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From Chapter 17 – Celebration Days in
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Snow fell on our garden in December, leaving the dried corn stalks and withered tomato vines standing black on white like a pen-and-ink drawing titled Rest. I postponed looking at seed catalogs for awhile. Those of us who give body and soul to projects that never seem to end–child rearing, housecleaning, gardening–know the value of the occasional closed door. We need our moments of declared truce.

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It’s Women’s History Month, which seems totally well-meaning and ironically marginal. Today’s worship was put on entirely by women; all the songs were written, lyrically or musically, or both, by women; all the greeters and ushers and offering collectors were women.

I consider myself a feminist.

The feminist movement, as far as I can tell, has never been to keen on embracing its male members.

This has always been complicated for me. One thing that irks me, and always has, is the idea that I have no authority to my voice in a given arena. This may well be typically white and male, but I do not brook limitation easily, nor do I recommend others do the same. I consider my insistence on the validity of my opinions regarding the experience of others very different from myself to be an open invitation for others to voice similarly valid opinions regarding my own experience and that of others like me–which is to say: I think the ultimate arbiter of the validity of an opinion should be the validity of the opinion, and neither the character nor characteristics of its holder.

This strikes me as entirely harmonious with advancing the interests of women and men the world over.

It irked me more today than it ever has, and now upon reflection, I find that I am frustrated with both the men and women who came before. First and foremost, with the men, for letting the problems of gender relations go untended for so long, for allowing oppression and subjugation to continue (and at what cost!), but also at women, and some feminists in particular, for (in my mind, at least) fucking it up when trying to delineate the conversational space in which we could engage with gender.

This may very well be the result of the naive sort of egalitarianism that comes with being a white male born into opportunity, if not the exact lap of luxury. I acknowledge that my stance of ahistoricity is probably unfair, given that history as benefited me and hurt others, and so calling history out of bounds and starting from the status quo will always benefit those currently benefiting.

Still, I find it personally very frustrating, and have always done so, but more so now than ever.

It comes down to a fundamental problem. Are gender biases, misogyny, and gender inequality (in the mind of practitioners) fundamental or circumstantial?  I hold that they are circumstantial–by which I mean that I believe there exists the possibility that children could be brought up in such a way that they would have no natural reason to exert or embrace gender biases.
I guess, in some sense, it comes down to an even more fundamental problem. Given an unpleasant past, should we shut the past out in order to cut off ties with it or should we remember it to ensure that it never happens again? My fear with the latter course is that an ignominious past carries with it ideas, the seeds of revolution, and as time passes, one can never be sure that there won’t come along those who will say it was better then, who will then revive the hatred and the anger, reactionaries who find power by fomenting hatred. My fear with the former is primarily the Santayana bromide: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In truth, though, I disagree with Santayana–sometimes the memory of the past carries cautionary tales, and sometimes it entraps us.

This is not to say we should fail to honor the memory of those who struggled before us. Mostly, I suppose, this is to say that, to me, it seems that the best way to honor the memory of those who struggled is to set that struggle down, eventually. Our foremothers and -fathers did not turn soil by their industry so that we should have to again; instead, they did so, so that we might have greater freedom, a choice to make. Nor is this to say that I think the struggle is over, but again, I think some of the solution here is to dress for the job you want.

This is where the personal part comes in. I do not deny the advantages I had, nor can I deny the evidence before me. Where I grew up, half of my Calculus AP class was female, and many of my female friends went on to become engineers and doctors and lawyers and businesswomen. I lived on the edge of the bell curve.

I have a daughter, though, now, and while I do not want her to be bound by the limitations society might seek to place on her, nor do I want to have our relationship mediated by a society of women who claim that I cannot speak to her about gender, oppression, or a fight for freedom. There is no one in the world who can compete with me in my desire to see limits cease to be where she is concerned. I wish no chains upon her. I will teach her calculus and how to swim, how to code, how to choose colors and how to play guitar. Cheryl and I are good parents and she will be amazing, a force unleashed upon the world.

I wish nothing less for every woman in the world, and not just for the benefit of womankind, but for the benefit of everyone.
The service today was fantastic, by the way, but discussion of gender is not something that should be relegated to Women’s History Month, but something we should be talking about often–nor should it be limited to womanhood. Being a man is a complicated thing, and there’s very little community among men to figure out how to be a good one. Some talk in church about it would not go astray.

Finally, if there’s something I’d like to see in the feminist movement, it’s an invitation and appreciation for men to do their part in advancing the cause of women’s rights and equality. As Eileen McGann sang (from Journeys, which is a great freakin album):

Boys are brought up from the time they are small
to believe that they have to be tough
and they’re taught not to cry and they’re trained not to feel
for they’re told that it’s womanish stuff
but it’s only the wise that consider the cost
and only the brave who can change
until women and men join as allies and friends
and gain all of themselves in exchange, so

Here’s to the men with the vision to see
and the qualities everyone gains, oh
here’s to their courage and her truth
and their part in the breaking of chains, oh

….

————————

I had more to say; I can’t remember it all. I just want everyone to be better. I want gender not to matter so much. I don’t think the great message of Women’s History Month is that we should forget history–just that maybe we shouldn’t let it rule us, but we should be willing to set it down as history, like we do with Rome or might should with the bible.

Anyway, the title of the talk was “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” but I’m placing bets on the idea that friggin brilliant ones do.