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POETRYETC  2003

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Subject:

Re: Women/feminism

From:

Helen Hagemann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 10 Jan 2003 07:25:46 +0000

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text/plain

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I'd like to take Rebecca's comments one step further if I may.

In the course of my community work teaching poetry at a writers' centre and
now studying towards a MA in Writing, I have learned that many 'women' shy
away from being referred to as feminists. They say "I am not a feminist" but
then go away and complain if a certain situation for themselves or another
woman has been subjugated, repressed or suppressed. Whilst the situation for
women has been improved drastically, there is still a need in certain
societies and socio-economic groups for radical transformations. (I have
heard young women crying on late night radio in recent times, having been
abused by their husbands, and are TOO FRIGHTENED to leave them!) BUT, these
women get older, go back to university, and as Rebecca says, hide their
books or if they expose them, they get told - "oh, you just want to be
smart." When they get there, the 'other half' at home on the couch often
makes it very difficult for her to study. I was told by one woman, that
after doing the second shift, e.g. cleaning the house, her husband spattered
the bathroom mirror (every time) for her to re-do and spilt milk in the
fridge. These subtle, incidious actions, that only convey his fears and
anxieties, have dire consequences. Usually it's divorce. However, it's
little talked about in today's society. There is a silence on this kind of
behaviour. This lady eventually left university, never having had the
opportunity to complete her studies because she was suppressed. On the
surface and at university women are learning about feminism, empowerment,
the rights of women but, unfortunately for some, it ends at the university
gate! It's applaudable that many 'women' lecturers are themselves wholely
committed to the education of women by introducing them to feminist texts
and writers. French feminist theorists like Helene Cixous and Catherine
Clement are still keeping the sabbath dream alive in their work called -
'The Newly Born Woman' - they write for women and tell us exactly what we
already know, but they articulate it so well. It's also sad that
antifeminist positions are widespread. The problem is that these
antifeminist reactions stem mainly from a sterotypical notion of (white
Western) feminism that may have some grains of truth but does not do justice
to its heterogeneity. Feminism is often equated with radical feminism and
with hatred of men, penis envy, a fundamental rejection of marriage and
motherhood, a favouring of lesbian love, and an endeavor to invert the power
relationship of the genders. But it still has a grass roots situation, to
service the needs of the free thinking woman. If it continues on this
negative path, it again perpetuates the marginalisation of the Other. Yet,
the challenge for women in our contemporary society is for a re-orientation
of just where we are today in the 21stC. Perhaps, the main fundamental
consideration is to speak openly and to temper all forms of
suppression/oppression. The biggest problem is to oppose those who go to the
extreme by presuming to speak in the name of all women, without having
really informed themselves about the situation and the problems of women in
our society. As a consequence, they base their assessment of the situation
and the emancipatory ideas of women and women's movements on their own
limited views and experiences.
Cheers
Helen

>I have also taught in community colleges.  My older female students were
>often developing skills for post-grad divorces. They told me this. Not one
>told me of a husband from whom they had to hide their books. But I suspect
>that the dynamic was that he was suspicious of her motive for acquiring an
>education. >
>Mark
>
>At 03:12 PM 1/9/2003 -0600, you wrote:
>>Well, I've read with much interest from my distant view from the
>>keys of this recent explosion on these various topics which seem
>>to be,perhaps definable, by one common thread, the desire of
>>women to define themselves in all complexity, while
>>acknowledging that much complexity may remain undiscussed
>>(merely because of the limited nature of the medium, for even a
>>book may not be enough) in contrast to simplistic dicta in which
>>particular expression is ignored in favor of some assessment of
>>being.  For instance, I am surprised that Mark who began with
>>"women choose to be suppressed" should follow with such
>>interesting discussion of his work, whereby the argument seems
>>to change to the acknowledgement  that women choose to be
>>suppressed when the alternatives  offered are worse. This is
>>surely the old is it better to be a slave or die argument? And if
>>some women do remain or return to abusive situations, it is also
>>because of hopelessness, in actuality, in indoctrination, and in
>>lack of there being any more viable alternative. As a part-time
>>teacher in a community college, I have had more than one
>>middle-aged woman who returning to school must keep her
>>books from her husband, because he has been infuriated
>>to come home and see her reading, or the papers on the desk,
>>etc.  It is common to hear on the news some story of a man who
>>kills his wife, ex-lover, etc.often their children, and perhaps some
>>unlucky friend or visiting relative,
>>and then kills himself. It probably happens two to three times a
>>week somewhere in the state. In thirty years, I can't remember
>>having read a headline--woman kills husband, children, then self.
>>And it seems to me that any discussion of the suppression of
>>women cannot ignore the ways in which that suppression is often
>>violent. It is useless to argue complexity against a fist. However,
>>suppression is not merely a matter of one person unjustly
>>suppressing the rights of another, but requires instititions, powers
>>of court, and law, etc., all of which is where the complexity comes
>>into it. If 50% of the women and children who are homeless in the
>>U.S. have fled an abusive situation (and they have), then perhaps
>>the woman who remains in that abusive situation finds it
>>somewhat more empowering than being homeless, or sleeping
>>with her children on the grate. The suppression of women has
>>often been violent, but it cannot be too violent, since men do not
>>wish to exterminate us, they'd like to keep us, dear things that we
>>are, for any numbers of reasons. Accordingly, the suppression of
>>women has been perhaps more accurately compared to the
>>institutions of slavery, if only because in both there is a similar
>>interest in keeping the subjected one alive. This is why for
>>instance, the most dangerous time, in terms of actual violence, is
>>the moment at which the woman flees the abusive relationship, for
>>there is in a sense no reason to keep her alive.  Nor do I know why
>>we should assume that the unwritten history of women, those
>>farmwives, etc., in all other ages, was necessarily sanguine. The
>>Wife of Bath is an interesting example, for it's quite possible to
>>hear her argument with the social forces that attempted her to
>>suppress her, her wiliness in evading the forces of society and
>>religion, etc., how she takes a stance of being deliberately wicked,
>>in order to travel about her world, freely, which already makes her
>>exceptional among those farmwives. Apologies for any typos, I'm
>>on an internet cafe machine
>>
>>Best,
>>
>>Rebecca
>>
>>www.thedrunkenboat.com


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