Virtual Voices

Rethinking feminism

Education

Students in women's studies courses throughout the United States hear stories of "girl-meets-birth-control" or awakening the inner feminine mystique. But I've learned something else in my history class at a Christian college.

We were reading a speech Adlai Stevenson gave at Smith College's 1955 commencement. Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956 (losing both times to Republican Dwight Eisenhower) was a Unitarian Universalist, an old school Democrat whose New Deal liberalism would put most modern liberals to shame.

Stevenson wasn't pro-tradition or evangelical-friendly. But he told women at an elite institution-Smith is the alma mater of famous feminists like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem-"There is much you can do . . . in the humble role of housewife." He called their education a preparation for the "primary task" of homemaking and training children to preserve what was culturally best.

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Stevenson's speech captured me because he showed that differentiating male and female roles is not inherently regressive. I had long fought the sneaking suspicion that no educated, thinking person would give traditional gender roles a second glance. But here's the reality check: Up until the 1960s, you would be hard-pressed to find an educated person who did not give credence to traditional gender roles in Western Civilization. While there were fringe feminist voices, their arguments had not gained mainstream traction.

Now those feminist arguments dominate American culture, and leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton try to export them to the world. But what on the ground has changed? I heard a hundred times growing up that women in a pre-feminist world were treated like ornaments, but a glancing survey of Christina Aguilera's neckline on The Voice tells me the same is true today. Women are still objects. Internationally, women are still targeted by gender-specific abortions and sexual slavery. Feminists didn't fix those problems. By seeking to erase gender altogether, they added new ones.

Hannah Farver is a college student pursuing international studies, the author of Uncompromising: A heart claimed by a radical love (Moody), and co-director of publicity for Hope for Orphans, a nonprofit organization in Dallas.

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