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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Feminism, Progress and Birthday Dreams

While my back has been healing, I've had the unexpected gift and luxury of time to "ponder."

Oh, I always make time to "think." "Pondering" however, is another matter all together. It's a bit like "mulling" (as in "mulling it over") which is about letting the flavor of things merge (as in 'mulled cider'), but it's not at all like "stewing" - which usually means something has made me hot with anger and I'm trying to figure out why that is - letting the tough pieces of meat break down with the heat of slow cooking, and the flavor of the vegetables and seasoning blend together - and how I should respond.

Pondering is a matter of turning over different thoughts in my head, setting them on this side and then the next, standing back a bit to see how they look alone as well as compared to say, another thought which I've also set on a different side.

It's a slow process which must never be rushed. Hence, it's quite a luxury, normally - well, for me anyway.

I've been pondering a conversation I had with my granddaughter, MacKenna Jane, who just turned six on July 5th. It made me consider some of the conversations I've had with my own grandmother on the same topic.

I had sent her a bouquet of flowers as part of her birthday celebration. She adores roses - red, thank you very much - and thinks daisies look particularly well next to them. Her favorite arrangement is three roses (one for her sister, Abby, one for her mother, and one for her)surrounded by daisies and mixed here and there with pink carnations.

She's quite explicit about this. Being a good Nana, I always comply. Exactly.

She called to say thank you wherein the following conversation occurred:

"Well, my darling, you are six years old today. My goodness!"

"I know, Nana," she sighed, sounding suddenly like a 40-something. "Time flies, right?"

"Have you given any thought to what you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

"Well, um . . .yes, actually, I have," she answered.

"Well, um, most of all, I want to be kind. Mommy says the world doesn't have enough kind people, so I want to be kind. And generous. Daddy says that we should always try to be generous. You know . . . Do you know what generous means, Nana?"

"Well, I think I do, but why don't you tell me what YOU mean?"

"Well, it can mean that if you have two pieces of candy, and one kid doesn't have any, you should give one piece to that kid. But, it can also mean that, like, um, if you have food and one kid is very, very hungry, then you should give all your food to that kid because you know you can always get more at home."

"Its like sharing," she continued, "but sharing is what you have to do because your teacher or mother says you gotta. Being generous comes from your own heart. Do you understand, Nana?"

I was a bit startled that this six year old learned this concept, and seemed to have understood as well, so I stammered, "Well, yes, yes I do."

"Well, see? That's what I want to be when I grow up. Kind and generous."

"I think you already are, my love." I said, gulping down a huge, proud sob. "But, what do you want to be? I mean, HOW will you be kind and generous? Will you be a doctor or a lawyer or . . .?"

"Oh, Nana," Mackie laughed, "I'm only six years old! I have plenty of time to decide about that later!"

I don' know why I continued to be surprised by anything this child says, but her response stunned me into momentary silence, which Mackie heard loud and clear.

Rushing to my aid, she continued, "But, well, I already know ONE thing I want to be when I grow up. Do you know what that is?"

"No, sweetheart, why don't you tell me?"

"Well, I already know that I want to be a Mommy, just like my Mommy."

"Really?" I said, surprised at the slow rise of disappointment I could feel welling up in my stomach.

"Yes. I can't think of a better thing to be than to be a good Mommy, just like my Mommy. And then, you know what, Nana?"

"No, what?"

"Then, I can grow up to be a really good Nana, just like YOU! And, you are the BEST Nana anyone could ever have!"

I swear to God, if Jesus had come to take me home in that very moment, I would have left this life a deliriously happy woman.

I've been returning to that sense of disappointment I initially felt when Mackie said her first "career aspiration" was to become a Mommy. It's what I've been pondering these past few days as the back spasms have subsided enough for me to think about something other than the pain in my back side, but not enough for me to concentrate and read for great lengths of time.

Yes, yes. I know. What's wrong with that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.

You have to understand. I'm from the first generation of women who grew up after our mothers read Betty Friedan's revolutionary book, "Feminine Mystique," published in the early 60's. I grew up in a time when to insist on the title, "Ms." was risking being called a "feminist" - which was just about on the same level as being called a "communist" - and earn the bearer a similar fate of social ostracism.

Some of my children's earliest memories are of helping to organize "Take Back the Night" demonstrations and marches after a woman had been raped in our community. This was an act of boldness so unthinkable as to have astonished my grandmother and which continues to amaze my mother, both of whom considered rape an eventuality in every woman's life.


Of course, like any movement, there were some over-reactions. Not every man who opened a door for a woman was a "male chauvinist pig." Getting married and having children did not mean that you were "subservient to the patriarchy." Allowing your name to change at marriage did not mean that you had been "seduced by the dominant male paradigm."

Let's be clear, here. Friedan's meaning of the "feminine mystique" was the idealized image of femininity which encouraged women to define themselves to the narrow role of housewife and mother. It was considered noble for a woman to forgo her education and career aspirations in service of "her man" and her children.

This denied women the development of their own identities, leading to the unhappiness Friedan described as "the problem that has no name," and contributing, among other things, to the rise of the "baby boom" and the development of suburbia.

What emerged from this original small circle of thought was what became the social tidal wave known as "The Feminist Movement." There are those, like me, who rejoice in the changes brought in with this tide. Others, however, still can not utter the words, except through clenched teeth.

Almost from the very beginning, there has been a backlash to the gains made for women in our culture. As Flo Kennedy is remembered as saying, "If we really had come a long way, no one would be calling us 'baby'."

Some reading this will not be too old to remember "The Total Woman," by Marabel Morgan. It was the Christian woman's response to the changes and challenges which came with feminism, instructing women on "how to make your marriage come alive."

A mostly vapid little book, Morgan's approach was one third common sense and the rest "Stepford Wives." Her premise was that the only thing any man wants is a woman whose entire reason for being, her sole purpose in life, the only focus of her life's work is to be a good wife to him and a good mother to "his" children.

You know, there may be men out there like that, but . . .no, wait . . .You know what? There are. . . .men like that. And, women who are married to them.

There are quite a few Blogs popping up these days, written by intelligent, well educated women, who love Jesus and their husbands and families who think that the only way to be a good Christian wife and mother is to sacrifice her career and aspirations to the higher vocation of family life.

There are actual websites like "Ladies Against Feminism" with helpful articles on "Humility" and "Thoughts on Masculine Leadership and Feminism." There are actual pictures of women who have made their own "modest" dresses (no slacks for these feminine followers of Jesus, oh no!), with pictures of them going through their day, doing the laundry, making the bed, doing crafts.

Other sites are more of the same, "Joyful Momma," and "Family Renewal Ministries," - all chock-a-block full of helpful information and support for "the little woman."

There is one woman, an Episcopal priest married to an Episcopal priest, whose writing sometimes flat out scares the BeJesus out of me. She is pregnant with their fourth child, the youngest of whom is not yet one year old. They are using "Natural Family Planning" - letting "God decide" on how many children they will be blessed with and resigning themselves to gladly take whatever God gives them, giving God the praise and glory for "his plan for their life".

She gets lots of support from women who have made similar choices, all giddy with what they describe as "Christian love" and the "Holy Ghost". Everyone seems positively ecstatic about this new pregnancy while this poor woman writes about how she doesn't have the energy to clean her house or herself or her children whom, she muses with mild curiosity, might get their feet cut on the cereal bowl one of them smashed this morning which she simply hasn't had the inclination to clean up.

The women commenting on this have nothing but giddy high praise for her. I can only read so much before I have to reach for some dry crackers. Apparently, you can experience "morning sickness" by proxy.

Hear me clearly: If this is her choice, God bless her. I would defend to the death her absolute right to choose this life for herself and her family. Based on what she writes, however, I have a hard time believing that's the really case. It's all about not having any control ("God's will" and "God's plan") and it's all written with an undeniable and unmistakable undercurrent of hostility.

Well, there's an ancient expression known among those who live and work in the desert: "Trust in God, and tie your camel tight."

Perhaps you understand now why my stomach clutched when MacKenna revealed her Birthday Dream of one day being a Mommy.

What these women don't understand is that the goal of feminism is not just about the advancement of women or "the feminist agenda".

The ultimate goal of feminism is the liberation of the human spirit.

My grandmother, MacKenna's great-great grandmother, knew this when she fled her small village in Portugal to come to this country to start a new life. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm willing to bet that her paternal great-great grandmother fled the (not-so) Great Potato Famine in Ireland for much the same reason.

MacKenna's mom is a psychologist. She earns her PhD in May of 2008. She works with incarcerated women and their children, trying to help them rebuild their lives after their release from the penitentiary, prevent recidivism, and establish healthy relationships with their children and their families.

And, she's a great mom and wife and daughter. Indeed, she's an amazing human being. I'm obviously enormously proud of her.

She is part of the dream my grandmother had for her children and her children's children. Indeed, I think her dream is one that is shared by many women all over the world.

That dream is that every child that comes into this world is wanted and loved.

That dream is that every woman who becomes a mother does so by her own free will.

That dream is that every woman has a choice about how she will live her life - including being the very best Mommy in the whole world.

Or, not.

As I have pondered these things, I have come to believe that MacKenna's birthday dream has its priorities in exactly the right order: First: That everyone in the world is kind and generous. Because the world is often cruel and we need more kind and generous people.

Parenthood? Well, it's not for everyone, but MacKenna makes the point that if you know yourself as a child who is loved and wanted and treasured, why not continue that great legacy in another generation?

And one's life work? Well, that choice is made with equal care and consideration and over time.

I can't think of a more noble aspiration to have at six years old.

Or, any age, for that matter.

Well, my final words to MacKenna on her 6th birthday were these, taken from the wit and wisdom of feminist author Faith Wittlesley.

"Just remember," I said to MacKenna Jane, "that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astair did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.

MacKenna giggled, "Nana, you're so funny."

"Yes, I suppose I am."


"Yes, my love."

"Umm .. . who is Ginger Rogers?"

"Ah child, now that's another story for another day."


Bateau Master said...

You edited this post ... Thank You! The Mini-Van part was a little over the top ...

May MacKenna Jane have the freedom to explore all her options, even some her Grandmother has trouble believing are legitimate.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You read it more than once?

Get out!

Ann said...

Great - what a kid.

Cecilia said...

What a terrific post... and just so you know, standfirm has published excerpts, a link, and, ahem, commentary. Oy.

Thank you for being who you are.

Pax, C.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I used to call them "Bottom Feeders". I understand the correct term is "trolls."

Who knew one term would drive them round the bend but the other is accepted parlance?

I can't imagine that anything I might think, much less write, would be of any interest to the boys over at that crowd.

Must be a slow news week.

No new churches breaking away.

No new American priests getting purple shirts in Africa.

No evangelical bishop claiming that God is flooding parts of England because of homosexuals for Ruth Gledhill to try and explain and defend.

Me? I'm getting ready to meet my kinds on a Mission Trip in Belize.

We're building a play ground for the kids in the village of San Antonio.

Woo hoo!

Doug said...

How beautiful. You and your granddaughter (and I'm sure your daughter) are very special people. This puts in to words much of what I have thought in the corners of my mind for a long time. Thank you for putting it into those words. Given the opportunity, it might even change a few minds!

Rowan The Dog said...

This is a great post!

And congratulations on all the flack you are getting from the StandFirmers. It is clear evidence that you are on the right track.


Tom Head said...

The meditation would have been beautiful were it not for the disturbing tirade you wrote about Anne+, whose only crime is that she disagrees with you on matters of church doctrine.

Although I doubt my opinion means anything to you, I am extremely disappointed. I don't know if that makes me a "bottom feeder" or not, but I used to be Mississippi's diocesan network coordinator for Integrity and this sort of thing reminds me why I decided I no longer wanted to be involved in that fight.

Oh, I still do LGBT rights activism. But now that I'm doing it in the secular world, I'm not required to hate anybody.

You will probably delete this, and that's certainly your right. To be honest, I'm not sure I care. I was heartbroken by this sort of thing a long time ago. I came into the Episcopal Church because of the election of Bishop Robinson in New Hampshire, shortly before GC2003. I left when it became clear that lesbian and gay inclusion issues were being used as a bargaining chip to enforce boundary restrictions, a suspicion that was confirmed in no uncertain terms at GC2006 by way of resolution B033. And the more I see of this sort of thing, the happier I am that I left.



Jeremy Bonner said...

My wife and I are a couple using Natural Family Planning. You should be aware that NFP, if used properly, is anything but a device for removing choices from women. For it to work, it requires a high degree of mutual submission and of willingness on the part of both spouses to understand and work in harmony with the female cycle.

While much of the conventional medical community tends to belittle NFP, not least because it repudiates use of artificial methods of contraception, there is a growing body of medical literature (mostly produced by Catholic doctors, but nevertheless men and women schooled in conventional medicine) that demonstrates its effectiveness.

While I have some misgivings about the sort of websites you describe, I find this post lacking in an opposite way. What is wrong with the notion, particularly if one believes in a Christian call to be fruitful, with the idea of MUTUAL submission? The sacrifices are made first to God, then to the children and then to our spouse. It might mean either a husband or a wife staying at home with the children. It might also mean either spouse abandoning career plans so that the other has a chance to pursue their dream. Sometimes that could look like a conventional 1950s picture of female submission to male ambition, but you can't assume that to be the case without knowing the parties involved.

Incidentally, if the Stand Firm quote of the original post is accurate, then I think there might be some grounds for complaint. To imply that to be a conservative Christian woman is to run a serious risk of committing infanticide (especially just to make a point) is injudicious at best.

Eileen said...

Elizabeth -

Women have all kinds of choices today, and make thoses choices for all kinds of reasons.

I would never in a million years choose what Anne+ is choosing to do, but, in the end, it is her choice. Not one I agree with, but her choice.

As for Miss Mackie - I love that kid! She's so wise! She reminds me alot of my Jenna.

She's growing up with the sort of mom who was raised by YOU and, it's unlikely that the Anne+ sort of choice will find it's way to her, you do know that, right?

Totally different upbrining.

I'm not going to get into NFP, except to say, it's not for me. I've tried it to start a family (which was VERY difficult for me), so I know how to use it, and I understand it, but it has vastly negative connotations for me - all that mucous measuring and basal body temperaturing - I basically got insomnia, which of course, totally corrupted "rising temperature" - rising which time? 1am? 3am? 3:45? 4:43? the first time? did you need to sleep a certain number of hours for the temperature to be basal?

you get the idea.

But, as women, we do have far more choice, and I am very glad I can choose to use my brain, and not be a vapid doormat to my husband if it doesn't suit me!

C.B. said...

jeremy - I don't think you read the original post very carefully. The problem is not with NFP per se, but with its results. In the case sited in the post, the priest using NFP has four children with one only one years old and another on the way. (A situation most non-Catholic pediatricians find less than ideal for Mother and child, alike.) So perhaps the priest and her husband aren't "practicing it right" or don't care how taxing it might be or become as more children come from the practice in the future. That's their choice and they are welcome to it. It's seems to me all Elizabeth is doing on her personal blog is express an alternative reaction to that attitude.

I happen to agree with her. I too find it alarming and somewhat mystifying. And I would not characterize it as particularly Christian in anyway.

David said...

Well, after reading the diatribe at SFiF, I had to come over here to get "the rest of the story." (after all, one can't trust them to do anything except post "selective excerpts" that shore up their rather twisted little points)

Lovely post. MacKenna does have the best Nana in the world :)

RB said...

Rev. Kaeton --

If the baptismal covenant means anything to you at all, please be big enough to apologize to +Anne for those unkind words you posted and then removed. Or at least admit that you are something of a bottom feeder yourself. Her husband is a major contributor at Stand Firm, and +Anne is aware of what you said, and has responded there.

Muthah+ said...

Well, Mac is truly a fruit off her grandmother's tree. I do hope she does grow up to be a mommy and a nana. But most of all, I want to live long enough to vote for her for president!

As for the priest you mentioned, I just hurt for her because her ideas have changed in just the matter of 4 years.

Anne Kennedy said...

Lauren, don't grieve for me. You didn't know me all that well four years ago and Matt and I were not, at that point, at all public about our reproductive 'choices'. My ideas haven't changed at all. You'll notice that we came into our job with baby on hand and have continued to have them in quick succession One, because we love babies, Two, because we want to, and Three, because God loves babies. Argue feminism or the state of the church or whatever, but for heaven's sake, please leave my children, and however many I happen to have, out of it.
Also, Ms. Kaeton, some wise person on Stand Firm suggested that rather than speculating about each other and launching names back and forth, we ought to sit down and talk (a geographical impossibility at this point) but I would welcome less speculation about me and my life and more direct communication on my blog. Indeed, if you're unhappy about my life choices and would like to engage me personally, I'd be happy to give you my email.
God Bless.

taomikael said...

Ms. Kaeton,

"I can't imagine that anything I might think, much less write, would be of any interest to the boys over at that crowd.

Mr. Griffith is an equal-opportunity propagandist, more than willing to enthusiastically publish anything that appeals to his audience and keeps them in attendance.

One of the best techniques in the propagandist's toolkit is the illusion that the target audience is being persecuted and therefore needs to unite, to be strong -- in the way that the propagandist is only too happy to instruct them to follow.

Griffith has paid you an odd compliment. He's decided that your name is well enough known to have some distortion value.

fs said...

Griffith has paid you an odd compliment. He's decided that your name is well enough known to have some distortion value.

He's done much worse than that, taomikael. He's trying to destroy Rev. Kaeton's reputation and career. He published contact information for her bishop and her standing committee so that his army of minions can flood the diocese with complaints about Rev. Kaeton.

Rev. Kaeton's stated opinion of Rev. Anne Kennedy's happiness and health are nothing, NOTHING, compared to Greg Griffith's attempt to destroy Rev. Kaeton.

It's gnats and camels.

Shame on them.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, fs, some of his minions have already contacted my bishop, the chancellor and my fellow members of the standing committee.

I might actually be concerned if he had a shred of credibility locally or nationally in the Church - or, anywhere outside of the confines of his own blogosphere.

He's all hot and smelly from what he considers a victory about the priest from Seattle. It's the nature of sharks to move into a feeding frenzy once they smell blood on the water or fear in the air.

It is a shame. Ah, see how these Christians love one another!

C.B. said...

Why do reasserters always think they should get to set the rules and parameters on thought and speech? Welcome to the personal blogsphere folks. What's good for the goose, is good for the gander. So, it's perfectly alright to question every aspect about the lifestyles of gays, including the very specific lifestyle of VGR, but don't talk about OUR lifestyle? Because that would be "dragging our children" into it? Please! Thou Doth Protest too much.

Felida said...

Was the name of the priest used in the original post? It wasn't in the second version and if someone had not mentioned it in a comment.

In the blogosphere, whatever is said is fair game. if the unnamed priest chose to publish about her lack of energy and the like and I had read it I too would have been seriously concerned about not just her health but that of her family and her parish. Her reproductive choices are her own (and her husband's) but if it is published on the blogosphere, people are allowed to comment on it even if the comments don't agree with the person's posting. If the person is as identifable as it appears this priest was, then that is her own responsibliity. The blogosphere is a very public place. The expression of Christian concern over the health and well-being of the whole family, including the kids walking around with broken glass on the floor, is not only appropriate but required.

Miss MacKenna is a lucky young lady. She will grow up knowing that she is loved, wanted, cherished and full of options she can exercise in her life. Every child should grow up knowing those things.

klady said...


Unfortunately it does not surprise me that the main point of what you wrote has been ignored by your detractors, but let me repeat it:

“What these women don't understand is that the goal of feminism is not just about the advancement of women or ‘the feminist agenda’.

The ultimate goal of feminism is the liberation of the human spirit.”

As someone who was blessed with the opportunity to stay home with my children when they were young, and who was supported by like-minded women in a prayer group, I know that feminism is anything but opposed to the nurturing of children and raising them to be kind, caring, and competent human beings. Feminism is what kept us strong, kept us going when we were tired or weary, wiping up spit, changing diapers, and laughing, crying, and praying together. It also kept us involved in working for better education, religious and secular, the right of every child to be loved, cared for, and treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, their economic status, religious beliefs, or family backgrounds. It is what continues to give many people hope throughout the world, for fighting starvation, disease, and malnutrition, through the work of various persons and organizations, including the Anglican Obsverver to the U.N. and the Anglican Women’s Empowerment.

I remember the days when women had far fewer choices, even here in the U.S. I had a close relative who married at 19 and had four children in less than four years, left college to do it, and spent many years living on the edge economically, hiding from family and friends and creditors, at times living in places with no utilities or decent sanitation. I also had a dear friend who spent too many years with a husband who abused her physically, mentally, and emotionally, who tried “Christian marital counseling” again and again with no positive results. I had a great grandmother and a great aunt whose husbands abandoned them and left them to support their children long ago, back when divorce was only for the wealthy and single women scorned in the workplace. They struggled, taking in sewing, caring for others, and later relying on the sons and brothers to help support them, the women dying young of hard work. All these women could have used something more than being told that a wife should submit to her husband and that a husband should care for his family. They needed the means to take care of themselves when almost everyone else failed them.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to every family situation, mine or anyone else’s. But I do know that girls and women need the freedom and power to stand up for themselves (and their brothers), when necessary. They must be able to participate fully in social and political institutions, in church and the workplace as well as the homestead. If they cannot or will not, it will mean the loss of more than half the human potential that God has given us. That frightens me and, I suspect, Elizabeth as well.

Blessings to you, Elizabeth, and your mission in Belize.

Marty said...

"The ultimate goal of feminism is the liberation of the human spirit."

Others have suggested that this is the goal of Jesus Christ, not that of "feminism".

You might as well say the goal of Feminism is "World Peas" like every other Miss America... surely feminism is a bit more focused than that.

trooper said...

While I totally agree that the blogosphere does create a mandate for personal commentary, etc. I personally felt that your comments regarding "concern for this person's health" fumbled accidentally into "watch out or we'll have social services take your kids." If that was not your intention, please say so. I found the whole thing to be threatening. I can't be the only one who read it that way

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It was not my intention. Of course, it was not my intention.

I grow so weary of being attacked for raising the issue of the goodness and rightness of feminism.

Jesus was a feminist.

Get over it.

Mark said...

These comments from reasserters about their "good mental health" sound truly disturbed, to me.

Frair John said...

Mother Kaeton-

As I've said in the past: you're one of my hero's.
What you said wasn't over the line. What has infuriated them over at Fort Viagra is that you DARED TO PASS JUDGMENT. That is for them to do alone.

Weiwen Ng said...

I myself was somewhat taken aback at some of the words that Elizabeth originally said about the unnamed Episcopal priest (married to an unnamed Episcopal priest). However, I can understand where she's coming from.

I have an Episcopalian friend who's a midwife. She and a few others go on a yearly mission to Nicaragua, sponsored by one of the large Episcopal churches in our area. They work with Casa Materna, which provides pre- and post-natal care for rural mothers with high-risk pregnancies.

The Roman Church has, as I understand it, successfully influenced the legislature to ban abortion. Sterilization is legally allowed, but is forbidden by the Church, as is contraception.

And so, women all have multiple pregnancies. Some of my friend's clients had as many as ten. As I understand it, this isn't healthy. And one of the other volunteers said that, if the Cardinals were pregnant with their tenth child, if they had to raise so many children and undergo the health risk associated with that many pregnancies, they'd reconsider their stances on reproductive rights.

They'd also hopefully stop seeing the sole purpose of marriage as to produce (dozens of) children.

The original post about the unnamed Episcopal priest (I think there were no comments at the time) was, frankly, over the line. And it's not like the stuff I write on my blog is very much more conciliatory.

However, I do see where Elizabeth is coming from. And I have no sympathy for those who would teach that contraception is wrong and that you should just leave the pregnancy up to God - if you do that, there's going to be lots of pregnancies.

Richard said...

This was... educational. But the insights and lessons I have learned from this whole original post, edited post, and reactions, and Keaton's+ response...

Yes. Insightful indeed. Let us hope I do not draw too many generalizations from what I have observed...?

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