Monday, March 22, 2010

birth unites

Earlier, in the post called "Feminism and Women as Birthers," I talk about the tension between feminist and traditionalist views of women as birthers. The funny thing is, I have found that the "natural" birth movement is one place where feminists and traditionalists, liberal and conservative women, unite. The participants of my doula training workshop represented these two groups that are often considered polar opposites. The same goes for the participants of my childbirth education class. Maybe tension does exist, but I think the commonality is much more interesting--and much more overlooked.

In a study of an evangelical women's prayer group, Marie Griffith found that feminist and conservative Christian women actually have a lot in common; one shared belief is that "social and cultural tasks, traits, and affinities traditionally coded as 'female' or 'feminine' ought to be accorded greater respect and value than they have been."

In chapter 4 of Blessed Events, Klassen juxtaposes two of her informants. One spent her third birth at home, surrounded by sculptures of Goddesses and a women friends. She wanted to "honor and explore her developing fascination with feminist spirituality and empower herself in the process. The other gave birth at home with only her husband's help, because "she wanted to follow the commandments of her Christian God." Klassen makes the point that while their religious traditions and beliefs are very different, their religiously informed approach to childbirth is the same. They both see birth as "not simply a bodily process to undergo, but an experience to be chosen."

If you are interested in how this overlap manifests in Orthodox Judaism, specifically in the Chabad Lubavitch movement, check out this list of inspirational articles on pregnancy and birth. Some of the article titles are: "The Most Joyous Pain," "A Spiritual Delivery," "Midwives," "The Torah as a Process of Birth," and "The Power of the Mother." Almost all of the articles are written by women. All of them view birth as a spiritual experience that empowered them and brought them closer to God. Of course, Orthodox Judaism has been criticized for being patriarchal and sexist, and is often pitted against feminism. These articles make such a simplistic distinction much more nuanced.

In a journal article called "Sifting through Tradition: The Creation of Jewish Feminist Identities," Lynn Resnick Dufour identifies three types of Jewish feminists: inclusionists, transformationists, and reinterpretationists. I consider the authors of these Chabad articles reinterpretationists. Reinterpretationists are comfortable with practices that others might view as non-feminist or even sexist. They reinterpret traditional practices as in line with their feminist beliefs. Unlike inclusionists, they often view men and women's roles as distinct but equally important and valuable.

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