Minutes of Meeting

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Date: July 9, 2000

Location: University of Dayton, Alumni Hall

Meeting Topic: Feminism

Facilitator: Eileen Moorman

Host: Eileen Moorman

PRESENT: Felix Garfunkel, Chair; Joanne Beirise, Connie Breen, Bert Buby, Steve Coleman, Shirley Flacks, Erika Garfunkel, Frances Gross, Edith Holsinger, Jack Kelley, Eleanor Koenigsburg, Harry Koenigsburg, Jerry Kotler, Lorraine Kotler, Barbara Levine, Eileen Moorman, Bill Rain, Harold Rubenstein, Sophie Rubenstein, Mary Sunshein.

Felix called the meeting to order at about 8:00 PM. Eileen delivered the opening prayer which was based on a feminist poem. It was announced that Vice-Chair Agnes Hannahs is out of town for two months. Jack Kelley made a number of announcements and observations.

Eileen Moorman's Presentation

Tonight, I want to address the concept of feminism from only an historical perspective, and then ask all of you to respond to one or two questions that have arisen in my mind as a result of my research. The questions should lead to quite an interesting dialogue!

I've used a specific book titled The Feminist Question: A Feminist Theology in the Light of Christian Tradition, by Francis Martin. However, I chose a limited section of the book, choosing only to give an historical outline because I'm of the opinion the Christian scope is not sufficient for this group to stimulate dialogue that could be meaningful for us and because my questions will automatically lead to religious ideas.

One main idea I ask you to keep in mind is that these facts are ideas only one person has chosen out of many choices. These ideas are seen through my glasses, and no doubt another person would choose other ideas. A quote from Francis Martin can be helpful here. On page 124, he stated, ". . . What is immediately conspicuous among the medieval sources . . . Was their disconcerting ambiguity toward women. The harshest misogynist writings are found alongside records of actual women possessing immense power and influence. Apparently, rigid sex roles were consistently ignored at all levels of society. Strict gender-based laws were belied by actual practice. The inconsistencies are such that a historian can collect innumerable historical facts and examples to build a case either for or against the pervasive oppression of women, depending on his or her intent."

The Middle Ages

It was during the Middle Ages, the time between the 4th and 5th centuries, after the fall of the Roman Empire, until around the 15th century with the period of the Renaissance that women wielded a relative control over property, economic contribution, work outside the home, participation in political life, authority over children, and the conditions of marriage. Yet, these factors fluctuated widely among different societies and are certainly not true for all women. For instance, one area of the world could have liberal inheritance laws for women, and yet give her a very limited political opportunity to be heard.

It is recorded that women's economic roles outside the home could be most important. For example, in 1389 in England, only five of 500 guilds were exclusively male. Women had equal opportunities and penalties, including election of officers, participation in feast days, and punishment for misdeeds. Married women could carry on separate businesses as "femmes soles"--sole owners--a status recognized in many town regulations. Yet, many craftsmen's wives and daughters were allowed in trades and yet women who did not have husbands in these specific crafts were barred from them. The reason given to those barred women was that there was too much competition for labor in certain crafts.

Women also had influence in the cultural realm in the Middle Ages. In Germany, Henry I's wife, Matilda, was the founder of one of the chief literary and scholastic centers of the West. The center was Qued Linburg.

It was in the Middle Ages, because of the Crusades, that women had great political power. In the 900's in England, a daughter of King Alfred led warriors against the Vikings, built fortresses, and conquered much of eastern England.

Women appeared as military leaders, judges, chatelaines, and controllers of property. Also, women voted with men in towns and rural assemblies.

For a variety of reasons, the steady progress of women in medieval society did not sustain its momentum, and the positions they had gained began to be undermined by other forces. The feudal system of the 9th and 10th centuries started a decline in the progress of women in medieval society. This system granted land to vassals in return for services that were primarily military. It produced a society organized for war, hence, it became essentially a masculine world. Feudal estates passed, intact, to a single male heir. Only in the absence of a male heir could a woman inherit. This resulted in the woman spending most of her life in the guardianship of a man--her father until she married; her father's lord, if the father died before she married; her husband after she married. She was not free until she was widowed.

Patrilineal lineage, a new type of kinship system which excluded sisters and daughters and their descendants from the family, began to evolve in the eleventh century. That is, a family traced its identity by using only the male line back to the forming of a family name. This patrilineal family managed their resources mainly for the sons. Daughters became a burden to the family.

As home industries were replaced by more centralized manufacturing, a labor surplus was created, and women came to be seen as economically expendable and a competitive threat to men. Women became "social ornaments" and became domestic slaves and reproductive agents. Primitive biology only confirmed the ancient theory that men alone could reproduce, passing on their offspring to women to nurture.

In the 11th century, a man named Henri Smith aptly expressed this idea with the words: "The husband is the cocke and the wife is the dam: the cocke flieth abroad to bring in, the dam sitteth upon the nest to keep all at home. For the man's pleasure is most abroad and woman's within."

Rousseau, in the 19th century, endorsed the Athenian practices of cloistering women, excluding them from public life, and refused even to dine with them, since he deemed women to be naturally vain, narcissistic, childish, and weak.

The English lawyer, Blackstone, expressed the identical values at the same time when he certified the legal nonexistence of women under common law: "By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law; that is the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover she performs every thing . . . A man cannot grant anything to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her existence . . ."

It was the 18th century, with the Enlightenment, which was not designed to be misogynist, which resulted in a new view of human life that exalted power and rise of practical reason which resulted in a "masculine" world. The Industrial Revolution combined with the Enlightenment both produced this masculine world in which the public dimension of life, associated with struggle, achievement, and conflict, was privileged over the private or "feminine" dimensions of life, characterized by domestic virtues.

By the 19th century, in 1848 some American women, meeting at Seneca Falls, New York, published a document called their "Declaration of Sentiments." This statement was based upon the Declaration of Independence and was concerned with the equality of women through property reform, child custody in cases of divorce, access to education, and ultimately the right to vote.

Two key influences besides the Declaration of Independence which strengthened the women's movement were evangelical Christianity and socialism. Evangelical Christianity gave impetus to reforms such as abolition, temperance, and various purity campaigns. However, since the emergence of feminism in the 1960's, the Evangelical feminist movement has declined.

What can be called the "First Wave" of contemporary feminism began in the latter half of the 19th century. While women were active in making social changes, they became aware of the limitations placed upon them because of their sex. Male members of the Abolition or Temperance movements often proved hostile to them and would not allow them to speak or be in leadership roles. So women broke ranks and formed their own organizations.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott were most active in the antislavery movement. In 1840, a number of women, including Mott and Stanton, were sent as delegates to London, England to represent the U.S. In the antislavery movement. Yet, to their dismay, they were not allowed to participate. The result of this shunning led to the 1848 Women's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. Women continued to work for the abolition of slavery until its passage in 1865 with the 13th Amendment.

By 1883, the Women's Temperance Union included in its goals women's suffrage. This resulted in increased members and respectability.

By 1908, with a new generation of leaders and new style of political action, the women's movement regained some of its earlier force. Militant action was hit upon as a strategy to spark interest in the suffrage question. Hunger strikes by women pushed the question into public awareness. By 1912, the English women had joined U.S. Women in this endeavor.

In 1918, English women could vote; in 1919, Germany, Poland, and Sweden all granted women suffrage. France came to terms in 1944, Italy in 1945, Yugoslavia in 1946, and Greece in 1952. It was 1920 when women voted in the United States. In 1902, Australia gave women suffrage, and in 1963, Iran and Kenya passed laws for women's voting.

With suffrage no longer an issue in the 20's, women dissipated their energies for the feminist movement. There were still forums of political action, yet it was apparent there were differing strands of the women's movement. Hence, the years between 1920 and 1960 were years of relative quiet.

While the first wave of the movement centered in the realm of politics, the second wave, which often used the term "women's liberation" was more directed toward securing a greater place for women in society's life as a whole.

One of the major reasons for this "second wave" was the growth of students' rights and civil rights groups. Out of these movements were formed women's "consciousness raising' groups. Eventually, joining radical feminist women, an organization called "NOW" was formed, embracing the ideas of abortion and lesbianism. The acronym of NOW stands for "National Organization of Women."

A woman of past decades, Simone de Beauvoir, had an influence on the second movement because of her outspokenness against how she saw men and women defined. Her thesis is that she perceived women to have to define themselves in relation to men instead of being "selfs" in their own right. Simone railed against this indignity.

An author of today, Jean Elshtain, has this to say as she captures what de Beauvoir railed against: "As the price of admission to the realm of Transcendence, de Beauvoir's female subjects must shuck off their female identities. Civilization is male, according to her, and men its essential parts; women, the flip side of the coin, lie outside civilization and are unessential." No wonder Simone spoke to feminism of today!

In the U.S., it was Betty Friedan who in 1963 published "The Feminine Mystique" which was a book displaying her desire to integrate women into the social sphere.

Kate Millett had a strong influence on women also. She could be classified as a radical feminist because she has classified all men as oppressors, and she reduced all gender differences to culture.

It is important to note that most of the second wave writers considered that the basic awareness that had to be achieved by both men and women concerns the manner in which women are deprived of access to the goods of life, especially the opportunity for public discourse and important public responsibilities.

What unites today's feminists appears to be:

  1. The right of women to define or create themselves (autonomy).
  2. The identification of identity and equality.
  3. And the insistence (by some) that men are oppressors by virtue of their sex.
What is important to keep always in mind is that, while feminism today draws its ideological inspiration primarily from the equal rights and radical traditions, there is still great diversity of thought within it. And, in spite of the predominance of emphasis on equality, there are still those who insist on the importance of sexual differences.

So, the feminist movement can be misleading, since there are a variety of influences, ideas, groups, and agendas that make up contemporary feminism.

The challenge to the group was to give positive examples of how feminism has benefited society. The entire group responded with vigor in the following areas, citing their personal experiences: politics, industry, religion, education, psychology, and behavior.

The meeting adjourned at about 9:30 PM.

Respectfully submitted,

Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary

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