Today's Sacramento News & Review (my hometown free weekly) has a story about different ages of feminist, and one of the twenty-somethings is an ex-JW.
Jenn Kistler | 20s
Give back the rib
Eve is always to blame. She is the seductive original sinner, a produce-wielding siren inflicting mortality upon man. She also hijacked a bone from Adam’s rib cage.
Yet her greatest offense—which has left her female descendents in an eternal pickle—is that she was created after Adam. According to the religion of my childhood, since Adam was first in line, that logically meant men were in charge of religion, their families and of women in general. As a repayment for Eve’s rib-bone loan, women in my church were required to obey men’s decisions, maintain the household and raise obedient children. Jehovah’s Witnesses still declare that “[Women are] to be silent in the sense of not getting into disputes with a man. She is not to belittle his appointed position or endeavor to teach the congregation.”
While boys my age stood upon the church stage nervously cracking their knuckles and injecting “ums” and “uhs” into their religious speeches, I sat in the audience daydreaming about how I’d show them up—if I were allowed. Women were forbidden to speak to the congregation, serve as religious leaders, wear pantsuits to church, get in religious debates with men and pray in front of men (unless they adorned their heads with a doily, napkin or similarly ridiculous headpiece). Higher education was out of the question, too. Female independence went against God’s decree that man was king of the symbolic hill, so feminism of any kind was deemed evil.
By the tender age of 11, I was ready to return Adam’s freaking rib bone.
So I protested. I avoided learning how to cook, abandoned belief in marriage and vowed never to have children. (I even requested a hysterectomy as a high-school graduation gift—I was only half joking. My mom obviously refused.) My dad jumped the Jesus ship when I was 15, giving me an opportunity to embrace full woman power through education and debate, sans doilies. No one was going to silence this Eve.
Yet in college, I struggled to define a line between my feminism and my femininity. Was there a line? Did feminine characteristics go against the feminist credo? Was joining a sorority anti-feminist? Even if it led to me becoming involved in student government, community-service organizations, academic honor societies and serving as a leader? To some fellow students, sororities were the antithesis of female equality. I saw it differently and am a stronger woman because of my experience.
Somewhere between women’s suffrage, the feminist movement and the 21st century, the true meaning of feminism was obscured by the superficial “battle of the sexes” adage. For some women, feminism became an image dominated by abhorring “girly” interests such as bouquets of flowers, acts of chivalry by men and wedding ceremonies. Other women rejected the term feminism because they enjoyed those “girly” things and didn’t want to be considered a “feminazi.”
But they all forgot the original meaning of the word: “to make legal, political, social and economic change in our society in order to … eliminate sexism and end all oppression,” according to the National Organization for Women.
Yes, oppression based on one’s gender remains an issue worldwide. Somalia-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali related her personal account of being circumcised as a Muslim girl in her autobiography, Infidel. I was horrified that such misogynistic religious persecution and torture still occurred.
In an age when more people seem less dependent on archaic religious laws—where there are more secularists, humanists and atheists—there also seem to be growing numbers of religious extremists, a kind of third “great awakening,” to the detriment of women. Even in the United States, where there are more women enrolled in college than men, some religious sects prohibit women from aspiring to higher education. They are indoctrinated to bear unhealthy numbers of children, forced to stay in abusive relationships because divorce is a sin and prohibited from using contraception.
Feminism is not a battle of women vs. men. It never was. It means embracing the biological differences in men and women, yet realizing we are all humans in the end. Feminism demands humanity and equality for all; its survival is dependent on activism and continuing education. True equality for women, and men, cannot exist in a world where blame is always placed upon Eve.
Jenn Kistler, SN&R’s calendar editor, is a 26-year-old writer, graduate student and running fool. She survives almost entirely on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.