". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where Did the Sisterhood Go?

Was there ever a Sisterhood of powerful women?  Will there ever be?

In the New Yorker, Susan Faludi, who was born rather later and thus not a part of what she describes, runs down the breakdown of the first radical feminist movement(s), via the breakdown of one its most brilliant original leaders, Shulamith Firestone.  That was a large part of the problem: she, with Robin Morgan, Kate Millet and some others, did emerge via the meda as much as their own achievements from the nameless, unknown others in the movements, in NYC, Chicago and other cities.  That was a betrayal of the principles, some thought, and these women needed to be punished for it, forced to confess the error of their ways (too much communism without understanding it seems to me, and it is particularly shocking that feminists of the era would fall into ... such error ....).

Whether or not that was a betrayal, whether other women betrayed Firestone and Millet in particular (they both broke down), or whether it was their own minds and early experiences that betrayed them, that's not for me to say, or judge.

And neither does Faludi.  She just runs it down, to best of her ability, having read all the books, talked with everyone who would talk with her.

It is very sad, but also very interesting.  In many ways much of what goes on on the internet with mobbing and trolling, by both males and females, around social justice and professional matters, has reminded me of this dreadful failure. But no one is as much a target for these behaviors as are women and girls.

From Faludi's article:

The women were in Washington to attend the New Left’s Counter-Inaugural to Richard Nixon’s first Inauguration. Late in the protest, under a large tent set up near the Washington Monument, the antiwar leader Dave Dellinger, serving as master of ceremonies, announced, “The women have asked all the men to leave the stage.” They hadn’t, but his words gave a nasty impression, made worse by the sight of a paraplegic Vietnam veteran being carried off to make way for the “women’s libbers.” Marilyn Webb, a local feminist who was slated to speak, remembers thinking, “Holy God, how did I get here?” Webb was three sentences into “the mildest speech you can imagine,” she said, when men in the audience began to shout, “Take her off the stage and fuck her!” and “Fuck her down a dark alley!” All the while, she recalled, “Shulie is on my right saying, ‘Keep going!’ ” Firestone tried to speak next, but was drowned out by a howl of sexual epithets.

This is so much like what goes on these days when women object to being demeaned by popular entertainments or display expertise.

Then came the trashing by one's own:

Like a cancer, the attacks spread from those who had reputations to those who were merely strong; from those who were active to those who merely had ideas; from those who stood out as individuals to those who failed to conform rapidly enough to the twists and turns of the changing line.

“Trashing” had surfaced in New York Radical Women just weeks after the group’s founding.
As says one who was there and experienced the process:

Carol Giardina, who now teaches women’s studies and American history at Queens College, said, “I don’t know anyone who founded a group and did early organizing” who wasn’t thrown out. “It was just a disaster, a total disaster.” She was ousted from her Florida group by “moon goddess” worshippers who accused her of being “too male-identified.”

I was not where any of these things took place and I wasn't old enough either.  I came along later, after leaving the farm and getting to college, and wanting desperately to be a part of the women's movement, to join the Women's Studies departments and so on.  Fail, complete failure on my part. I was too different to fall in line.

I was a farm girl and not a single woman I ever met even realized there were farm women and farmers' daughters.  All of them had mysterious money from parents and family -- none of them had my financial concerns. There were other obstacles.  It didn't work out between us.

I didn't give up my principles, as far as they went.  I have loved / love many women, been betrayed by many women for no reason or great reason, and done the same myself surely.

But I cannot help continuing to wonder, what I wondered at the top:

Was there ever a Sisterhood of powerful women?  Will there ever be?

Or, being women, always controlled by that fact, will there ever be only cliques,  excluders and includers, mean girls and the other girls? Are we women of the 'comfortable' classes and prospects, of whatever age and experience, always doomed to re-enact the 4th grade?\

Sometimes I consider whether we women are terrible judges of each other's mis-steps, failings and sins.  We will forgive our lovers, our partners, our children, our parents, but we will not forgive each other.  Why, I wonder.  Why.

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