Sunday, January 06, 2008

Memories of a second wave feminist

What was it like to be a second wave feminist in the late 1960s and early 1970s? This is how American Ann Snitow remembers her activist days:

Another memory of the early seventies: An academic woman sympathetic to the movement but not active asked what motivated me to spend all this time organizing, marching, meeting.

I tried to explain the excitement I felt at the idea that I didn't have to be a woman. She was shocked, confused. This was the motor of my activism? To which I could only answer, "Why would anyone who likes being a woman need to be a feminist?"

Quite properly my colleague feared woman-hating. She assumed that feminism must be working to restore respect and dignity to women. Feminism would revalue what had been debased, women's contribution to human history. I, on the other hand, had to confess: I could never have made myself lick all those stamps for a better idea of what womanhood means.

Was this, as my colleague thought, just a new kind of misogyny? I wouldn't dare say self-hatred played no part in what I wanted from feminism from the first. But even back then, for me, woman-hating - or loving - felt beside the point. It was the idea of breaking the law of the category itself that made me delirious. [Conflicts in Feminism, p.33]

A couple of responses spring to mind. First, there's a self-centredness in all this. Ann Snitow was willing to campaign to overthrow womanhood on the basis of her own self-hatred. Why not stop to consider what other women might feel?

Second, Ann Snitow wanted, above all, to break the category of womanhood. This is in line with the standard liberal view of what personal liberation means. According to liberalism we are supposed to be autonomous in the sense of being free to choose to create ourselves in any direction. We don't get to choose our manhood or womanhood, so these categories become, in the liberal view, impediments to be broken - as a delirious act of emancipation.

The problem is that for most people manhood and womanhood are positive aspects of self-identity; breaking down these categories isn't so much a liberation as a disappointment. Nor are manhood and womanhood all that easy to destroy as categories; it's not just the conservative view, but also the modern scientific view, that they are hardwired into human nature.

So it's neither as desirable nor as possible to break down the category of womanhood as liberalism assumes.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Like recantation of Linda McCorvey (the "Jane Roe" of the famous US Supreme Court case legalizing abortion "Roe vs Wade") there MUST be many women (who are not lesbians) and have decided Feminist theology does not fit their experience, nor does it help them in their lives. I recently check the Roper Organization website (a long-standing pollster in the US) and found that only 20% of American women consider themselves "Feminist". The remainder do not "agree" with ANY or MOST OF "Feminist" ideologies. THIS IS VERY SIGNIFICANT and we should remember that this when in public discourse. Many women are as confused as men by "Modern Feminism".