by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
I have often described the gradual process of my becoming a feminist over 45 years ago. Here, suffice it to say that the trigger for me, as for so many others, was reading The Feminine Mystique and thinking, “This describes me!” But now that I am one of the crones of the second-wave movement, I want to offer some advice to third-wave women, men, and transgender activists.
Recently, I attended a meeting of several hundred people who live in my building at Cedar Crest Retirement Community (average age: 85; ratio of women to men: 4 to 1; number of marriages of 60 or more years: astonishing). The general director of Cedar Crest announced that one bright sign in the current economic crisis is that women now outnumber men in the work force (“cheaper labor,” the women closest to me whispered—true enough, in light of recent reports that women still average 77 cents on the dollar paid to men). Then the director made the mistake of commenting, “So finally, we women are becoming dominant.” She was met with an immediate chorus of denials that forced her to correct herself: “OK, we’re getting closer to equal.”
I felt proud of my sister-residents in the front and center rows (I was in my power wheelchair, way at the back, and had merely observed and approved of the revolt). So old women like myself are apparently clear that feminism is about human equality, not about reversing the hierarchy. Male-supremacist gender-models are the enemy, not men themselves. But apparently our much younger director had bought into the right-wing spin that feminist women seek power over men. I hope her very public experience with her constituents taught her at least this much: that feminists by any name are working toward a gender system that is fair to everybody, in which mutual respect and supportiveness is the model, not one-upmanship.
I was encouraged by the feminist model that prevailed in President Obama’s inauguration speech. He wants the United States to enter into mutually cooperative relationship with any nation that will open its fist and extend a friendly hand. What a relief to hear something other than the macho bullying and fear-mongering of the former administration!
My advice to newly-minted feminists, womanists, and mujeristas is this: do not be ashamed to claim the term feminist or its equivalent in your culture. The term must be upheld until full gender equality is achieved, and until the gender binary is either transcended by omnigender attitudes (please, God!) or at least is no longer predicated on male-primary, female-secondary assumptions.
But do not let anyone get away with projecting the domination model onto the work you are doing to achieve social justice. They will certainly try. When my students at William Paterson College (now University) told me that Rush Limbaugh had called me a “Feminazi” on his radio show, I told them, “I am proud to agree that I am a feminist. But the feminist commitment is the opposite of Nazi totalitarianism. And I’m sorry Rush Limbaugh seems unable to grasp that.”
The first time I saw a Black Power button, I was momentarily gripped with fear. We whites have used our power despicably; what would Black power do to us in return? It was of course sheer projection on my part, and I got over it in a quick hurry. But my initial reaction illustrates the reason why young feminists of all gender-identities will have to insist and keep on insisting that feminism is about mutual respect and equality, not domination.
Androcentric women and men are projecting their addiction to the domination model onto the work of gender-justice makers everywhere. I know we hate to repeat ourselves, but we will have to do a lot of repeating until society begins to act on the premise that all people are created equal.
Otherwise, the ultimate conclusion of the domination model might be, as one cartoon put it, that all people are CREMATED equal. Let’s hope social justice is not delayed until it is achieved in that fashion!
© 2009 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 32 number 2 Summer (April-June) 2009