Hugo put up a terrific post today about how his Christian faith and his feminism mutually reinforce each other. Although I am not a Christian, I am very interested in the prevalent misunderstandings between Christians and secular feminists, which Hugo also discusses. This line from his post strick me in particular: "Too many Christians see feminism as a rights-obsessed ideology that emphasizes individual happiness at the expense of communal obligations."
My feminism is a rights-obsessed ideology that emphasizes individual happiness. It's the part about "communal obligations" that gets tricky. In ordinary terms this is the deep prejudice common in certain quarters that feminists are "selfish."
Part of me bristles at having to address this misconception of "selfishness." After all, men don't generally have to prove a lack of selfishness in order to enjoy status, rights, and opportunities. Why should women have to bend over backwards to slavishly prove that they are good mothers or that they are "unselfish" in order to enjoy the same privileges men take for granted?
The other part of me realizes that the "selfishness" issue is a major stumbling block for a lot of women. No one wants to be labeled "selfish" or to think of themselves as "selfish." And people want to know, well, what are my communal obligations? And what are my roles in my family and community?
I think this a huge question that feminists have not necessarily answered satisfactorily for the public at large. And part of the problem is that various different strands of feminism surely address the question differently.
My feminism is, I suppose, a libertarian feminism with regard to this question. I would not presume to impose obligations on people other than the obligations owed by all citizens of a republic or democracy. And I believe people do not have to abandon other belief systems (such as Christianity) in order to be feminists. Personally, I take very seriously what I view as my moral obligation to make a contribution, but I choose to do it in the context of my job, volunteer work (admittedly a new thing for me, more on that later), and an egalitarian marriage. I also feel strongly that I have an obligation to take advantage of the rights and opportunities for which previous generations worked so hard, and to do what I can to ensure that other women have the same.
I may not define my obligations in terms of being a mother or primarily in terms of being a wife (although trying to be a good wife is a huge part), but that is not the same thing as rejecting the notion of communal obligations. The trick is how to communicate this vision to the public at large. These complex questions cannot be easily boiled down to a simple sound bite that counters the opposing sound bite of "feminists - selfish."