The short version of this particular set of musings is: it’s complicated. My feminism is inflected and informed by a 60’s childhood raised in contradictory but powerful influences. I’m the product of at least two (and most likely more) generations of strong and opinionated frontier farm women (Grandma was a chicken farmer; Mom could grow one heckva garden, can, and raise a good flock of layers and fryers). I also got exposed to a particularly toxic form of fundamentalist Christian repression of women in my late teens through school Bible groups and the Christian college I attended–Basic Youth Conflicts, one of Bill Gothard’s groups (go here for the Wikipedia TL:DR version). However, I never quite fell within the lure of Basic Youth, especially after I went off to college and discovered Ms. Magazine. Various adventures with conservative religious boyfriends which usually ended up with me being handed things to mend also had an influence, plus growing up in Springtucky and getting hassled by men for being blond and big-busted.
My family followed rather traditional roles that I viewed with a jaundiced eye as I got older. It didn’t help that during my high school and early undergraduate career, any boyfriends I had soon got chased away when we decided it would be romantic to take classes together. Um. Yeah. The first time I got a better grade than boyfriend did, it was bye-bye. I had three boyfriends in my college years who took me seriously as an intellectual; I married one of them nearly thirty-three years ago.
But there was more to the man I married than just taking me seriously as a thinker. One of the light entertainments of politically oriented students at the University of Oregon during my era was engaging with the different right-wing preachers who ranted at U of O students as part of their ministry. Of course, what they didn’t know is that about half the students arguing were liberals from the neighboring Christian college who were honing their theological arguments…but I digress. The man I married took extreme exception to one of these preachers personally threatening me by getting into that preacher’s face. He also did things like cook for me when I was working as an organizer on the previous boyfriend’s campaign. He wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but he “got it” (in the terms of a recent internet discussion about men and feminism) at an early age, in part because, like me, he was the son of a working mother who carried quite a bit of weight in the family economy. The personal was political for him at a very early age. He had a personal stake in understanding feminism because he saw it on a daily basis. Was and is his feminist awareness perfect? Nope. Neither is mine, and I don’t think anyone can make that claim about themselves.
Way back when my son was little, we attended an indoor park for toddlers. It was all female, until a single at-home father started attending with his daughter. Many of the women were feminist. Did all of them embrace his attendance? Um. No. But enough of us did that we banded together over the others’ attempts to exclude the father and got ourselves elected to the governing board. I remember being heartily annoyed by complaints about insensitive spouses, but then the rejecting shoulder to a father walking the talk.
As part of the upbringing my husband received, he’s a nurturing male who has no qualms about doing housework. Our housework divisions in past years have fallen either into skill areas (yours truly doesn’t have chainsaw skills and arthritic hands mean if I do, it will be with a light saw; I still end up doing the sewing) or allergy areas (water used to irritate my eczema and dust irritates his sinuses). He likes cooking, while I like baking and canning. Our son was raised to be nurturing and with the model that the men do the housework. He likes cooking, and when he’s had a partner, part of what he does is cook.
That’s one reason why I get grouchy with those who complain about men who apparently don’t Get It about feminism until injustice touches their wives, their daughters, their sisters. If you look back far enough, every man who Gets It had that little spark of feminist awareness fanned by some sort of personal stake, whether it was watching his mother struggle or his sisters struggle. Somehow, somewhere, personal connection fueled awareness. That’s how people learn and develop politically. That’s why consciousness raising is such a crucial task in developing and maintaining a movement, and sitting back to think that it’s all done is folly. That’s why, no matter what the issue is, dear God, we have to have basic Feminism/Racism/Ageism/Ableism/etc 101, because there will always be someone new who Doesn’t Get It, until the personal becomes political and awareness flares into being for that individual. It would be nice if people were born with their consciousness raised, alleluia, alleluia, but by golly, unless we all suddenly get raptured into some sort of progressive heaven, it ain’t happening (Let’s listen, for example, to how men talk about what they’ve lost by never being able to express their nurturing sides due to traditional male roles. We have to be honest and listen to that oppression as well).
Until we reach the understanding that we are all people together, and that we should respect each other, we’re not going to get anywhere. Slamming folks for not immediately developing advanced awareness is foolish. Awareness is a learning process. We don’t expect kids to enter school reading at a twelfth grade level (at least not yet), nor do we expect to be immediately proficient in a new language. The same is true for all forms of awareness. So yes, there will always be a need for Basic Consciousness Raising, and excluding or condemning people because they are insufficiently advanced is just another form of exclusionary arrogance. It’s acceptable to be annoyed about it sometimes, as long as you take a deep breath and acknowledge that learning is hard for both student and teacher.
And with that, I’m not only tired and have probably bored everyone, but I wanna go play with my new sewing machine. Curtain-making awaits. I’m gonna go be creative in a new way.
Have fun, y’all, and remember to pay it forward. That means being patient when it’s time to trot out the 101 learning. Everyone had to start there sometime.