Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Avoiding Patriarchy: Women and College


I regularly cruise through Christian blogs, I don’t leave comments on them but I do enjoy reading them. Peeking into the thoughts and concerns of religious people offers insights into their mindsets I’m not privy to normally. While I don’t have any religious beliefs, I do sometimes share similar concerns. One concern deals with the role of women in American culture. I’m in the feminist camp for quite a few ideals, specifically the right of women to self-determination. It’s this stance that makes me rather upset when I see people using bad arguments to stand against female self-determination.
I came across an article on Fix the Family, a site devoted to Catholic teachings. The article in question was written by the co-founder of the site, Raylan Alleman, entitled “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College”. I’ll examine the article more in-depth but from the other output on this man’s website, this seems par for the course.

Alleman highlights 8 reasons and the “likely” objections people might have to his reasons. I write “likely” because they’re not well-thought objections. Rather Alleman lists kneejerk reactions people might feel reading his work. He structures the essay with the objections first in a largely failed attempt to head off potential criticism. The objections Alleman highlights are:
·        You don’t believe in educating women. Alleman claims this is a false objection because “college and education have very little to do with each other”. I happen to agree with this sentiment to some extent. One can educate themselves through libraries and the internet. But if a person wants to pursue a career the degree earned in a college opens many doors. Alleman claims that all a women needs is 12 years of standard education, preferably home schooling. Alleman’s counter-argument boils down to a fallacious argument from tradition.
·        You believe in oppressing women. Alleman claims this is a false objection as well because “the purpose of a college degree is for a job” which isn’t necessary for young women who will get married. Essentially the only proper place for a woman is to stay home, keep the house, and make babies, according to Alleman. Vocations and jobs are God-ordained but only for men, as the author sees it. It reminds me of a meme poster I have saved on my hard drive: Dreams and goals are Satan’s way of distracting you from making dinner (the caption for a mother speaking to her daughter).
·        You believe in taking away opportunities for women and trapping them in a subservient role. Alleman’s rejection of this strawman is flimsier than overcooked pasta. He views the “indoctrination of the feminist culture” and sexual promiscuity as blinding young women of their divinely-appointed role as housewives. He even goes a step further stating that “Christian marriage by definition does place [women] in a submissive role”. According to Alleman, women should know their role and stay in the house with the kids.
·        God calls women to use their talents. Alleman accepts this critique but rolls that into repeating his mantra: Jobs are for men and women should relegate themselves to the home. Alleman goes so far as to suggest that women who don’t want to marry and raise children should stay single or join a convent. This is a clear example of misogyny hiding under a religious cloak.
·        A woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled, or leaves her. Alleman believes the first two can be resolved with insurance. Obviously he’s never seen how expensive death or disability can be from a financial standpoint. To avoid the last one Alleman simply states you should marry the right person which won’t lead to divorce. That statement alone is worth a weapons-grade facepalm.
Keep in mind these are just the objections to his reasons women should avoid college. Here are the reasons (and if you’re expecting better arguments, you’re in for a disappointment):
1.     She will attract the wrong types of men. Alleman believes that women with college degrees, careers, and incomes will attract listless, lazy men (who they apparently can’t resist). Men are supposed to the primary provider under Alleman’s ideology. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing but anecdotal evidence to back up this assertion. The facts are income in the middle have stymied, making two incomes necessary to properly fund a household, especially if children are involved.
2.     She will be in a near occasion of sin. I actually had to look up the meaning of the phrase “near occasion of sin”. Apparently, it’s any place or person which presents a distinct danger of leading a person into committing a sinful act. According to Alleman, College = Sexual Promiscuity. The concentration of young people with little supervision can only lead to sexual antics that are frowned upon by god. This sexual activity also skews women’s perception of their partner’s faults. This is a limp strawman and an appeal to emotion. In other words, a baseless argument.
3.     She will not learn to be a wife and mother. Because the proper place for a woman is to serve as a broodmare for her husband and the Catholic Church. Anything but the traditional family structure is not only useless but damaging the sanctity of the home. If Alleman’s distaste for women pursuing their own ambitions were any more obvious, it would come screaming through the screen in large print.
4.     The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup. I agree that college is far too expensive and bloated but not attending college doesn’t leave a great many opportunities for people. While the debt can be difficult, there are income-based repayment options and debt forgiveness programs, which allow some leeway for families to cope. While cost of education should be a consideration, it shouldn’t be the only factor.
5.     You don’t have to prove anything to the world. Alleman claims that young girls go to college because the culture and their parents pressure them to. While that might be true to some degree, the fact is there are other factors that motivate young women to seek higher education. Their own dreams, goals, and ambitions to name a few. Plus there’s the ability to have a life without being dependent on a spouse or partner. Backwards thinking like Alleman’s is one of the reasons feminism became a force in American culture.
6.     It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents. Because girls are supposed to grow up to be mothers, their parents shouldn’t worry about preparing to pay college tuition. The near occasion of sin Alleman refers to is parents using any type of birth control measures out of fear for the cost of college. This is a baseless assertion when one considers that some couples simply choose not to have children in the first place. And with the multitude of financial planning options available saving for a child’s college education isn’t as difficult as one may imagine.
7.     She will regret it. Alleman uses anecdotes about women who “bought into the lie of the dual-career family”. There’s no empirical evidence sited or studies to back up his claim. The dual career family is a necessity in this culture due to a variety of economic factors over the past few decades. Whether someone will or won’t regret a decision like college should be a consideration. An even greater consideration should be can college provide a means to reach one’s goals.
8.     It could interfere with a religious vocation. Apparently there are religious orders that won’t accept people who have a certain amount of debt. While I don’t share any religious beliefs, if one wishes to pursue a religious vocation, they should do so. If a particular religious order has objections due to financial hardships, one should find another venue to pursue one’s calling.

Alleman’s essay smacks of the heavy-handed patriarchy that wishes for a bygone era. Young women should be able to pursue their goals, whether it is as a housewife, a career, or a mixture of the two. This argument is rooted in a religious ideology that no longer reflects the real world. For that reason alone, young women should disregard men like Alleman who think a woman’s primary function should be as a baby-making factory. This is the only guaranteed life we have. Squandering one’s potential should be considered a sin, not obtaining an education. 

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