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Conference paper

Hey guys. Thanks for your participation in my poll. Since you all helped so much, I thought you may like to see the final paper.Feminism's (Mild) Fourth Wave: Common Ground for Evangelicals and Young Feminists?

    Though it is a sweeping generalization, it is not an inaccuracy to say that historically, evangelical Christians and feminists have seen themselves as working toward opposite goals. I hope to use this paper to explore why these two movements sometimes wrongly interpret each other as the opposition, as well as how they could work together to achieve a common goal. In this paper, I will explore the possible roots of the misconceptions that each group has of the other as well as discuss how their goals, their methods, and even their participants, overlap. Most importantly, I will examine a recent cultural phenomenon that could act as common ground for both parties: the so-called “new modesty movement” as articulated and heralded by author and activist Wendy Shalit.  Before I explore the possible future of feminism, however, I feel that it is necessary to briefly recount its past.
    Feminism as a historical movement is typically divided into segments called “waves.” This terminology allows for divisions to be less static in terms of the point at which they begin or end, and more based on what women were experiencing, both personally and politically, at any given time.  American first wave feminism occurred from approximately 1848-1920, is widely thought to have originated with the (primarily female) proponents of the abolition movement, and held women's suffrage as its primary goal. Famous American first-wave feminists include Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Alice Paul, all of whom signed the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York on July 28, 1848. The signers of this declaration used The Declaration of Independence as a model, and pointed out the sexism deeply engrained in US politics of the time with the addition of just two words to a familiar statement, which then read “all men and women are created equal” (Stanton 71, emphasis mine). With those words, not only was a movement established, but a precedent of reactive adaptation of the norm was set that would be followed by generations of feminists to come.  Many critics of this first-wave movement claimed that its proponents were neglecting their natural femininity in trying to enter into what had been a traditionally male sphere of influence.
    Later in the twentieth century, second wave feminists built upon the achievements of first-wavers by extending the presence of women in the public sphere first established by their enfranchisement in 1920. Second wave feminists worked to use these broad political rights to obtain rights that seemed closer to where and how women lived their lives day to day: within their marriages, as they raised their families, and in the workplace. Typically, second wave feminism is split into two disparate movements : second wave liberal feminism and second wave radical feminism.  Liberal feminism is typically thought to have begun with the widespread entry of women into the workforce during and after World War II.  This phenomenon so fundamentally changed the structure of the American family's everyday routine that, after the war ended and many women were told to give up their jobs and return to their homes, they became dissatisfied about the role(s) their society expected them to fill. Out of this dissatisfaction, many women also became depressed and were subsequently diagnosed with the vaguely defined and rarely discussed “housewives' syndrome,” which Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name” in her landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique.
    While second wave liberal feminists worked to change  mainstream America's traditional view that the woman's place was in the home, second wave radical feminists felt a modification was in order
to America's view of a woman's place in a particular part of that home: the bedroom. Publications like Erica Jong's 1973 novel Fear of Flying sought to eradicate the stereotypical view of women as wholly receptive and passive sexually. In the book, Jong tells the story of Isadora Wing, a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who is being pressured by her family to have children. Isadora fantasizes escaping from this life into a “zipless” sexual relationship. Her ideal relationship is zipless not only physically—she visualizes clothes unzipping and unbuttoning themselves flying off as if by magic-- but emotionally as well, as its other qualification is that she “not know the man very well” in order to avoid any emotionally-motivated complications. This combination of stereotypically feminine romantic tropes with the stereotypically masculine desire for no-strings-attached sex revolutionized how Americans thought about female sexual desire and behavior.
    Second wave feminists popularized the phrase “The personal is political.” From the 1980s into the new millennium, third wave feminists pushed the second wave notion of the political nature of personal life in new directions. While “the personal” still referred to those issues important to the ways in which individual women lived out their everyday routines, more aspects of the personal became accepted forums for political expression. Popular culture was chief among the new areas of third wave activism, with the arrival of bands such as Bikini Kill on the cultural scene signaling the birth of so-called “riot grrrl” culture, an arena in which girls could express their dissatisfaction with a culture in which they felt oppressed and ignored by combining traditional forums of creative self-expression like music, art, and theatre with the political ideals important to them. Third wave feminists also built upon the efforts of second wave radicals in the area of female sexual expression as they tried to dismantle what they viewed as an oppressive, patriarchal system from the inside by appropriating its tools (namely language or sexual action as a means of degrading women) for their own usage. To that end, third-wavers tried to reclaim words like “bitch” and “slut” and turn them into words with positive (or at least less negative connotations through a cultural pervasiveness brought about by publications like Leora Tanenbaum's Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation published in 2000, and Bitch Magazine, edited by Andi Zeisler and Lisa Jervis, which began publication in 1996 and is now on its forty-second quarterly issue. Because of their attitude that female sexuality is not something to be ashamed of, but instead should be viewed as a positive form of self-expression, third wave feminists are often called “sex positive” feminists.
    It is this sex positive culture that troubles Wendy Shalit, who heralds the “new modesty movement” that she has labeled “feminism's (mild) fourth wave” (Shalit 2007, 45). Shalit is the author of three books concerning the need for an evaluation of our current culture's views of young female sexuality:  A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, released in 1999, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to be Good ,released in 2007, and The Good Girl Revolution: Young Rebels with Self-Esteem and High Standards, released in 2008. The first acts as Shalit's manifesto in favor of a necessary cultural revival of sexual and physical modesty, the second discusses the pitfalls of  our current “Girls Gone Wild culture” and proposes more positive alternatives for young women (Shalit 2007), and the third is a series of profiles of young women Shalit feels are rebelling against the destructive effect of that previously-mentioned culture and changing their respective societies for the better. While Shalit herself is ethically Jewish but non-practicing and some of the modesty movement's participants claim to have no particular religious affiliation, their pro-modesty views have a great deal in common with those of many evangelical Protestants, and therefore, could, and I believe, should, be discussed in light of their possible effect on the future of the Evangelical movement. While the modesty movement is not an overtly religiously-motivated one, it shares two major characteristics with Evangelical Christianity. The first is a belief that reacting to the needs and habits of the culture that is in need of reform (whether it be a patriarchal one or an unsaved one) is the best way to affect change upon that culture, and the second is that young people are a necessary medium through which to affect that change.
    Despite a seeming reluctance to directly connect her her movement with a religious desire for modesty, Shalit begins her first book with two Biblical epigraphs. The first and most relevant to my argument includes Genesis 3:7, which details the result of Adam and Eve's eating from the forbidden tree: “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths” (Shalit 2007, ii).  This verse's relationship to Shalit's pro-modesty message is a complicated one.  It seems to suggest that the need for modesty is one that exists only in a post-lapserian world; Adam and Eve's embarrassment at nudity is a direct result of a consciousness which itself is a direct result of their disobeying God. That cause-and-effect relationship seems to contradict one of A Return to Modesty's main points: that modesty motivated by embarrassment is something that innately exists within women. While I suspect that this contradiction goes unaddressed mainly due to Shalit's desire to make her movement more universally palatable by not connecting it to ideals exclusive to any one religion, I feel it is important to point it out.
     The modesty movement certainly markets itself as a culturally reactionary one. Shalit makes this clear in the titles of the first two of her three books. By addressing a perceived need to “return to modesty” and “rediscover” it, Shalit implies that it was lost through some sort of wayward shift in mores, and that a cultural change is necessary to remedy this shift. Shalit posits that the root of this gradual shift is that young men and women are taught by elementary and middle school sex education programs to both “overcome their embarrassment” about and “take responsibility for their sexuality”  before they are ready to discuss or think about such matters (Shalit 1999, 22).  What public schools promote as an exercise in equality and self-knowledge, Shalit argues, engenders an erosion of embarrassment that both sexualizes children too early and ignores naturally-occurring differences in the ways that boys and girls think about themselves.  She cites a case from the New York City public school system in which four boys ages nine and under forced  a nine-year-old girl to perform oral sex on one of them on the school's playground while the other three looked on.  “When the traumatized third-grader told a teacher,” Shalit reports, “she was merely advised to wash out her mouth and was given a towel wipe” (Shalit 1999, 19). Shalit suggests that because these boys are taught in school that sex organs are just body parts “no different than an elbow,” and also taught that they should treat girls as their equals without regard to biological gender difference, “then they are that much more likely to see nothing wrong with certain kinds of sexual violence” that older generations (and US lawmakers) view as heinous crimes, because, Shalit asks, “What's really so terrible in making someone touch or kiss your elbow”? (Shalit 1999, 19) Rather than enforcing an equality that disregards biological gender differences, Shalit suggests that American society, groomed as it has been on the social construction of gender, should stop viewing “essentialism” as a dirty word and instead realize that an extreme anti-essentialist mindset directly contradicts the notion established by second wave feminists that women can define themselves and their sexualities in any way they choose, provided that that self-definition occurs on their own terms.
     Shalit repeats the reactionary theme  established in A Return to Modesty and focuses it on a particular part of contemporary culture she finds morally reprehensible in Girls Gone Mild. In order to understand the cultural commentary within that book's title (or, indeed, to write/perform it as Shalit did), one would have to have at least a passing familiarity with the Girls Gone Wild video series, directed and marketed by Joseph R. Francis and boasting over seventy titles, most of them multivolume.  These videos are sold through late-night informercials and typically contain shots of scantily-clad college-aged women kissing, gyrating, or engaging in other sexual acts. While Wendy Shalit clearly sees this enterprise as exploitative to the young women involved, Joe Francis mentioned in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine that “the girls [in the videos he produces] don't need much convincing to do their part” and that he thinks  “a lot of young women [believe that] it's titillating to break the taboo and all the more thrilling to think that millions of people might see them doing it” (Grigoriadas).  Francis' view of sexual expression as empowerment seems to align itself with that of many third wave sex-positive feminists. Just as Shalit points out that the argument for “public expression of a private sexuality” neglects the presence of the male gaze observing that public expression, many mainstream feminists think that framing Girls Gone Wild and other similar exercises in female objectification as empowering or beneficial to the feminist cause is reductive at best (Shalit 2007, xii). For example, Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture regrets the association of female empowerment with the current cultural prevalence of brands like Girls Gone Wild, Playboy, and the Pussycat Dolls [what she calls “raunch culture”], saying, “A baseline expectation that women will be constantly exploding in little blasts of exhibitionism runs throughout our culture.  Girls Gone Wild is not extraordinary, it's emblematic [of raunch culture]” (Levy 33). Though she reports that some proponents of this culture view it  as “evidence that the feminist project [has] already been achieved,” Levy herself posits that that is not the case, that, in participating in this culture, the “female chauvinist pigs” of her title have not surpassed or subverted patriarchal oppression, but instead, have made its work easier by willingly objectifying both themselves and other women (Levy 3-4).
    Not only do Shalit and Levy share a disdain for the culture made mainstream with the spread of sex positive feminism, but they also agree on who to blame for sex-positivism going too far: the second wave radicals. While Levy accounts for other cultural factors like the media's sexualization of violence against women insofar as the spread of sex positivism is  concerned, she does suggest that second wave radicals should be held somewhat responsible for  the sex positive third wave's out of control extension into raunch culture due to the fact that they were the first to bring female sexuality into the mainstream. She states, “Even though this new world of beer and babes is foreign to sixties revolutionaries, it is actually also a repercussion of the very forces they put in motion—they are the ones who started this” (Levy 45). Perhaps predictably so, Shalit is less forgiving of second wave radicals for “start[ing] this.” In A Return to Modesty, she suggests that the social pressures that today's women face -- “to be perfect and thin and have no laugh lines, all while balancing a career and a perfectly orgasmic sex life” – come from second wave manifestos like Friedan's The Feminine Mystique  and Simone deBeauvior's The Second Sex, which Shalit says told women “that they couldn't stay home with their children, even if they wanted to” (her response to Freidan) and “that they couldn't be round and had to cut themselves of from their bodies” (her response to deBeauvior) (Shalit 142). These “codes of conduct,” Shalit says, “grounded us” and “pointed us to what was truly important.” (Shalit 142). Her use of the word “truly” in that passage points again to her belief in an innate feminine role, one that contemporary Evangelicals seem both to share and to fault the second wave for devaluing.
    At the True Woman '08 conference held in Chicago the weekend of October 9-11, 2008, thousands of Christian women from all over the United States gathered to “ discover and embrace God's created design and mission for their lives, reflect the beauty and heart of Christ to their world, intentionally pass on the baton of Truth to the next generation, and pray earnestly for an outpouring of God's Spirit in their families, churches, nation, and world,” according to the conference's mission statement (www.truewoman.com/about). In one of the conference's lectures entitled “You've Come A Long Way, Baby!,” Mary Kassian, a professor at Southern Baptist Seminary and the author of the book The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture, hypothesizes that because of feminism's influence, “ the epitome of empowered womanhood is to live a self-serving, self-righteous, neurotic, narcissistic, superficial, and adulterous life” (Kassian). Kassian goes on to regret the downward spiral feminism has caused for true womanhood over time, saying, “In a few short decades...the ideal of a happy, fulfilled woman has gone from one who serves and exalts her children, her husband, and her community to one who serves and exalts herself” (Kassian). While her opinion is certainly not an uncommon one, the overall content of her speech should be examined more closely to determine what it is to which she is actually objecting.  First, the titles of both this speech ad the book that inspired its inquiries are references to second wave politics in particular. “You've come a long way, baby!” was the tagline for a popular series of Virginia Slims cigarette ads that ran in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while Kassain's book The Feminist Mistake  is clearly meant to recall the title of Betty Freidan's book The Feminine Mystique which came out in 1963 and became a representative text of second wave liberal feminism, as I previously mentioned. While I do not object to Kassain's implication that undesirable traits expected of today's women could be a result of events set in motion by the second wave (an argument, you'll recall, echoed by both conservative feminist Wendy Shalit and more mainstream feminist Ariel Levy), I do object to the proof she presents for this argument over the course of her speech. In order to prove cultural attitudes about female roles held in  both past and present, Kassain exclusively cites pop cultural representations of women that have appeared on television. In addition to referring to the Virginia Slims ad that told women they could step out of their housewifely duties, Kassain also mentions The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, Ellen, Sex and the City, and, as her representation of the femininity we should aspire to regain, Leave it to Beaver.  While Kassain is right to assume that these pop cultural representations of women do reflect the cultural attitudes regarding women prevalent in the time in which they were produced to a certain extent, she is wrong to assume that they accurately portray the ways that real women experience feminism in their everyday lives. Bitch Magazine coeditor Andi Zeisler responds to this common misconception in a chapter of her book Feminism and Pop Culture cleverly titled “We Haven't Come a Long Way, and Don't Call Me Baby!” In this chapter, Zeisler uses the same Virginia Slim ad to explain how ad agencies and corporations, whose foremost goal is, of course, to sell their products, appeal to the feminist mindset in order to do just that (Ziesler 57-60). By relying exclusively on these cultural artifacts that, because they want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, are necessarily general and reductive in their portrayal of broad, complex ideologies like feminism, Kassain seems to say that it is easier to place blame on an entire movement than to actually engage with the members of that movement, none of whom have lives or problems as cut and dried as those presented on so-called feminist television shows.
    Consider, for example, members of the Christian Feminist blog, whose tagline is "This (Christian Feminism) is not an oxymoron. These posters enagage with difficult concepts like the biblical definition of submission and how to reconcile biologial gender differences withh socially-constructed ones(Christian Feminist). While Wendy Shalit does not do everything right in her pro-modesty texts (Girls Gone Mild makes similar oversights regarding pop culture to the ones I pointed out in Kassian's speech, for example) the fact that she makes a point to philosophically enagage with actual feminists  while espousing a conservative viewpoint and a belief in an innate female role should prompt Evangelicals to get beyond the stereotypes and attempt to get into the conversation themselves.


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