Vision Forum: Fixing Problems by Turning Back the Clock

I’ve been doing some thinking about Vision Forum lately, and I’ve realized something. Vision Forum is very frequently responding to the exact same problems that feminists and others in society also recognize. No one denies that our society still fixes problems. It’s just that while feminists and others like them seek to fix the problems by, well, fixing them, Vision Forum wants to fix the problems by turning back the clock to an idealized past that never existed.

1. Alcohol Abuse, Broken Families, and Juvenile Delinqeuncy

In many ways Christian Patriarchy is a response to real problems in our world. Drugs and alcohol abuse, for example. Suicide and juvenile delinquency. Divorce and broken families. In many ways, our world is kind of crummy.

 

 

But the solution, for Christian Patriarchy, is not to deal with these problems in the here and now but rather to turn back the clock to a supposedly simpler, gentler era.


But the problem here is twofold. First, we simply cannot turn back the clock. We may try but we will fail. Second, we should not want to turn back the clock. Vision Forum romanticizes the late 1800s as an era of godliness, order, and family cohesion, but its memory is selective. Alcohol abuse and juvenile delinquency were alive and well, and while divorce was not common domestic violence and spousal abuse was. And even leaving that aside, the picture above was only true very a small, small segment of society, the middle class. The vast majority of people at the time were working class, and their lives looked more like this:

 

Vision Forum romanticizes the late 1800s, but the picture it presents is only skin deep. We cannot fix the problems of the present day by returning to some idealized vision of the past that never actually existed. We need to fix our problems by pulling up our sleeves and getting to work in the here and now.


2. The Harried Working Mother

Vision Forum paints feminism as women’s enemy and points to the problems of the harried, overworked career mother, who tries to balance a 60 hour work week with the needs of her two children and feels herself called to be everything, at once.

Feminism, Vision Forum contends, has enslaved this mother. The solution, Vision Forum says, is to turn back the clock to a simpler, gentler era set this woman free to live the life she was meant to live, to fulfill her role as a homemaker.


Once again, Vision Forum is pointing to real issues.  Any feminist will tell you that women still face unequal choices when it comes to balancing motherhood and work. Any feminist will tell you that the battle for equality is far from over, and that this is a key part of that.


The problem is, Vision Forum wants to simply eliminate the struggles women face by turning back the clock. As I stated before, you can’t just turn back the clock. Many women today work because their family needs the second income. You have to deal with today’s realities, and Vision Forum doesn’t seem to realize that.

But more than that, Vision Forum once again wants to turn back the clock to an idealized past that never existed. Feminism did not create the struggles women face to balance work and motherhood and work, because these struggles are not new. In past eras mothers have always contributed economically to their families through their labor, and a vast number of them worked outside of the home in domestic service (that’s how those mothers in those pictures of the 1800s middle class can look so calm and poised) or in factories. Women have always worked, and have always had to balance this work with motherhood. Once again, that picture Vision Forum presents above was only ever true for a small, small minority of women. Most women in the 1800s lived lives that look more like this:

As always, Vision Forum wants to fix problems by turning back the clock, rather than dealing with it in the here and now. The truth is, feminists know that their job is not over. Feminists today are still working toward greater equality, and understand the difficulties involved in balancing work and children. Many feminists support families who desire to do so being able to have an at home parent while the children are young, or even until the children are grown, and are working toward making sure that women who choose the “mommy track” (or men who choose the “daddy track”) will be able to get back on the career path once their children are in school or grown. Similarly, feminists are working for longer maternity leave and trying to make the workplace – and the career track – more parent-friendly in general. Feminism is not about forcing women to do it all. Feminism is about finding ways to make the choices women must make easier and more equal. Feminists know they still have work to do, but they are trying to fix problems in the here and now rather than seeking vainly to turn back the clock to a time that never existed.

3. A Devaluation of Women

Vision Forum speaks with disgust of the ways young women are treated today as the young men around them treat them as accessories and pressure them for sex. Vision Forum is looks in horror at the ways women are portrayed in advertising, and at the pressure to conform to some sort of perfect body image that women are faced with every day. Vision Forum is completely aware that women are devalued in our society.


Yes, be very, very horrified by that image and the accompanying text. I only show it to point out that there are real problems here. Women in today’s society are often treated as sexual objects and devalued as “blond bimbos” or “simply emotional.” But somehow, Vision Forum does not realize that the root of this problem is sexism, and instead blames feminism. Seriously, what? Feminists are not complicit in this misogyny; rather, they are working to end it. But for Vision Forum, the solution is once again not to fix the problems we face in the here and now, but to turn back the clock.

Vision Forum points back to a time when young women were valued and protected (by their fathers). Once again, this picture was never reality for more than a sliver of society. Most women were working class and fended for themselves. They lived with the reality of sexual violence and exploitation.

But there’s more to it than that. Vision Forum tells women that they can be valued and have their position in society elevated - if they surrender their rights and accept male authority. They do not see misogyny as the problem, but rather blame the way families today push their young women out of the home at age 18 and launch them unprotected into the dangers of society. Young women will be protected from the debauchery of college men, Vision Forum promises – if they stay home and obey their fathers. Middle aged women will be free from the pressure to conform to an idealized image of sexy, Vision Forum asserts – if they stay home and obey their husbands. What is this? You will be valued and protected if you surrender all your rights and obey your male authority? THIS is the solution Vision Forum offers!

Meanwhile, feminists believe that women can be valued and have equal rights. In fact, feminists hold that the key to ending the devaluation of women is not accepting women’s subordination to males but rather bringing about true equality. Accepting a second class status for women only furthers the root problem here, which is sexism and misogyny. Vision Forum doesn’t see this, because it believes that women are “weaker vessels” which need protecting. Furthermore, feminists work to fix the problems in our society today by actually working to fix them. The solution is not to turn back the clock or to ask women to surrender their rights in return for protection. The solution is to combat sexism and misogyny and work toward actual equality. But somehow, Vision Forum identifies that as the problem.

What is going on here?

Vision Forum focuses on problems in society, inflates them, and then blames feminism and modernity. Then Vision Forum seeks to fix the problems by turning back the clock to a time that never existed. The version of the past that Vision Forum sells is a myth. The problems we face in society today are not new. Substance abuse, the challenges of balancing motherhood and work, and the devaluation of women have always been with us. Looking back to some idealized imaginary past where families had no problems, mothers happily stayed home and devoted their time to raising their children, and women were valued and esteemed in return for surrendering their freedom and rights does not actually fix any problems! It’s all smoke and mirrors, all a chasing after the wind!

Meanwhile, feminists and their allies acknowledge that our society has problems. Believe me, I have never met a single politician, right or left, who thinks juvenile delinquency or cocaine addictions are good things, and I have never met a feminist who does not admit and lament the fact that women face trade offs when it comes to careers and parenting that men don’t face, or who does not bristle at the devaluation women so constantly face in advertising and the continued misogyny they find in the men around them. But the difference is that feminists and their allies seek to fix these problems by rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. They remain in the here and now rather than retreating to the dreamland Vision Forum is so fond of.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00629727123135969063 Nome

    Good post…but I would also see the Date Rate poster as virginity losing for the boys in the picture also. While I whole heartily agree that vision forum is awful for women and their quality of life I also see many injustices for the boys growing up in it whom may have no desire to subjugate woman or do the 'manly' expectations. I have two sons and a daughter and I think of the boys also!The images the Vision Forum uses drive me nuts!

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post. The only think I'd take issue with is that I don't think the family in the first photo is middle class–they look flat-out wealthy to me, for that period. And good, good job on adding some realistic images.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Anonymous – You're right, they do look pretty wealthy! I think though that "middle class" in the 1800s was not necessarily the same as "middle class" today, and I'm pretty sure there was a fairly large gap between middle and working class in the 1800s. But then, I'd want to ask a historian of that period to know for sure!

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Spot on. If Vision Forum didn't zero in on real problems that are genuinely worrisome, it would not be as effective in peddling its worldview as it is. They capitalize on well-founded anxieties–its a very effective tactic. And I've also noticed their fetish for idealized 19th-century images which portray a tranquility that, as you point out, never existed. Excellent points here.Also–let's not forget another group of women in the 19th century, who were neither middle nor working class–slave women. These women were certainly not in the home with their children; they couldn't even guarantee that their children would not be sold away from them. Especially if they looked a little too much like the master, on account of him being their father. Yeah, some family values those gracious, courtly gentlemen had.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10022407892012415037 Karen

    I'd like to comment about the images Vision Forum and its ilk use — they are almost always paintings. That is, they are products of an imagination, not actual documented fact. You have used accurate photographs, showing the actual conditions of the period instead of fiction promoting something that never existed.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Great post – brilliant job finding those accurate photographs that Karen points out.To expand Karen's point a little, it looks as if Vision Forum uses *illustrations* a lot, and Victorian illustrations are absurdly sentimentalized. They're the products of an imagination along with a commercial purpose.

  • http://nonprophetmessage.wordpress.com Sierra

    It's ironic that Vision Forum can't see past its assumption that women should be primary caregivers to the possibility that children might do better with more active fathers taking on half of the work. I say "ironic" because VF belongs to a network of conservative organizations that argue prominently that children do better in two-parent households. Apparently all children need is one person to financially support their primary caregiver, not an active father sharing the job of raising them. So now we're closer to the real Victorian household ideal: paid nannies and wet nurses.

  • Anonymous

    It's strange. Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" pretty much critisized the exact same thing – the fallacy of Golden Age Thinking – by demonstrating dramatically that no so-called "Golden Age" views itself as such. People living in such ages romantisize their pasts as people in the modern age do, as better, more idyllic times than they actually were. Allen arrives as the exact same conclusion as well: every age is frustrating and falls short in some way because life is frustrating and falls short of expectations. Real growth only happens when people face the problems of their own time and attempt to resolve them instead of retreating into the past.

  • Anonymous

    Good post — perhaps too tactfully worded even. A point: in the 1800's (and even the first half of the 20th century) middle class women could afford servants.Those idyllic domestic scenes were backed by the labor of some of those pathetic working class women and children.

  • April Galamin

    You did a great job with this article.The REAL photographs show the supposed "good ole days.. which really weren't that "good" for many people.The VF mindset is unrealistic & disturbing.Thanks for speaking out on this.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com/ brokendaughters

    Nome: "I would also see the Date Rate poster as virginity losing for the boys in the picture also." I thought that too, after all, the word "all" is capitalized on it, meaning that all four of them are included.Great post, great pictures, very accurate. The good old times never were as good as you believe to know them.

  • Anonymous

    What about single women without children who are no longer young? Even if she has a successful life in many ways, we are led to believe that such women don't exist, never existed, and if their does happen to be such a despised creature, she should be deeply pitied at best. My point is that women are still seen as an extension of a role that is connected to a man. Men are not viewed in this way — as a relationship status.

  • Anonymous

    sorry typo at 2:28 — I meant "there."

  • Anonymous

    Spot on! One has to realize that VF is run by a man of strong conviction / mindset and a very good sense of marketing to its clientel. Both together will feed the hungry by idealizing the vision, compared to a either a bleak or a positively rewritten past. It is a huge marketing machine, to create the appetite and then feed the right food to the flock. Target groups within the perfect family have been identified and they are served with doctrine and products to the last extent. It is a long planned and created business and it has been creating the need and fulfilling it at the same time. It is and will be a spiral of getting more extreme and rewriting history, culture, society, science ….. for the sole purpuse of selling. The more there is, there more followers will buy, get convinced, and will ask for more. The end will be when people realize that the ideal cannot be reached and the base for it was merely a fabricated marketing scam. Keep up the good work, I really like reading your articles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11944182376387560776 Andrea

    Brilliant.

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