So-Called Female Supremacy: Another Enemy of Feminism

 A week or so ago I was stuck at a Borders Book Store near my school for a few hours, and, being the enthusiastic teen feminist I am, I spent a good deal of time viewing the Gender Studies section. I of course thumbed through a copy of Backlash and several books on the social views of virginity (Going to a Catholic School and being a young woman, I have a particular interest in the anti-woman ideal that is the Virgin/Whore complex, and have talked about it a lot on my blog). But one book that caught my eye in particular was called “Hating Women : America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex ” By Rabbi Schmuley Boteach.

I skimmed through the summary and it seemed to be basically a commentary about the growing misogyny in Western Culture, particularly in pop culture. Now, I had recently read both of Jessica Valenti’s books and seen the third installment of the Killing Us Softly documentary series, so of course I was interested in reading more on the modern cultural view of women. Reading about it from the perspective of not only a man, but a prominent religious figure like Rabbi Boteach, seemed like an interesting opportunity. Now, I’m not going to claim I read the whole book, because I didn’t. I didn’t have the money on hand to buy it and I didn’t want to rip the store, publisher, or author off by reading it without paying for it. I did, however, pour over it for about an hour or so, reading large passages from the chapters and trying to get as clear a view of the book’s contents as I could. There was, of course, a lot of commentary in the book regarding the awful stereotypes presented of women in the popular media, how men are being groomed to view women, and the over-sexualization of young women in popular media and culture that I heartily agreed with, but there were passages of the book that annoyed me greatly, as a feminist and as a humanist in general. Not only was it his criticism of the feminist movement for concentrating too much on being like men and leaving behind their “natural feminine virtues” (I’m not taking this word for word), or his belief that women were respected more prior to the twentieth century (though that really got to me, but it’s a point to pick apart for another blog), but it was also his stressing of how men and women are not equal, but that women are superior beings.

Now, I am not entirely familiar with the Rabbi, but I do know a few things about him from both his book and the web. He’s a highly regarded Orthodox Jewish Preacher, writer, radio host, teacher and academic who has won a number of awards for his work, preaching, and social and humanitarian work over the years, as well as his contributions to the Jewish community in the US and the UK. He has eight children with his wife and won the London Times’ prestigious “Preacher of the Year Award” in 1999. Now, in the book, he states that he has five daughters and has a great concern for women and their social standing today. He also notes the danger the women’s movement is in and seems to be mostly pro-feminist. But it was his insistence that women are superior to men that sort of bothered me.

Of course, he stated the usual evidence of the so-called female superiority: more women do charitable work, more women attend religious services, women are more likely to be sympathetic to the troubles of others, more women excel academically… I know also that there is a belief in a number of Jewish denominations that women are the holier sex because we can bear children and are naturally more moral than men. Another idea is that man was God’s first try in creating a physical being in Its image, and that woman was God’s second, more successful, try. I can’t remember if those religious ideas were used in the book, but I think they were. Anyways, that whole frame of mind got me thinking about this so-called idea that “women are better.” I know that there are people believe that one of the sexes in inherently superior, and the ones who believe women are greater will usually use a lot of the arguments Schmuley used in his book. A lot of people like that might believe that they idea that men and women are truly equal beings is based more on abstract and generous thinking than practical grounds and that acknowledging women as “superior” is beneficial to the feminist movement, but I don’t believe so at all.

Really, I believe the whole idea of “women are better” is just as unrealistic (not to mention oppressive, unfair, and harmful) to not just men and women in general, but the women’s movement itself.

I’m not just talking about how that belief just perpetuates the “man-hating” stereotype, but I’m looking at this whole “women are better” issue from a historical and practical standpoint. It’s true, have women proved to be capable of incredible deeds? Yes? Has the feminist movement shown our great power and capabilities as human beings? Yes. Women are insanely talented, capable, powerful, and amazing. But the fact is, you can say the same for men. Men have accomplished incredible things as a group. Sure, the accomplishments of women in particular bear the distinction of overcoming lack of opportunities, oppression, and various other negative odds, but that does not make the efforts of men as a group any less impressive. Sure, a lot of the great achievements of male-dominated society had significant female influence (American Revolution, Abolition of slavery, Ministry of Jesus Christ [female funded and feminist! Check Luke 8:1-3], the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, etc), but men have still shown a lot great prowess and capabilities. Sure, they had better opportunities and better representation, not to mention more rights, resources, support, etc etc, etc, but still, a lot of incredible things came about at the hands of men.

The fact is that what the feminist movement really proved besides the capabilities and importance of women, but also the amazing power of humankind in general. We can ALL accomplish great things. Another important thing to take into account is that it’s not just men who do horrible things. Women are just as capable of epic asshattery as men. The Spanish Inquisition could not have happened without Isabella of Spain. Phyllis Schaffly and Anne Coulter somehow have vaginas. Bloody Mary slayed millions of people in a horrible act of religious genocide. And let’s not forget the proof that a woman candidate is not necessarily a woman’s candidate: Governor Sarah Palin. So no, you can’t really say women are all that much better than men if you really look at it. It depends on the person, not the gender. That’s really the basis of feminism in the first place. But also, let’s not forget that mindset is damaging to men and women anyways. There are countless examples. One of them can in fact be found in some Jewish-themed beliefs that I mentioned earlier. The whole idea of “women being more holy” was used to oppose the scholastic education of women and girls, the reasons being that since they were already so good and close to God, they didn’t need to learn the Scripture, they knew it already. Exposing them to records of sin might spoil their pure souls (sound familiar?). Now, this is no attack on Judaism. I have the highest respect for the Jewish faith. I am referring to social customs that went out of practice centuries ago. Today, most sects of Judaism are among the most socially progressive and feminist-friendly of religious orders. I was just using that particular example as to how that idea can be damaging to the progress and rights of women.

Another example would be The Da Vinci Code. Now, a lot of people saw this book as pretty feminist, but I didn’t in the least. Though it was nice of the book to say Mary Magdalene was not a whore and to point out the whole absurdity of the Virgin/Whore complex and examine the horrible injustices women had to face, the whole portrayal of Mary Magdalene was hardly feminist. For all it’s preaching about the sacred feminine, what the book basically did to Mary Magdalene was take her from her current status in the modern Catholic Church as “Apostle to the Apostles” and instead cast her as barefoot and pregnant. Literally. Once again, all this obsession over how much greater girls are comes down to our ability to make teh babies.

There’s no question that women have a significantly greater amount of shit to deal with in our lives, and that we’re pretty amazing and deserve respect, but the important thing to remember is that women are people too. Just as human and important and capable as men. Trying to say we’re something so much better just in the end, dehumanizes us.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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