Thursday, May 1, 2008

Who Am I? Who Are YOU?

Writing assignment based on pages 269-279 of Darrell Fasching's "Comparative Religious Ethics"

The Feminist Challenge...
As you can probably guess, this particular reading assignment had a major impact on me. Furthermore, the timing couldn’t have been better as I struggled with my own sense of self and an ethic of care regarding my own family and friends. In this vein I will try to convey what I learned from the text in relation to my own personal experience.
First of all, I found it very enlightening (even as a refresher) to read about how the rise of patriarchy has affected not only women’s place in society, but also their sense of identity and how they reason ethically. It is interesting that women are expected to develop a sense of self, but in having done so are expected to abandon it to accommodate the needs of the people in their lives. This paradox sets a standard for women as they try to live up to male dominated ideals for happiness and success while struggling to balance a subconscious sense of inferiority and duty based on their gender.
I can say that I completely understand this conundrum from a personal perspective. As a mother and housewife for the past seventeen years I have tried to understand why and how I was living the “American Dream” and yet was so dissatisfied with my life. For seventeen years I have struggled to do what was expected of me, to fulfill my role in my family as well as in society. No matter how well I succeeded, at the end of the day I was always left with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction and unhappiness. When I confronted people with these feelings I was made to feel ungrateful, selfish. The irony, I now realize, is that before I was married I had had a sense of self, a personal identity that wasn’t associated with those to whom I was related but was defined by my own thoughts, achievements and beliefs. After marriage and children I found myself lacking a sense of self and could define myself only in terms of my relationship to others; and this was the point at which people accused me of being selfish!
How can one be selfish when one has no sense of self, no identity? How alarming is the notion that “a virtuous woman was a woman who sacrificed herself for others” (p. 274). This dangerous notion leaves many women in the same position I have been in, indeed the position you recognize as having once been in yourself. We have sacrificed, but when we are not personally gratified by the sacrifice we are labeled as deviant, selfish, ungrateful and un-virtuous. This is an important argument for why women must not only develop and define their sense of self, but also must find a voice with which to express it.
On page 276 it is suggested that men “…approach ethical problems as a matter of rational calculus… [While] the young female tends to see the ethical problem as having to do with how to sustain relationships and the responsibilities they entail…” This concept rings true of my own very recent personal experience. For many years I have struggled with my unhappiness and dreamed of ways to be free of it, but couldn’t see how to achieve my freedom without affecting the lives and relationships of the people in my life. This was a major factor in my choosing to have stayed in my marriage as long as I have. Conversely, when I finally did announce to my husband my desire to end the marriage his main concerns were monetary issues, care of the children and other material matters.

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