Humanizing the Impossible

Apr 3, 00:36 by IROSF
Comment below!
Apr 5, 15:51 by Athena Andreadis
Could you provide a link for Ms. Wolf's rant? I also have a soft spot for such women, especially since I'm sometimes accused of being one myself.

Thank you,

Athena
Starship Reckless
To Seek Out New Life
Aug 3, 22:13 by Casey Wolf
I meant to add that rant ages ago - and thought I had! Here it is now, for anyone who stumbles by at a later date.

On a list Ursula and I participate in, one of the members wished us a happy Women's Day, and attached some jokes that were meant kindly to fluff up our sisterly feathers a bit. I was a little distressed by the jokes and tried to explain why.

This is what I wrote in response:

CJW: hey, CA. thanks for the good woman wishes. to you as well, and a shared wish to all women and non-women in honour of the day.

to celebrate i:

took a day off. i started the morning with A. Merritt, The Moon Pool (YAY!), and finished the evening with Octavia Butler, The Parable of the Sower. neither of which has anything (much) to do with anything i'm writing (unlike most of my reading these years).

in the middle i rearranged furniture, talked with my being-dumped friend on the phone, bought cotton string and shelving materials, ate sun-dried tomato and balsamic vinegar chips, and served raw liver to my cats. it was a good day.

but! without meaning disrespect, i get a little squinty-eyed when i get emails that are meant to be pro-woman which end up making "girlfriends" sound like saints and men as one of the rest of life's letdowns.

a little background.

my mom "joined the women's liberation movement" when i was fourteen, had already been on my own (eg, on the streets) for several months and was now living with her in a small apartment. she had recently left my dad and he had taken the remaning kids and moved back to the prairies.

my nineteen year old boyfriend was an ex- (soon to be ex-ex-) junkie, a sensitive soul who had struggled with a deep feeling of self-worthlessness ever since being given up by his mother at birth and being bounced from one foster home to another. when he was thirteen someone finally adopted him--he was a good-looking boy and very smart. this upper middle class, well educated woman lost little time attempting to seduce him, which pretty much destroyed the last hope he had of being part of a real family.

well, he thought it was great that my mom was joining women's liberation, and decided he would, too. (this was in 1971. we talked like that in them days. or some of us did.)

i thought it was a lousy idea. i thought it would only add to the disinterest she seemed to have in me and my siblings, and feared losing her support entirely. none of us had a clear idea of what feminism really meant, or what it would mean in our lives.



over the years, our understanding grew, and whatever the details of our strengths and weaknesses, feminism had a profound impact on how we saw the world, ourselves, and our relationships. i have no regrets in having learned those lessons.

but the women that i worked together with in the women's movement were far from perfect, and far from always there for me, or anyone else. many of them were wonderful, of course, but like all human beings they had flaws, and one of the flaws of people who believe they know a truth that the rest of the world resists is that we have a tendency to decry the other guys, to see anyone who doesn't see things our way as the enemy.

that wasn't just "sexist pigs". that was women who were not feminists, women who were feminists but not the right kind of feminists, (too militant, not militant enough, lesbian, not lesbian, middle class white professional, lowbrow working class, etc. etc.).

nobody was trying to be a jerk. we all really believed and we were right about the broad brush, but not always right about the details and methods of getting from a to b.

although i learned a lot about friendship and solidarity and the joy of working for something truly important, i also got the brunt of a lot of judgemental attitudes because of my ways of thinking and perceiving and simply being. attempts to control my thinking were out front and obvious, done to protect us all from being diverted from our goals, and i saw a lot of harm done to other women, too, by well-meaning but narrow-minded and, i might say, desperate people.

i think that fear is responsible for much of the in-fighting in the left. we see terrible things that have hurt us and we want to change them, and any small thing can be seen as a threat to that over-arching goal. our fear of not achieving a better world can lead us to being right jerks in the present one. by the end of my four years at the particular place i worked, i was a wreck.

i found myself so constrained by all the right perspectives we had argued out that it was difficult to just be human. when i left that group i had one clear goal in mind (after picking myself up off the floor).

i wanted to learn how to listen to and care about people no matter what their opinions were, no matter whether i thought their way of thinking would take us to the brink of destruction or not. i wanted to be human enough to love even when that judgemental side of me feared them and wanted to cut them down. because i had gone far enough in the direction of one-right-way to see how dehumanizing and destructive it is for all of us. and because i could see that nothing is accomplished by polarizing into camps. it only deepens the divide.

i am surprised and saddened sometimes by the extent to which sexism still has hold in our society, and i am proud of the many women who have taken so many risks to understand and correct that situation, whether i like their conclusions and their way of doing it, or not. i also value the many women i have loved and befriended, beneighboured or simply friendily bestrangered over the years. my life has been enriched by them, their humour, their kindness, their intelligence, their wildly varying perspectives, their unique lives and lessons.

equally the men. and equal to the men in my life, the women have been at times opaque, cruel, blaming, cowardly, and righteously wrong.

we have all been hurt by sexism. men have not suffered in the same ways as women, but any system of oppression has costs on a deeply human level for both the guy on top and the guy below. those costs translate into limitations in their self-image and screwups in their treatment of themselves and those around them. but when the chips are down, it isn't always a woman who is there when you need her. often it's a man.

so please, when you wish me a happy women's day, don't think you need to set me and all womanhood above our brothers, sons, and dads. yes, they've screwed up. so have we. and we are all muddling through as best we can. together.

i do appreciate the recognition and celebration of our struggle and sisterhood. i am very grateful to the women who have taught me to question and resist those destructive messages. and i am grateful to my old ex-ex-junkie ex and all the other men i have known who have valued women enough to try to figure that stuff out, too, and have made so many great changes in their--and our--lives.

so, happy international women's day, everybody!

casey

CA wrote:

Wow Casey, you obviously have some strong feelings on this topic, but you read far more into this than I think was meant either by the woman who sent this on to me or me myself. International women's Day is a recognized holiday like St. Patric's Day. If I say happy St. Pat's to people on that day, does that mean I'm dissing all non-Irish catholics? I don't think so. There is a lot of hard won wisdom in what you said, but your reply was maybe a little harsh. CA

CJW: i'm truly sorry if i offended you and i hope you will read my letter again in a different light. it wasn't meant with any harshness at all, but in fact with great empathy. i tried to make clear that i wasn't at all offended by your intention--to wish us a happy women's day--and that i appreciate that.

but ever since i got on email, most of the forwards i have received that were intended to celebrate women have done so by trying to idealize us and taking shots at men.

i don't think we need to do either of those things to appreciate and encourage ourselves and other women. we really are good people, even though we screw up in lots of ways and fail each other sometimes and ourselves as well, often because of the sexism we have internalized. we really are amazing in our real struggles and victories. and we do deserve to celebrate our achievements and our solidarity.

i know the messages aren't intended to hurt, and neither was my response. they are written with humour and affection, and that is great. but they fail to see who we really are--flawed and wonderful human beings who are striving against the confusion and difficulties caused by a hurtful, inherited world view. and they set up or rather continue some of the confusion inherent in that worldview, that us-and-them thing, the idea that in order to be truly good we have to be perfect, and so on.

funnily, when my feelings on this topic really were strong, i would never have written that note. or if i had it would have come after great provocation and would have been accompanied with anger. i just wanted to explain my thinking about something that goes around all the time without comment.

once more, i'm sorry if my attempts to explain my thinking felt personally directed at you. i was trying (clearly unsuccessfully!) not to do that--particularly when it was clear that you were well-wishing, something i am greatly in favour of.

oh--and i was not in any way protesting your wishing us a happy women's day. your st. patrick's day example isn't a parallel. if you sent around a message about st. patrick's day that put catholics and protestants in an equivalent light, then yeah, i would have an issue. (as a matter of fact, being in the main a mix of irish catholic and irish protestant, i do have a problem with a lot of what passes for humour regarding the irish.)

i know you wrote to me off-list, but you haven't said anything i find particularly embarrassing and i want to respond to the list as well--if you read my letter that way, then like as not other people did, too.

cheers,
casey


"Love is a demonstrative emotion."
Words of Wisdom, Sistah Souljah
   

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