Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016.01.31 Feminism, What Brand?

I am an unashamed feminist. In the same way I’m an Episcopalian, a Christian, and a woman. Feminism is a movement working on behalf of women to assure that they be accorded equal respect, status, and, yes, pay,  ($$$) all over the world and in the church.

I never burned a bra, just stopped wearing one—for the most part. I’m not militant, or a radical, and I don’t hate men. I just keep noticing and speaking and writing about women—what they do and say with courage, and what they suffer. I never stop wondering, questioning, observing, and working for gender equity. I'm a determined but not too noisy feminist—no warrior. 


My favorite definition of feminism comes from the writer Roxanne Gay, professor of English at Purdue University and author of an essay collection, “Bad Feminist.” Her definition of who feminists are: “Women who don’t want to be treated like [expletive] for being a woman.” 
Feminism is a movement, not an eccentricity.  Gay is a truth-telling feminist.

Gay expands on her pithy, expletive-reinforced definition to say that “women deserve to have full and satisfying lives in the same way that men do.” (NY Times Magazine, July 27, 2014) But I don’t mind the expletive. It gives clout to her commitment, and it’s not exactly violent speech.  We all know which four letters belong between those brackets. But isn’t it fun to pretend innocence with brackets?

Camille Paglia (b. 1947, Endicott, NY) writes essays on feminism, culture, art and politics for mainstream publications.

A self-described feminist, and a fierce one, Paglia is a critic of the movement. Paglia’s parents immigrated to New York from Italy. Her father, Pasquale, was a high school teacher and World War II veteran. Young Camille was argumentative in school; her former Latin teacher said of her in 1992, "She always has been controversial." Once, at camp, she poured too much lime into the latrine and it exploded. She told The New York Observer, "It symbolized everything I would do with my life and work. Excess and extravagance and explosiveness.”

This feminist is angry, and no narcissist. She observed that the increasing narcissism of feminist politics and spirituality has derailed the movement from its goal. She is a fighting feminist and a skilled writer, not afraid of her voice. 

Paglia wrote: "Let's get rid of Infirmary Feminism, with its bedlam of bellyachers, anorexics, bulimics, depressives, rape victims, and incest survivors. Feminism has become a catch-all vegetable drawer where bunches of clingy sob sisters can store their moldy neuroses." (A neurotic is one who takes too much responsibility for everything and loses her sense of herself. But, with focus, any good neurotic can also take some responsibility for change and making justice anew.

Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989), historian and author of the pulitzer prize winning book, The Guns of August, said: "If a man is a writer, everybody tiptoes around past the locked door of the breadwinner. But if you're an ordinary female housewife, people say, 'This is just something Barbara wanted to do; it's not professional.’" She probed deeply the annals of history and found pieces that had not been accurately recorded about the Great War. She exposed lies, a scholarly feminist.

And what about our biblical sisters? In the gospel of Mark (14) there is a story of a woman who is bold and wise enough to enter a gathering of men, Jesus' followers, with a plan to anoint Jesus with the only gift available to her, some costly ointment of nard. She knew a woman would not be welcome at such an in-house political gathering, yet she discerned that Jesus himself might need some soothing, given that he seemed to know he would face violence and death in Jerusalem. This  unnamed woman approached Jesus and anointed him (not just his feet) beforehand for death. Jesus' disciples were enraged at this intrusion and offense, but Jesus scolded them. He said: "Leave her. She has done a beautiful thing for me." This anointing woman took great risk to offer a tender and compassionate, also realistic, touch. She was a quietly compassionate healing feminist.

Supposedly, we are now in a fourth wave of feminism, one that will include attention to spirituality as well as politics, one that will pay attention to what is happening to women and children the world over, one that concerns itself with the quality of women’s lives both in church and society, one that lobbies for women in leadership positions, one that rages in protest at the current rise in violence against women,

We live in a celebrity-driven culture and it’s going global. The latest celebrity seems to be violence itself. Violence is part of our daily diet of news. Words like trauma, torture, horror are almost glamorized or at least over-sensationalized.  I mean who really wants to read about Whitey Bulger or see a movie about him and organized violent criminality? We do! Why are we Americans not beyond the Billy the Kid/Bonny & Clyde/Mafia/Don Corleone/Tony Soprano era?  Our tastes are conditioned to a degree by media, but that’s facile. 

Sensationalizing of violence has two main effects: (1) It dulls our senses, inures us, so we hardly feel its impact or startle at the sound of guns and screams of victims. “Just Another Death In New York City,” a folk song by Australian singer Judy Small, says it all. Oh, someone jumped from a skyscraper window to crash on the pavement below—noticed and unmourned as quotidian.  (2) It attracts us to violence, so we think that large and small scale violence is actually a solution to any and all problems. It’s exciting and glamorous. We can be heroes, celebrities—dead or alive. It makes us violent! Have we made an idol of violence itself while preaching against it?

What to do? I don’t know. Just keep on singing, crying, howling, writing, praying, lamenting. Above all, use whatever gifts you have to make sure you don’t yawn at the next report of violence.

Be a Christian feminist. It only means that, as a Christian, you don’t want anyone to be treated like [expletive]. Jesus was treated very violently. He also advocated for women. Women first recognized the risen Christ and spread the word. No one believed them. They just wouldn't shut up. Women persuaded men to see this: resurrection is the divine last word.

God would be a great feminist if we’d let Him [sic] be free of any gender. 

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