Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Status of Women

In the March 21 issue of The Christian Century, the Century Marks page featured results of a poll done by the Pew Research Center.  The poll measured current attitudes toward family trends, and the results were reported in seven circles.  In the center of each circle was a family trend:  Interracial Marriage, Women Never Having Children, Mothers of Young Children Working Outside Home, Gay/Lesbian Couples Raising Children, Unmarried Couples Raising Children, People Living Together Without Being Married and Single Women Having Children.

The question asked was "Is an increase in each category for the better, the worse, or makes no difference?"  And the responses were given in colors that went around each circle.  The better responses were colored in green, the worse in red and the makes no difference in beige.

It was interesting that only one of these categories had a large number of the circle in green.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was the category of interracial marriage.  Although the number of people responding that an increase in interracial marriage would be for the better was still smaller than those who felt it would make no difference and those who believe it would make things worse, it was by far the largest amount of green on any of the circles.  I was dismayed, however, that on the the last category -- single women having children -- the predominant color on the circle was red.  The majority of respondents to that question believed it would be worse for single women to have children than not.

I realize that I don't know a lot of pertinent details associated with this poll.  I don't know how many people were polled.  I don't know the demographics of the people polled.  I don't know if there were other details to the question or if the respondents had particular scenarios in mind.  Were they thinking of high school girls having children?  Single career women who had no intention of marrying?  Divorced women raising children on their own?  I don't know.  I did go to the Pew Research website but could not find this particular questionnaire.  So I'm left with uncertainty and a growing uneasiness, okay dread, at the attitudes I see toward women in our culture.

 In the early 1990's Susan Faludi's landmark book, Backlash:  The Undeclared War Against American Women took on the media for making it seem that the American woman's continued unhappiness was because feminism not only didn't work, but had actually harmed women more than helped.  A predominant media promulgated myth of my 20's was the belief that there was a man shortage, and I had a better chance of being involved in a terrorist attack than getting married once I passed the dreaded age of 30.  Faludi's premise was that the real source of women's unhappiness was that we had only achieved a few of the goals of the women's movement of the 1970's and that what we had gained was under attack.  That was the backlash.  The media's characterization of women only gave fuel to the anti-feminist fire.  Feminism didn't harm the American woman.  Not achieving true equality, which was the ultimate goal of feminism, did.

So here we are today.  We're still paid less for the same jobs.  We're still underrepresented in government.  I work in a traditionally male profession, and although the numbers of my clergy women colleagues are increasing, women clergy still tend to be called to small churches that most male clergy don't see as advantageous to their careers.  (Church folks, if you're reading this, please know that I love you and I am in this church because I answered a call, not because I was desperate!)

And I am dismayed to find that a fight I thought was long over is now predominant in our culture once again.  Birth control.  I have two children whom I love.  I cannot imagine my life without them.  But they were planned.  Birth control Reproductive rights.  It seems to me that when our reproductive rights -- and in case you were wondering, abortion is only one facet of reproductive rights -- come under attack in such a fundamental way, then our condition as women, as a society, has fallen measurably.  And yet all I can surmise from the poll on family trends is that people think single women having babies makes life (?) worse.  At the same time the outcry against single women using birth control is getting louder and louder.  To paraphrase, single women using birth control, whether to prevent pregnancy or otherwise, are sluts. Backlash.

I'll offer one other thought. In 1992 the United Nations Conference on Environment met in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to the set of principles called the Rio Declaration. This was a follow-up to a conference on the environment held in Stockholm in 1972.  This conference recognized that significant economic development in poorer countries was vital to environmental sustainability.  Too often poorer countries exploited their environment in an attempt to raise their standard of living.  It was also recognized that the role of women must be elevated in poorer countries in order to keep population growth from reaching unsustainable levels.  In countries where men held power over women, especially women's fertility, population growth exploded.  The status of women is vital to protecting our environment. 

"The position of women in a society provides an exact measure of the development of that society."  Gustav Geiger

The status of women is vital to the environment, to the family, to our society.  The status of women is vital to us all.

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