their lives ruined in the process of "liberation," never even mind little shit like wanting one's -own- approach to religion respected, I'm gonna have to go with the "Chesler's a rabid Islamophobe who can stuff it," sorry.

And no, raving about how terrible and misogynistic THEY are all over THERE is hardly a radical or unheard of position; fuck knows the Bush admin was all over it right before they dropped the bombs. Feminist mass murder ftw! woo!

Danny said...

I know I'm super late to the show but great post. It seems to me that the word patriarchy has basically become a buzzword among some feminists that is often just tossed in a sentence to mean "its all men's fault!" (whether men are actually to blame or not). Kyriarchy seesm to be a much better fit for many feminists are talking about. It's not the male gender that is the problem. The problems are things like greed, corruption, etc....

julie said...

I liked the start of the post. I thought, "Great, finally some pro activeness against women's violence on women".

But no! The post went in a entire different direction from my point of view.

As for oppression. Everyone is oppressed. You are oppressed when you pay taxes, you are oppressed when you have to wear a uniform for work, you are oppressed by police every day through the law.

You can't fight oppression. Oppression is a left wing need. How else can you put the need of the great against the need of the individual.

What goes wrong and always will with the left is that after a while as is now happening, you have to consider theories on how best to stop one groups oppression affecting another groups oppression. Each time you fight an oppression you create an oppression.

I say, "Hurry up and fail so we can help women for real in the world". BTW, I am not right wing either. Just in the 80% who swing either way on issues.

Daisy said...

Julie, Ayn Rand just called from purgatory, and demands her riffs back.

julie said...

Julie, Ayn Rand just called from purgatory, and demands her riffs back.

Gosh, don't let the other side hear you give me such a compliment. (just kidding)

OK, I was a bit harsh.

I seriously thought you article was going to be something worth discussing.

I don't know why women have to be in the middle of a political war. I can't even find an exact time when women voted in the definition of feminism.

Daisy said...

Julie, anyone who gives blog space to racist swine Frank Ellis doesn't have the moral authority to say a fucking thing about what is worth discussing.

julie said...

Daisy, this is the first blog I have added my blog. I wasn't sure if I wanted to get involved in all this arguing over politics.

I still would prefer to discuss issues with feminists who work in the Domestic Violence area but then having all this ideology over any of our heads is making things pretty impossible.

But anyhow, I don't live in America and I had looked up Frank Ellis. He doesn't come across to me as a racists. But then again like I said I am not an American.

He comes across to me as someone who was using free speech to put forward a really good argument. I support free speech 100% even though I see it dwindling away in Western culture. Our democracy was something we were so proud of once but now it has turned against us.

But in saying that I respect your opinion also.