Through the past few decades a lot of women, including myself, have kept feminist ideas stashed
somewhere in the back of the closet, together with a few exquisite garments which were also hidden away. Feminist ideas and fancy gowns are identical
in one way: they are both judged frivolous.
In the 1970s we had consciousness-raising groups and women's studies. Male academics disdainfully cleared their throats. In the 1980s we had women dressed in white, marching for the never-ratified Equal Rights Amendment. How quaint, some thought. To raise its level of respectability, one of the early American feminist documents, entitled "Declaration of Sentiments," is commonly referred to as the "Seneca Falls Declaration." Much more reputable. And women's studies have long since given way to the more inclusive, more agreeable, "gender studies."
How could those among us raised to accept our place in history not cringe under so much external or internalized censure? All of the respectable histories were written by men, and -- surprise! -- men emerged from them as the respectable gender.
Early in the twentieth century a German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, made a remarkable prediction in his Letters to a Young Poet, namely that he saw a powerful feminine human being come into existence who would take everyone by surprise with her strength of humanity. Rilke also predicted that there would be a phase where women's ways would, in passing, be imitations of masculine ways.
I think as women we are in a wave of this imitative transition now, though some of us are past the stage of imitating men, while others are only just approaching it. This wave was, is, and will be the crowning achievement of patriarchal culture -- that men and masculine values were so admired that the best women might do is emulate their glory. But like a wave's crest breaks close to the shore to surge up onto the sand and then return to the depth of the sea, this crowning achievement of patriarchal culture, women imitating men, is, I trust, its shortest phase, and its last.
Many of us have seen the inside now, what it is like to lead the kind of life that was advertised in glorious colors as a meaningful and fulfilling existence. Some of us know, if often only from the perspective of executive assistants, what it is like to conduct business far less interesting than anything we might dream up in "idle" moments. Some of us know what it is like to coerce "health" along by a surgeon's forceful interference, instead of healing by means of the surviving wisdom of more holistic ways. Some of us have learned what it is like to lead groups in worship of nothingness under such illustrious names as nirvana, God, transcendence or the like.
Some of us women, decidedly in imitation of exalted male values, now even know what it is like to be part of Armed Services, or the politics or sciences behind them, using all of our creative energies to exploit, compete with, and destroy other human beings, other non-human beings, and finally, if we don't change course soon, the Earth herself. Some of us have asked, are asking: "Why ruin life by living it in the service of death or dead things?" War. Money. Nirvana. At least the question is becoming louder, and the number of those asking is growing. May the volume keep increasing!
Other essays of interest . . .
Women want peace. We want to live and let live. We know this when, after having unflinchingly struck a padded brick with our fist twenty times in a row in a self-defense class, we suddenly turn nauseous when required to make impact with the same perfect fist on the belt of another human being. We know this when we choose not to enter certain brilliant and profitable careers that would entail making statistics out of life and living creatures, and then manipulate those with budgets, legislation, and weaponry.
Some women even know this when they regrettably cast their votes for the status quo, and against equality on all levels, terrified lest they and their daughters should be subject to identical treatment in every arena of life and having to end up vying for their place in the hierarchy of male values. Should they and their daughters suddenly be like their fathers, their mates, and their sons, encouraged to gloat over death-adventures, carcasses of hunted animals or human beings, trained to kill for principles or profit, and celebrated for defeating others?
For a long time I have witnessed women withdraw from the struggle for equality with great unease, because of the sympathy I cannot help but feel for the underlying concern -- is it not better to eke out a living wrapped in an apron than to die in a uniform? I still do not have an answer to that or similar questions which would necessarily convince a genuinely-frightened questioner.
I only know that what we want with equality is to, openly and legally, exert half of the power in the world, without having to wield what power we do have against enormous social obstacles instead of using it for productive causes. Once those social obstacles are removed, we could finally use our power to show mankind how we want to live on earth. With peace. With beauty. With celebration. And with love.
The obstacles are wearing down too slowly for some of us. Over the course of years I have watched many women turn away from patriarchal values by turning away from men and their masculine issues altogether. Some of us no longer greet soldiers with compassion as they come home from their wars, much less with traditional veneration, should they return victorious. Some of us no longer stand behind our men when they go through crises caused by their competitive, power-thirsty attitudes. Instead of supporting masculine values through times of crisis, we long for the implementation of feminine values that support our deep knowledge that there is no enemy in the world except fear. We know that nature provides her deaths and renewals in accordance with her own unwritten and incontestable laws, and that we are not called upon to spend our energies in helping nature to organize and administer those laws, much less impose our own inferior "improvements" on them. Many of us are longing to leave behind a society that places our core values of love and nurture secondary to those of reason and clever ambition.
I keep seeing glimpses of Lysistrata everywhere. She was the woman who, in a play by Aristophanes, organized Athenian women and the women of Athens' alleged enemies, to put an end to war by refusing sex to the men who were conducting the warfare. I'd love to have her power of persuasiveness, not that it came easy to her. Unfortunately we are not in a Greek play in which it takes a few nights of men being abandoned and frustrated in order to bring warring cities to their senses. But we are Lysistrata rising. We do not need to hate men to abandon the current brand of patriarchal insanity in which we no longer wish to participate. We are Lysistrata rising, learning to say no, not to men, but to those masculine values that are not aligned with cooperation and creativity.
We are Lysistrata rising because our Earth is not inclined to commit suicide, not for God, not for democracy, nor for any other such myth. It will take longer than the few nights in a Greek play, but I believe -- irrational as it may be -- that we can succeed in turning our Earth into a planet of peace, beauty and joy. I think we may at times become discouraged, but I also believe that, together, women will not give up, especially now that we are learning to trust each other again after being isolated from one another in the service of husbands or fathers into whose ownership the laws of society had placed us.
To the women who have struggled for decades, and who are perhaps now tired and disappointed, since not enough seems to have been accomplished while anti-feminist backlash remains as rampant as ever, I want to say thank you. Thank you for having been there, for having written your books, for having marched your marches. Many of you risked your lives and reputations, unafraid to be visible or to be considered fools, left-over spinsters, hysterical bitches, and other such endearments. It is my turn now and that of younger women willing to carry the torch. Once upon a time I naively thought the brunt of the work had already been accomplished. But as the saying goes, a woman's work is never done.
It may be a long, ongoing struggle for women to return to the strong position we deserve on Earth and which Earth, in turn, deserves from us. The timing of our arrival in the struggle is less important than that so much remains to be accomplished. Many years ago I thought I had arrived late. Today I know the mending of our domineering ways of dealing with the Earth, life, and environment, has only just begun. Above all, I want to encourage those who are in favor of conservation rather than conservative profit-making, compassion rather than conflict, and healing rather than imperious
I believe that if Earth is to survive -- in peace, in beauty, and in joy -- it will be up to women and a strong and untrammeled feminine sensibility to bring this about. I trust we will manage, however long it takes. We really can do what we really do want. I can even end an essay the way I want, by writing this: Go, carry our dreams forward. Protect the fragile beauty of our miraculous existence. I love you, women of the Earth.
© 1983, 2008 Beate Sigriddaughter. This essay is a 2008 update of an essay
by the same title, originally published in Iowa Woman in 1983. The original
version is available at http://www.sigriddaughter.com/lysistrata_rising.htm.