Monday, December 03, 2007

i am married to an old school feminist

I don't have the authority to speak about feminism. Unfortunately I have not studied the history of feminism or women's movements and this is a shame given that I am a woman. But I would still like to take the liberty of calling My Beloved Husband an "old-school feminist."
When we were getting married and I was considering whether or not to take his name or do something hyphenated he had VERY strong opinions about the matter. Why on earth would I want to change my name? How inconvenient and unnecessary this would be and what would be the benefit of it? Indeed in China women have kept their own names after marriage for decades. During the era of the Communist revolution everyone was referred to as the androgynous "Comrade." For example a woman with a surname of Li would be Comrade Li (Li Tongzhi) whether married or not. It seems to me that in mainland China it would be considered downright feudal and insulting to refer to someone as Mrs. Lu (Lu Taitai) taking the name of the husband. So I kept my last name and I am SO glad I did. My last name connects me to my own family roots (albeit to my father's side of the family) but this is a tradition of which I am very proud and somehow my very identity feels strongly connected to this name of mine. So thank you very much to mbh.

That is the first way in which mbh is a feminist. Secondly, I had for the longest time prior to marriage longed to have a large number of children and to stay at home to raise them. Mbh was horrified at this notion. "I would HATE to be married to a housewife!" he declared exclaiming at how boring and dreadful that would be. Furthermore he was astounded that I would consider the possibility of being so completely financially and emotionally dependent on another person and so he set about urging and encouraging me in the thoughts that I had of pursuing my PhD.

He has a singular disdain for anything domestic, any kind of household chores and is always urging me to focus on my research and publication rather than wasting too much time on household beautifcation or housework. His parents have been with us for the last couple of years and they too hold this view that for young people in their careers, both men and women, it is better to focus one hundred percent on this important work and they are happy to take on the household supporting roles in this respect.

All this is really quite wonderful. I am most grateful to mbh for this support and encouragement. My heart expands in gratitude in fact. So why say that he is an "old-school" feminist.

Most certainly I feel with all my heart that women should establish their own independent identities beyond their husbands, develop in their careers and contribute to the society and the world in this way and should not be chained to the kitchen and household chores like dependent slaves.

But what of the raising of children, the time taken to nurture family members and relationships, to show hospitality, warmth and caring to friends, neighbours and community members, to take the time to smell the roses, to bake cookies, to love and to laugh and to show compassion, and to savor the beauty and deep meaning of the manual labor and activities that go into the extraordinarily valuable work of homemaking. Women have been doing these absolutely essential activities for so many centuries. They have been forces for the unity and solace and caring of humanity. I celebrate all the momentous work that they have done and all the splendid results that have emanated therefrom. Therefore I say these are NOT women's work alone BUT they are extaordinarily VALUABLE and indeed INDISPENSABLE to human life and community. Men who do not truly value, and partake in these types of "feminine" activities are depriving themselves and also the rest of the world.

I just love the stories in the previous post about Dorothy Nelson. It illustrates my point exactly. I am frustrated beyond belief by the erroneous notion that politics and justice absolutely must have their foundation in conflict. Dorothy Nelson describes the rise of the methods of mediation in the legal field. Love, consultation, understanding, listening...surely these too have a role in the establishment of justice.

The other story that I just love from her post is as follows. When she became the first woman dean of the law school at the University of Southern California her well-intentioned male colleagues gave her some advice about the faculty meeting--"come 15 minutes late and show them who is the boss". Instead she baked some cookies to share with everyone and came 15 minutes early so that she could greet everyone.

To my dearly beloved husband and our dearly beloved brothers in the world can I kindly ask you to step aside and open your minds to alternative ways of thinking, doing and being!!

"Women have equal rights with men upon earth; in religion and society they are a very important element. As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133)

"So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it. This is true and without doubt."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 134)

And thanks to iguana for pointing me to this beautiful quote:

"The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting -- force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals -- or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."
('Abdu'l-Baha, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 615)


Blogger iguana said...

"...intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy." This quote helps me understand the changes to which we need to contribute. I appreciate how being married to somebody from a culture different from one's own can open your mind to new ways of relating to each other. However different we were brought up, one commonality is the domination/submission paradigm and our role as husbands and wives in this play. It is extremely hard to see it for what it is and begin building a relationship based upon true equality. I think the key is in the quote I put above, and what you say in the post about stepping aside and permitting the more feminine qualities to blossom. I hope you continue to explore this issue here, very interesting.

8:49 PM, December 03, 2007  
Blogger sashwee said...

The issues you bring up by the examples you give are so complex, so perplexing. Even theoretically it is so difficult to figure out how we can have women and men fulfilling their potential both inside and outside the home, let alone in practice. My two cents to add to the discussion are:
1. It is important that whatever a man or woman ends up doing, it is by choice and not because of outdated gender roles. To the degree possible, of course, because it takes time and effort to identify those roles and see beyond them. And society has a big role to play in making more choices available (as the Judge Nelson's story illustrated so well).

2. One of the reasons we want success in our careers is because of the good lives we can have and give to our families. And surely domesticity is a valuable part of a good life. In some ways, I think oldfashioned domesticity has become something that is seen as a luxury for the well to do, think homemade bread or hand knitted socks etc. But they can be plasures both in the production and in the consumption.
There is so much more to say about all this. Thanks for sharing your experience and raising the issue.

5:48 AM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger child_of_africa said...

thanks so much for the lovely comments and dialogue iguana and sashwee! I tagged the quote you shared to the end of the post iguana. I love it. and sashwee I love the interesting point that also points to the problem that for some families among there is so much time that needs to be spent outside the home by both members of the couple just working to make ends meet.

9:20 PM, December 04, 2007  
Blogger Darlene Jones said...

The world needs more "good" men like your husband. Listen to him, to the extent that it does not compromise your WomanAutonmony. Best wishes.

Fem Love,


12:24 AM, December 19, 2007  
Blogger trish said...

Your husband sounds great! With the stereotypes spinning around sometimes women forget that we too have a voice and every right that men do..Please readers find yourself and find someone that understands your dreams. My whole life i have been told to be a lady..Its so disturbing to me that im told to fit this ideal model of "A young lady". Why should i shut my mouth when a man refers to a women in a negitive way? Why should i not defend myself? Stand up and use your voice! -Trish

12:02 AM, February 26, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how you're husband is a feminist. and also how he urges you to study, and better knowledge yourself. but i feel that he is pushing you to do something. don't get me wrong its something great, i mean who wouldn't want a husband who say's "oh honey leave the dishes there, you have to study for your test tomorrow." but isnt feminism about being independent. for example you stated that you wanted to have a family, and maybe you would enjoy staying with your children, hence making you a "stay at home mom." so i ask you, why would he take that desire away.
any who that was just a small thought, i am sure your a husband is a great guy, and there should be many feminist males.

10:33 PM, December 02, 2008  

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