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Monday, April 23, 2007

God's Law for Women?

This article is written to counter what is stated in one local newspaper in my hometown, entitled “Dilema Gerakan Perempuan” (“Dilemma in Women’s Movement”). In short, the writer of the article stated that Women’s Movement is hampered by one main thing—that is to educate children. When a woman wants to pursue career outside the house, she is not to forget her main duty in the family—educating children.

This article focuses on two things; firstly why women’s movement was mentioned to start in the nineteenth century, and secondly, to counter the writer’s statement that the main duty of a woman in the family is to educate children.

Ali Anshori—the writer’s article—stated that women’s movement started in the nineteenth century. In fact, if we want to date back to the previous centuries, there had been some brilliant women who had their books published where they questioned whether women were really created to be the second after men, and also to encouraged their contemporaries to “rise” to be equal with men. . For example, Margaret Cavendish (1623-1674), whose work was admired by Virginia Woolf, especially Cavendish’s “Female Orations” (Gilbert & Gubar page 72-73), Mary Astell (1666-1731) with her “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies”, and Mary Woolstonecraft (1759-1797) with her most well-known book entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. These three works contained “awakening” ideas for women.

Nevertheless, indeed we can say that women’s movement became solid in the middle of the nineteenth century, with the first women’s “summit” on July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, America. The idea of this summit came from Elizabeth Cady Stanton who later wrote “The Woman’s Bible” that criticized the masculine bias in Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Industrial Revolution that happened in Europe in the eighteenth century and in America in the nineteenth century had really changed the lifestyle of the people living in those two continents. With more factories established, the way to earn income in the families changed. Before the Industrial Revolution many American families focused on home industry and agriculture for both men and women, after the revolution, many men poured out of the house to work in factories. Previously both men and women worked hand in hand in their home industry and agriculture, including to educate children, the Industrial Revolution engendered “new” lifestyle; that was men worked outside the house, women stayed home, perhaps to continue their home industry, or agriculture, and to educate children.

Historian Barbara Welter stated that the Industrial Revolution had changed American men to be materialistic creature, no longer pious as their ancestors coming to that chosen land in the beginning of the seventeenth century. Feeling guilty because having changed the “sacred” land with the chosen people to be merely counting house, American men worked hand in hand with Church to create a new “domain” or “sphere” for women: that was to stay home, and not to follow those men to pour out factories, because they have “sacred” duty, that was to educate the next generations to be as pious as their ancestors several centuries before. ( One thing to be underlined here, though, that this so-called “new lifestyle” was applied only among the middle and upper social classes. People belonging into the low class society—including the African American who were still under the slavery bondage, could not “enjoy” this “modern” thing. The women in the low class society still had to join the bulk of workforce outside the house to survive.

This impact of the Industrial Revolution that even imprisoned women and separated them from men’s sphere spurred American women in the nineteenth century to work together solidly for equality, and not individually anymore just like many other women living much before them. Only producing literary work “campaigning” equality between women and men was no longer enough, a real action was necessary to be taken. Moreover, with abundant Conduct Literature published in that era—to support women to be domestic creature, women were not allowed to read other than the Bible and Conduct Literature itself. (

The second point that I want to counter is that educating children exclusively belongs to women’s main duty in family. Apparently we cannot separate it from what was spread widely in America in the nineteenth century through the teachings of Church and the publication of Conduct Literature.

When we talk about dichotomy of men and women’s duties based on their sex, we cannot avoid talking about “destiny” or God’s law to men and women. God’s law of course will always be the same from the beginning of this world existed until what people call as the doomsday (for those who believe in it) everywhere in the world. Outside that, let us say habit (or culture) that existed in one place in one time that can be different in another place and another time is not called as God’s law or natural law. This is socially constructed.

What are God’s laws for women?

1. Menstruation.
Women’s bodies were created in such a way by God so that they will get menstruation when they reach a certain age. Menstruation will stop when they reach certain age too.

2. Conceiving.
As a result of getting menstruation and women producing ovum, women’s bodies will get pregnant when the ovum they produce “meets” sperm.
It is important to underline here, though, that not all women can get pregnant although they already get menstruation and probably their ovum “meets” sperm entering their cervix. Why? It is all God’s secret.

3. Delivering babies and breastfeeding them.
Delivering babies is the consequence of conceiving. While breastfeeding, after delivering babies, women’s breasts produce milk to be given to the new born babies.

However, it is also important to note that not all women who just deliver babies produce milk (or enough milk) for the babies. It means it is acceptable then if a woman chooses to give other milk to her baby. Muslim people believe that Prophet Muhammad’s mother did not breastfeed her son so that she needed another woman to breastfeed Muhammad.

Women from all ages in all places undergo those four things mentioned above. However, God’s law for women perhaps only stops in number one—menstruation—when God does not allow a woman to get pregnant, moreover to deliver and breastfeed babies. Men cannot undergo these things since their bodies are not created to be like that.

So, where is the position of educating children? Is it also exclusively created by God to belong to women only? To educate children, a woman practically does not need to use her womb, her menstrual cycle with ovum, vagina, or breasts. Point of view that educating children exclusively belongs to men is the “product” of certain society in one time. When age advances, isn’t it very possible that this socially constructed view changes too?

In one paragraph of his article, Ali Anshori wrote: perempuan bisa menuntut haknya untuk menjadi wanita karir, sembari tetap melaksanakan tugas dalam lingkup rumah tangga. Persoalan justru muncul ketika hak bisa berdiri tegak, sementara kewajiban terabaikan.” (women can demand their right to be career women, while still doing their duties inside the family. A problem will appear when women demand their right, while they ignore the obligation.) I need to add here that in the article Ali Anshori considered breastfeeding is one form of educating children.

Which obligation did he mean? Breastfeeding is not the same as educating children. Did he mean that conceiving is one obligation of women too? In the past before contraceptives were invented or ways to avoid getting pregnant was publicly known, it was possible for a woman to get pregnant every year after they got married, until they got menopouse or died. In this era? With many kinds of contraceptives, a woman can choose to have a baby each year after getting married (if God allows her to get pregnant) like her predecessors decades or centuries ago, or to have a baby each five years, or anytime she feels ready for that. This is a woman’s prerogative.

Besides that, with more job vacancies offered to them, it is very possible to have a new “profession” for men—househusband. When a woman has a very good career, and she needs full support from her husband, it is very likely for them then to decide who will stay home and do household chores—including educating children—the man or the woman. There is nothing wrong here as long as this is the agreement of both sides.

PT56 16.10 220407

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