For the last few weeks we’ve been enjoying the performances of some of the best athletes in the world at the Olympics. We have the push for gender equality to thank for a lot of women performing and doing well at the Olympics. Since Title IX was passed in 1972, the number of women participating in sports has increased dramatically. Not only has the number of women participating in athletics increased, but the actual difficulty of competition (see video here). There’s just so much to celebrate in women’s progress, from Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first US woman to compete in a hijab) to Kimia Alizadeh (first Iranian female to ever win an olympic medal).
So it was surprising for me to see some random blogpost on a right-wing website on my Twitter timeline: “US Olympian sparks feminist outrage.” The post said Kerri Walsh-Jennings’ comments about loving being a mother struck a nerve with liberals on twitter; it had no links or examples of any comments that people were criticizing Walsh-Jennings, it just said it was happening.
Easy to make up so it was easy for me to write off. Usually a hailstorm of controversy (what another blog called it) is accompanied by trending hashtags or something that you can find just by searching. Finally, after much hunting, I found one right-wing site that did have a link to actual criticism…..by one person saying one negative thing on twitter. Huh. How can we expect any person in their right mind to withstand such an onslaught? And obviously this one random internet user represents millions of liberal and feminist thinkers, right? The whole thing was a non-starter.
Imagine my (non?) surprise the next day when LDS Living decided to take the (untrue) blog posts floating around about criticism for Walsh-Jennings motherhood and do the courageous thing by making a public declaration of standing with motherhood against the feminists out to destroy the family. The LDS Living post (and surprisingly a few of the right-wing ones as well) filled my Facebook feed the next day. Everyone “taking a stand for motherhood against feminism!” A handful of Mormon feminists tried to stem the tide by asking the LDS Living Facebook page to verify any of the claims made in their post.
One of the most ironic things to me about the whole controversy is that one of the leading liberal feminists in the US, Anne Marie Slaughter, has written a book, Unfinished Business, about how the next frontier for feminism in the United States is to get our culture to value the act of caregiving. The motivation for the book came from the literal hailstorm of controversy she (actually) received in 2012 from writing the cover article for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” It sparked a(n actual) national conversation and was one of The Atlantic’s all-time most-read articles. From a review of her book on Amazon:
Slaughter’s strongest point is that there is powerful and ubiquitous discrimination against caregiving in the United States. Fifty years ago, women wanted out of the home. They wanted to have freedom to pursue their own goals, while also having the opportunity to support themselves. And over the past half-century, they’ve more or less accomplished this goal. Obviously there is still progress to be made, but there is no denying that women are better off than they were several years ago. They are better educated, more independent, and largely more self-supporting. But, as Slaughter says, “In the long quest for gender equality, women first had to gain power and independence by emulating men.” They may have proven that they can do “men’s work,” but, unfortunately, what was once considered “women’s work,” (i.e., caring for children and the home) is still not valued in our society.
The book goes on to outline ideas and actions that both men, women, companies, and organizations could make to help make everyone’s lives better when it comes to the work/family balance by valuing the work of caregivers. So, yeah. Feminists valuing caregiving.
My question is….why do we continue to do this, create fictional enemies? There is no *actual* large group of people out there disgusted that a modern woman is able to balance a successful professional athletic career and motherhood (or that she loves and enjoys motherhood) – why are we making them up? Why, as a Mormon people, can’t we move past the old caricature of the screaming, family-hating second wave feminist? Is it our persecution complex? Our need to have an actual evil enemy to fight? Why, if we’re standing for something, don’t we stand for real issues?