Traditionally, a woman’s place has been inferior to that of the average man, but what place should women have in society? Whatever is considered most valuable in society is placed under the direction of men; whatever is considered less valuable is given to women to care for – even when people ostensible know better.
The culture of women, especially higher education, was of greatest concern from 1880 to 1900, even though the issue nearly dropped from view by the turn of the century. Although there were a few sprinkled comments in favor of identical education from males and females, most commentary took one of two approaches. The first supported education for women within their sphere. Women should be taught to be “teachers to their children” and better housekeepers and they should receive “some careful instruction regarding the beauty of girlhood as shown by modesty, by unselfishness, by unostentatious care for others.”
[In 1917], an article in the King’s Business said that even though women were superior to men intellectually, morally, and spiritually, “her divinely appointed position is that of subordination and it is her ruin to fight against that which God … had ordained for her.” Women were warned that “man does not suffer as much as woman does when she gets out of place.” Many people in modern America complain that motherhood and raising children have been devalued by the feminist movement and the efforts to get women into the workplace. These same people, however, are the religious conservatives who have throughout America’s history been responsible for the actual devaluing of women’s contributions to society.
Motherhood and raising children haven’t been devalued because of feminism and women working in the corporate world; instead, they have been devalued precisely because they are seen as “women’s work” and unsuitable for men. Women who work as CEOs are unembarrassed by this fact; there continues to be some embarrassment, however, on the part of men who life as “house husbands.” Is this because of feminism? Of course not.
The same is true in the many professions traditionally filled by women. Men who worked as nurses struggled for a long time against prejudice and discrimination — not so much by female nurses, but by other men who looked down upon male nurses precisely because nursing was considered a profession for women and, hence, of little value.
Religious conservatives say that they value mothers and motherhood, but their actions over the past couple of centuries speaks much more loudly. Greater valuation of occupations like raising a family won’t be achieved by stopping feminism and taking women out of the regular workforce. It will be achieved only when women’s contributions to society, whatever form they take, are valued as much as men’s contributions. That, however, won’t happen until women are valued as much as men.
The complaints of religious conservatives about feminism not only don’t serve to achieve that goal, but in fact hinder it — just as religious conservatives have been hindering women, their education, and their rights for millennia. Changes have been a long time in coming and we still have a long way to go