27 September 2006


Elizabeth tagged me to write "five things feminism has done for me," and to tag five others to do the same. I don't know if what I have to say quite fills the bill, as it's more about five things I have experienced that involve feminism in some way.

1. When in high school, one day I was alone in the gymnasium (why, I can't remember). A black girl I barely knew came in, then two white guys came in and started hassling her: insults, taunts, threats, while physically advancing toward her. I don't think they knew I was there. I made it known that I was, and that they should leave. They did. At that time I thought it was a racist incident, which it was, and didn't consider it an example of hatred toward women. But two or three years later, I was on a balcony at a college dorm late at night, and saw a woman walking alone, and saw two men emerge seemingly from nowhere and begin to chase her. Again, they didn't know I had seen them. I yelled, and they stopped and ran the other way, away from her. I gradually put it together in my own mind that women are threatened, all the time, in many ways, and that we are all less human because of it. A year or so after that, Susan Brownmiller's book on rape & power came out, and I had a much clearer sense of this. In part because of that growing sense I joined a coed feminist consciousness raising group, which ended up being as social as it was political. We were all learning a lot in those days.

2. One day I held open a door for a woman in black dress, with hair that had been partially bleached. She turned to me and said to me that "the witches will always be good to you." It made me very happy, and still does to think about it. Maybe this has nothing to do with feminism, but I like the way female as a category, and I think feminist, too, includes everyone from powerful political and public women to women who work with herbs and green things (and other women, and men) to change the world as they can. Several years later I would meet Pauline Oliveros and her then-companion Susun Weed, who was such a woman, and seemed one of the most contented people I knew. Maybe I learned that feminism didn't necessarily involve anger.

3. When I went to England after college, the first book I bought in a London bookstore was the Thomas H. Johnson edition of the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. I had not taken a class in college that required me to read Dickinson at all. I had some experience with that work on my own, but not much. Suddenly, during a week and a half when I stayed put in a room in Cambridge reading & writing, I thought this was the most powerful writing I had ever read. Every time I teach it, I continue to think so. And it's because of the power in and of language, which is just explosive, yet dancing its explosions all the time. Dancing explosions may be feminist, too. There has never, at least since then, been a question in my mind that in my chosen field of poetry, the work of women is at least the equal of the work of men. In my own time, I believe it generally exceeds the work of men in the ways it explores, discovers, and opens up worlds.

4. My father had a bad heart, and most of the time after I was in the fifth grade, he stayed home. He sewed, cooked sometimes (not a lot, and not all that well): he dwelt in the house, in the domestic space. My mother continued to work until long after my father died. My father was a military man for a good part of his life, yet always one who had jobs that required him to help people with administrative and personal problems. He was a caretaker. My mother was strong: in youth an award winning athlete, throughout her life as a working woman with an active social life, until the last few years when she has been almost entirely confined to home and a need for care. She had to survive after my father died, when I was 20. As I remember them now, both of them gave me a feminist base—she as a powerful woman, he as a strong yet gentle care-taking man. My partner in life now likes to say that there are women of both sexes. She includes me in that, most of the time; I don't know if I could possibly have been that without my father before me.

5. My home is a home of women: my wife a visual artist whose work has made me question everything I know about light, color, and vision, and whose sense of the explorations involved in her field has greatly informed mine in poetry; my 17-year-old daughter a questing, caring, emotionally powerful student whose voice alone inspires me (she's a singer); my 13-year-old daughter the president of her student council, a writer whose notebooks completed (novels that she hasn't yet decided to share with me) stack to the ceiling. Living with them is certainly not always easy, as they are right a lot, wrong sometimes, opinionated almost all the time, not afraid to fight for what they believe in, and they are lively . . . very lively. But living with them is always an education for me in what it means to be human, and specifically female, through the process of growing up, and, in my wife's case, through the process of growing together for the last twenty-one years and forward through what years we have left. Feminism, as a lived experience, excites, inspires, and humbles me.

I may write more about this subject. There are certainly intellectual, philosophical, artistic things I have gained from or through feminism. But I wanted to begin mostly with the experience of learning and living things having to do with women & feminism.

And now I tag Tim and Brenda and Barbara and Rodney and Dawn. I had seven, then narrowed to five. Excess may be feminist, too, but not solely that. Trimming down to a certain order is probably not feminist. I'm not sure if Brenda or Barbara have blogs, but I'll be more than happy, if they answer this tag, to post their responses here.


At 2:13 PM, Blogger et said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, Charles.

I remember something in one of Maxine Hong Kingston's books, about how having brothers she knew men had feelings. I think feminism has helped me to understand men.

Elizabeth T

At 8:10 AM, Blogger charles said...

Thanks, Elizabeth. I think feminism has helped me understand men, too. I imagine it has colored our understanding of everything.


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