I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, burned bras and hated men…
I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.
I had come to feminism through the back door. I was a naturalist, an animal lover, a plant woman whose love for the Earth had sustained her through childhood trauma, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse, my brother’s tragic suicide (after which I totally lost myself entering the ‘dead years’), and finally a through a grotesque experience with physical abuse in my late 30’s during which I was repeatedly battered by a male partner.
I believed I was crazy until I began to have my ideas validated by other feminists some of whom were my teachers. Submerging myself first in eco – feminism and then in feminist scholarship I began to see the world through a very different lens – a lens that included women as part of “his – story” even though most of us remained invisible, and remain so today.
For the first time in my life I allowed my anger to surface and to find home in a lost self that had denied the damage that had left her with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. For a while, my fury/outrage/grief at being treated so horrifically by my family, schools, community, religious institutions, and culture consumed me. Up until that point I had been forced to use denial in order to survive and had turned my anger inward paralyzing myself with self – hatred.
Now I could express that anger appropriately and began to hold members of my family, the men in my life, (eventually including my adult children) and the culture accountable for their despicable actions… Ever so slowly, I began to heal from self – hatred as my fury and outrage peaked and then dissipated.
For about five years I struggled with my rage towards the men in my life who had sexually and emotionally abused me as a child and as a woman who didn’t know how to protect herself (my fifty percent – this is an example of the importance of being accountable – there are always two sides).
Then I left tunnel vision behind and came to the realization that men were not the problem – the culture I had been raised in was flawed, privileging men over women in every way that I could think of. Men were socialized into this privilege by virtue of birth, some, of course, more than others. White middle class men “ruled” the world (and continue to do so today). The “man against nature paradigm” that was so contrary to my lived experience – turning me into an eco – feminist without my knowing it – now became a platform for me to begin telling a different story, a practice I continue to this day.
Patriarchy is an incredibly destructive ideological structure that privileges men over women, men over children, men over Nature. This system oppresses women, children and men who are not part of the dominant material culture albeit in different ways, and this system is what has brought us to the edge of the global political and ecological breakdown we are facing today.
The point of all this story telling is to help women understand that feminism is a perspective worthy of our attention – so worthy in fact that without incorporating a feminist perspective – one that values compassion, cooperation, and equality for all peoples and non human species – we will all be facing extinction.
Recently I read an angry feminists response – probably that of a young woman – that blamed men for women’s oppression. Annoyed by this attitude I remarked somewhat heatedly that hating men was not the answer, forgetting a truth I learned from personal experience, that when women discover feminism it is normal and part of their process to become angry with and blame their personal oppressors. In time this attitude will pass, just as my own anger did.
Blaming is a natural response to being harmed and part of the human condition. It is also an opportunity to begin to grow up and take responsibility for our personal actions, as we pull back our projections and work with our own shortcomings. Most older feminists like me reached that point after a few angry years.
Today we see feminism as a flickering beacon of hope for men, women, children, and the Earth. If we can work together women and men can restore the feminist values of respect, compassion, cooperation. Patriarchy has only been around for about 4000 years. Seeking a matrifocal way of being in the world might save people and the planet from dying an unnatural death.
SO PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE FEMINISTS A BREAK.
What follows is an excerpt from a poem by feminist activist author Robin Morgan written at the time as a result of a visit to South Africa in the 1980’s. I think that Robin can be forgiven for her binary splitting of men and women when she encountered such inequality between the two, and was no doubt struggling to deal with her own anger. As I said, righteous anger is part of every feminist’s growth and that anger needs to be forgiven and understood as part of an ongoing process of female development. We remain as a culture in desperate need. Blaming feminists is NOT the answer.
I think that every woman who reads these excerpts can identify with what it’s like to be a woman. So many “ make do,” and most women remain anonymous to this day..
Robin brings Winnie – Mandikizela Mandela to life. She was named South Africa’s “Mother of the Nation” by the poorest people, the ones who suffered the most. I had never heard of her until Robin wrote this tribute.
“Arbitrary Bread” (excerpts)
…Men make impressions, arbitrary decisions, names for themselves, wars, profits, laws, reputations, deals, fortunes, threats, enemies, promises, tracks.
Women make do, ends meet, babies, way, clothing, breakfast and dinner and supper, quilts, homes, apologies, baskets, beds, light of it, room….
Beginning again, unlearning how to make jokes, compromises and bargains,the best of it. Relearning how to make trouble, a living, a practice of politics. Cracking wheat, crushing millet, dissolving salt crystals, pounding the dough. Waiting the first rise. Reshaping the dough. Waiting the second. Heating the oven of metal or clay.
Winnie Mandela stands outside the smoking timbers of what yesterday was her home. She stares. She does not enter. Lost articles—inanimate speechless things—flare to mind, each vivid, crisped, with grief. The books. The diaries. The humble gifts from ordinary people. The wedding pictures. The letters, thirty years of them, from him in prison. While she raised the children, carried messages, was banned, was under house arrest, in jail and out again, while she made visits to him, made speeches, made an example of herself, was made his symbol, was made a metaphor for freedom.
Men manage to make their revolutions from abstraction. But no slogans can be made from the thoughts of a woman sifting the ashes of her life. The last bed in which they ever slept together, gone now. The baby pictures. The headscarf her mother left her, the recipes. The saved invitations to far countries where she could not go. The mirror she aged in.
Over and over, practicing how to make a fresh start, making the most of knowing the worst of it—not what’s assumed: that they can torture, degrade, kill, erase you, but this—that they can just tire you out….
Again and again learning how to make peace: cracking open the whole grain of anger, crushing the fear, dissolving the sense of futility, deliberately making believe, pounding, shaping, reshaping the act— arbitrary but this time our own….
Clay is the wild crystal making itself through eons of weathering by the pounding, cracking, crushing of rocks, the dissolving of rocks, the absorption of water in minuscule pores, developing “defects” in crystalline lattices which collect energy, store it, transmit it. This is one definition of a life form.
A regular crystal is perfect, blank until it receives an imposed pattern of charges. But clay replicates, layering pattern on pattern of ions coded in flaws. Disorder, the woman scientist whispers, is precisely the thing which can hold information. Strike an ordinary lump of clay with a hammer: it blows ultraviolet energy for a month….
I want to make this so plain that every woman can feed herself with it, make it her own, make it mean what she chooses, make demands of it, make it available, make mischief, a difference, a miracle, ready.
I want to say this in the quietest voice possible: Give us this day our arbitrary bread. Do I make myself clear?
Copyright 1990 by Robin Morgan. All Rights Reserved. From: Robin Morgan. “Upstairs in the Garden”