Saturday, November 17, 2007

Culturism and Feminism

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Today I heard the feminist leader Carol Gilligan talk about her adaptation of The Scarlet Letter at the American Moral Education conference. Gilligan wants us to recognize the Scarlet Letter as a feminist novel. Feminism, women having rights, being one of the precious parts of our culture, I applaud her work.

Culturism is meant to foster disscussion and, unfortunately, the tone of Gilligan's rhetoric only led to polarization. She kept speaking of fighting the New Puritanism. A man from the audience said his children were exposed to much more raw sexuality than he was as a child. He wondered where she saw this threatening movement. She said in abstinence programs and anti-gay marriage initiatives. She then went on to express her disgust for the overly sexualized nature of our culture. But Gilligan stuck with the theme that patriarchy and the religious right constituted a menace that she could typify as the New Puritanism. Furthermore, she made it clear that the New Puritans were a tyrannical force that needs to be stopped.

Reading culturism could help Gilligan realize that she and the patriarchal New Puritans have much in common. Both are concerned about a utilitarian view of people that does not recognize their souls. Culturism argues that feminists and religious people share a view that the soul should be more highly regarded than the body. This understanding creates a basis upon which feminists and religious folks can have cooperative outlooks and programs. But Gilligan's demonizing of abstinence promoters does not foster mutual understanding or discussion of important cultural issues.

Gilligan's version of the Scarlet Letter portrayed Puritans as purely evil. We have no sympathy for them as they try to get the imprisoned Hester Prynn to name the father. Colonial governments did this in order to collect child support (a Clinton agenda item) and enable girls, like the novel's Pearl, to have fathers. Certainly the Puritan's use of "A"s for public shaming, not to mention whipping, went too far. But there is room for common ground and I would hope that Gilligan could find some merit in Puritan and religious values.

Lastly, Gilligan defined feminism as "democracy liberated from patriarchy." Culturism teaches that describing ideals as abstractions is harmful. The West is feminist in the sense that women have more rights here than in any other existing culture. We can only be derided as patriarchal and anti-feminist in comparison with an ideal that does not exist any where in the world and may not be attainable. When you undermine Western civilization you undermine the best bastion of feminism in the world. I would hope that Gilligan declare herself a culturist (I hope everyone does :) and work with - not against - her religious brethren in fostering a more caring culture.
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