All the Womyn?
Or, why modern feminism lives in an ivory tower
While I might get skewered for saying so, I’m going to say it anyway: The Women’s Center’s big conference this weekend was a major disappointment.
I showed up Friday afternoon hoping to hear something fresh about modern women’s issues and feminism—you know, child care and women’s health and work equity and managing family and work responsibilities. I’m a married working mother, after all, and I wanted to hear about what women are doing to help other women succeed in life and what’s left to be done.
I wanted to hear stories about other women’s lives, about things I—and other average women—could relate to.
But what I heard at some of the workshops was this: None of those things are what’s truly important. I learned that marriage is a sham, that raising kids is less important than fighting the patriarchy, and that all women are, in some fashion, victims of rape.
What’s really important, I learned at this university-sponsored event, is fighting against the patriarchy by empathizing with women who say that, while they have girl parts, they really don’t feel like women. What really matters, I was told, is learning why we should avoid “gendering” one another in our speech and actions, and why it’s important that goddesses were worshiped long before male-centered religions like Christianity ever took root on earth.
I’ll admit that there were high points at the conference—the workshops on women in politics (featuring Supervisor Jane Dolan and City Councilmembers Maureen Kirk and Coleen Jarvis) and women in prison (featuring actual women prisoners) were enlightening and fresh. Jarvis, Dolan and Kirk were honest and passionate about their sometimes-rocky roads to political power.
And the female inmates, bused in from the Leo Chesney Center, didn’t mince words when they spoke about life in prison. They were honest about drug abuse, about alcohol abuse and about violence and didn’t play themselves as victims of the criminal-justice system. They admitted they’d committed serious crimes, and they were plotting the long road back.
It was, in a word, liberating.
But there were marked low points. For example, I spent 45 minutes listening to a panel of women talk to a 13-member audience about the mainstream’s marginalization of peripheral gender roles and sexualities. Even the title of the workshop was awkward and non-sensical—"Complicating Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation: a Panel Discussion.”
The workshop was advertised to “facilitate a theoretical panel discussion with LGBTQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer] individuals who will talk about and answer questions on gender identity, ‘passing,’ sexual preference in relation to identity politics, post-modern conceptualizations of sex/gender identities, gender/sexual-ity performativity and transgender/queer issues.”
What the workshop turned out to be was several women complaining that they don’t seem to fit into already-defined sex roles.
“I’m not gay or lesbian or bi or straight,” said one panel participant. “The people I’m attracted to don’t fit into those categories.”
The workshop called “Birthing the Goddess in the Classroom” wasn’t any more enlightening. About eight women turned up to hear a Humboldt State University professor speak about prehistoric goddess worship and rant about the fact this practice has been ignored by scholars.
“I’m speaking against this male, European, Western, monotheistic American his-story,” she said. “This is about her-story.”
What I learned from these workshops is this: Our (men’s and women’s, gays’ and straights’) differences are more important than our similarities. That women should be automatically skeptical of men. That America continues to be a hostile place for all women.
And then I stepped off campus, climbed out of the ivory tower, and forgot it all.