Crafting Gentleness

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Feminist Reprise

I just came across the following site which has links to some really interesting feminist texts:

I read feminist texts by re-reading terms like "Masculine Imperative", "Masculinist oppression", or "patriarchy" as if they referred to what I think of as the expectation that uncertainty can be or should be eliminated. I tend to read these texts, then, as critiques of "enclosing" dynamics; critiques of unhelpful relationship; critiques of ways of making sense of experience and each other that lead us towards fear, hate, oppression, domination, coercion, and violence, and, for me, away from the deeply powerful and personal politics of gentleness.

The texts on this site are particularly interesting as challenges to seek a robust gentleness, not a passive gentleness, not a weak gentleness, challenges to find ways to think about a politics of gentleness that do not fall back into the trap of condemning people or ourselves to a nice, polite, subservience under cover of kindness. These articles challenge me to continue to seek a gentleness that allows me to work for a transparent critique of whatever contributes to the emergence and perpetuation of fear, hate, oppression, domination, coercion, and violence. Including a discerning critique of myself, my thinking, my doing, and my relationships, when appropriate.

An excerpt from an excerpt on the site ... from Joanna Russ' Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts (The Crossing Press, 1985)

Power and Helplessness in the Women's Movement

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, i told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren't you feminine, why aren't
you soft, why aren't you quiet, why
aren't you dead?

--Marge Piercy, "For Strong Women" from The Moon Is Always Female (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1980)

"Really good women, really "nice" women, really sisterly women, are dead women.

Well, no. Nobody literally expects millions of us to drop down ker-flop clutching flowers to our bosoms like Elaine the Lily Maid of Astolat, and yet I wonder. Women are supposed to make other people feel good, to fill others' needs without having any of our own-this is the great Feminine Imperative. Such self-suppression amounts to the death of the self. Why demand such an impossibility?

All oppressed people must be controlled. Since open force and economic coercion are practical only part of the time, ideology--that is, internalized oppression, the voice in the head--is brought in to fill the gap. When people discover their own power, governments tremble. Therefore, in addition to all the other things that are done to control people, their own strength must be made taboo to them. Vast numbers of men can be allowed to experience some power as long as they expend their power against other men and against women--a desirable state of affairs since it keeps men (and men and women) from cooperating, which would be a grave menace to the powers that be. Therefore the Masculine Imperative is less severe than the Feminine one.

The Masculine Imperative means that men avoid the threat of failure, inadequacy, and powerlessness --omnipresent in a society built on competition and private property--by existing against others.

But the Feminine Imperative allows of no self-help at all. We exist for others.

But women are also terrified by female strength, women judge success in women to be the worst sin, women force women to be "unselfish," women would rather be dead than strong, rather helpless than happy.

Feminist women, too.

If you've been forbidden the use of your own power for your own self, you can give up your power or you can give up your self. If you're effective, you must be so for others but never for yourself (that would be "selfish"). If you're allowed to feel and express needs, you must be powerless to do anything about them and can only wait for someone else--a man, an institution, a strong woman--to do it for you.

That is, you can be either a Magic Momma or a Trembling Sister."


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