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Interesting Discussion Over at Emerging Women

August 24, 2007

I’m going to copy what Julie wrote over there, but I encourage you to head over there and read the comments, excerpts from one I’ll post below as well.

Sworn Virgins
A topic of conversation that often occurs around the gender equality conversations is the issue of women having to act like men in order to be respected or even taken seriously by men. Many of us desire a world where people can be themselves (whatever that looks like) as they lead, teach, and live. With recent conversations regarding that issue on my mind, I came across this article in the paper today.
The article discusses the ancient Albanian custom of “sworn virgins.” This is a “tradition in which women take an oath of lifelong virginity in exchange for the right to live as men. The process is not surgical. Rather, sworn virgins cut their hair and wear baggy men’s clothes and take up manly livelihoods as shepherds or truck drivers or even political leaders. And those around them treat them as men… The practice has existed at least since the 15th Century, when the region’s traditions were first codified, according to Dones. The sworn virgins came into being for emergencies: If the family patriarch died and there was no other man to carry on, a provision was needed so that a woman could run her family…. In the mountains of northern Albania, throughout modern history, women have had very few rights. They cannot vote in local elections; they cannot buy land; there are many jobs they are not permitted to hold; they cannot even enter many establishments. An ancient set of laws called the Kanun still helps govern the region. The Kanun says, ‘A woman is a sack made to endure.’…Some women took the oath if the family patriarch died. Others swore the oath out of a fierce streak of independence, and still others because it was the only way to avoid an arranged marriage without disgracing the selected groom’s family.”

So as long as the women set aside their sexuality and identity as a woman they could do anything men could do and were given respect. This revels the deeply cultural and not biological assumption of gender roles for many people. Some are saying that this custom was in a sense progressive and freeing for the women. It gave them a chance at a different life but at a very high cost. It makes me question assertions in the church especially that try to force women into set cultural roles in order for them to lead. in my opinion it is just as offensive to force a women to act “like a man” as to insist that she abide by stereotypes of what it means to be feminine. Let a women be herself (let men be themselves for that matter). She may naturally act more masculine, or more feminine, or something different than those cultural pigeonholes. But as we see, in Albania and in the West even today this is still an ongoing issue.

The discussion evolved, moving from the uniqueness of the Sworn Virgins, to comparing women who are in leadership roles, particularly church leadership roles, with men, and how women are received in such roles in comparison to men. This led commenter Marilyn to ask:

Interesting. In response to Linda’s question I find myself asking several in return; why do we need the same ‘recognition’ as men? Is recognition a worthy goal? What exactly is the interpretation of female leadership in a church setting? Why do we care what men think when we are obviously emotional?…I find it both thought provoking and ironic that a recent study has determined that the women of these last two decades of feminism are far less happy and less fulfilled than the women of the previous two generations, regardless of the benefits and advances procured on their behalf. When I look at the impact of my grandmother’s life in relation to the ideals of feminism, it appears painfully obvious to me that we have been shortchanged; not just by men, but by each other, and by our own selfish agendas. The life we have carved out in our pursuit of ‘equality’ is nothing less than unsatisfying, unfulfilling, overly stressful and as I have come to believe lately–at odds with our God given female inheritance.

I think we can be so much more than feminism has defined for us; God has never viewed as us as inferior or unequal, we’ve done that to each other, and subsequently to ourselves. Women are and always have been the influencers of society. We as women determine the success or failure of any earthly enterprise. It seems to me in light of my Grandmother’s example, that it is only in the recognition of our god given power that we find freedom, not only from the confines of this world, but also from our own personal limitations.

I prefer to look at these cultural definitions of femininity as opportunities to learn; how does Christ’s view of women and their role in the New Testament church differ from the places we find ourselves today? What is our role as New Testament church disciples?

Thoughts? Further discussion? Don’t be shy to go over to Emerging Women and add to the discussion there as well, if you’d like.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2007 9:18 am

    I find it both thought provoking and ironic that a recent study has determined that the women of these last two decades of feminism are far less happy and less fulfilled than the women of the previous two generations, regardless of the benefits and advances procured on their behalf.

    Yes, well—ask the opinion of any woman who’s been able to escape an unhappy or abusive marriage because feminists made it possible for her to get a good education and a good job (not to mention making divorce laws more equitable).

    As one of those people, I can tell you that feminism rocks, and that Marilyn is kidding herself if she thinks women in the past were happier at being forced into tightly circumscribed roles. As a (former) social scientist, I suspect that the way the questions were asked is key—and that there’s some revisionist history going on if older women are saying those things. What else are you going to say? Are you going to admit to yourself that your whole life was miserable, and that you didn’t exert the power to change it?

    Modern life is so stressful because of capitalism. In order to keep the economy going, we have to accumulate stuff—and Madison Avenue has been very successful in convincing us that we are what we own.

    So we work more—and buy more stuff and bigger houses, and newer cars, which just means we have to work more to pay for them and take care of them.

    I got rid of a lot of my stress when I left my marriage. Almost all the remaining stress in my life could be done away with if I wasn’t worried about having to pay the car note and the health insurance…

    In other words, Marilyn is full of ****.

  2. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 24, 2007 9:56 am

    Hmmm…That might be taken out of context from her whole original comment… Marilyn is very affirming of feminism overall, and that might not show from this snippet.

    I think, what she means, is that, women today, who are the beneficiaries of all the work done by earlier feminists are less satisfied with their lives than their predecessors were.

    I’d be interested to see the study she is citing, but, anecdotally I think there is truth there. Many women are running around trying to do it all, and perhaps not all women are cut out to do it all – that might only be a small percentage of women who thrive on being a full-time mom/wife, full-time employee, active citizen, volunteer, soccer-mom, etc. I know that I often feel that I’m drowning, so perhaps I’m just speaking about me?

    I do however, value the fact that I CAN choose to try to do it all. I think the job for feminists now is to promote balance, and choice. Women who choose to be stay at home moms and homemakers are not less than women who choose to work and be moms – they have just made different choices.

    Albeit, some of those choices are far more economic choices, forced choices, than a real choice. This is where the work of future feminism lies in my mind.

    So..the question Marilyn is asking is not is feminism good, but, has feminism done enough and are the goals of feminism the goals we really want as women? At least that is how I read her…

  3. August 24, 2007 12:36 pm

    There’s also the matter of increased perception when one begins to free oneself from imposed limitations; when I first learned of PTSD, I saw it in everything. I finally had an explanation for all sorts of events and feelings I hadn’t connected with each other or with a common origin. For example, it hadn’t occurred to me that I missed having a firearm readily available on my person and that most people did not, which led me into law enforcement: not exactly a good fit. 🙂

  4. August 24, 2007 2:36 pm

    Speaking as one of the old-schoolers, and not having read the link, but only this post, I’ll say that I was determined that I would get an education so I would always have the means to take care of myself.

    Perhaps that determination came from growing up with an alcoholic father, who worked irregularly and did a poor job of providing for his family. My mother worked, but mostly at jobs that paid poorly, except during WWII, when the men were gone to war.

    When we married, I had a Master’s degree. I worked for three years until we had children, three rather quickly, in a row, but then I was out of the job market until I eased back in when my youngest was 8 years old.

    My husband worked for regional universities throughout most of his career, and he was paid adequately. Although, it was a financial struggle for us, I did not have the desire to go to work while my children were young. I’d think about all that would be involved, and I never got past the thinking.

    We had the necessities, but we did without the frills, and that was fine with me. I realize that for many women today the situation is different. Often women have no choice in the matter, because many two-parent families simply cannot survive on one salary, and because many women who are raising children as single parents must work. I was blessed to have had the choice, and I do not regret the time that I spent as a work-at-home mom.

    My daughter made a similar choice, but her husband makes a bundle, so the financial struggle is not there. She has not worked since her three children were born. Like mother, like daughter. Her husband travels a lot, so she basically operates like a single mom, but one who doesn’t have an outside job. She has the education and skills to make it on her own, if she has to. I encouraged that.

    God knows how, but I always had a strong sense of self, and I never saw my worthiness as a human being dependent on whether I was a working mom or a stay-at-home mom. However, I wanted to be able to survive on my own, if I had to, thus my firm determination to get educated.

  5. August 24, 2007 3:01 pm

    Forgive me, Eileen. I’m running on too little sleep and too much emotion these days. This too shall pass, I hope…

    I wonder if older women were more satisifed with their lives because they didn’t expect to have so much “stuff.” Mimi’s comment that they had what they needed, without the frills—and that was okay—underscores my belief that so much of our frustration with modern life has to do with our drive to accumulate.

    I also believe that there is something about the way we treat our children that isn’t conducive to stress-free living. We seem to regard our kids as our great “production” in life—the magnum opus, if you will, that we give to the world.

    So we spend inordinate amounts of time and money being sure that they are properly socialized (through soccer, dance, camps, etc.)—all the while never letting them out of our sight to play in the streets with the neighbor kids.

    We worry and stress about getting them in the “right” schools, and start grooming them for adulthood in preschool.

    I will never forget the coordinator for the Gifted and Talented program at my son’s school telling us that we needed to decide NOW where to send them to high school because the programs at different schools would determine where they went to college and—ultimately—their fate in life.

    Did I mention that he was 8?

    We make our lives harder than they have to be—but I think it’s a red herring to blame feminism for that.

  6. August 24, 2007 3:24 pm

    Doxy, I could not agree more that too many parents are laying on their children the burden of being their chief “production” in life. In some areas, the idea is promoted that attending the right nursery school is vital to success in life. How much more ridiculous can it get?

    My very successful son-in-law is a product of public schools and a public university. To me that demonstrates that a degree from a prestigious university, which costs the earth in tuition, is not a requirement for success.

    I agree with you that feminism is not to blame for for many of the bad choices we make. I was a feminist before the word was widely used. I just saw that men and women were not treated equally and thought it was not fair, and I did what little I could do back then to help others to open their eyes to the reality. Most of what I did was selfish and had to do with me and the way I was treated.

  7. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 24, 2007 3:33 pm

    We make our lives harder than they have to be—but I think it’s a red herring to blame feminism for that.

    Why? Splain, please.

    Just because something is good, in general, doesn’t mean that there isn’t any “down” side. I don’t think it would be correct to blame feminism in totality, but, I do think there could be a connection between making our lives harder and feminism, even if it’s only correlational rather than causal one.

    I do, however, think that, as you posit, that affluenza is a more likely source of women’s current “unhappiness” rather than “feminism”. But, I wonder if femimism contributes in any way to afluenza? It would make for interesting research.

  8. August 24, 2007 5:23 pm

    Oh, I do blame feminism—one form of it—for essentially defining success as economic and job-related. (That would be “liberal feminism,” as opposed to radical feminism, cultural feminism, etc.)

    The problem with feminism in the West is that it is attempting to work within a patriarchal structure and tinker at the margins—when what is really needed is to pull the whole damned house down.

    If you want a radical look at feminism, check out Twisty Faster’s blog: I Blame the Patriarchy.

    Twisty is an outspoken radical feminist (who happens to be lesbian). She pulls no punches and minces no words. She will explain things to you in ways that make you squirm—but she’s often right on the money.

    Read Twisty and you’ll get a free graduate school education on what’s wrong with our culture for women. Of course, she’ll also depress the hell out of you, and make you wonder why any woman gets involved with any man any time, but I think that’s good for those of us who have “bad pickers.” 😉

  9. August 25, 2007 9:20 am

    I think Twisty deserves an accolade for her prose style & sense of humor.

  10. August 25, 2007 10:43 pm

    I guess I don’t see why feminism should make anyone more or less “happy” or “fulfilled” perhaps because I think of it generically in terms of what some call “liberal feminism” with its focus on equality. Feminism should be first and foremost giving women the opportunity to do what men can do, both having choices among roles and activities that may or may not be beneficial for humankind. Radical or cultural feminism seems to have more to do with what we make of our choices.

    While the latter may well be the way to go in the long run, I think liberal feminism has been unfairly maligned in recent years. Equality within the patriarchal system should not be an end unto itself, but it may well be a necessary precondition for any other kind of lasting cultural changes. I think you have to get women in the corporate board rooms, political offices, judges chambers, military forces and commands, etc. before you can upend the system. In any event, equality seems to be a good base from which one can move on to making thoughtful choices. Equality, taken alone, does not mean that whatever endeavor one seeks parity in is worthwhile or that all kinds of power, social, political, or economic, are desirable.

    Going back to the original article on Albania and some of the comments on it, it struck me that the practice wasn’t necessarily all a matter of repressed sexuality or forcing women to act like men. Yes, that may have been part of it, but on the other hand, it may well have been welcome to the women in a culture where there probably was no real freedom to be sexual as far as the woman’s needs or desires were concerned — sex being something for and about men, including bearing their children and in earlier times, risking death in the process. To be able to dress and do work like men may have been viewed by the women as being free from negative aspects of being female.

    Maybe I can explain this a little better by taking it into modern times here. The whole business of dressing and acting like men was very much part of the legal culture for the first women to really break through the barriers in any numbers, mostly starting in the 1970’s. Back then one had to wear very subdued suits (mainly navy blue, black, brown, grey, or tan), masculine, tailored shirts or blouses, “sensible” heeled shoes, and subtle makeup, if any. It was partly defensiveness against men who wanted to look at women merely as sexual objects, who might “distract” all of them doing serious stuff, or simply as little girls (like daughters), not to be taken seriously. It was also kind of impliedly imposed from the mean, as well.

    Eventually all that changed, at least in terms of fashion, hair, and makeup. Some of it may well have had to do with television shows that began to depict women lawyers as glamorous, beautiful, and quite fashionable (not to mention sexy and sexually active). It was nice that we finally had more options in terms of wardrobe, colors, fabrics, styles, etc. But we also lost something — that kind of work uniform that took sexuality and fashion away, set aside for evenings and weekends, and in its place imposed other kinds of requirements and expectations, some of them women-imposed, women who just have to spend much time on their appearances, who are not happy to be treated as just as a generic intellect or player in the legal system, but has to ratchet up all the games that women often seem to play as women, comparing themselves to others, their sizes, shapes, hairdos, their ability to flirt with men, and their heightened self-consciousness about the way they look at all times. How much easier it was to be drab and simple, kind of like wearing school uniforms or maybe wearing a veil. I, for one, really like being taken seriously in the way I can when I am frumpy, exuding no sexuality, wearing little or no makeup, being neat and businesslike, but not out to beat someone in the looks department.

    Don’t know if this is making any sense — been thinking about it lots from different directions.

  11. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 25, 2007 11:23 pm

    Makes perfect sense, Klady.

    Sexuality is COMPLICATED. I don’t think it belongs at work – but it is difficult to separate sexuality from gender – it’s a part of who we are.

    So, i get it, but i’m not sure what to do with it, if THAT makes sense?

  12. August 25, 2007 11:50 pm

    A note on “older women” being happier. I don’t put much stock in that kind of survey research, but for the sake of argument, assuming there is some truth in it, it might well have to do with the fact that there is more uncertainty and insecurity nowadays, about life in general but more specifically about gender roles and expectations. It was much simpler to either be a wife/mom/housewife/hostess or a nurse/teacher/librarian, to expect to be married to one person and, at least in the middle to upper classes, not have to work outside the home. If one found a “good” husband, it was pretty nice, just like it was if one was a loyal corporate employee, with a secure job until retirement, health care, pension benefits, etc. There are people who recall Franco’s Spain or Communist USSR and Eastern Europe who lament the chaos that ensued after those regimes were toppled.

    Now it’s really hard for women to know what to do — about work, career, marriage, children, etc. It is REALLY hard to fit it all together in a lifetime with any sense of peace, order, let alone “fulfillment,” even if one does not care so much about accumulate wealth or social position. None of us, men or women, in today’s Western society can count on steady work or long-term marriages. While our insecurities and problems seem scarcely worth mentioning compared to what people have to face in less-affluent countries (and in parts of our own), nevertheless, it’s hard to be playing at whatever our current cultural game is when it seems like we keep making up the rules as we go along. And women, especially, seem to be more and more divided about what they want both for themselves and others. We know we can’t do or have it all, but we don’t know what to give up, when or how, and for better or for worse, we’ve got to figure it out for not only ourselves but for children and families — something that we tend to take on for ourselves in ways that men generally do not. That’s got to be stressful because we can’t just worry about ourselves — we have to make sure that the household work and childcare gets done (whether by ourselves or hired help or even help from men), not just in our own families (when we have them) but for everyone. At the same time, the new opportunities that have opened up to us in terms of work, studies, professions, mean we often have to make agonizing choices, those of us who long to read, write, study, serve or whatever 24/7, because, let’s face it, sometimes that is the only way to do it well or, at least, to enjoy doing it well.

    Don’t know what any of the answers are to these problems. I just know that I wouldn’t want to give up my freedom to choose just to make things tidier, more comfortable, and more predictable.

  13. August 26, 2007 12:02 am

    Yes, Eileen, that does make sense. Part of the problem is that male dress is the default asexual attire in our culture. Anything that makes a woman look like a woman can be perceived as sexual in a way that men wearing shirts, long pants, jackets, etc. does not. And then there’s the catch 22 — the modest, subdued, tailored, female professional work attire of, say, the 1970’s might now be perceived as too masculine (translate=lesbian), and that’s a different kind of sexuality men (hetero, at least) generally don’t want to deal with.

    So, there’s no way out of the mess, I guess. I just would like to see overt female sexuality get toned down several notches at school and in the workplace. And for kids…. yikes! I went through h.s. during the first mini-skirt and hiphugger jeans phases and it was nothing as bad as it is today, with everyone’s stomachs and butts and (o.k. Liz, “breasts”) hanging out every which way. How does one have an in-depth intellectual discussion with a man or boy looking like that? (or discussion about how to handle a management situation later in the workworld). I don’t get it.

  14. August 26, 2007 8:32 am

    Klady–I agree with so much of what you have written. My problem with liberal feminism is that it took “male” as the standard.

    So instead of trying to build a world where men could nurture and children were important, liberal feminism built a world where women could work 70 hour weeks in an office and kids could be raised by paid strangers. (Many libfems are really hostile to families—ask anyone who deals with them in university or corporate settings. )

    Liberal feminism made equality in the *workplace,* rather than in life in general, the goal—with the thought, of course, that equality there would lead to equality elsewhere.

    We’ve all seen how THAT turned out. Women now do two full-time jobs instead of one, and men don’t (even if they do manage to change a diaper every once in a while…)

    I still contend that capitalism is the basis of this particular problem. We choose work/money as the marker of success, rather than a life that is balanced between work, family, and the pursuit of individual pleasures. I fault the libfems for accepting the masculine model as the standard.

    But, realistically, could they have done anything else? I don’t know. Audre Lorde, the feminist poet, once wrote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She may have been right.

    That leaves us stuck in a way. How do we get out of this? Part of me thinks the women in “Lysistrata” had it right—refuse to give men sex until they straighten up and fly right! 😉

    (For the lesbians amongst us, this wouldn’t be a problem and could have real benefits! 😉 )

    Ultimately, it means that men and women have to cooperate to create a world where biological sex is not a determinant of your destiny.

    On this day in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing American women the right to vote, was declared in effect. That is because one young man, Harry Burn (a legislator in my home state of Tennessee), changed his mind at the very last second and voted for woman suffrage. Men had the power, and enough of them were willing to give it up that women got the vote. (Whether we’ve used it wisely is another issue altogether…)

    When push comes to shove, I believe that most men can and will “do the right thing,” but feminists have to make a stronger case than we have done in the past about what the “right thing” *is.* And I would contend that the right thing is not working 50-hour weeks so that we can have 4,000 sq. ft. houses in the suburbs, drive SUVs, and pay Chemlawn to spray toxins on our golf-club grass.

    I would also contend that the right thing is not giving women the “right” to be men. Maybe what I’d really rather see us do is give men the right to be women! 😉

  15. August 26, 2007 9:04 am


    it’s good to have a more sustained, serious discussion with y’all, though Godde knows I likes to share jokes.

    It seems to me that Feminism, as it approaches its goal of freeing women, creates more ways for all of us to be more fully human. I remember being frustrated with gender role expectations from growing up in the Fifties; “Why should football be the only road to acclaim? I don’t want that.” Not the point, perhaps, but a serendipitous addition worth joining in for.

    Perhaps we must go through a sustained period of many Feminisms–“liberal”, “cultural”, “radical”–while working towards liberation. I sense a profound sea-change in politics from the hierarchical, state-sanctioned violence in place since the Ancient Near East city-states, which has deep spiritual connections to the ways we create ourselves and others. As we said forty years ago, “the personal is political.”

    Destroying the Patriarchy perhaps may best be done by subverting from within and attacking from without, with Feminists in places of power (as currently defined) uniting with those on the outside–intentionally and otherwise–to tear down the walls from both sides. It may be tricky at times to communicate how all this fits together, so keep the connections strong and keep going.

    peace and blessing

  16. August 27, 2007 7:05 am

    “Oh, I do blame feminism—one form of it—for essentially defining success as economic and job-related. (That would be “liberal feminism,” as opposed to radical feminism, cultural feminism, etc.)

    The problem with feminism in the West is that it is attempting to work within a patriarchal structure and tinker at the margins—when what is really needed is to pull the whole damned house down.”

    The problem in any case is not feminism, not even liberal feminism, though as Mimi and Doxy point out its theoretical analysis of the problem is woefully inadequate. The problem is patriarchy and associated forms of domination.

    Women had to enter jobs previously open only or predominately to men as a means of self-empowerment, and they should not be blamed for doing what they had to do to secure an income and status, playing by the rules that others had set. At the same time, the goal always had to be to subvert the hierarchies of work, other forms of social hierarchy, and the public-private distinction, which relegated some forms of work (“women’s work”) to unpaid-unvalued status. This kind of subversion has many kinds of material benefits for all people, except the most high status males. And spiritual benefits for all without exception.

    Male-female dualism, with men on top, has pervasive and pernicious social effects. I’m not sure its the “original oppression,” and I think arguments over what is are pointless. But it is ubiquitous and deadly.

  17. August 27, 2007 7:08 am

    P.S. I continue to believe that the current troubles in the Anglican Communion are as much anti-feminist as anything else. Homophobia, like misogyny, results from attempts to enforce the gender binary. When we throw transgendered issues into the mix, it becomes even more complicated. Judith Butler is very helpful here.

  18. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 27, 2007 11:37 am

    You have all given me much food for thought.

    I guess there is a subtle balancing act between the need for women to play the game by the rules already in place, in order to be employed, and to be in a place to push at the edges of the envelope, and get change instituted, from the inside out.

    It just galls me. The fear of doing things differently or the resentment that some might have it “easier” and not have to pay their dues, as some women already have, gets on my nerve. Family friendly changes in the workplace would be good for ALL workers – not just women. In this country in particular, we have a very unhealthy attitude toward work. But, I know I’m preaching to the choir here.

    What’s the saying? The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself? What is the world afraid of? Becoming a better place to live?

    I dunno.

    And I agree Bill – homophobia and misogyny come from the same place – patriarchy.

  19. August 27, 2007 12:08 pm

    What is the world afraid of? Becoming a better place to live?

    We are taught that life is a zero-sum game. When I get something, you lose something because resources are finite.

    There is a lot to fear in a zero-sum life…

  20. rick allen permalink
    August 27, 2007 2:58 pm

    “…homophobia and misogyny come from the same place – patriarchy.”

    Just a suggestion–don’t want to start an argument–that the late Hellenistic world and to some extent the early Roman Empire were extremely “patriarchal,” but quite open to homoerotic expression. I don’t think that history bears out that widely assumed relationship.

  21. August 27, 2007 3:25 pm

    At the same time, the goal always had to be to subvert the hierarchies of work, other forms of social hierarchy, and the public-private distinction, which relegated some forms of work (”women’s work”) to unpaid-unvalued status. This kind of subversion has many kinds of material benefits for all people, except the most high status males. And spiritual benefits for all without exception.

    Yes. And yes, also, to the anti-feminist dimension of the Anglican troubles — I used to think that was kind of abstract or hidden until I started reading at SF — it’s the soft-headed and soft-hearted women (and any or all who act like them) who draw the most ire. The One True God has just gotta be a menacing Big Man hurling rocks, lightning bolts, ever-vigilant on enforcement patrol with that big stick of his. Only sissies and their mums want to believe otherwise.

    But… there are threads relating to some of the workplace problems that are more subtle and complex than patriarchy, hierarchy, dominion and control. We often don’t listen carefully or even try to listen to others’ stories and concerns. What may appear like “you’ve-got-to-pay-your-dues” thinking may have something to do with what seem like incommensurable views of how people in general and women in particular can, should, or may operate in a society with many choices and no clear points of reference or relation to others.

    I just got in the mail today an alumni magazine with a terrific article on the career of Margo Melli, Professor of Law Emeritus at the U. of Wisconsin Law School (unfortunately not yet online). She entered the Law School as a student in 1947 (one of 15, at the time — readers, you really should learn about Wisconsin and its history of progressive politics, social reforms, etc.). She didn’t encounter much discrimination in school, where she was a top student who served on the Law Review, until it came time to interview for jobs, when the Dean, who had control over which students would be interviewed on campus, would not even list her, saying, “None of these firms would hire you. Why should I waste their time?” She ended up working for the Legislative Council (the forerunner to the Legislative Research Bureau — a quaint notion of folks in Wisconsin that politically-neutral professionals should research and draft the texts of proposed statutes and regulations than leave it all to politicians). Later she joined the Law School faculty and was a pioneer in the new field of family law, which she soon saw as encompassing not just divorce and custody proceedings, but Elder Law, and various other kinds of law relating to child welfare, poverty, juvenile justice, etc. She and her husband managed to adopt children, after being initially told that she would have to quit her job to do so, and then arranged to work on the faculty only part-time and later obtained tenure notwithstanding her part-time status. She also became active in addressing women’s issues concerning the entire UW community.

    I never had a course from her, but I did take courses from a number of colleagues she mentioned as having been supportive and influential (including the great legal historian, Willard Hurst, and the extraordinary Frank Remington, who taught Criminal Procedure and was active in seeking and implementing reforms in the state criminal justice system). Like much of the faculty, Prof. Melli wasn’t content to teach and write obscure, scholarly journal articles buried in footnotes — she wanted to change the world, for women, for children, for all of humanity, by studying and recommending changes in the law, legal proceedings, and extra-judicial dispute resolution processes (and she still does, remaining active in the field, speaking and writing, attending seminars and conferences, even after retiring from the faculty in 1993).

    In my field, there have been people like Prof. Melli struggling to finding different ways for women to live and work for the benefit of all. There are, however, many differences of opinion as to do this and different experiences as to what works best. Even since I attended law school (early 1980’s), there have been many changes, with the pendulum swinging back and forth so many times it’s hard to imagine it will ever stop. My generation, often indiscriminately, tended to see Family Law as the ghetto where most law firms wanted to put us, since women, of course, knew more about families, would be more patient and perhaps even skillful in dealing with emotional domestic disputes, and, because of the nature of the practice, could more easily fit in part-time work (since, of course, all women will end up having children, if they can, because it’s what “we” all want). The generation just preceding us reinforced the notion that we had to fight hard to show that we could practice in any area of the law, be tough litigators, corporate deal makers, prosecutors, etc. But when I was interviewing for jobs, the women I knew on the Law Review (i.e. those of us who had a good chance of getting jobs with the big firms), were carefully considering what kind of work hours each firm expected — not because we planned to work less than full-time, for children or any other reason, but because the notion of “full-time” varied so much, what with billable hours and the fierce competition to make partner or its equivalent. We did our best to get inside info on whether the firms where we were interviewing only cared about how many evening and weekend hours we were “seen” or whether the quality of the work counted most and it was o.k. to spend some time with family and friends and not every waking hour at the office.

    Later on, the so-called “Mommy Track” was all the rage, looking for firms that institutionalized part-time programs so that women could spend more time at home with children, especially when they were young, often the time when most would be in the first 7 years race to become partner. Then there was kind of a backlash against that, because “Mommy Track” lawyers were seen as not ever being able to get past senior associate status (i.e. something new and semi-permanent that was not being “partner” or a least not a fully invested, voting partner).

    I don’t know where it’s at now, having jumped off the track years ago and finally landed in a place that both men and women have used as an escape from the world of high-billable hours and the conquor or perish life of a litigator — a place with some satisfaction but virtually no possibility of the six-figure salaries of our law school peers. But I still see some women as at each others’ throats over how and when they should juggle the needs of family and work or not work outside the home at all.

    Some people — whether they be lawyers, scientists, novelists, or academicians — simply don’t do well segmenting their lives or doing much of anything part-time. Some women do not want to be full-time, stay-at-home mothers, do not like or feel comfortable with a lot of traditionally female domestic culture, and struggle with the desire to throw themselves into work, study, or art full tilt and the desire to do the best they can to parent and partner. How do these women value, as they should, what some do full-time or nearly full-time with homemaking and parenting, and, at the same time, be valued themselves, be given some credit for both the quality of their work, the extra hours and efforts that go into it, and be allowed to make good child care arrangements that still allow them to be actively involved in their children’s lives and act responsibly as parents, not just managers of childcare givers? Part of the problem is that the accusations get flung from all directions and too many think they know the only way to do It Right.

    Yes, most people in the U.S. work too hard and too many hours — a problem that has more to do with our particular culture and is not necessarily shared by other even more patriarchal societies — and family-friendly policies benefit everyone, not just women. And, yes, women in the workplace have been a driving force in trying to change those policies. But I don’t think that all the forces resisting those changes are necessarily anti-women or anti-family. It is as much to do with the fact that none of us know how to forge our identities, receive respect or recognition for either our efforts or our accomplishments.

    For those who read Eat, Pray, and Love, remember the last section on Bali, where everyone could be pinpointed in their place in the social network? There’s an obvious downside to that kind of system, but there’s also some comfort and security in it as well. Those, like the divorced woman, who fall off the social map, have terrific problems. But wanting and needing some kind of identity, purpose, and even recognition are not necessarily tell-tale signs of an aggressive or pervasive need to dominate others. Women who seem to be demanding special treatment because they have children can be as unreasonable and self-promoting as those who want all sorts of accolades and status because they do not. However, I suspect that very few women truly fall into either camp, since these are more harsh stereotypes built from resentment from both sides than real, live stories of people trying to figure things out for themselves and to help others in the ways they think will work best.

  22. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 27, 2007 5:49 pm

    Rick – homoeroticism in Greece and Rome – that’s ancient history, so to speak. Not sure that what is happening in modern culture, driven by montheistic religions declaring homosexuality as anathema and God as Father, is exactly the same animal.

  23. rick allen permalink
    August 27, 2007 11:23 pm

    To the very same extent the gospels are “ancient history.” But they speak to us, as Lao Tzu can, or Confucious, or Virgil. I don’t think the human heart changes. I’ve argued about it with people, who see us far evolved past our past. I don’t see it.

    Last night my son told me he was assigned “Gilgamesh” in college. I’m glad. It’s a window to an ancient time. But when Gilgamesh agonizes over the death of Enkidu, when he can’t quite believe it, he is not some strange, alien Sumerian.

  24. episcopalifem permalink*
    August 28, 2007 7:11 am

    I agree that the human condition hasn’t changed much over time, in terms of what drives us.

    However, my point is that predominant religious systems drive morality, and the morality of pagan polytheism regarding sexuality was quite different then the legalistic, monotheism of Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, which drives morality as we know it today.

    As far as the bible being ancient history, you already know that I question the wisdom of that – symbolically, parabolically – fine. Legalistically – no way.

    Have we evolved? In my mind, not in so far as we allow ANY book from ancient times to rule our modern day morality by holding us to Middle Eastern tribal, patriarchal paradigms that don’t always work for modern humans.

    This isn’t to say that I think there is nothing of value in the bible, because I dont’ believe that either. There is great wisdom in the bible. But not everything in the bible is great or wise. To remove the cultural context in which it was written, or to ignore how the books were edited and put together and the political purposes attached to that editing and coallating is a dangerous thing. The bible isn’t a cookbook to be followed blindly. It didn’t drop out of the sky. Human hand has been in it, and human hand is prone to such “mistakes” – innocent or willfull as such mistakes may be.

  25. August 28, 2007 8:36 pm

    Homophobia and misogyny come from the same desire to enforce a rigid gender binary. We might find different cultural contexts where one comes to the fore more than the other, and homophobia was not unknown in the ancient world. But I continue to believe that in the present Anglican context that the desire to keep women “in their place” and the desire to make sure that all couples have one dominant man and one submissive woman per couple often walk hand in hand and are blasphemously attributed to God’s design in creation.

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