There’s a piece called Femininity 2.0 in the Huffington Post that is a masterpiece of gender essentialism. I think the author and I would agree on many positive changes that we’d like to see in the world, but disagree vehemently on how to get there. That author, Marianne Williamson, goes to such lengths to praise what she describes as essentially feminine qualities that she comes out saying that women need to avoid being distracted by all this so-called women’s liberation and get back to being the homemakers of the world so that we can save the world from the destructive, dangerous menz. No, no, and heck no! I don’t pick up men’s socks for them and I won’t be made responsible for raising their consciousness either.

My real problems start about halfway through. Williamson starts out by establishing her experience with feminism in the 70s and says that kind of feminism basically tried to make women able to be just like men, while “we denied some essential aspects of our authentic selves.” Just what were those “essential aspects,” you ask?

I ultimately realized that my mother’s very traditional role was far from meaningless. I now see that is a woman’s God-given role to tend to the home and take care of the children: it’s just that the entire planet is our home and every child on it is one of our children.

She goes on to explain how and why she thinks fulfilling this “spiritual mission” would change the world.

Homemaker and motherhood are not just material conditions that belong to a few; they are states of consciousness that belong to any woman who assumes them. Women should be the keepers of the conscience of the world. We are keepers of the internal flame — the light of humanitarian values and the primacy of love — and our greatest power lies in keeping it lit.

So where does that leave men? She gives an example from hyenas, which she says is typical of mammalian species, that it’s the females’ job to protect the cubs while the males are…well, threatening the females and cubs. (I’m hearing echoes of Mama Grizzly here, but I don’t know enough about Williamson to know how likely it is that she’s making an allusion.) Her examples of what’s wrong with the world – pollution and environmental destruction, a focus on corporate profits at the expense of humaneness, poverty, hunger, and even disempowered women – are all things that should be fixed, but her rallying cry is exclusively aimed at women. She doesn’t come out and say that men are irremediable brutes; she just doesn’t say anything about what they ought to be doing to change this state of affairs.

This nonsense demeans both women and men. Yes, she’s calling for positive change in the world, but the way she goes about it undermines her whole point. If women are the home of humanitarian values, where does that leave men? And if men don’t have humanitarian values, how can a culture ever be safe and assured of its humanitarian values until men are fully civilized and possibly even controlled by women, in order to keep their presumably inhumane natures from wreaking havoc? That’s not what Williamson is explicitly calling for, but I don’t know how else to interpret her utter neglect of men’s potential roles in her reimagined world, other than as aggressors and sources of danger.

I am not a keeper of conscience of the world because I’m female. I’m fighting for things I believe in because I believe in them, and because I believe that the only way to make a real difference is to get as many people – regardless of their sex or gender – as possible to work on putting those beliefs into action. If Williamson wanted to say something like “women’s (traditional) values of nurturing and caring can be a model for everyone, male and female alike, to learn how to care for each other and the planet,” I might still deride her gender essentialism, or pandering to “traditional” categorization, but I wouldn’t be so absolutely furious. But what she has written is ultimately as destructive as the kind of “paternalistic think[ing]” she characterizes as normal for men.

Casting women as the “saviors” or “civilizers” of humanity, particularly of men, restricts both men and women from exploring the full range of what it means to be human. It condemns women to the hard work and lets men off the hook, and by doing so, it prevents us from making real progress towards a future where all people foster within themselves a “state of consciousness” of caring for each other and the world. Working towards that future is not my “God-given” “spiritual mission” because I’m a woman.  That ought to be our mission together, all of us, because it’s what our world needs from us right now. Want to help?

16 thoughts on “I don’t pick up your socks or raise your consciousness

  1. I definitely agree that there is no catch-all God given plan for everyone in any given group of people, but the greatest problem I’m seeing here is that this “God given plan” has no room for people who fall outside the gender binary. I don’t see where people who identify as genderqueer or otherwise outside the binary fit in.

    On the other hand, I’m also willing to bet this woman doesn’t acknowledge anyone outside the gender binary even exists.

    1. Actually, that should be worded as “the thing that stuck out to me most that wasn’t already covered in your post” rather than “the greatest problem”. I need to learn to communicate. -_-

      1. Yeah, I didn’t want to get too heavily into gender theory etc, not least because I’m not very well read on it, but thanks for pointing this out. The bit about “exploring the full range of what it means to be human” was my attempt to acknowledge the non-binary nature of gender (and, heck, sex), but it was a nod rather than a full-blown critique.

  2. This is old bullshit, repackaged. The “women can change the world by staying home and raising good children” bullshit gets trotted out every so often. Hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world, etc., etc. Used to be biology that “required” women to stay home. Now, it’s “God-given” blah blah. Feminism in the 1970s NEVER said that a “traditional role” was meaningless — if that’s what the woman wanted. What we said was that it didn’t make sense to force women into that role if they didn’t want it, or didn’t want it exclusively. Setting up strawpeople and knocking them down does not a valid argument make. Literata, love your blog and some of the writing you’ve been doing lately completely rocks.

    1. Oh yeah. This is so reminiscent of Susan Faludi’s Backlash that it just makes my teeth hurt. Talk about missing the point.

      I have to wonder if the “God-given” was a dog whistle, because while a lot of the other stuff can fit in anywhere from near-complementarian Christian to near-Dianic New Age attitudes, that was oddly specific.

      Thanks so much, Hecate! The feedback means the world to me.

    2. I was honestly waiting for “and women already have all the political power they could want, because they’re mothers and wives of men” bull.

      And it doesn’t leave much room for women like me, who does not want 6 billion children, thank you very much. Other adults are not my kids, I am not responsible for them in the way a parent (*not* a mother, a parent) is for hir kids.

  3. @Literata: Ah, okay. I seen that now. 🙂 And yeah, I think a full blown critique of every thing wrong with this from a gender theory perspective might make this post a bit to long, lol. I wouldn’t even know where to start with this.

    By the way, I forgot to tell you that this is an excellent post. 🙂

    1. Oh, I didn’t mean that you missed it, just that I had it in the back of my head, and that if I sounded like I was reinforcing the binary, I was “doin it rong.” Thanks!

    1. I don’t think it should be. Since the article I’m criticizing uses a lot of language about nurturing and even some about homemaking, I’m trying to make fun of the traditional gender assignment of laundry as women’s work. I reject the gendering of household chores; I reject the gender essentialism that characterizes women as homemakers and sock-picker-uppers; therefore I reject the article’s characterization of women as the homemakers of the planet.

      1. I agree with you, and should probably refrain from posting just before bed. My Bleh was directed at the original article, not at you interpretation.

    2. Oh, okay. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t made the title totally opaque or sound like the opposite of what I meant. Shorter version: my ex never picked up his own laundry. (I had him in mind as an example of the kind of guy whose consciousness-raising I won’t be responsible for.)

      1. I had a thought the other day, and this might not actually come out right, because I think I lack the language, but here goes.

        Context – the person who picks up socks, washes the dishes, does most of the basic food prep, buys the groceries, etc in my house is me. And so, I place some value on those tasks, and I notice when they are not done. Perhaps (on the broader issue of fixing the world) what is needed is not so much in regards to gender, but in regards to doing things. Consider your recent experiences with Roosevelt Island – I’d bet that you and the others who did clean up now have a sense of ownership (if you didn’t before), and would continue the cleaning for some time into the future. If everyone, regardless of gender, were to spend some time “picking up socks,” then there would be fewer socks that needed to be picked up. Does that make sense?

      2. Yes, Mike, that makes a lot of sense. It’s an example of the larger problem of not seeing certain people or certain chores.
        Echidne of the Snakes wrote about this recently. In her example, it was a speaker whose “othering” of the women in the audience indicated how his internal construction of the world didn’t really include women as people.

        To paraphrase you, if more people decided that protecting the environment was something they needed to work on, there would be less danger to the environment. So saying “Our internal plumbing makes us especially good at protecting the environment! Yay us! We should save the environment!” is counterproductive.

  4. I remember having the same reaction when I read Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade: extolling maternal and feminine qualities always feels like gender essentialism. These qualities are generally human. When women are supposed to be morally superior, it’s a heck of a set-up. The fall can be a long, long way down. And of course, when if happens, the fallen woman is judged all the more harshly for it, since the halo was supposed to be stuck to her permanently. Men who behave like asshats are then seen as “just acting like guys”. I’ll pass on the pedestal, thanks anyway.

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