CURRENT MOON

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The One They Pick. The One You'll Know By.


You know, people who think that:

It's time that we declared a ceasefire on the caricatures and explored the shadows -- not just the silhouettes -- of our differences,

yet who go around saying things such as:

At another university, a woman in a black, boxy blazer took the microphone as she stood up, clearly preparing for a full-on lecture. After talking about the books she'd donated to the women's center, the feminists she'd known in the late 1960s, and the virtues of knowing your feminist history, she said: "I don't want to hear about justice and blogs and food politics; I want to hear about feminism. Is there some common ground that we can all stand on?"

might spend a few minutes being self-reflective. I am just saying. Boxy blazers cut an interesting silhouette.

Atrios, who is as good a feminist as a man can be, directed me to the above post, noting:

I've been reading with some fascination the various intergenerational feminist back and forth going on. I'm not sure how valid that description is for the country generally (aside from the general trend of older voters siding more with Clinton), but it has played out in the media to some extent that way.

I found this bit to be telling:

At a recent pre-panel reception, I immediately connected with a philosophy professor about the difficulties and joys of teaching feminist theorist Judith Butler. But the professor's mood took a 180-degree turn when the issue of eating disorders came up. "I'm so sick of hearing young feminists talk about fashion and body image and work/family balance," she said, rolling her eyes like an adolescent, though she looked to be about 50. "What about the women in Afghanistan!?"

She even approached one of the other panelists, 42-year-old journalist Kristal Brent Zook, with a plea to shut down any conversation about these "frivolous" issues if they should come up during the panel (i.e., shut down me, the silly author of a book on body image). Zook had my back, of course. She responded to the professor, "Actually the entire goal of this panel is to create intergenerational dialogue where all voices are heard. It's not my job to decide what's important to Courtney or any other feminist. It's my job to express my own issues and listen openly to others."


One of the more frustrating, futile, and self-aggrandizing rhetorical games is to tell people what their priorities should be. Nick Kristof has played this game in the past, chastising womens' rights groups for not focusing their limited resources on whatever his pet cause of the week happens to be. It's also global warming concern troll Bjorn Lomborg's trick, saying that instead of focusing resources on combating global warming we should use them for a bunch of other things that aren't going to happen. There's always a more important cause, a more deserving subject, a more downtrodden person. It's essentially a way of undermining all good works while building up the critic as More Serious And Enlightened Than Thou.

But people have different priorities. And to the extent people become involved in issues or causes, they have different skill sets, different abilities, different sets of knowledge. They have different things they can bring to the table. Telling people they should be fretting about the women of Afghanistan instead of focusing on eating disorders is, to put it bluntly, just stupid. More than that, it achieves absolutely nothing.


I have to say that my first reaction was: "Gee, thanks, Atrios, for telling us silly women how to have our debates. What we've really been needing is a guy to come along and straighten us out, tell us that some of us are stupid." But Atrios' post, which, in all fairness is trying to make a larger point about discourse in general and not just feminist discourse, reminded me of Anne Hill's recent heartfelt post about attempts to control acceptable topics of discussion within Reclaiming. Anne recently explained:

One thing I noticed in the course of the afternoon is that the things which drove me away from Reclaiming continue to rub me the wrong way. A case in point is what happened over lunch. I was at a table with some people I have known for a long time, and a few that I had just met. I was enjoying catching up with an old friend, when our lunch was interrupted with a lengthy announcement explaining that every table was now going to have a discussion about the same subject. Each table would take notes, and the results would be somehow digested at the BIRCH meeting the following day. (Don’t ask me what BIRCH is—I may say something cynical.)

The topic we were to discuss was diversity. To wit: why isn’t Reclaiming more diverse, and what can be done about it? I was already banging my forehead against the table in pain, but the intro continued, first singling out my friend Evelie, who got to stand up and wave because she is diverse, I mean Filipina. Then a woman named Rosa got to stand and say her 2¢, to the effect that people like her could be helped by people like us if we only knew how to meet more people like her.

I kid you not. I am dead serious, and by this time it was through sheer force of will that I was not 1) bolting for the door, or 2) standing up and saying something confrontational in the middle of the dining hall. The only thing that kept me from shouting out was the knowledge that if I did so, I would be in the middle of an even worse discussion than the one I was apparently now going to have.


. . .

[T]his is where I can get a good rant going, I have had it with red herring questions like this pre-empting conversations about the real issues that Reclaiming has avoided for years. I am speaking here mostly of Bay Area Reclaiming, but frankly the patterns that have been set here get exported regularly to other areas, and I have seen more than one community plagued with the same issues that we have been mired in here for a decade or more.

The final straw for me on this was when I was still in the Bay Area teacher’s cell—I believe it was in the late nineties—and the group was essentially split in two, with neither side trusting or speaking to the other. It had been months, the group was moribund, and though we had plenty to discuss we were not even able to come up with a date for a meeting, let alone assure that some representatives from either side would attend.

It was a horrible dynamic and finally Thorn and I, who had some credibility on both sides, were able after several weeks of intensive lobbying to set a date and get people to agree to come. With assurances that there would be neutral facilitation, we were going to actually talk about the issues that mattered, and hopefully come to some resolution or at least respectfully agree to disagree.

Then literally the night before the meeting, Starhawk, who had been out of town, emailed saying that we should really discuss fundraising for scholarships so that young Pagan activists could attend witchcamp. Another person on the cell quickly wrote back and said that’s what she wanted to talk about too, and I watched in dismay as months of preparation were tossed out the window.

Disheartened, I could not even bring myself to attend the meeting. That was the turning point for me, the moment where I gave up my years of struggle to change the course on which our local community was set. Now there are virtually parallel Reclaiming communities in the Bay Area, and no encouraging signs that the two will ever be reconciled save briefly, when old friends are able to catch up over lunch or lounging on a sunny deck.

The fragile alliance which had led to that meeting was hijacked by the very mentality that hijacked my lunch table discussion at Dandelion: the insistence that Reclaiming is best served by bringing in new recruits rather than cleaning its own house. Blessedly, I found myself not a lone voice of discontent at the table, and we ended up with some meaningful feedback to offer the next day’s meeting. Then I got the hell out of there before a second discussion topic could be suggested.


In both cases, the attempt to exercise power-over, to control the very questions that may even be discussed, becomes the topic of discussion. Feminism, as a movement based upon the notion that the personal is the political, can't be about shutting down discussion. But, that goes both ways and sometimes, sadly, young women like Martin are as willing to shut down those women in boxy blazers (we all know that's code for "up-hip middle-aged woman") as the women in the boxy blazers are to tell young women to shut up about issues that weren't as important to us when we were blazing new feminist trails back in the sixties and seventies. That woman in the boxy blazer is as entitled to talk about her feminist credentials and hope for feminism's future as Ms. Martin is to talk about eating disorders. That Clinton's candidacy has gotten us -- boxy-blazered old women and young women -- talking about generational issues seems to me like one of the benefits of her campaign. I'd like to think the talks will continue, regardless of who wins the nomination.

The situation in Wicca's a bit different; one can hive off when one gets fed up with attempts to control the discussion, although I certainly understand why those who've invested so much in Reclaiming wouldn't want to do that and I admire them for hanging in there and attempting, as Anne has clearly done, to address the problems rather than just walk away. It's also less clear to me -- out here on the East Coast and living in my own closed, eclectic circle -- that Reclaiming's issues are generational, although I may be mistaken about that. Regardless, it's interesting to compare the two attempts to control conversations. In the case of Reclaiming, Anne and her table did take on the "suggested" topic and used it as a way to address the larger issues that concern them.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

In both cases, the attempt to exercise power-over, to control the very questions that may even be discussed, becomes the topic of discussion. Feminism, as a movement based upon the notion that the personal is the political, can't be about shutting down discussion. But, that goes both ways and sometimes, sadly, young women like Martin are as willing to shut down those women in boxy blazers (we all know that's code for "up-hip middle-aged woman") as the women in the boxy blazers are to tell young women to shut up about issues that weren't as important to us when we were blazing new feminist trails back in the sixties and seventies. That woman in the boxy blazer is as entitled to talk about her feminist credentials and hope for feminism's future as Ms. Martin is to talk about eating disorders. That Clinton's candidacy has gotten us -- boxy-blazered old women and young women -- talking about generational issues seems to me like one of the benefits of her campaign. I'd like to think the talks will continue, regardless of who wins the nomination.

No kidding, mija. That's all, no kidding.

Just looking today at a book about brujas in Nuevo Mexico. Part of the mainstream out here.

I'm very tired of being teh old lady who doesnt understand, of course.
/GWPDA

....for BSERI said...

Part of the conversation we boxy blazered feminists still have not had is the reproductive exploitation of women via forced adoptions between 1945-1973.


www.babyscoopera.com

http://www.suziekidnap.com/demeter/

Mary L A said...

This is an important debate and there are many ways of coming into it, all of them valid.

But I do wonder what happens when some women don't get to participate in the debate at all. When women from Afghanistan or Zimbabwe don't get to speak out on full and equal terms and present their own stories in their own voices? It is all very well using the plight of a third-World woman to sound self-righteous about a certin kind of concerned feminism but another to make space for those women to enter the conversation.

Here in southern Africa, we often feel very far away and very token.

Inanna said...

I also wonder if the older feminist wasn't expressing so much a generational divide (women who came of age in the 70s vs. women who came of age in the 90s), as an age divide. Body image, eating disorders, reproductive freedom, and rape occupy the attention of young women because those are very fresh and live issues for them. As a feminist in her late 30s, I'm not nearly as concerned with body image and eating disorders as I used to be, not because I think those things don't matter, but because, thanks to feminism, those things aren't a very big deal for me anymore. Thanks to feminism, I'm pretty comfortable in my own body.

Women at different life stages will have different pressing concerns, and that's fine. There's no reason to criticize one another. There's plenty of work to be done. I'm glad that young feminists are still working on those issues, and glad that I'm not. I used to do rape crisis counseling and Take Back the Night and the Vagina Monologues. That work is still very important, but it's no longer the focus of my efforts. And I'm fine with that. I haven't abandoned the cause or mellowed with age; I've simply changed by focus. And I respect the work that feminists are doing everywhere.