“The game is rigged,” wrote Lux Alptraum in a recent article in The New York Times (1). She continued, saying that women needed to stop playing by the rules.
Feminist empowerment, which is the ability for women to make decisions for themselves and act on them, is failing women, she says.
By definition, empowerment feminism requires a system that’s operating in good faith—a system that empowers its members. Whether it be political, religious, educational, or economic, if women display confidence and strength, if we vote responsibly, if we work within the system, the system will reward us. It shows it respects our values and our truths. There have been many successes. In 2022, more than a quarter of the seats in Congress, almost a third of the seats in state legislatures, nearly half of the seats on the Supreme Court, and the vice president’s office are all occupied by women.
But Ms. Alptraum says we live in a rigged system, “one that attempts to discredit women and girls, that forces us to jump through unnecessary hoops and is more interested in discouraging us than in listening to what we have to say.”
Bodily autonomy: Governance over one’s body
While the #MeToo movement outed abusers, many remain in power. The FBI confirmed that they received 4,500 tips about Brett Kavanagh’s behavior but only investigated a handful—done at the directive of the then-current administration. Thus we ended up with a Supreme Court justice serving a lifetime appointment who voted to reverse Roe vs. Wade, denying women bodily autonomy (2).
Bodily autonomy is about the right to make decisions over one’s own life and future. It is about having the information to make informed choices. It’s the right to governance over one’s own body. These are universal values. True, we have seatbelt and motorcycle helmet requirements, and they are justified by the costs to society in lost lives and disabilities.
Bodily autonomy is regularly challenged by laws informed by patriarchal ideologies designed to subdue and govern others. Especially for women of color and LGBTQIA+ people, these laws determine how their bodies exist in the world.
Why seek the approval of an unjust system?
Ms. Alptraum asks why play by the rules when the rules are written so we lose? Why seek the validation and approval of an unjust system?
She says that we also need a feminism of disempowerment, which is knowing that since the system’s rigged against us, we go around it.
That’s nothing new. Marginalized groups throughout history purposefully worked outside established channels, knowing it might be their only path to equality. In the United States, the civil rights and LGBTQIA+ movements would have made little progress if they’d only quietly sought justice.
Being nice will not cause life to sing.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Ask Black South Africans how submitting nicely to the ruling white class worked out for them, or any other colonized people who fought the shackles of their colonial oppressors.
Ms. Alptraum gives examples of abortion-rights advocates and how throughout history and continuing today, they worked around the political systems that subjugated them, both in the U.S. and globally (3).
Former President Jimmy Carter severed his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention because he saw how the institution was rigged against women. He said, “The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
Go where you’re valued. I left patriarchal Christian churches when I grew weary of trying to change it from within. I was consistently told that if I wanted the all-male leaders to listen to me, I had “to talk nicer.” Which of course, revealed its rigged system, because “nice” was defined by the patriarchy. I would never be heard or accepted as an equal. I left those churches behind and became a nonsectarian ordained minister through a supportive institution, People House. As Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes, “Finding that being good, being sweet, being nice will not cause life to sing” (4).
I am not advocating for violence, nor does Ms. Alptraum. She says, “It is always better when we’re able to secure our wins through established channels, when our rights are recognized through all levels of society — and certainly, voting remains a crucial tool in our toolbox.”
But a feminism of disempowerment reminds us that even when the system is rigged, no one can take away our basic human rights.
Check out my recently published memoir, To Travel Well, Travel Light: An Adventure Memoir of Living Abroad and Letting Go of Life’s Trappings: Material Possessions, Cultural Blinders, and a Patriarchal Christian Worldview.
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Notes & Sources:
- Alptraum, Lux. “Women, the Game Is Rigged. It’s Time We Stop Playing by the Rules.” The New York Times; July 29, 2022
- For more information on bodily autonomy, see the United Nations Population Fund, https://www.friendsofunfpa.org/bodily-autonomy-busting-7-myths-that-undermine-individual-rights-and-freedoms/; https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/what-is-bodily-autonomy-and-why-does-it-matter-for-women/; https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/reclaiming-body-autonomy-for-women
- For those interested, check out these websites: https://www.plancpills.org/ and https://www.mayday.health/
- Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women who Run with the Wolves. Ballantine Books, 1992. Page 85.
About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working, and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her spiritual connection at People House and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, where she focused on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels. In addition to working in refugee repatriation, she was an editor for international, English print, daily newspapers in Indonesia and Mexico.