My Road to Feminism

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Very few people set out to become feminists. It’s not a philosophy that they just happen to pick out one day as if it was a dish in a smorgasbord. Becoming a feminist is usually a process. Things happen that shake us up and make us question everything we thought we believed. In my case, I became a feminist after having an abortion. It’s not that I was looking for absolution. It was more that I was trying to make sense of this happening to me. What were the implications of being a woman who had aborted her child? How had other women handled it? Why didn’t anyone talk about it?

I felt so alone. I didn’t think I could ever tell anyone my “secret.” And then I enrolled in a women’s studies course. This was back when there were no women’s studies departments or degrees. The course wasn’t part of the regular curriculum; it was more or less an experiment. The teachers were sort of making it up as they went along. We read seminal works like The Feminine Mystique and Sexual Politics. But most importantly, we talked. About what it meant to be a woman in our society. And about what being women meant to us personally.

Before I took that women’s studies course, I had never questioned why women made less money than men, or why mothers were more likely to stay home with the kids and did most of the housework. I hadn’t thought about the fact that there were so few women doctors or lawyers or engineers. I know that sounds incredible, but this was 1971. The Women’s Liberation Movement (as it was called then) had just started to pick up steam.

This was also around the time when “The Pill” became widely available. Before The Pill, women had to rely on their partners to use condoms or on birth control methods that weren’t that effective. Suddenly women were able to take charge of their own contraception and to be reasonably sure that they wouldn’t become pregnant. It’s hard to imagine now, but that was a monumental break-through for women. For the first time a woman could take charge of her own life. She was no longer a slave to her biology.

I got pregnant when I was 18 largely because I hadn’t thought about contraception. After my abortion, I went on The Pill. It made it possible for me to control whether or not (or when) I would become a mother. It also made me rethink what it meant to be responsible. Before the abortion, I had more or less gone along with what society (and my boyfriends) said I should be. Having the abortion and going on The Pill taught me that there were decisions that only I could make and that I damn well better make them if I wanted to be my own person.

The women’s studies course gave me the courage to make my own decisions. To step up to the plate, so to speak. I learned that the way a woman lives her life had a profound effect on everything and everyone else in our society. I began to see myself as part of a larger world.

One of the things I like about feminism is that it makes me think. It’s important to question why we do what we do and how we might do things differently. But it’s also important to analyze the influences that come from outside of ourselves. It’s one thing to say, “I’m not a decisive person.” It’s another thing altogether to get to the point where you can say, “The reason I have trouble making decisions is because I was always taught that a woman should defer to the men in her life. She is not supposed to push her own agenda. She is there to accommodate herself to the needs of others.”

Feminism doesn’t advocate selfishness, but self-awareness. Being a feminist means that you are always seeking ways to be better and more effective, not only as a woman, but as a person. It means that you can’t lean on others for everything. You are allowed to have your own opinions. And you are capable of standing up for yourself.

I didn’t become a feminist overnight. My whole life has been one long process of learning to stand up for myself and take responsibility for my own actions. Sometimes I’ve been successful. Usually I struggle. But I can never return to the person I was before I discovered feminism.

 

 

Is Being a Crone a Bad Thing?

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There are many books out that refer to the older woman as a “crone” and claim that the crone years (menopause and beyond) are the best part of a woman’s life. I’ll be sixty in February and I went through menopause several years ago. So I guess I qualify as a crone. But it’s hard for me to see that as a positive image.

Wikipedia describes the crone this way:

The crone is a stock character in folklore and fairy tale, an old woman who is usually disagreeable, malicious, or sinister in manner, often with magical or supernatural associations that can make her either helpful or obstructing. She is marginalized by her exclusion from the reproductive cycle, and her proximity to death places her in contact with occult wisdom. As a character type, the crone shares characteristics with the hag.

Here is a more positive view of “crone-hood” from a review of Jane Shinoda Bolen’s Crones Don’t Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women on Amazon.com:

Banish all thoughts of crones as withered and barren: crones are `juicy,’ having zest, passions, and soul.  Upon entering the crone years, women can now devote creativity, energy, and time to things that matter. Having developed instincts, having endured pain, having learned the importance of meditation, crones choose their path at the fork in the road with heart. This is woman power at its core. Girl power is a mere warm up.

Crone proponents believe that a woman’s experiences make her uniquely privy to the deeper meanings of life. By the time she reaches menopause, she has supposedly achieved true wisdom; that is, she has learned to embrace what’s really important in life and to reject those things that are mere distractions.

Wiccans and pagans describe their Triple Goddess as the personification of the three stages of a woman’s life: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The problem is that in our society the Maiden is considered the preferred feminine archetype. The Mother is sentimentalized, sometimes revered, but definitely not considered sexy. (For example, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is presented as the holy Madonna.) And the Crone is either ignored or reviled. In this society, the older a woman becomes, the more she loses her value.

I understand that those who use the “crone” to describe the older woman are trying to reclaim the word by presenting it in a positive light. This is similar to when women proudly call themselves “bitch.” But personally, I think that strategy is self-defeating. I don’t understand when African-Americans call each other the “n-word.” What purpose does it serve to associate yourself with something that is usually considered to be a slur? I would much rather find a term that bolsters the idea that the individual should be treated with respect and dignity.

So how about replacing “crone” with “matriarch”? (It fits better with Maiden and Mother, for one thing.) A matriarch is any female leader of a family, clan or tribe or a woman who dominates any group or activity. She is respected and looked up to, even in some cases venerated. She often is, but doesn’t have to be, a mother.

When my parents died, one of the things I grappled with is that I became the head of the family. My parents were no longer around to host Thanksgiving and Christmas and carry on other family traditions. I was left to make decisions about their funerals, their estates and the welfare of the family. And I wasn’t at all prepared.

It would have been far better if I’d been groomed to be a matriarch. We socialize our daughters to be maidens and mothers, to be young and beautiful and maternal. But we don’t tell them that someday they will be the female heads of their families. We don’t train them to be leaders. We don’t give them a vision for their later years, when the children are raised and they are “out of a job.” And we don’t show them very many examples of older women who are treasured for their wisdom and experience.

Many young women mistakenly think that they have power because of their sexuality. Men want what they have to give, whether it’s for sex or reproduction. But that power dwindles as they age, because men think they no longer have anything to offer.

We need to teach men and women that the older woman can be just as powerful, but for different reasons. She is often more productive than the young woman or mother. She has the accumulated wisdom that comes from living through many stages of life. And she no longer cares what other people think, so she’s not afraid to speak her mind.

As I age, I struggle to replace the sense of worth I had in my younger years (from being seen as sexual and maternal) with one that comes from knowing that I’ve seen and done it all and survived to tell my story. I have more to offer now than I ever did as a young woman, wife and mother. I’ve lived through divorces and economic uncertainty, worked hard to raise and support a family, and most of all, learned from my mistakes. I am uniquely qualified to dispense wisdom and guidance to those who will inherit the world some day.

I am a Matriarch.