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Jun 06 2013

Mattering is a two-edged sword

A lot of people were impressed by Rebecca Goldstein’s talk at Women in Secularism 2 on the importance of mattering for human happiness, it was a real light-bulb moment for many people, I think. We’d like to believe it’s a concept that can be used as incentive for humanist goals, but as Vyckie Garrison points out, it can be used to motivate other purposes, too.

The reason Quiverfull is gaining ground is because it puts a female individual in the position of mattering – of mattering A LOT – to a collective.

If you really want someone to care about you more than anyone – all you need to do is give birth to them. Being a mother guarantees that you will matter – for good or for evil – your child’s life will be intimately wrapped up in yours, even despite the best efforts of a brilliant therapist later in life. (I say this only half-jokingly. We all love our mothers, BUT …)

Nice concept, that ‘mattering’, but as this illustrates, every idea needs a good follow-through as well. What is secularism going to do to allow women to matter?

46 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin

    Make sammiches?

    /snark (and I can’t believe I really have to put the snark tag on it, but that’s how far down the rabbit hole we’ve gone).

  2. 2
    Inaji

    We all love our mothers, BUT …)

    I don’t.

  3. 3
    Inaji

    What is secularism going to do to allow women to matter?

    I’d suggest being quiet and listening as the first step, but that hasn’t gone over so well…

  4. 4
    SallyStrange

    Allowing women to matter? I think you mean, recognizing that women matter.

  5. 5
    YOB - Ye Olde Blacksmith

    Provide more opportunities for women ( and other marginalized groups) to stand up and speak.

    Of course that only works if, as Caine pointed out, if us menz would pipe down and listen. Which I will do now.

  6. 6
    wondering

    Thank you, SallyStrange, for #4. “Allowing women to matter” rubbed me the wrong way too. I don’t need anyone else’s permission to matter.

  7. 7
    Inaji

    SallyStrange:

    Allowing women to matter? I think you mean, recognizing that women matter.

    I think, in certain circles, it does come down to allowing women to matter. Look at the atheoskeptisphere – there’s talk along the lines of “oh, hey, yeah, women matter, of course they do, but…” or “Yes, women matter, no problem there, it’s those shrill anti-men feminists that are the problem” and so on.

    Look at the recent fuckwittery of Ron Lindsay. He made every attempt to disallow women mattering. We’re dealing with some very negative and stupid attitudes.

  8. 8
    Lynna, OM

    Sally Strange @4 beat me to it. But Caine, @7, makes a good point as well.

    Some women find it difficult to “allow” themselves to matter in any way that challenges the roles which the men around them approve. They end up going hog wild in the approved roles, like the quiverfull mothers.

    One gets weary if called upon to fight daily/hourly against the accepted roles.

  9. 9
    Jackie

    Sally and wondering,
    I think society can and does prevent us from mattering by denying our legal right to bodily autonomy, bullying/shaming us into silence, or in some places in the world preventing us from voting, driving, getting an education or a job or leaving the house alone. The marginalization of women keeps us from having power or influence. I guess that’s what I think of when I see the word “matter”. Women and girls internalizing the idea that they don’t matter can prevent them from mattering to themselves too. So I do see it as a matter of what society allows.

  10. 10
    Pteryxx

    correction to #8: which the men (*and other women) around them approve. In gender-segregated cultures, often the women are policing the heck out of the other women’s choices at the slightest hint of improper thought, before the closest men even know about it. Though the men still lay down the rules in the first place, as far as I can tell.

  11. 11
    Pteryxx

    and re “allowing” women to matter… the phrase bugs me too. It’s not so much “allow” in the sense of giving permission as much as stop interfering with women so they can get on with mattering.

  12. 12
    Michael Brew

    I think the “mattering” is referring to “mattering to others.” Everyone matters to themselves, so it would be a bit pointless to even refer to that in this context. In any case, I can’t force myself to matter to people if they didn’t allow it.

  13. 13
    Howard Bannister

    Mattering as a 2-edged sword; I hear that.

    I think I posted before about how sometimes I do miss being a creobot fundamentalist. Not only the surety of never having to think, but back then I was SOMEBODY, y’all. I was a Holy Warrior, anointed by God Himself to do battle.

    Every day I rose up to Change the World.

    What the crap am I now? I’m just a dude doing what dudes do. What does that matter?

    Well, actually, I save lives and have all kinds ‘things that matter’ piling up that I’m trying to do. Trying to be part of movements to do things that matter, trying to make the world better.

    But it took time to get there, to build those up. The god-botherers? They have that built in. It’s part of their hard sell. If you belong to the god-monster, then you are important. You are a patriarch, or if a woman, you are the last line of defense for the family, the warrior who protects the sleeping children.

    It’s all empty nonsense, but it’s empty nonsense with gravitas.

  14. 14
    Inaji

    Howard:

    It’s all empty nonsense, but it’s empty nonsense with gravitas.

    Yes, it has gravitas. For a great many people, there’s deep comfort and security in knowing your place. When that’s combined with religious ideology, there’s a sense of not only knowing your place in this world, but in the universe at large, as well as the next life.

  15. 15
    Lynna, OM

    I’ve gotten the point where any hint of others deciding how and if I matter simply causes me to walk away. I have better things to do with my time.

  16. 16
    Pierce R. Butler

    Isn’t it enough (and too much for some people) to allow women to mutter?

  17. 17
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Isn’t it enough (and too much for some people) to allow women to mutter?

    Muttering is unladylike.

  18. 18
    Inaji

    Beatrice:

    Muttering is unladylike.

    So is speaking out. Silent acquiescence is ladylike.

  19. 19
    changerofbits

    This may be idealist, but aren’t we all allowed to define individually what “mattering” means? It seems we should, as a secular movement, be tearing down the religious, patriarchal, cultural walls that stand in the way of an individials pursuit of what matters. Trying to define an ultimate set of what matters seems a bit too authoritarian to me.

  20. 20
    Inaji

    changerofbits:

    It seems we should, as a secular movement, be tearing down the religious, patriarchal, cultural walls that stand in the way of an individials pursuit of what matters.

    That’s a tad difficult to do when a healthy portion of the secular movement thinks of women and feminists as less than human.

  21. 21
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    changerofbits,

    I think you misunderstood the post… probably, since I don’t really understand what you mean.

    It’s asking for a general acceptance that women matter just as much as men. So that a woman doesn’t feel like she can only matter as a mother.

  22. 22
    John Horstman

    Wrong question. Women already matter, both to many individuals and to secular activism/’The Secular Movement’ as a whole. I think what you mean to be asking is how we can convince people to whom women matter only for sexual release and procreation and child-rearing (and not for things like their paid labor, writing, ideas, etc.) that women do and should matter to them for any/all of the same reasons men do.

    Women are still broadly only granted status (I like that word much more than “mattering”) for producing offspring and caring for them. I think the key is to attacked the gendered nature of various vectors of social status. What we can do is the exact stuff we (and by “we” I mean secular/atheist feminists) are already doing.

  23. 23
    Inaji

    John Horstman:

    Women already matter, both to many individuals and to secular activism/’The Secular Movement’ as a whole.

    Oh?

    Rebecca Watson.
    Guys, don’t do that.
    Elevatorgate
    ERV
    Richard Dawkins
    Russel Blackford
    D.J. Grothe
    Thunderfoot
    JREF
    Jen McCreight
    Ophelia Benson
    Stephanie Zvan
    The Slymepit
    Vacula
    Ron Lindsay
    CFI
    Women in Secularism
    And on and on and on it goes. If I were to name everything and everyone, this would be a long list indeed. If all this reads as a big old “huh?” to you, then you’ve not only missed a lot, you’ve missed everything.

  24. 24
    changerofbits

    @20

    Well, that’s one of the many reasons why I’m a feminist and why we’ve got a lot of work to do. :o)

    @21

    I think I did misunderstand the post. I had some the straw-thought of “the secular equivalent to the quiverfull movement” in my head, which is ridiculous… Although, marching around saying “Equality matters to you and you better like it!” in a demanding voice probably isn’t so horrible.

  25. 25
    scienceavenger

    @23 Are you talking about them mattering, or having their mattering acknowledged?

    In my secular circles (Dallas/Fort Worth groups), the women go far beyond mattering. In some ways I wonder if the culture could survive without them. They matter, whether the assholes acknowledge it or not.

  26. 26
    Pteryxx

    In my secular circles (Dallas/Fort Worth groups), the women go far beyond mattering. In some ways I wonder if the culture could survive without them. They matter, whether the assholes acknowledge it or not.

    …something like this? (Jason paraphrasing from his liveblog of WiS2)

    Friend Carol Glasser — her work is on how secular movements mirror each other. She says secular movement is in the “woman stage”, when they become engaged and become foot soldiers. That’s the do or die moment — if women enter, then the movement succeeds. If not, it dies.

    If that’s what’s going on, then foot soldiers and organizers are vital, of course, but having no women in positions of power and respect still has a chilling effect… for one thing, it loses you foot soldiers. Many people won’t speak up, volunteer, or even associate with some secular groups because of how the local bigot contigent treats them there. To be clear, I don’t know anything about your specific group, scienceavenger, but that’s why I don’t assume they’re better than the default that way.

  27. 27
    scienceavenger

    They are, we’re oddballs, that’s been clear for a while. Not sure why. It certainly can’t be Texas’ reputation for progressive thought. /snark

  28. 28
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    John Horstman:

    Women already matter, both to many individuals and to secular activism/’The Secular Movement’ as a whole.

    Here’s a different list than Caine’s, but hopefully somewhat enlightening:

    Richard Dawkins
    Lawrence Krauss
    Ricky Gervais
    Woody Allen
    Cameron Diaz
    Stephen Hawking
    Sarah Silverman
    Bill Pullman
    Werner Herzog
    Bill Maher
    Stephen Colbert
    Tim Minchin
    Eddie Izzard
    Ian McEwan
    Adam Savage
    Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
    Penn Jillette
    Sam Harris
    Dan Dennett
    James Randi
    Cormac McCarthy
    Paul Provenza
    James Morrison
    Michael Shermer
    David Silverman

    These are the “celebrities and other influential people” listed on the promotional material for the new documentary, The Unbelievers. That’s 12% of the mattering people who are women.One, an actress valued as a celebrity for her beauty, one valued as a young, attractive comedian, one valued as a politician and activist against Islamism and FGM. So of those three, only one of them mattering for her ideas and contribution to society (not that I think that entertaining people or being attractive is valueless, just that those things are traditionally spheres in which women have been allowed to — or indeed forced to– matter). A single woman on that list. It’s pathetic.

  29. 29
    okstop

    There’s a similar social pathology at work in a lot of poor communities, be they urban or rural. In places where the people – male or female – uniformly tend to have low status jobs when they have jobs at all, the most notable source of authority is family prestige. Mothers, in particular, are respected, listened to. In a generally-misogynistic culture, with seemingly no hope of acquiring a high-status job or an education, young women often perceive (consciously or subconsciously) that they have only one way to acquire some semblance of authority – by becoming mothers.

  30. 30
    unclefrogy

    I think what bothers me about the idea of “allowing women to matter” is the part that is not said.
    That is allowing to matter in how this society.. That implies all the values and practices of this society and culture as it exists now. I do not think that is possible nor do I think that is what is really happening.
    What is happening is the profound change in society and its culture. I would include in those things changing our understanding in what what really know about the reality we exist in, the nature of religion and gods, the rights of all people to equal rights and a meaningful say in how things are ordered.
    So it makes me uncomfortable to hear about fitting into the existing order and not the real remaking of society all together. Where equal rights are not even a question, where all creatures are treated with dignity regardless of species. Where the idea of using reason and honest inquiry is second nature. Where power is not strictly hierarchical and based on authority and force but on consensus and consent.
    I will go back to dreaming now!

    uncle frogy

  31. 31
    Carlos Cabanita

    Who decides what matters?
    I don’t want to defend traditional roles, nothing of that kind. Of course women should be able to pursue their carriers without obstacle. But our society devalues the enormous work of mothering and fathering people. It is unjust. In the future people will study our times and get stunned about all the unpaid and unrecognized, but mostly very qualified work that is done but is completely ignored.
    My daughter is very intelligent, got a PhD in Mathematics and a job in the central credit analyzing department of a bank. But, strangely, her real vocation was to be a mother. Most women, of course, love motherhood, but she has a passion and a talent. She finally quit her job and became a homemaker with my four grandchildren and her man that is on board with that project. Talking to her, I had to shut up and listen. And accept.
    Maybe it was the fact that she grew in a family that managed a kindergarten and education problems were the usual subjects of diner talk, I don’t know. Anyway, she is doing an outstanding job. Society just does not call it a job. We don’t want to see it as a job, because if we did we’d owe so many millions to women we’d be forever broke.

  32. 32
    Inaji

    Carlos, you’re wrong all over, but this:

    Most women, of course, love motherhood,

    Really wrong.

    You say:

    I don’t want to defend traditional roles, nothing of that kind.

    Then proceed to defend traditional roles all the way. You also completely missed the point of the post. Keep reading until you get it, okay?

  33. 33
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is helpful here. “Mattering” seems to fit well into the two tiers of belonging/love and respect/esteem. In that sense it’s not a “two-edged sword” any more than food and sleep are two-edged swords. They are all human needs, and if you have the power of withholding or granting them to others, then you have a way to control them.

  34. 34
    ck

    When that’s combined with religious ideology, there’s a sense of not only knowing your place in this world, but in the universe at large, as well as the next life.

    I don’t disagree, exactly, but I imagine some of it isn’t just knowing your place, but the peace of mind of knowing that you have a place in this world. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how important it is to feel like you belong somewhere, anywhere.

  35. 35
    Inaji

    ck:

    I imagine some of it isn’t just knowing your place, but the peace of mind of knowing that you have a place in this world. I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how important it is to feel like you belong somewhere, anywhere.

    I agree that most people find that an important need. I’m not one of those people, but I’m, uh, odd.

  36. 36
    mildlymagnificent

    I think the “mattering” is referring to “mattering to others.” Everyone matters to themselves, so it would be a bit pointless to even refer to that in this context

    I’d partly disagree with this. It’s very easy to matter only to others and not matter to yourself or to value yourself at all unless it’s in what you can do or be for others. Anyone brought up with that stupid song, JOY. Jesus first. Yourself last, Others in between, reverberating in the brain can finish up disappearing to themselves.

    I remember being profoundly _shocked_ when sitting on a promotions panel when the chairman stated that he couldn’t see how anyone who couldn’t advance their own case for a job could be any good at promoting the cause of their employer. It had never, ever occurred to me that self-promotion could be in any way related to or useful in presenting neutral issues on behalf of someone else.

    (I used to blame the attitudes related to that silly song for my own position on this – until I realised that the song merely echoed my own introspective/ hide yourself way of dealing with the world. Makes acting/ singing/ speaking very easy when you always act a part rather than putting yourself “out there”.)

  37. 37
    triamacleod

    Carlos @ 31, Caine @ 32,

    I think he has a good point though. In our current society parenting in general, let alone ‘homemaking’ is looked down upon. Women who choose to be stay at home mothers are often seen as not being ‘real’ feminists or somehow lacking in abilities or intelligence or ambition. Men who choose to be stay at home fathers are often treated as if there is something wrong with them for actually WANTING to be a homemaker and actively tend to the next generation. Look at how many fathers refer to watching their own children as ‘babysitting’ instead of, you know, just part of being a parent.

    I find this to be a huge shortcoming in our society in general. How we raise the next generation is hugely important to society and it seems the only time parenting is even given a second thought is when a child turns out badly. This ties into PZ’s post regarding same-sex marriages, that children tend to do better when both parents are involved, attentive and willing to discuss matters with their children.

  38. 38
    Pen

    In a field that relies on thought, I think women matter when other people, including men begin to acknowledge them as leaders, mentors, and inspirations and actually follow their lead. It’s one of those ideas I learned from art history – the idea that there are few ‘great’ women artists because few men acknowledged themselves the disciple of a woman. One of the issues is to become aware of the ways in which this reflects the actual quality of the women artists. There are some practical issues they faced, but leaving those aside, they only mattered less because they influenced less. They didn’t spawn artistic movements that took up their concerns and interests and developed them further. On the other hand they didn’t matter less because they were less good. Some people will not be convinced of this point. However, for those who do accept it, the ball got dropped in the reception phase, not the production. This ties in to the idea of being ‘allowed’ to matter in that the mattering, in this context is entirely in the hands of other people, not the women artists themselves. I think it’s kind of obvious where we need to go from here, but it’s a slow process and not in the hands of any single person. It’s an interaction.

  39. 39
    Thylacine

    how condescendingly ridiculous. Just because I have a uterus does NOT mean I ‘love motherhood’. Idiot. I am SO SICK of that numpty view.

  40. 40
    Inaji

    Thylacine:

    how condescendingly ridiculous. Just because I have a uterus does NOT mean I ‘love motherhood’. Idiot. I am SO SICK of that numpty view.

    You and me and whole buncha other women. It’s the centuries old “Saint Mommy onna Pedestal” crap. Woman as loving in the maternal sense while retaining that virginal Madonna shine. No fucking thank you.

    I await the day we see men described this way. After all, they are all daddies at heart, right? :eyeroll:

  41. 41
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    40
    Caine, Fleur du mal

    You and me and whole buncha other women. It’s the centuries old “Saint Mommy onna Pedestal” crap. Woman as loving in the maternal sense while retaining that virginal Madonna shine. No fucking thank you.

    I await the day we see men described this way. After all, they are all daddies at heart, right? :eyeroll:

    Count me in.

    Hell, and I am a mother. I love my child unconditionally but I certainly don’t love motherhood unconditionally. I learned early on to take “Mommy timeouts” because holy fucking shit balls does it get rough and tough sometimes. This idealized motherhoodness shit hurts not only those happily childfree but also the mothers who will never, ever live up to that standard. All of this pressure, all this assuming, societal shit needs to be thrown out the fucking window all it does it hurt.

    I’m so sick and tired of being damn if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m 23 with a 6 year old, yet I’ve already gotten the “Oh, but you don’t want too much of a gap between your children’s ages. How’s the man hunt going? *wink wink nudge nudge*”. Or it’s “Oh, you welfare livin’ greedy lazy slut. Bet you’re having another one soon enough, you look fat enough.”

    What the ever loving fuck? And my mother wonders why I can’t even go grocery shopping lately.

  42. 42
    Inaji

    JAL:

    All of this pressure, all this assuming, societal shit needs to be thrown out the fucking window all it does it hurt.

    Oh yes, and I doubt most people give it any thought, outside of wondering why you aren’t all complimented by being reduced to nothing more than mom, defined only in terms of how you raise your child, in proper service to society.

    Again, I am beyond fucking annoyed that most men simply never come in for any of this, at all. It’s perfectly okay if they are childfree, it’s perfectly okay if they are the busy, always working dad, it’s perfectly okay if they’re the indulgent dad, yada, yada, yada. The only time men seem to get it in the teeth just as much as women is if they are the sole parent or the stay at home parent, and the only reason they get it then is because other men get to sneer because they’ve taken on the role of a woman.

    :spits on the whole stinking mess:

  43. 43
    Carlos Cabanita

    Most of the arguments people om this thread used on me, I used with my daughter when she decided to quit her job and become a full time mother. Less harshly, admittedly. She answered: Dad, I could agree with you and even use those reasons myself, except that I’m not every woman. I’m me. Some people want to be artists, musicians, business people, engineers, scientists; what I really want to do with my life is to be a mother. It’s not a whim, I’ve thought a lot about it. And I’m lucky because I can. Will you stand by me?
    Of course I will. Who am I to invalidate my daughter’s life choice?
    Most women love motherhood… How do I know? They told me so and they seemed sincere. I myself loved my fatherhood and I won’t let anyone say that was not social useful work, meaning it didn’t matter.
    I was not defending traditional roles. What I was saying was that as the patriarchal division of work goes, the part that is traditionally assigned to women, albeit being vital for community survival and very qualified, is so wildly devalued that its worth is literally zero. It’s visibility tends to be zero too.

  44. 44
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    Carlos,

    What people are really good at is double think.
    So, women are often taught that their only value is in the ability to bear children, to be mothers, while those who choose not to have children aren’t even proper women because they don’t care about what is supposed to be the greatest joy in a woman’s life. And at the same time, when a woman becomes a mother, she is treated as a being isolated from society who lives and breaths for her children and only her children, whose whole life is supposed to shrink to an isolated world of her family, while the work she does raising her children is treated as nothing.

    Women asking you not to make absolute statements about women aren’t devaluing your daughter’s choice, they are just asking you not to devalue or outright erase theirs.

  45. 45
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    Women asking you not to make absolute statements about women aren’t devaluing your daughter’s choice, they are just asking you not to devalue or outright erase theirs.

    Seriously, this.
    ——–
    43 Carlos Cabanita

    Most women love motherhood… How do I know? They told me so and they seemed sincere.

    That’s your motherfucking privileged talking. You know what mothers around my area say? That they love their child but it’s so. fucking. hard. Seriously, this continuation of “the majority of women are moms and love it” props up the status quo. It, like Beatrice said, erases the experience of other women. It also eases the women like me, the poor, the disenfranchised where everything is made to be so much harder. With everything we have to do, I don’t see how someone can say they love motherhood. That’s some real privileged shit, like a certain race and class where the men are expected to work (and make enough money) and the women stay home.

    That’s great that your daughter is doing what she wants to do and able to but propping that up like it’s the standard experience is fucking wrong. It keeps the status quo, where that’s the only option women had instead of being more inclusive to include the myriad of ways women live now.

    Plus, this whole “love motherhood” shit pisses me off. Motherhood is hard. It’s tough and often just sucks. I’m not the stereotypical perfect home wife/mother. Even those who have children and are at home, doesn’t mean you get to shove me next to those happy-happy mothers. I don’t measure up there. I never will. I love my child unconditionally but motherhood? I can’t say love it. I can’t say that because historically women weren’t and still aren’t allow to not want/hate/say motherhood is hard. This stereotype, this gender role of always loving being a mother is so restrictive. I won’t continue it. I will point out how society makes it harder, how it’s not this wonderful fulfilling dream for every woman because society is pushes this fantasy of what motherhood is like.

    Fuck. That. Noise.

    Say some women want and love motherhood. That works for me.

    Before it was “All women love motherhood and homemaking. It’s natural.” Now we’ve finally gotten to people admitting it’s “most” but that’s not enough. That’s still trapping women in a gender role and making those who don’t, an oddity, a rarity. That’s wrong. Men get to do whatever they want, provided it’s not “woman like”. Why can’t women get the same consideration? The same acknowledgment of only some of us love motherhood? Opening it that up to “some women…” not only helps ALL of us women express ourselves but also means men won’t get put down for being “womanly” when they want kids or stay home.

  46. 46
    Carlos Cabanita

    Around here, almost nobody stays home. Unless they are unemployed, regardless of gender. I’ve read that in the USA it was once considered a middle class standard, the bread-winning husband and the stay at home wife, but here it has been quite unusual in modern times. To find a stay at home wife I have to go back to the times of my own mother, and I’m 60 this year. Not staying home doesn’t mean emancipation, it just means there isn’t enough money.
    I won’t continue protesting I didn’t mean this or that or intruding on experiences that really are not mine but that I do respect. Some triggering may have happened and some misunderstandings due to cultural differences or poor expression by me. I was really talking about a special case of my personal experience, not in any way affirming anything universal for everybody.
    I’m sorry if I gave the impression that having children made anyone more important or that child rearing was the calling of women. Never meant that.

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