For some reason Frank Paynter's recent post got me to thinking about how I became a feminist. I came to it late in life. In 1992 to be exact. I remember the day, the hour, the very moment. Up until that time I had believed that the woman's place was to settle behind the man, taking care of children and hearth, and sacrificing career and education so that the man could better himself first. Indeed, I had practiced that fervently, doing everything in my power to get it right. I remember when I was twenty three or four, back in the early seventies, sitting in my brother's living room in Manchester one evening after dinner. His intellectual friends were sitting around, everyone talking, discussing current issues of the time. All so much more scholarly and intelligent than me. And yet, when one of them talked from a feminist perspective I became indignant and waxed prolific about the joys and delights, the duties and obligations of a dedicated wife being able, nay privileged even, to wash the floors making them clean for her husband's well-being. I blush to think on it. I had always been an avid activist, believing in social justice and equal rights for all … all that is, except women, but way more personally … except me.
A few years later when I returned to Africa with my toddler-son to visit my aging father, I spent the day with the mother of my friend Jan, Nan Partridge, a woman who had tremendous influence in changing the way I thought about social justice. Nan gave me a book to read called: Meet Me in the Middle. I felt the twitchings of feminism as I read the book at the time. It felt comfortable to read about women and men being interdependent. It was enlightening. I did not realize then that I would first have to emancipate my own mind towards the notion of me being equal, to come even vaguely close to the idea of interdependence. The journey ahead was about to be long indeed.
It would be almost twenty years before the moment I would embrace feminism and start the journey of self-emancipation and liberating my mind of the Patriarchal system that had been hammered so deeply into my consciousness growing up. Later on, in my own book, I wrote about bell hooks describing the "strongest patriarchal voice" in her life as that of her own mother. I identified very strongly with her description as it was true for me too.
In fact, the books that transformed me into a feminist were Mother-Daughter Revolution but, more especially, Educated in Romance. The latter I read for a course on qualitative research in graduate school in 1992. The former I read two years later and it solidified my becoming into a fully-fledged feminist. As I was reading Educated in Romance I realized the authors were describing my life. From the decisions I made to the way I viewed my place in the world. The authors describe how young women start out college with ambitions and dreams to become architects, political scientists, anthropologists, etc. And then, quickly change course towards nurturing professions like teaching or nursing in order to follow their romantic partners wherever they might be sent, sacrificing their own careers for those of the men they have fallen in love with. Some of the things the women say in their interviews might have come directly from my own lips. The book spoke to me deeply because at the time I was experiencing much guilt for having left country and husband, and dragged my teenage son with me across the world so that, finally, I could give myself the education I had always dreamed of. I remember gasping as I read, tears streaming down my cheeks, feeling validated and supported, fear and guilt pushed aside for a few moments.
Of course, I understand that it was not the book, per se, that changed me. Rather, the words read arrived at a point in my life's journey that was the culmination of events, my therapy, and psychic development. It became a huge "aha" moment and I have never been the same since. I always laugh to myself when my mother says I am not a reader (of course she is referring to the fact that I don't always choose to read the books she tells me to read). For, in fact, books have been the catalyst in changing my life in most significant ways.
On the one hand, I do agree with one of the comments at Frank's post: "I’d like to see more Human Beings come to the realisation that there are aspects of life that are simply Not About Them." For me, being a feminist means freeing ourselves from the Patriarchal system, choosing against dominance, elitism and exclusion, but opting for empathy and compassion for all Human Beings. It means realizing that women are often our own worst enemies because we have, understandably so because socialization in childhood is so insidious and powerful, bought into the Patriarchal system. Revolution very often, therefore, calls for drastic and extreme external actings-out in order to counteract that awesome, awful societal teaching in our early years for men and women alike. After all, it is less than a hundred years since women got the vote. There is still a lot of relearning to do. Dominance and privilege causes everyone terrible pain. All are punished. We have to get together, young and old, men and women, girls and boys, and drive Patriarchy out! Out of our psyche, hearts, minds, societal structures, and, yes indeed, even our blogs.
Let us just agree to acknowledge that we can never possibly know what it is like to walk in any one person's or a whole people's shoes, but that we will listen to all our stories in the hopes of understanding one another more and more.
A year ago at Tamarika: #5, #5, #5 …