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Early Feminists May Have Had it All Wrong

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

Throughout most all of history, women have been devalued. I've said many times that I feel that early #feminists were a little misguided in that they fought for equal rights to men, when in fact we have different needs. It doesn't behoove us to translate equality for women into arguing for the rights of women to walk the path set out for men. It may even be that some women have the vision of outdoing men at their own way of being, but in fact, we need to focus more on our own unique paths. Women need not carve out their own space in a male-dominated world, but rather, claim their own different way of being, living more harmoniously, more authentically.

Women are often trapped in salaried positions with demanding responsibilities, competing with men, while also packing lunches, communicating with teachers, helping with homework, planning activities, and often preparing dinner, picking up groceries, and managing the household more often than men in these relationships. The evidence demonstrates that women more often carry the bulk of the mental load, so even when men are helping with responsibilities at home, it is work they are typically delegated. Women continue to fall into the older traditions of assuming the household responsibilities, or the woman's role.

Interestingly, research has demonstrated that the most unhappy person, is the female married to a man and the most happy person is the man married to a woman. Experts conclude this has to do with women having more work, more responsibilities, more to manage when married, but for the men, the load is lighter than when he is married. Alongside these findings, are the studies on the older generation following divorce. Women in their forties, fifties, sixties, and seventies are choosing not to marry again. They date. They enjoy men and build relationships with them, but they remain single within their own homes where they have the freedom to live how they desire and where they will not assume an unequal amount of the caretaking responsibilities.

Finding the way is not always obvious however, which makes it easy to become coerced into the #patriarchal ways of being. We are one of the only, if not the only industrialized country which doesn't offer paid maternity leave. Women are expected to be able to birth babies and re-enter the workforce immediately. The expectations is that we not only create other human beings, but that we also care for ourselves entirely, at all times, without any protection or support. Women in our country can become pregnant through rape and not be provided any medical care.

Not all women become pregnant through consensual relations, keep in mind that one in four women are sexually #assaulted, so if a woman is violated and becomes pregnant, she is solely responsible for that pregnancy - all medical costs, loss of wages, all discomforts and burdens it places on her body and she is then solely responsible for the care of the child while juggling her financial, home, and work responsibilities until she can secure any level of support from the child's father. If he is held accountable to that responsibility, his investment isn't retroactive. It begins once the judge signs the final court documents, which takes months if not years to secure after the birth of the child.

Consider that no matter when you believe life begins or when the child has rights, there is never any other time a man is obligated to sacrifice his body for another person, innocent or not. Body autonomy is a critical component of our rights protected by the Constitution. What if you were a perfect bone match for a child with severe aplastic anemia, no other person on earth is a close enough match to save this child's life, and the child will certainly die without a bone marrow transplant from you. If you decided you did not want to undergo this procedure and donate your marrow to save this child, for whatever reason (including that you would assume all costs, suffer lost wages, and have to manage recovery independently), the state cannot demand the use of any part of your body for something to which you do not #consent.

It doesn't matter if the procedure required to complete the donation is trivial, or if the rationale for refusing is flimsy and arbitrary, or if the procedure is the only hope the child has to survive, or if the child is extraordinary - the decision to donate must be voluntary to be constitutional. This right is even extended to a person after they die. We consent to what happens with our organs and our bodies after death, regardless of how many people may be saved by organ donation. That's the law. Use of a woman's uterus to save a life is no different than use of her bone marrow to save a life - but in the former, we not only violate her right, we make her solely responsible. These are the issues that impact maternal and child health. These are the issues that early feminists should have focused. We have different needs, different paths.

Where Early Feminists Overlooked the Needs of Women

Why is it that every public restroom provides toilet paper, but not sanitary napkins and tampons? Why are women in basic training within our national government's miliary not provided menstrual products? Are women in jail provided products to manage their menses? Why is it that women pay taxes on personal hygiene products?

Why is it that only women are offered a hormone altering option for preventing pregnancy which has serious medical risks, but there are no viable options for men? Why is it that women have been sterilized against their consent for generations, yet men do not suffer this same scenario?

Why did women have to fight for the right to use their breasts to feed their children wherever they have a right to be without arrest, in every single state in our nation, which was just accomplished within the last two decades? Why did it take forty-four presidents before lactation was even recognized as a legitimate healthcare need for women and breastpumps were seen as an important medical device that all breastfeeding women require?

Why are infants and toddlers not provided childcare options so both parents can enter the workforce without unequal burdens? Is this because toddlers are too young to be indoctrinated by our government's educational system, so childcare doesn't support a patriarchal system and therefore will not be funded even thought it would greatly improves the lives of women and children?

How is it that the United States of America, one of the richest countries in the world, has the worst perinatal outcomes in the entire industrialized world? Why are more women dying in our country, during childbirth, than even in several third world countries? Why is homebirth growing in popularity in our country - where resources may be limited, but women's rights are more often respected?

Why do teenage girls have dress code restrictions, but the boys do not? Why is it when a fourteen-year-old girl wears a pair of shorts that may show the underside of her bum that she holds responsibility for how this makes a man behave?

Do men text their guy pals to tell them they got home safely? Do men ask other men to escort them to their car after dark because they fear being sexually assaulted? Do women ask other women to escort them to their car after dark? Nope. Why, because add a second girl to that walk and this just becomes a bigger thrill to a man seeking to control women through rape.

How many men have to tell women they have a partner in an attempt to stop a woman from making sexual advances on them? Interestingly, women recognize this as the more successful approach, as saying no isn't often successful, but when they claim another man has territory here, the advancer offers that man more respect than he does the woman he is pursuing and more often backs off.

Why are women asked in a job interview how they will juggle work responsibilities with their home responsibilities? Why are women asked how their husbands feel about them working more when they are offered a promotion, yet this isn't part of the concerns when promoting a man?

Why are little girls called bossy, but little boys are not? Why is it that little girls are praised for being so independent, as this is an unexpected outcome? Why is screaming like a little girl different than screaming like a little boy?

Have men ever considered signing their work emails with a shortened version of their own name that might be construed as a man's name or maybe using their initials to avoid being treated as a woman?

Why do midwives suffer significant societal attack and garnish little respect from their communities, makes pennies on the dollar of their obstetrical colleagues, even less than the nurses who work for them, but hold better outcomes than their physician colleagues for the same work among the same clientele? Why were women healers called witches and burned at the steak, but we have come to fear the witch who creates healing potions from plants made by our earth, and not the church leader who orchestrated all these killings?

Why are women who engage in consensual sexual acts outside of marriage considered promiscuous? If a woman enjoys sex and opts to engage in relationships with men who are also consenting, why do they gain titles such as - excuse me - slut and whore? Does it matter her intent, whether for pleasure or self-sabotage, that she engages in sexual relationships before we assign derogatory titles that are never assigned men in any circumstance, even when these acts violate the consent of others?

Why are more and more women seeking #labiaplasty to trim her inner labial lips? Modern porn dictates normal for female anatomy apparently. Sadly, while this procedure may make women more appealing to women, they sacrifice their sensitivity in the process, often becoming numb following the procedure.

Why is domestic violence a misdemeanor? Half of women who live on the street, often with their children, state that being beat by their partner was the reason they became homeless. Why is it an affluent white boy can #rape a girl who drank too much and face little to no consequence, because why would we want to negatively impact his potential? Why does the student who helped hack into his school's security technology to identify a rapist serve more time in jail than the person who violently raped a female student?

How do We Fix This?

We tell #stories about women who have embraced their authentic callings. We read about stories from diverse cultures, traditions, and beliefs. We read about women heros. We think critically about how we came to be and how we want to live. We ask tough questions. We respect both the goddess and the king, the heroine and the hero.

Consider that Celtic mythology was highly goddess-centered. The creative essence of the universe within this time was female, not male. Women represented the spiritual axis of the world. The women guarded and protected the land. Sovereignty was the spirit of the Earth itself, but over the centuries she was treated poorly and began to lose her power when Christian monks began to tell stories about her. These stories became the truths people believed and soon, these goddesses did not fit the mold of a good woman. They became rebranded as fairy women, promiscuous, or even witches. By the seventeenth century, a woman could no longer be accepted in any significant position of influence. Women were transitioned from warriors leading battles to romanticized maidens. Now consider that the woman in the Christian bible is portrayed as the weaker, untamed cause of the fall, holding the burden of all sin, inviting men to dominate and control her. When we read these stories, these narratives, how do we identify? How does this shape our culture, our behaviors?

If we want change, we need authority; this authority comes in great part, from within ourselves. It comes from conviction. It comes from learning not to try to avoid making a man feel awkward and calling him out when he makes inappropriate jokes about our sexuality or our attire. It comes from no longer tolerating poor behavior from creepy men. Girls need to develop a strong sense of who they are and where their place is in the world. Women should be able to articulate their rights and feel confidently enough to speak up for those rights. Young men need to be taught to see the needs within the home, and take on those responsibility without being asked. They can carry the mental load too. We can unite. We can learn to be partners.

Telling our stories can help others work through their own challenges. These stories are guides, but women have remained quiet, in shame, with an understanding that we don't want to make others uncomfortable or cause any awkwardness. Our stories are powerful. Shall we step out of the fear that we are too much when we speak up for ourselves, and be proud of our truths, sharing them with those who will surpass us ultimately creating a new world? Women know how to get out of the woods; we simply need to remember our path. Embrace your authenticity.

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Dr. Penny Lane
Dr. Penny Lane
Jun 25, 2021

An additional article discussing sexual harassment as a million little papercuts.

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