It is a Matter of Focus by Deanne Quarrie


deanne_2011_B_smMany of the young women I meet tell me that they think feminism is not what they are about, that they prefer to work for the good of all. I understand that and certainly we can all choose where we wish to place our focus. However, it does make me wonder how effective we can be with our focus placed on so broad a scope. Certainly, we want equal rights for all and some call that “feminism” these days but is it?

In my 73 years, I have lived through quite a few years of women working for equal rights. I have seen many successes as well as the failures. I am incredibly proud of those successes. When I was in the early stages of my career and had just entered management, I was able to implement leadership methods, which now have become models for employers such as team building and servant leadership. Then however, there were no names for them. I led my teams based simply on how I wished my employers to treat me.

I have always supervised women. Originally, I was in accounting and the accounting clerks were all women. Later I managed bookstores with women filling the positions. I wanted my teams to learn a variety of job skills. The more trained they were, the more valuable they were to the company but ultimately, those acquired skills would help them earn more and be more successful in their own careers. Because I was building relationships with them, I had the privilege of hearing their stories. Their stories opened my eyes to the personal challenges that women face in the work place. Not only did they struggle for jobs, for equal pay and for jobs in management, they had to fight their own inner image of being “less than” that was placed on them by how they were raised.

In those days, parents raised their girls to be “just” girls, dependent and less able. They expected them to be mothers only and limited their career choices. Nursing and clerical jobs were the biggest options and then only second to being a wife and mother, a fall back in case the marriage failed. When girls were growing up then, society said they were weaker and without the same capabilities of their brothers. The brothers received the encouragement to be strong, successful and enterprising. Our culture filled girl’s heads with “I can’t” kind of thinking.) “I can’t do that.” I am not able to do that.”

I was lucky that this never happened to me. My parents were able to look ahead to a changing world. They taught me to be independent and to think for myself. They taught me that I could be whoever I chose to be and do anything I chose to do if I put my mind to it!

So when I heard their stories, heard how they were taught to think as they were growing up, I knew that part of my work in the world was to help women learn just how powerful they are!

Today, politicians are taking steps to reverse the work of those brave women in the feminist movement. The possibility of all we have worked for disappearing is a very real threat. The extreme right wing wants women pregnant and barefoot once more!

The women who come to me, those who enter my priestess-mentoring program, must learn the history of the feminist movement. Many have no idea how hard the fight was and still is.

I recently re-watched Iron-Jawed Angels. I have no idea how many times I have watched this movie. I just know the women who won the right for us to vote inspire me. This time there was one scene I hadn’t noticed before. It was the scene in which Alice Paul refused to allow black women to join her movement. She did not do it because she did not believe in their cause. Their cause was simply less popular than her own. She knew that once women got the vote it would include women of all races, but until that happened, she had to keep the focus on one single purpose. Hers was a strategic decision. Certainly, it was a decision many would view as biased. However, broadening the focus, trying to be inclusive, could very well have caused people to see the movement as a racial one rather than a gender issue. Alice Paul had a single purpose – to win the right to vote for women – all women.

We still do not have equality in the work place. Politicians are tearing apart our right to control our own bodies. Our right wing, conservative lawmakers (mostly men) are doing everything in their power to reverse the laws passed as a result of hard fought battles. Little by little, twisted interpretations of biblical passages are entering the domain where separation of church and state should prosper.

It is imperative that our young women know our history. It is imperative women see within themselves how patriarchy has influenced them. It is imperative that feminism be about women and women’s rights for equality. Otherwise we could very well lose what others so valiantly won. With singular purpose, with determined focus, women’s rights matter.

Deanne Quarrie. D. Min. is a Priestess of The Goddess. She is the author of five books. She is the founder of the Apple Branch and Beyond the Ninth Wave where she teaches courses in Feminist Dianic Witchcraft, European Witchcraft and Druidic Shamanism. She mentors those who wish to serve others in their communities. She is also an Adjunct Professor at Ocean Seminary College and is the founder of Global Goddess, a worldwide organization open to all women who honor some form of the divine feminine.

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Categories: Activism, Education, Feminism, Gender, Gender and Power, General, Women's Rights

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14 replies

  1. Great perspective. And I agree, there has to be a focus. They can’t be afraid to be confrontational and brave. However, that is what is happening.

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  2. We have to keep fighting the good fight although I’m not happy about using the word ‘fight’. It’s not surprising that things get darkest before dawn …

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  3. Thank you. When I heard the story of Alice Paul I felt ambiguous but I can see the strategy in her decision. I wonder if the same strategy is true of feminism. By focusing on women, when progress is made, men will benefit too. The focus produces inclusive results. Maybe?

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  4. I am not so sure about Alice Paul’s decision either. If it was part of a well-documented feminist strategy to achieve the vote for women by appealing to white men (and women) who wanted to achieve a larger white majority, I would criticize it, and note that women of color do not identify with feminism when they see it as a “white women’s issue.”

    At the same time, I view feminism (at its best) as being about the equality of all women as you do and worry as you do about the attitudes toward feminism you describe. Katha Pollitt in her most recent blog speculated that one of the reasons gay marriage is winning while abortion rights are losing is because gay marriage is something that affects men, while abortion affects only women. If women don’t stand up for our own rights, we can’t expect anyone else to do so for us.

    Pollitt also points out that gay marriage leaves the idea that people should live their lives as couples and other assumptions surrounding “love and marriage” intact, while feminism upsets the apple cart, by questioning male dominance and every other assumption that goes along with it.

    It is easier to argue that “I just want to have what you already have” than to say “I want the world to change from the bottom up.” I am all for “equal rights” but I also realize that equal rights for all will not be achieved within the patriarchal system.

    I think that young women sense that feminism means going against the system and many systems and fear that speaking out in a radical way will jeopardize their chances of being treated equally in the workplace, which it might, and of achieving “love and marriage,” which it also might.

    Besides focus on our own interests as women, feminism requires identifying with women as a group (and not just one’s own interests) and rocking the boat. So I would say solidarity and courage are needed as well as focus.

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    • If I remember rightly, the struggle for black voting rights choose to ignore black women on the grounds that they would make the issue (especially since this began before women of any ancestry had voting rights) less likely to gain popularity.

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    • the older I get the more apathy I see. People are afraid to speak out – more and more. I don’t really understand it as that fear has never affected me! I stay in trouble with some people because I cannot be silent in the face of injustice.

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  5. On being more openly powerful, I think it would be helpful if we could get more openly political — more signs on our front lawns, in our apartment windows, and bumper stickers, etc. I have a website basically focusing on women’s historical achievements in the arts and spirituality. But I have been brazenly pasting those type bumper-sticker banners from a feminist perspective at the bottom of the main page. Right now there’s a photo of Elizabeth Warren, with a banner that says:

    “RUN WARREN RUN.”

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  6. I am appalled by Alice Paul’s decision, though grateful to be made aware of the history. Do the ends justify the means? That question arises again and again. Feminism is not monolithic, so we will have differences. I hear Sojourner Truth’s voice resounding in my mind. To exclude any woman or group or women from a/the women’s movement for the right to vote or any of our other still-imperiled rights strikes me as inherently wrong.

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    • I think to truly understand why she did what she did, we would have to be living in those times which were drastically different than now. She knew that the struggle to win the vote for women had gone on and on and on – and believed that to add a racial issue idea would prolong the struggle and perhaps even lose it. Today, I can’t even imagine not including women of color.

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      • Thanks for your response. It is important to consider decisions in historical context. You probably know about the Grimke sisters. They were abolitionists who were also feminists–or became feminists as the result of going out into the world speaking for the cause of abolition. I think they were told to tone down the feminism so it didn’t dilute or distract from the cause.

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  7. We were told we could be elementary school teachers, too. Women earned less than men, who were high school teachers or principals and school board members. Nursing? I knew a woman who’d earned a Ph.D. in medicine and was head of the nursing program at the college I attended. People could address her as Dr. on campus. In the hospital? She was merely Miss. We were indeed less than and unable. Thank Goddess we had some strong leaders. I hope She can teach some lessons to those male (and some female) politicians who are trying to push us back to 1951.

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    • I did leave off teaching as a woman’s profession ! Thanks for adding it~ I find it very frightening indeed to see this movement to erode women’s rights along with the pressure that if you aren’t Christian you aren’t American!

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