Saturday, January 04, 2003

Better late than never (maybe)

As I've been cleaning out my family archives, I came upon a opinion column I had published in the local Hearst newspaper back in the early 70s. I wish I had found it earlier, when we were posting about feminism, because it shows that some of us have been saying the same thing for the past 30 years. I would have shared the text with Jeneane as she tried to start her (now defunct) "humans first" weblog. I would have posted it on my site in support of my argument with RageBoy. It's too late for all of that, but maybe not too late for the younger Blog Sisters to read as they try to understand why some of us are so discouraged by the rampant sexism in our society that's only gotten worse in some ways over the past 30 years.

Self-described in the newspaper as a "human being, a writer of poetry, a woman, a wife, a mother of two children, and a feminist, in varying order of importance," I wrote the following:

Contemporary women’s conversations and writings seem almost exclusively centered around the concerns of the feminist movement. As a contemporary woman, I share in these concerns and support the feminist goals of equality – including, however, the assumption that we must be equal and complementary rather than equal and the same.

Too many feminists have taken as their goal the replacement of what they view as a corrupt “male” power structure with a female power structure (which by its very nature cannot help but become equally corrupt). They seem to be encouraging us to prove that, as women, we can be as “rotten as any man.”

I am still hoping, however, that Women’s Liberation will return to its more positive goal of being Human Liberation. We must not forget that those traits – desire for power, insensitivity, hostility, destructiveness – are more accurately characteristics that cross sex lines. They are characteristics that are inhuman rather than human, tendencies that are undesirable and should be considered the enemy of all liberation-seeking people.

Phyllis Chesler in Women and Madness urges women to “seek power,” to do “whatever is necessary in order to survive.” Such rhetoric disturbs me because it advocates that women adopt the oppressive power tactics that we have been accusing men of using against us in order to gain for ourselves the power that (we believe) men have.

Obviously, the issue of our movement should not be the attainment of power, but rather the freeing of all people from the oppression of concentrated power.

I view our Women’s Movement as a force working to replace the historical power concepts of destruction, intimidation, and condescension with the more positive and humane concepts of compassion, sensitivity, the desire to nurture rather than own, to be straightforward instead of devious.

Instead of viewing our movement as a struggle between the sexes, I feel it is more constructive to accept it as a struggle between the humane beings and the inhumane beings.

Granted, some men have “Archie Bunker” views of women and will never change. But I believe that there are as many men who empathize with our frustrations, who perhaps also feel that they have not been allowed free choice in determining the course of their own lives.

Most men, I think, do not feel strongly either way about women fulfilling their needs and establishing their identities, even though they have been culturally conditioned to have attitudes toward us that we have grown to feel are demeaning. These attitudes can be changed, but we will not foster and encourage this change by using the old “power” tactics.

While sexism in the business world can and should be legislated against, you can’t beat prejudice out of a bigot, and you can’t intimidate away bad habits. Every good teacher knows that important lessons, especially “moral” ones are learned slowly and must be taught with patience and example. You teach “humaneness” by being humane; you teach “fairness” and “respect” by demonstrating these qualities.

But we must remember that attitudes change slowly and that if we are hostile toward men, they will return our hostility; that if we use power tactics against them, we are only proving (falsely) that these tactics are acceptable.

It is time not only for new structure, but for new methods as well.


Phyllis Chesler's new book, Woman's Inhumanity To Woman makes me confront how unsuccessful we have seem to have been in attaining a more humane society.

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