According to Jessica Valenti, I’m not a real feminist? + feminism vs. religion

Rated PG-13. For you younger kids, this may not be for you. If you wanna read this, please read with your parents. It’s just that this stuff can be a little bit upsetting and might be too much to handle for you guys.


Ever since I’ve started reading a pile of books, articles, and blogs on feminism (check out this one), I found a new name in the pile: Jessica Valenti.

Jessica Valenti is a pro-choice feminist who is the author of Full Frontal Feminism: A Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters; The Purity Myth; Yes Means Yes, and He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know. Her writing also appears in Feminism: Opposing Viewpoints (a collection of essays from feminists who have different perspectives on things like religion and abortion). Valenti is the founder of Feministing.com. I have only read Full Frontal Feminism and Feminism: Opposing Viewpoints out of all these books. However, as I read Jessica Valenti’s work, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the way she argued her point and how she treated others who disagreed. Don’t get me wrong, Jessica. You do have some legitimate points. Yet, according to you, I’m not a real feminist?

Take this passage from Full Frontal Feminism, for example:

I’m not going to go into the whole moral argument over abortion, because honestly, it seems like a waste of time. Some people are going to believe what they want to believe, and that’s that. All I can say is that I think there’s nothing wrong with abortion, that the right to control our bodies is one of the most important there is, and those who are seeking to end that right are concerned not about “life,” but about control.

Full Frontal Feminism

First, you have to go over the argument over abortion. Because this is a primer for young women new to the real deal of feminism, and if you don’t go over the arguments over abortion, how will they know what the anti-abortionists are thinking? How will they know the opponent’s argument before making their own? Valenti then goes on to say that the people who are anti-abortion are mostly these old white male politicians. However, she doesn’t say anything about the few anti-abortion guys who aren’t white male legislators–well, not in her book. If it’s mostly white male legislators, then there should be some who aren’t. Like me. I’m not a white male; I’m Filipina, and I blog; I don’t propose bills and I’m not a politician. What about religious figures and leaders, and the women, capable of carrying babies, whose lives are so deeply influenced by religion that religion has shaped their identity, like me?What about the pro-life feminists, like me?

Outside the book, as for the religious leaders part, Valenti has addressed Pope Francis, but I really do think the ground she stands on could be stronger.

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To me, it looks like she expects the Catholic Church to reform just like that–maybe in a day. You see, the Church can’t have an emergency Vatican council meeting one day and then on the next day say, “Okay, Catholics everywhere. You can have nonprocreative sex, you can abort your baby if you’re pregnant, you can use contraception, and you gays can finally marry.” It doesn’t work like that! Changes in the Church happen slowly and are few, if they ever happen at all, and discussions over changes are very lengthy and take time.

Also, in Valenti’s article, I came across this:

Anti-choice ideology is at the heart of the Catholic Church.

The heart of the Catholic Church isn’t about contraception, abortion, nonprocreative sex, or gay marriage. Those are beliefs of the Church, but they do not make up the heart of it. If they did, we Catholics would be reciting that every day in the Nicene Creed at Sunday Mass. But we’re not. In the Nicene Creed, we profess our faith in one God, the creator of everything; in the Holy Spirit, who conceived baby Jesus; in his son Jesus, who went through a trial conducted by Pontius Pilate, was found guilty, and sentenced to death by crucifixion, but rose from the dead on the third day. As well as all the beliefs stated in the Nicene Creed (some churches use the Apostles Creed, but same meaning), the Catholic Church is based on love and forgiveness of everyone. Even those who are LGBT and people who murder. You don’t have to believe that unless you’re Catholic, but we do not say, “I believe in only procreative sex and am against ending a fetus’s life, as well as preventing it by means of contraception.” It would be weird to say that in the Nicene Creed anyway, because kids are reciting it too, and then the too-young kids go home after Mass and ask their parents, “What is procreative sex and what is contraception? Why would anyone want to end a someone’s life?” If you ever want to come up against the Pope or religious leaders, get your theology right.

Jessica Valenti hasn’t yet addressed women whose identities are so shaped by religion (and neither has Emma Watson or many mainstream feminists). There are just a handful of feminists and feminist books and articles that do address it, but I’d love to see more. Some religions, like Catholicism, say men and women are created to fulfill different things, but they complement each other (this does not mean that all women must be homemakers). Other religions say that men are superior to women. Both kinds of religions haven’t been dealt with by many liberal and radical feminists as much as they should, or have been rejected because mainstream feminism viewed them as patriarchal. Apparently, second wave feminism attempted to deal with all areas of society except religion. Maybe it’s because they thought religion was too incompatible with feminism. It’s probably why a study shows that feminism can lead to rejection of religion (more feminists tend to be atheists, agnostics, or practitioners of a cool new pagan religion promoting gender equality). In some ways, feminism and religion clash. But look: so many women have made religion part of their lives; so many women’s identities have been molded by religion. No wonder a lot of women of faith aren’t joining feminism. They feel like joining feminism requires them to give up their faith, therefore giving up a part of their identity. Part of my identity is shaped by my religion, and when I joined feminism, I found out that a lot of feminist beliefs clashed with my religious beliefs. The women hailed as feminist heroines couldn’t cater to me. I’ve often heard the statement “feminism is for everyone”. It certainly should be. But if feminism is for everyone, we shouldn’t marginalize or dismiss people of faith, or tell people to give up their old identities. Or just say that religion has to change (Hillary Clinton also said that). While religion may not always agree with feminism, religion can offer ways that benefit society, which means that mainstream feminism needs to take a closer look at religion and theology, and try working with religion too. Lots of religions are trying to reach out to feminists, and I think it’s time that mainstream feminism should do the same.

Many religions that try to work with feminism are usually pro-life. Meaning that they disagree with some or all of the reproductive rights mainstream feminism has been fighting for. For example, St. John Paul II proposed a New Feminism promoting complementarity of the genders. The idea is that since women and men are built differently, they have different experiences in life, but they can work together equally, not one gender dominating the other. It also advocates for support of the family, which both women and men must manage if they ever decide to start one, not just women. So when the pro-life feminists come up (including those who actually aren’t religious but still against abortion), Jessica Valenti and many other pro-choice feminists say they’re not real feminists. Valenti tells us to remember that those pro-life folks are not about morality, but in support of the idea that girls should be forever virgins in her book, and that those pro-life feminists are trying to steal feminism (in Feminism: Opposing Viewpoints). Instead of marginalizing and generalizing people (which feminism should not do), shouldn’t we keep trying to make feminism palatable for everyone, including those of faith? I thought Full Frontal Feminism was supposed to be a primer for all us modern young gals, to make feminism a part of our lives. Well, I guess it is, but apparently we ladies of faith aren’t modern young gals–our ideas are too ancient and traditional.

I haven’t given up on feminism, though. The core of feminism is equality for both genders, after all. This idea is what makes you a feminist. However, our approaches to achieving gender equality are different (there are lots of different types of feminists: liberal, radical, Marxist, cultural, Eco, pro-life, pro-choice). I think, however, we should accept that our fellow feminists may have a different approach to combating sexism, instead of dismissing or marginalizing them as “not real” feminists. Certainly we should do all we can to clear up our disagreements among ourselves, but not all feminists agree, and that’s fine. I may hold a few traditional beliefs here and there. Thank you to Sojourner Truth for helping me say this: ain’t I still a woman living in the twenty-first century?

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P.S. Jessica Valenti–I found an awful lot of cussing in your book. Uh, if you want people to take you seriously, why do you cuss so much? Informal doesn’t mean cussing all the time.

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