Long ago when NaBloPoMo was rising from the primordial ooze, sster asked me:
I'd like to see some posts on how you locate yourself within feminism, as a woman, lesbian, stay-at-home mother, partner, etc., or any other matrix through which you see yourself engaged with feminism.
There is a very short, very simple answer to this question. Then there's the answer that sster and the rest of you probably want to hear. but the shorter, simpler one is more true for me, so I'm going to give you that first and tell you right now that it is the only answer that matters to me and everything else is just details.
Short, simple answer: I define feminism as the belief that women are fully human. Given that belief, pretty much anything one does is done within a matrix of feminism.
I arrive at this definition of feminism by way of a few important moments in my life:
-- My Catholic girls' school in which the word "feminism" was never spoken to my memory because it was quite unnecessary to speak it, as it was the soup we all swam in daily. Everything that happened there assumed feminism. We were taught to say the Lord's Prayer "Our Mother..." No one said this was a feminist choice, it was just the logical choice in a women and girls' community--and I'll add, a feminist men's community as many wonderful male teachers who believed women and girls were fully human taught there with clear commitments to that belief.
-- My first year of college, where I learned that the whole world wasn't like my high school and maybe sometimes you needed that word, "feminism" to clarify where you were coming from. Girls there called me this word in an attempt to make me less appealing to the boys in my social circle. Thus I encountered competition among women for the attention of men for the first time in my life and I was dumbfounded. It took me pretty much all of college to incorporate this into my sense of reality and to figure out how to live in such a world. The summer after my freshman year of college I read The Feminine Mystique, having gathered it was a sort of canonical text of this so-called "feminism" thing and what I learned was that sure, okay, I was a feminist. Well, duh!
-- Also in my first year of college, I read a lot of classic and antique texts for my honors program seminars and there I learned that certain church fathers had considered women to be "misbegotten men." That was my first glimpse into the idea that gender ideology naturalizes maleness and mark femaleness as "other." I suddenly started seeing how this idea was far from dead in contemporary culture.
-- When I decided to go to seminary, I thought I'd brush up on the subject of theology. I wasn't sure exactly what theology really was, so I decided to read something theological to lay some groundwork for what I'd learn. So I read Sexism and God Talk by Rosemary Radford Ruether. Just a little standard theology, you know. And she really covered a lot of history in that book--history of the way different ancient and modern traditions, religious, spiritual and philosophical have viewed women and their place in the cosmos and indeed, I laid myself quite the useful ground for seminary. I got into all kinds of trouble in seminary--especially in theology classes, ahem.
-- When I was teaching composition to first-year college students myself, I used a little essay from Katha Pollitt's collection, Reasonable Creatures. It was in the introduction I believe (it may have been the first chapter, I'm too lazy to go looking for it now), that she claimed that feminism is the radical idea that women are human. I thought of Aquinas and went "yeah."
So, being human and all, what I do with my life hardly matters. Anything I do is "feminist" in the sense that I claim full humanity with its good and bad and ugly; its justice and injustice; its kindness, its cruelty.
I think that many times when I see women getting into these arguments about what kind of life decisions and paths count as "feminist" and what kinds don't, what they're really talking about is whether and which choices further the cause of women's liberation. And that is a completely different question from whether a woman or her husband or her kids or her parents or her boss or her professors or her law partners believe women are human.
My response to the question of how I see feminism (women's liberation activism) in my life is that sometimes it is pretty strong and bold and obvious and active and sometimes it is lying there, not dormant exactly, but under the surface, waiting for the need or the opportunity to rise up. I think most decisions and life paths women choose can be used to further or to impede women's liberation. You can have a high-powered lawyer, doctor or politician who uses her power to disempower other women and this is especially so when you add to the matrix, class, race, region, religion and a number of other factors. You can have women with little power--mothers, nurses, teachers, let's say--who spend their days toiling away for the revolution, whether by teaching their students women's history, teaching their patients control over their own bodies and health or teaching their sons to cook and clean.
In my life, feminism is a given. Women's liberation is going to be a changing thing. Right now, I feel most interested in furthering the empowerment and recognition of the humanity of women like my daughters' first mothers. Because I find myself here at home, working for pay and for free, raising up smart, strong, confident baby women and teaching college kids and writing a blog and occasionally something more demanding than a blog, I am thinking all the time about how I can do these things within the assumption that we live in a universe in which poor women of color are fully human. I can do that in conversations with acquaintances about adoption, I can do it in teaching Zora Neale Hurston to working, adult single moms online, I can do it next semester by teaching ideologies of gender in the United States and how they are inflected by race and class. I can do it by creating an environment that leads my daughters to simply assume that they are fundamentally beautiful (yes, beautiful, because that's a liberation issue for Black women) and smart and worthy of God's love and the respect of all people.
Other women are going to be doing other things in other places. I dislike arguments about what everyone who desires justice ought to be doing the same. Because I firmly believe that for the real revolution to occur we are going to need everyone, everywhere doing everything.
Now, thank god November is over! Hope you all enjoyed it in spite of my many lame, lazy posts of the last week or so. Feel free to keep your questions coming. But I will answer them at a more leisurely pace hereafter.