by Huda Z (Background, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1441)
How and at what point does the feminist ideology cease to influence only the millennial woman and start affecting the people who are closest to her? Is the ideology of feminism compatible with the institution of the family?
The twenty-first century has shown people the face of a rapidly advancing and developing world of ideologies and schools of thought. Every day, new thinkers emerge and add their theories to the already cluttered field of existing set of beliefs in given ideological frameworks that attempt to alter, for better or worse, the society we so dearly call home.
Of the gazillions of such swiftly developing – or should one rather say, swiftly complicating – ideologies, is feminism. This article hopes to inspire healthy discussion about a lesser discussed aspect at coffee tables (and if you are from the UK, on tea tables).
Feminism can be traced back to the twentieth century when the movement first started in order to win for women a political voice and the right to hold property. Fast forward a few decades, and it has become something even most feminists are not able to comprehend fully.
Tanya, an Irish-British South London mother in her forties and a self-described ‘proud’ feminist notes: “I think that modern feminism has gone horribly, horribly wrong.”
As one of the forty people from different walks of life who were surveyed for this article, she mentions: “I think that feminists nowadays, or what we see as feminism, is totally messed up. It’s actually detrimental to our class as women. But hey, it comes with a catchy dance tune and a glamorous image so everyone can join in.”
On the other hand, objections to the label ‘feminism’ are becoming less rare with each passing day and women’s rights activists are increasingly showing discomfort in taking up the title. “Feminism was a movement of profound importance, securing the extension of natural rights to women, but its modern incarnation is a concoction of socialist values,” freelance writer Elle Hardy notes in a Guardian article. “Popular feminism is an orthodoxy that despises challenge,” she defines.
Feminist activists have worked hard over the years to bring change in society yet as illustrated by the views above, whether that change is positive, negative or something in-between is still being debated. However, one thing is clear: the decades-long labor of feminism answered many questions for women and gave birth to many more.
Some of those questions, and those which I hope to shed some light on in the paragraphs that follow, are as simple and – at the same time, as complex – as figuring out what is truly at stake. How and at what point does the feministic ideology cease to influence exclusively the millennial woman and start affecting the people who are closest to her?
While some feminists consider marriage and the family unit to be important, prominent feminists and leaders of the movement might not necessarily think so. Sheila Cronan, one of the most notable figures of second-wave feminism claims in her book that the freedom for women “cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.”
Almost all early second-wave feminist figures like Kate Millett, Germaine Greer, Marilyn French, Jessie Bernard and Shulamith Firestone were opposed to marriage and the formation of the nuclear family. Though these early feminists have long gone, their influence lives on in the form of modern-day feminism, perhaps a bit more fiercely. Nearly all the big names of the feminist movement today are opposed to the institution of family.
Minna Salami, a Finnish-Nigerian feminist journalist notes in a CNN article that the “family institution often oppresses women, whether it is their sexual, reproductive, legal or economic rights. Marriage – often considered a pillar of the nuclear family – remains, by far, advantageous for men.”
Lena Dunham, who has built a persona as a spokeswoman for “all women,” also quite comfortably sums up her views regarding marriage when she says that “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
At this point, one may wonder why some pro-family and pro-marriage women accept the ‘feminist’ label, when it is increasingly becoming clear that marriage and family are not the institutions the movement necessarily favors. Perhaps it’s because of the way dictionaries (and feminists) inaptly describe the movement?
In most dictionaries, feminism is defined as “the advocacy for the equality of the sexes,” which is but a part of what the movement is about and not the whole of it.
Feminism, ever since its second-wave, has continued to over-glorify the working woman. It has always promoted the woman who puts her career first and is financially secure and no matter what is said with words, the actions of prominent feminists have helped inculcate feelings of inferiority in the stay-at-home mothers. Women have slowly been made to believe that they are nothing without a proper career and a job title, and that being a stay-at-home mother is not work enough.
Though it must be noted that some women’s rights activists are working to combat this notion, their numbers are still small and the growing rate at which women are joining the workforce and hence creating a compelling trend does not help either. Hence, many women give into the invisible yet considerable societal and emotional pressure and become part of the workforce.
But what can she do with her maternal instincts and the psychologically-proven fact that women indeed have an inborn tendency to mother kids? Here, the feminist solution is to “have it all,” with or without dads. Not surprisingly, “having it all” also means managing it all. If working mothers are actually able to have and manage it all, what can be better than that? However, it turns out that they often are not.
Putting the world’s most pro-feminist countries under the microscope, let us look at the statistics.
In the United States alone, around 63% of women identify with the term “feminist.” One study concluded that women feel much more pressured to have “a perfect job” in order to be “successful.” 58.6% of women in the US over the age of 16 are working with 73% of them working full-time.
A study published in the Guardian newspaper of London shows that women feel much more stressed at work than men, and the pressure is on its peak in 35 to 44-year-old women, when many women “are juggling with family responsibilities.”
In an article published on the Forbes’ website, Mary Beth Ferrante remarks that, “while we know that going back to work after maternity leave is going to be tough, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed, unprepared and often at crossroads.” Another study finds that working mothers face up to 40% more stress at work.
According to another study, women have and continue to contribute to childrearing and housework in much greater amount than men. Feminists find this phenomenon to be oppressive and unjust yet interestingly, a Psychology Today research finds that women naturally play the ‘central character’ in the development of a child.
With the advancement of feminist ideologies and the pressure on women to become ‘independent,’ especially after the kick-off of the third-wave, the rate of fatherless children in the US has increased rapidly. Today, more than 19.7 million children in the US live without a father figure.
This, the same study concludes, results in making such children twice as likely to drop out of high school. It also increases their risk of facing poverty, behavioral problems, drug and alcohol abuse, prison and increases the risk of suffering and inflicting abuse including physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The rate of conflict and fights between a couple also increases drastically when both parents work. It not only harms the husband-wife relationship but also seriously toxifies the environment of the house. It becomes an unhealthy place for children to be in. This further negatively affects the thinking of children.
One key demand the feminists have always stood up for is to make daycare available to working women on taxpayers’ cost. Now, the women who do choose to marry and have a family while they work end up either having to leave kids home alone or using daycare.
This not only adds to the anxiety and stress women already face at work, but it also seriously damages the motor-social development of young children making them more likely to experience emotional anxiety and aggression later in life, as confirmed by a study.
According to another study, almost 1 in 9 American kids come home with no parent to receive them and spend around two hours per day alone. This reduces the quality time spent with parents that are already exhausted from work considerably. It puts at risk children in developing a sense of lack of attention and giving in to ‘bad company.’
This way, what was supposed to be the center for the development and training of healthy, responsible future citizens, becomes a production factory for poor, depressed and criminal-minded individuals – all thanks to radically feminist ideas.
All these complexities have caused women to reconsider having kids altogether – a phenomenon highlighted by the quickly falling birthrate in the US to the current all-time low of 1.8 births per woman. This is well below the 2.33 births per woman required for the stable development of a state.
In the view of many, one of the toxic traits of modern-day feminism is the glorification of divorce. As our survey participant and feminist Tanya remarks, “I think what passes for feminism nowadays is actually extremely damaging to the family unit and to children and young people in particular.” She thinks that “this idea of oh, if your man is remotely difficult, just leave him,” is a very harmful one.
Unfortunately, this is the viewpoint many modern-day radical feminists are hell-bent on propagating, if not with words then with action. With the propagation of feminist ideas in the United States, the divorce rates have risen to 40 – 50 % of all marriages. That’s nearly half of all marriages!
Statistics show that feminists face a higher rate of marital dissatisfaction and that the divorce rates are higher in promoted working women. Research shows that children suffer the most in a divorce.
For a young child, the divorce of parents could mean much emotional and mental trauma. It might result in developing a number of psychological disorders later in life, along with a higher chance of being unsuccessful in their own marriage and relationships.
The feminist ideology supports the idea of kids being in the custody of the mother as the father pays childcare after divorce. This yet again places kids in fatherless homes and suffer as a consequence of a broken home.
The feminist movement was meant to create more educational, economic and social opportunities for women and earn them socio-political rights equal to those of men. This was supposed to make the modern-day woman a happier and more prosperous individual.
However, while the movement was able to earn many fundamental political rights that were denied to them by the Western society before, was it able to fulfill its original purpose of making women happier?
Let’s turn back to research work done in this aspect to find the answer.
A study conducted in 2007 by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded: “as women have gained more freedom, more education, and more power, they have become less happy.”
(Huda Z is a student of political science and an independent journalist and researcher contributing to multiple online and offline platforms. Twitter: @whothezee)