Nothing like teaching about women and politics to fire up the ol’ feminist engine.
I’ve been a feminist since junior high, when my college-age sister brought home a Ms. magazine she had received free on campus. Zing! I had a subscription all through high school.
(I also joined a local chapter of NOW. Meetings took place in a nearby town, so before I had my driver’s license, my mom or dad would have to drive me to the meetings.)
And I was a loudmouth in college, of course, and noticed how left-wing men could be incredibly piggish around women. I wore my buttons and shouted my slogans and. . . not much more.
In grad school I studied contemporary political theory, but not feminist theory. There was a fair amount of essentialist crap floating around at the time (women are more maternal, more peaceful, more cooperative, better. . .), as well as the psychoanalytically-influenced theory from Europe. Psychoanalysis: bleh.
So I fell out of it. Yes, still a feminist, but, after awhile, I just stopped paying attention to feminist movements, to actual feminist activities. Distracted, for all kinds of reasons.
Well. The past year or so I’ve been teaching a basic politics course which my department prefers to center on women. I’ve kind of resisted this, wondering about the students in my courses, worried that the men in particular would think this isn’t ‘real’ or ‘serious’ politics.
Stupid, I know, but I did have to remind myself, repeatedly, that I wouldn’t make apologies for teaching a course which centered on race or class, and that, last time I checked, women were, oh, about half the world’s population. We matter! Yeah, we do!
This summer, however, I’m teaching a course explicitly about women and politics, so I don’t have to worry that the students are going to feel suckered into learning about girl stuff: they know straight up what they’re getting into. And, boy, nothing like reading how women are screwed at every level of politics to rekindle my energies.
One student had asked for some form of analytical framework for the course, and I responded that the main approach would be to consider 3 levels of analysis: at the institutional or official/governmental level; at the level of civil society, in which movements may be directed either toward affecting official policy or toward other institutions and attitudes within civil society; and at the marginal or underground level, which may encompass everything from (peaceful) separatist movements to illegal acts (such as social support networks for illegal abortion) to activities in repressive states. One of the texts I used tracks roughly along these lines, although their third level is that of revolutionary movements.
Regardless, women are screwed at every level. Sure, there are the good and noble exceptions (institutionally: Scandinavia, Rwanda, South Africa), but, far more often, women’s concerns are shunted aside, women’s movements marginalized, and, in repeat of what I saw in college, even in revolutionary situations, women’s liberation takes a back seat to ‘national’ a.k.a. men’s liberation.
Tough economic times? Cut social welfare provisions. Uncertain security situation? Women must fall back and support the men. Taking over the state? Oh, women will be free ‘after the revolution’.
I know, I know: This is nothing new. Still, I have forgotten so much, have resigned myself to so much, even as I kept stating my fealty to the feminist cause. I stopped paying attention.
I’m hardly ready to go jump over any barricades—I am old and lazy, after all. But it wouldn’t kill me to do more than just bitch about this stuff.
And even if I’ve fallen behind on my feminist analysis, I’ve kept up with my political analysis. Thus, my anarchic streak meets up with a refreshed feminism: DIY feminism and anti-patriarchy. No more compromises on women’s liberation, no more standing back or apologizing for daring to think that the emancipation of half of the fucking world might maybe sorta possibly matter.
Half of the world? Did I say that? How about the whole fucking world? Yep, I’m newly comfortable with discussions of patriarchy (a word that I used to sidle away from, embarrassed), and how it traps men as well as women. Yeah, it sucks that women have to prove their ‘toughness’ , but it also sucks that a man can’t be gentle without having his masculinity questioned. And while women have been able to move into so-called masculine fields—because, of course, women would want to move into something better—men have a far more difficult time lowering themselves to enter so-called feminine fields. Chick lawyer? Check. Guy kindergarten teacher? Um. . . .
Enough. I’m too much the post-structuralist/modernist to think that we can ever be completely free of the nest of power relations, but that’s hardly an excuse for not getting rid of the ones we find odious now.
And that ‘we’ includes me—because, as history clearly demonstrates, ain’t nobody else gonna liberate me. DIY, indeed.
(Image from Red Buddha Designs)