Please, Let’s Give Feminists a Break.
I remember so vividly entering graduate school in my early forties and being told I was an “eco – feminist” by my professors. What does that phrase mean I asked having no relationship that I knew of to feminism. Feminists, I thought vaguely, naively, even stupidly, burned bras and hated men…
I was asked to read “Woman and Nature; The Roaring Inside Her” by Susan Griffin to help me see who I was, and after finishing this one book I submerged myself in feminist writings like a starved woman – child. My teachers were right. I was a feminist – an eco –feminist because I had already made the connection between what was happening to the Earth and what had happened to me. Every tree that was chopped down was a part of me, every stream that was polluted was a part of me, every animal that was slaughtered was a part of me because I was a part of Nature. I owed my life to Nature, the only mother I had ever had. I loved Her, honored her, became her fierce advocate and in the process She eventually taught me to love myself.
I had come to feminism through the back door. I was a naturalist, an animal lover, a plant woman whose love for the Earth had sustained her through childhood trauma, sexual, emotional, psychological abuse, my brother’s tragic suicide (after which I totally lost myself entering the ‘dead years’), and finally through a grotesque experience with physical abuse in my late 30’s during which I was repeatedly battered by a male partner.
I believed I was crazy until I began to have my ideas validated by other feminists some of whom were my teachers. Submerging myself first in eco – feminism and then in feminist scholarship I began to see the world through a very different lens – a lens that included women as part of “his – story” even though most of us remained invisible, and remain so today.
For the first time in my life I allowed my anger to surface and to find home in a lost self that had denied the damage that had left her with PTSD and a severe anxiety disorder. For a while, my fury/outrage/grief at being treated so horrifically by my family, schools, community, religious institutions, and culture consumed me. Up until that point I had been forced to use denial in order to survive and had turned my anger inward paralyzing myself with self – hatred.
Now I could express that anger appropriately and began to hold members of my family, the men in my life, (eventually including my adult children) and the culture accountable for their despicable actions… Ever so slowly, I began to heal from self – hatred as my fury and outrage peaked and then dissipated.
For about five years I struggled with my rage towards the men in my life that had sexually and emotionally abused me as a child and as a woman who didn’t know how to protect herself (my fifty percent – this is an example of the importance of being accountable – there are always two sides).
Then I left tunnel vision behind and came to the realization that men were not the problem – the culture I had been raised in was flawed, privileging men over women in every way that I could think of. Men were socialized into this privilege by virtue of birth, some, of course, more than others. White middle class men “ruled” the world (and continue to do so today). The “man against nature paradigm” that was so contrary to my lived experience – turning me into an eco – feminist without my knowing it – now became a platform for me to begin telling a different story, a practice I continue to this day.
Patriarchy is an incredibly destructive ideological structure that privileges men over women, men over children, men over Nature. This system oppresses women, children and men who are not part of the dominant material culture albeit in different ways, and this system is what has brought us to the edge of the global political and ecological breakdown we are facing today.
The point of all this story telling is to help women understand that feminism is a perspective worthy of our attention – so worthy in fact that without incorporating a feminist perspective – one that values compassion, cooperation, and equality for all peoples and non human species – we will all be facing extinction.
Recently I read an angry feminist’s response – probably that of a young woman – that blamed men for women’s oppression. Annoyed by this attitude I remarked somewhat heatedly that hating men was not the answer, forgetting a truth I learned from personal experience, that when women discover feminism it is normal and part of their process to become angry with and blame their personal oppressors. In time this attitude will pass (and if doesn’t then women become part of the problem), just as my own anger did.
Blaming is a natural response to being harmed and part of the human condition. It is also an opportunity to begin to grow up and take responsibility for our personal actions, as we pull back our projections and work with our own shortcomings. Most older feminists like me reached that point after a few angry years.
Today we see feminism as a flickering beacon of hope for men, women, children, and the Earth. If we can work together women and men can restore the feminist values of respect, compassion, cooperation. Patriarchy has only been around for about 4000 years. Seeking a matrifocal way of being in the world might save people and the planet from dying an unnatural death.
SO PLEASE, PLEASE, GIVE FEMINISTS A BREAK.
Sara is a naturalist, writer, a Jungian pattern analyst, ethologist ( person who studies animals in the their natural habitat) who is currently splitting her time between living in her home in Maine and residing here in Northern New Mexico. She has Passamaquoddy/Maliseet Indigenous roots which many be why she has dedicated her life to writing stories about animals and the Earth. Her work is regularly published.