Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Women Say Something

Tonight I attended an event.

Long ago, back before cell phones and personal computers, before MASH stopped running, before I even knew what the words meant, I referred to myself as a Marxist Feminist Lesbian - at the time I was none of the three.

Time passed and I totally embraced one of the labels, held firm to the principles of another, and modified the third.  I grew to become a Socialist Feminist Lesbian.  I was never a separatist (though I have dear friends who were) but I understood where they were coming from and I marched for women's rights and listened to good solid lesbian lefty folk singers.

Somewhere in the late1980's and 1990's the wheels seem to have fallen off the women's movement, even the separatists mostly came down out of the hills and "played the game" and worked for "the man".  Of course I was swept along just like everyone else...  Settled down, had a baby, stuck at a real job, bought a house...  But it was never far beneath the surface.  Even when I moved to the US in 99/2000, even in the US, where when you say the word "socialist" lots of people hear the word "Stalin", I kept saying it.

Dammit I am a SOCIALIST and I am a FEMINIST and I am still (although not practicing LOL) a LESBIAN!

Sooooooooo by way of Twitter and Facebook I accidentally head about this event so I spent the afternoon resting and I went!

Oh my goodness - when did lesbians and feminists get so young?  Yikes!

There were two panels, the first focused mainly on inclusion and talked a lot about bullying in schools.  The second looked at feminism and (this is my takeaway so forgive me if it is not what anyone else got from the discussion) it talked about the future of feminism and if the word feminism can be revived/reclaimed/revitalized.  A couple of times the word humanism was brought up as a possible replacement.  At one point during the first discussion one of the panelists mentioned that dropping the words "Gay and Lesbian" from the front of the words Mardi Gras for the giant celebration held in Sydney ever Feb/March was an example of us (the queer community) showing the world that we are more inclusive than "they" are.  I wonder if the word "humanism" were to be applied would it be considered the same way?  Or have we become so inclusive that we no longer have an identity?  Personally I think that if the feminist movement was no longer identified as relating to women it would have no validity and no reason to exist.  One of the panelists insisted that she would always refer to herself as a feminist and that failing to do so would be disrespectful to all the women who have fought for the "equality" we have today (such as it is) and I agree.

There was an older woman on the second panel (one of the few people I saw who was most likely older than me!!!) and she suggested that we are bogged down in viewing the world from an economic (ie male dominated/goal focused/financial) point of view and that we need to move back to a focus on society.  She said there needed to be a collective movement towards societal change.  At this point one of the other panelists mentioned the Occupy movement and no one really pointed out that Occupy is totally an economic focused movement, its very core is an opposition to corporate greed and a desire for a more equitable distribution of wealth.

This evolved into a discussion of how factional in fighting and issue arguments are disrupting the ability of women/feminists to organize.  One of the other panelists, a very interesting woman who is the secretary of a major trade union made a very interesting point...  She said that no one has more in fighting than the unions but that when Australia was under the conservative Prime Minister John Howard they managed to put aside their differences and unite against the common enemy.

This to me is the crux of the issue....  The common enemy, the overarching goal, the fundamental principles - they must be grave enough and significant enough to unite us and to compel us to act.

On the way home I was singing this song to myself in the car...

Folksingers like Judy Small, Alix Dobkin, Cris Williamson, Maggie Kirkpatrick, and other lesbian artists like Robyn Archer taught us our women's history and reinforced our social consciences.  Who are the young women of today learning from?  I mean I really like Beyonce (The Boy would kill me if I said anything else) and Irreplaceable (to the left to the left) is a very empowering song but it's hardly educational.

God help us if it's Katy Perry!


  1. Oh, I know what you mean! I watch the younger female generation and just...stare. Your post confirms my thoughts about where their heads are. I am born/raised/still USA and the '70s movement just DIED, sank under the weight of baby girls who seem to know NOTHING of what we fought against! Their attire, language, role models..AARRGGH. And yes, in the end, a common enemy joins us all as one. The answer eludes me. The question horrifies me. ("not practicing"---hahaha, no worries, like riding a bike. :)

  2. Great post and sounds like an INCREDIBLE meeting! I don't see how 'humanism' can replace 'feminism'. Humanism is about being socially inclusive and respectful of the rights of anyone of any gender; feminism is about respecting the rights of women.
    I think the younger generation of women take it for granted that they have more and broader career opportunities, that they can get as high in their career as their male counterparts, that they can choose to have a career in the first place rather than a job that will simply keep them busy until baby-raising comes along. There was a generation of women fighting for all this in the 60s and 70s, tough, wonderful women who saw injustice and inequality and fought to end it. Oh, and also put paid to male bosses patting you on the bottom as you walked past.
    Today's young women seem almost lobotomised by comparison. Role models appear to be singers wearing the bare minimum of clothes and the absolute maximum of heels. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say, but it's a generation of vacuous copycats for the most part as far as role models go.
    I'm sounding like a Grumpy Old Woman, but I was eleven I think when Helen Reddy made I Am Woman a hit. I didn't understand all of what it meant back then but it felt powerful. Listening now it still does - it was the anthem of a generation. Where are today's anthems? (Um….Katy Perry's I Kissed a Girl may do anthem duty for a certain percentage of the female population :-) ) What is going to stir young women up and jolt them out of complacency?

  3. I was reading an interview this weekend in..."Vanity Fair", I think it was, with the founders of "Ms." magazine (mainly because I wanted to hear what Gloria Steinem had to say), and I asked my cousin, who was in the room reading another magazine at the time, if she considered herself a feminist...we're both in our mid-thirties. She said "Yes", but I heard a real reluctance in her voice, and I thought, "Wow, 'feminist' is still a dirty a word!" She then said that she believed more in equality, and I wondered what she thought feminism was. I want to talk about it with her more someday.

    I think that women in my generation and younger do take it for granted that we have so many choices and that other women fought very hard so that we could have those choices. "Complacency" is a good word for it. :(