Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Future of Feminism?, Part 2

Gloria Steinem brought up a great point about how we haven't seen the same expansion in men's roles as we have in women's roles since the start of the feminist movement, and the importance of humanizing both masculine and feminine roles. We discussed this as it applies to raising our boys in a more humanized way than 'raising men' to fulfill a limited and limiting role.

In a recent article, Youth Rights Is a Feminist Issue posted on the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) website, Kathleen Nicole O'Neal makes a call for a much needed feminist focus on youth. She discusses many examples of issues related to youth rights, and particularly the rights of young women, that would further the goal of feminism. While I disagree with her view that the male perspective continues to be the default when youth issues are discussed, I do agree that we cannot ignore the gender-specific issues that affect young people. And I wholeheartedly agree with these words:

“When feminists wonder in amazement where young women who are abused by romantic partners get the idea that coercion, violence, and controlling behavior are signs of love and concern the obvious answer should be 'their parents and teachers'...”

And I would add that this example could be just as easily applied to the role that the abusive partners take on in relationships. The same systems have taught them the tools of coercion, control and violence rather than the relational skills of trust, understanding, and cooperation.

As the parent of a small child, a resource that has helped me immensely in changing the nature of family dynamics is the book Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson. Unlike much of the advice offered to parents that describes how to establish and maintain your power over children by manipulating and coercing more effectively, this book advises you in how to build relationships and communication skills based on respect, trust, empathy, understanding, compassion, and cooperation. It describes relational and communication skills that apply to all relationships, not just the parent/child relationship.

From the conclussion of  Youth Rights Is a Feminist Issue:
“... I call on all feminists to interrogate their own ageism, to place youth rights (as opposed to paternalistic concerns about youth welfare) at the center of their organizing, and to fight for young women to have the freedom they so passionately seek for themselves. Youth rights is not only a feminist issue – it is the most important and most neglected feminist issue of twenty-first century America. Until contemporary feminists realize that the subjugation of our young sisters and brothers in their homes and schools is the vanguard issue of civil and human rights in the United States they are not living up to the legacy of their foremothers and forefathers. Past generations of feminists have helped to topple or reform some of the most oppressive prejudices and institutions in human history while managing to leave the institution of the legal and social status of minors nearly untouched. It’s time to create a truly intersectional feminism where liberty, equality, and justice is truly a birthright and not something earned by living long enough to become an 'adult.'”

O'Neal defines brilliantly the need to focus on youth rights as we continue in our quest for equality. Not only do we need to humanize the masculine role, we need to humanize the roles of youth. The family and school structures that deny youth the equality and respect that we have been fighting for as women, only perpetuate the injustices we have been fighting against.

We still have some work to do toward equality, and we have some new directions to focus our efforts. One lesson we can learn from the current state of men and women is that freeing one group from societally imposed limitations does not automatically free their counterparts. At the same time that we are working toward lifting the limitations on women, we also need to work on breaking down the limitations on men; and as we work for improvements in youth rights, we need to give intentional effort to liberating parents from being pressured to fill the role of enforcer of societally imposed age and gender limitations so that they can experience the richness of having full and genuine relationships with children.

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