Feminist Awakening By Peggy Ventris

This  post is written in conjunction with the Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue project sponsored by Claremont School of Theology in the Claremont Lincoln University Consortium,  Claremont Graduate University, and directed by Grace Yia-Hei Kao.

Besides being a Feminist Ethics student, Peggy is a Physical Therapy Assistant specializing in Barnes technique myofascial release; Deacon (soon to be priest) in charge under special circumstances at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, Twentynine Palms; a fourth year joint M. Div. student at ETSC/CST; a multi-moved(while her husband was off flying) military wife 20 of 43  married years; privileged oldest of four daughters of medical professionals; 21-year grateful member of Al-Anon; mother and grandmother; budding feminist;  all in no particular order of importance.

It’s never too late to be something new like a budding feminist. It doesn’t take rocket science to learn that the system oppresses its members, but it does take a clear-eyed look at privilege. “The man” keeping folks down isn’t just an excuse for school or job dropout; it may be a colloquial naming of patriarchal society.  Solidarity is action to name oppression and take steps to push back against injustice. I learned all this in grad school since the big 60th and find in it the best hope for survival of our world.

I was lucky. I was born to health professional parents in a western border state who loved and respected Mexico and her people. Holidays and vacations were spent in Mexico learning as children how not to be Ugly Americans trading on privilege but respectful guests of a culture not our own, or on a farm in Virginia in the midst of an economy based long ago on slavery and still unjust to slavery’s children. Oppression wasn’t named but injustice was. The inequities were so great that the double inequities faced by women of color at the hands of white patriarchal society were glossed over in the unfairness of separate water fountains, little to no opportunity for education; in bigotry, racism, and grinding poverty. Mom made sure we saw and understood the specific personal pain caused by the classist racist society without using those names. She taught us that we owed a debt to those less privileged.

The awareness of uneven balance of women’s experience against men’s arose in the 1960s during high school. The consciousness-raising conglomerate of civil rights, feminism and Viet Nam shaped activist concerns at the local college level and in some high school classmates. Feminists took the first clinic dispensed birth control pills, marched against the Viet Nam war, boycotted grapes, registered voters in the barrio or bussed to Mississippi. I was too timid to consider doing anything like the activism that awed and frightened me. To further confuse matters, the emerging pacifist away at college fell in love with a young Marine dedicated to serving his country in Viet Nam. Support the partner or the pacifist effort, not both. The man won an internal battle he never even knew had happened.

Meals On Wheels in the poorest part of the ghetto in Meridian Mississippi was as activist as a young mother could manage with an infant on her hip, but it was supremely satisfying. The business of college classes, small children, frequent moves and a career, privileges all, were punctuated by encounters with a single mom friend supporting her child and education as a sex worker; by living in a town composed of wealthy whites who disrespected and excluded from political power the poor Hispanics who did all the manual labor that supported the town; by recognition that there was not a single black pilot in the squadron, that macho was ugly and based on disrespect.

The system, military and business and organized religion, supported white men, then white women, then men of color, then women of color. Recognition awoke of the systemic oppression of women. Oppression recognition bubbles beneath daily living for women when they gather for lunch or book club or work. It expresses itself in man bashing, as harmful to the men caught within the system as for the women. A budding feminist recognizes the value of naming oppression to combat the disease, even when the treatment cannot be agreed upon. Even a newby feminist knows feminism isn’t about man bashing but about women teaching and supporting each other in sisterhood that all God’s children might reach their potential. Relationship, mutuality, collaboration, consensus takes more work than hierarchy, non-participatory decision-making. Change demands new skills even for newcomers. Failure can’t be an option.

The names feminists give themselves are awesome, evocative of power and grace; feminist, womanist, mujerista. The names come into being and embrace change and new meaning and let more of us into the sisterhood. Lesbian sisters experience community different from their straight sisters, have led into change critical for the world’s survival, and deserve to be honored for their activism and leadership into new feminist ethics. The feminist vision of equality and healthy systems looks to this newcomer a lot like heaven on earth, the real, now time fulfillment of God’s vision for God’s beloved children. The vision informs the work for change, inspires this new feminist to read, study, learn, and participate.  Thanks for the invitation.

Categories: Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Ethics Course Dialogue

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10 replies

  1. Peggy, Thanks for sharing. I love that you can be invited to feminism at every age. I think you’re an inspiring reminder that it’s never too late to grow and change, to reflect on your past and let it shape your future. As bell hooks told us, feminism really is for everybody.


    • Katrina, I find it reassuring that feminism is for everybody. When first I became aware of feminism in the 60s, feminism seemed to demand one left one’s husband on the other side of a wall. I admit I was not interested in giving up the relationship and did not explore options. Today I think my husband has feminist leanings because he supports his wife and daughter. It’s not a bad place to begin.


  2. Peggy – What a nice reflection about your journey to feminism and the threads that you can trace back throughout your life. I appreciated your distinction between the terms injustice and oppression. Although the two may be intertwined, it sometimes seems easier to note specific instances of injustice without having to be aware of the entire system that is bubbling below the surface.

    I also appreciated your note: ” A budding feminist recognizes the value of naming oppression to combat the disease, even when the treatment cannot be agreed upon.” This is a nice reference to your own background in healthcare, but also a good recognition that there are many ways to be a feminist, and all lend something valuable to the conversation about what it means to be a woman. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Peggy: what a beautiful and powerful reflection. You have lived through some powerful changes in society and it is so encouraging for me to know that while you were “too timid” to involve yourself in the feminist activism that was happening around you in young adulthood, the seed for your “budding feminism” was already sowed by your education in your family and that you’ve been connecting all the dots together to emerge as the “budding feminist” that you are today. So thank you again for sharing your insights, particularly on race and class privilege, in this post and in our class!


  4. “It’s never too late to be something new like a budding feminist.” Peggy, what does this mean? If you look at a list of the feminist basics– equal pay for equal work, right to vote, right to go out in the world without being raped, I’d say you fit the definition of feminist. So does this mean, at the age of 60 you have decided to say publically “I am a feminist?” It always takes courage for women to step out of the comfort zone, and declare women to be of primary importance in the world.

    “Lesbian sisters experience community different from their straight sisters, have led into change critical for the world’s survival, and deserve to be honored for their activism and leadership into new feminist ethics.”
    This quote intrigued me as well. How are you going to honor the lesbians for the activism this community has been in for the last 40 some years? Is Claremont going to have a huge celebration and invite all the lesbians on a list? I’d say lesbian sisters have a community all our own, it really doesn’t have much to do with the straight world. We wanted to create a unique and powerful woman loving community internationally. Many of our elders really want to be in as much lesbian only space as possible. Even now, I come across lesbians in their late 60s or early 70s who don’t want anything to do with straight women or institutions they are in. A real boost to this community would be social security benefits, because they never had male subsidy. Economic issues are paramont, lesbian only retirement homes and space very much needed.

    “Oppression recognition bubbles beneath daily living for women when they gather for lunch or book club or work. It expresses itself in man bashing, as harmful to the men caught within the system as for the women.”
    I don’t believe parts of this statement are true. I don’t think a man who beats and rapes his wife weekly suffers much at all, compared to the woman. I don’t think the slave owner suffers as much as the slave. This is kind of a liberal lie. Oppressors enjoy their power to the fullest, and men don’t seem to suffer much at all when it comes to their control of the world. So no, those who are beaten and ostracized are the ones to be cared for, the perpetrators need to be in jail.
    And what do you mean by “male bashing?” This is a peculiar term that straight women often level at lesbians, and it’s considered a grave insult. I have yet to see a woman bash a man in the streets of a city, and I don’t know of a domestic violence shelter nearby that men are running to to escape their wives bashing them. I’m being a little facetious here, but women have every right to defend themselves against male abuse of all kinds… from sexual harassment in the work place, to going out to a club and having the right to be left alone. FBI statistics note that the most dangerous place for a woman to be is in a home living with a male. It is uncomfortable to name the agent of the abuse or to name the agents of patriarchy, but they must be named. Human beings don’t rape, men do. Domestic violence is for the most part about men bashing their wives, it’s not a human problem, it’s a male problem.
    Welcome to feminism officially Peggy. I’m from the radical lesbian feminist neck of the woods, so welcome liberal brave woman…. looking forward to future talks.


    • Turtle Woman-Thank you for the welcome. Man bashing is a term used in my world between heterowomen talking trash about their partners. They are self recognising that though they are trash talking men into responsability for every bad thing in their lives, men are sometimes as trapped in their roles as women were before they learned to begin to be feminists. Those women verbally trash talking feel superior in their womenness.
      And I honor lesbian feminists in my way by acknowledging their gifts of enlightenment to women newly learning to speak about oppression throughout our own society and the world. Lesbian feminists have been prominant among the the namers; the best of them have been careful not to paint all men as oppressors.


  5. The class experience is so dynamic that instead of feeling exhausted as some classmates have said, I feel exhilirated. The thread we have followed from male studies generalized to profile women as less morally mature, to Nodding’s ethics of care (even if it felt dated) to Mary Daly’s anger and pain and loss of religion to feminist, womanist, and mujerist social activism flowering from community has been dynamic and powerful. The students are committed, generous,well spoken, dynamic women and men who share their experiences and ideas and model the feminist experience as we learn from Dr Kao. I have been pushed far beyond the comfort zone and reaped the benefits from stepping out into new experiences of blog and sakai. How feminist!


  6. I think Mary Daly said her primary source of power was “rage” and that she wielded her double headed ax to clear away patriarchal mindbindings. Rage is a very powerful term compared to just ordinary heterosexual female anger. Give me rage any day!


  7. Peggy, thank you for your post. I’m impressed by how much you managed to convey in such a relatively short piece! Your comment concerning the feminist goal – “Failure can’t be an option” – reminded me of a similar sentiment I read recently by the writer and professor Alicia Ostriker. Ostriker said in an interview this year: “We can’t overthrow gender inequities – or other inequities – that are thousands of years old in the blink of an eye. But even if we cannot finish the task, we are not at liberty to relinquish it.” Your and Ostriker’s understanding of the feminist task, so to speak, feels purposeful and forward-moving and gives me hope, even if my eyes (or even my granddaughter’s eyes) aren’t the ones that will get to see the vision come to fruition. I think of the complaining so many Americans do about how long it’s taking to clean up the mess the last presidency left for us, economically and militarily speaking, in particular. But it takes a lot longer to clean up a broken glass than it does to knock the glass from the table in the first place. And aren’t we still stepping on shards of glass months later? We are a country and (I’ll speak for my generation of 20 and 30-somethings) a generation of “I want it now.” And while that mentality can be productive in the sense that it drives us forward at a good clip towards what we think right, towards changing what we think wrong, it can also engender frustration and apathy in the clippers. So, I think a healthy balance is necessary between “I want it now” (because of course we want to benefit from our own efforts in this life) and the understanding that our heels will have to be dug in for many generations before we truly are all flourishing in mutuality: before that vision you speak of, Peggy, becomes a reality.


  8. Peggy, I appreciate hearing your reflections on your recent introduction to feminism. It is easy to forget that we all enter these conversations and disciplines with very different things to bring to the table. At the beginning of the course it seemed to me that I was embarking on a journey to understand “feminism” – a thing that exists which I know very little about. However, as we have worked our way through a variety of developments in the field, it is becoming obvious that “it” is always changing and always becoming. And it is most definitely something different to each who experience it. I suppose this is why we share our reflections. Thanks for sharing yours!


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