Turning the Lights On: On “Feminism”
(Y)our comments after the blogposts here are often the best part of BLT! Here are two recent comments followed by a couple of paragraphs from Jean Fox O’Barr under this heading of hers, “Turning the Lights On.” Do notice, if you will, her final two sentences, the quotation of Rebecca West on never being able to find out precisely what feminism is.
You’re onto something with all those examples: it’s hard to know what feminism means today. Rather than having a consistent definition, as it might have in some eras, it has become a term most often defined relatively. A group might describe themselves as feminist relative to another part of their community identified as non-feminist. But if you try to compare the beliefs of one group of self-labeled feminists to another, they will likely diverge as widely as the beliefs of the feminists compared to non-feminists of a single community.
Not really apropos, but perhaps still of interest:
Turning the Lights On
I have been arguing [in this book of mine] that women’s studies is necessary to the full education of both women and men. Women will gain power, the ability to use resources for themselves and for society’s good, only when they have knowledge of themselves. Self-knowledge begins with information. We need to know as much about Elizabeth Cady Stanton as Abraham Lincoln, as much about Charlotte Hawkins Brown as Frederick Douglass. We need to read Chopin’s The Awakening as often as Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. We need to know that women often reason on the basis of relationships, not exclusively on the basis of rules, and that, having figured that out, we can reexamine how the “male” ability to ground decisions in abstract rules can work to obscure the power relations that are sustained by those rules. Thus men gain in this learning process just as fully, although in different ways. Their understanding of themselves, their relations with other men, and their ability to have mutually productive relationships with women increase immeasurably.
In closing, let me return to my metaphor about lights. It is not always easy to turn on more lights. It takes more skill, it requires more time, it demands more resources. But the end produce, our view of human nature, is worth it. Turning on the lights is necessary. A feminist perspective is necessary for both more complete knowledge and a more useful education for each of you. To quote Rebecca West in The Clarion of 1913: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”