The Sunday Times featured an article by Rachel Chang entitled “Feminism means making your own choices” (14 July 2013). The author laments how women of this generation are failing to cast off the shackles of yesterday and march shoulder-to-shoulder with older generation of feminists into the fray, to paraphrase the lyrics of a famous song from an old Disney movie, in their stance toward the traditional pillars of ‘patriarchy’ – marriage and motherhood. According to Ms. Chang, this new breed of women do not appreciate the sacrifices made by their feminist mothers and are squandering away their inheritance by having the audacity to aspire to be a good wife and mother.
As a classical feminist who believes in equal rights and opportunities, I have come to believe that the modern strain of feminism of this day and age has lost its vision and compass. What started out as a noble civil rights movement to fling wide the floodgates for women to be educated and participate and contribute in virtually all fields has now degenerated into a movement which frequently undermines and attacks the very group it claims to assist, and which many modern women attempt to distance themselves from.
With the exception of a rare few, it is increasingly common for many women’s interests groups today to promote one particular brand of liberal, politicised feminism, inadvertently marginalising the women, like myself, who hold alternative ideologies that do not fit the ‘accepted’ mould.
Like Ms. Chang, I also acknowledge that women do, at times, engage in activities which ‘(let) the sisterhood down’ but not in the way she would imagine. In my opinion, a betrayal of the sisterhood would be, for example, when women proclaim they are sexually empowered by becoming porn stars or strippers, or when they advocate the legalisation and regulation the ‘sex industry’ instead of working to eradicate the scourge of prostitution and human trafficking, or when they devalue motherhood by scoffing at women who choose to have more than two children, or whenever they criticise anyone who does not conform to their standards of womanhood, e.g., feminists who take a pro-life position and do not hail abortion as a instrument of female liberation, or feminists who believe in sexual purity and the sanctity of marriage. (Yes we do exist.)
This type of faux empowerment – of the Lady Gaga and Brazilian wax variety – that modern feminists proclaim is a boon for women is certainly not what our mothers and grandmothers fought for. They championed for issues that truly mattered to the advancement of women, like the encouraging of young girls to venture into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields, shattering the glass ceiling at workplaces and closing the pay gap, providing economic opportunities and microloans to impoverished mothers to support their families, and enacting laws to protect girls from female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and child marriages.
It is depressing that modern feminist mantra of ‘choice’ has been abused to the point where it enslaves more women than it liberates. What a curious twist of history where mothers have to rigorously justify their choice to become a homemaker to other women and even convince themselves that they are not making a poor decision! At least Ms. Chang is honest in her struggle in comprehending why so many ‘intelligent, wonderful human beings’ prefer raising a family to etching out an ambitious career.
Perhaps then it is time to admit that women are biologically different from men, and we will never progress if we keep comparing ourselves to men. We cannot expect to live our lives in exactly the same way, and, instead, we must move away from destructive competition and focus on constructive synergies. In an age of the plurality of choices, Ms. Chang would do well to reconsider her idea of what constitutes a “good marker” of the true feminist position and not make it merely dependent on what is happening in the men’s locker rooms.
However, Ms. Chang and her contemporaries have no reason to fear for the ‘great feminist victory’ has not been in vain. A large majority of women and girls all over the world have access to education and equal civil and legal rights previously unheard of a little over a century ago. In the vast sea of the developed world, women can vote in elections, go to university and get a law degree, own properties, marry whomever they choose, etc. In Singapore, the Women’s Charter, passed in 1961, does a great deal to protect and advance the rights of women and girls in Singapore.
Just because some women are re-evaluating modern feminist theories about traditional marriage and motherhood does not mean that they are ‘regressing’ into the Dark Ages, nor does it detract from the accomplishments of the founders of feminism, like philosopher Mary Wollenstonecraft (acclaimed author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women) who argued passionately for the importance of educating the daughters of the nation, or political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (leader of the British suffragette movement). Perhaps, many women have come to the conclusion that the current, modern feminist ideology is full of imperfections and are trying to weed out the bugs in the operating system and set firewalls in place.
Women, though romantics, are also pragmatists – much like the many strong-willed feminist heroines who populate the books written by a certain Ms. Jane Austen, herself a strong advocate for female equality, unlike what Ms. Chang wrongly described in her article. Instead of lamenting the attrition of members from the liberal modern feminist camp, we should learn from our mistakes and adapt to new 21st Century social dynamics and structures, first by tackling the obstacles and refining the way we think, work and live. We should pour our energies into re-integrating families, children and the home in our feminist narrative instead of disregarding them, and we should re-introduce fathers and husbands (Dads for Life anyone?) into the decision-making process and ask them to take on more responsibilities instead of habitually shutting them out until they run away.
And when more Singaporean women are equipped with the information to better navigate the pitfalls of our predecessors and the know-how to develop our femininity amidst the confusing jungle of contemporary society, we would have succeeded our mission in a way that would make our classical feminist mothers proud.
- Embracing the F-word (walterwilliamsa2013.wordpress.com)
- The Christian Feminist Conundrum (damiiscribbles.wordpress.com)
- Why I Am Not A Feminist (dadwhowrites.wordpress.com)