by Christine Yantis
I recently attended my first EEWC conference, and I would like to offer an enthusiastic thank you for welcoming me into your lives! At every turn I was met with invitations to sit with you, to eat with you, to join with you in prayer and in laughter, and to become your friend. You treated me as though I had inherent value as a person before even knowing my name. I felt I could be real with you without reproach or ostracization. What a divine feeling!
I came to the conference praying for a sense that I wasn’t alone in my work, but I came away with inspiration, security, and a revived sense of passion. Many of you asked me what it’s like for women of my generation, both feminists or “I’m-not-a-feminist-buts.” I attempted to explain, but the question was much deeper than chit-chat might allow. This article is my best attempt.
First, I’d like to state my general view on the Second Wave and Third Wave gap: Sexism still exists, but it exists in different forms than those that confronted previous generations. It is not entirely different sexism, but morphed sexism. Here is how:
Today’s Forms of Sexism
Women of my generation live in a world that tells us we are all the same, but we should celebrate our differences (if they’re sexy). A woman is a woman with the lights off, but no woman is as good as the airbrushed women with fake parts in porn magazines. To choose to out one’s self as a lesbian or bisexual person is labeled subversive, different, and therefore sexually desirable in the male gaze. Women of another generation who have painfully struggled with societal ostracism in revealing their true sexual orientation might be surprised to hear of women in my generation who regard sexual experimentation with other women as a turn-on for men. Viewed this way, sexuality becomes a matter of satisfying male fantasies and phallic conquests rather than an authentic expression of one’s true self-in-relationship. Heterosexual women are often made to feel inferior sexually for refusing threesomes or not enjoying Hooters. This forced jealousy, springing from an unacknowledged sexism, demands that women view each other as competition for the male gaze rather than as sisters in our life walks.
My generation lives in a world in which our right to consent to sexual activity is taken from us by the prevalence of the date-rape drugs. GHB, Ketamine, and Roofies, to name a few, are slipped into our drinks (including sodas) at parties, on dates, or even in our own apartments. They have no taste or smell, and work nearly immediately. At that point, we lose consciousness, only to wake up hours later with no recollection of what happened the entire evening.
I know women who have been drugged. I know men who drug. Prosecution is difficult, as those who have been sexually assaulted were not even witnesses to it, nor is there much evidence (as there was no struggle). For those of us lucky to have escaped drugging, we are kept uninformed concerning what constitutes sexual abuse and rape.
Had I known the Tennessee law my freshman year, I could have had my abusive ex-boyfriend prosecuted. However, I sunk into a deep depression, feeling that what had happened was my “fault.” Would it have been so difficult for someone to hand us a copy of state law?
Commercialism and Feelings of Powerlessness
Our generation is over-commercialized. We see movements as T-shirt slogans; movements without T-shirts are invisible. Our version of “joining” a movement means to subscribe to an email list, post on a message board, read the banner book in a coffeeshop (with the cover prominently displayed), or buy the movement’s merchandise. On a personal level, we are far more private than you might expect. “Going public” with things merely helps us become insecure or afraid, as advertising tells us to be. We cocoon ourselves from it. We rarely picket inequities in society; our impression is that it doesn’t do any good. In order for change to happen, one must be backed by corporate sponsors or obtain the sympathy of the mass media (owned by corporations). We endure sexual harassment in the workplace to keep our $5.40/hour jobs; we all saw what happened to Anita Hill.
The Feminist Model We’ve Observed
We live in a feminist world in which we are all so concerned with “getting it right” that we see little room for each others’ opinions. By feminist world, I mean the space created by Women’s Studies departments, faculty, and popular feminist writers. However, many of our feminist professors have encouraged us to engage in the intellectual search-and-destroy so prevalent in malestream academia, which leads us to ridicule and disrespect each other both inside the classroom and out.
A physical feminist community is an imaginary reality for us. Some Third-Wavers revel in the deconstructionist fad, but most of us feel deconstructed, naked, and vulnerable. We turn to the anonymity of the Internet, where no one will know that we have short/long hair, wear/don’t wear makeup, and do/don’t shave our legs. We post on message boards, join online groups, and read others’ websites and weblogs (personal online journals). If we are lucky, we have an on-campus or in-town women’s group that does not function as a high-school clique. The odds of this are not good.
On top of this, the feminist mindset to which many of us have been exposed is full of black and whites. It tells us we are either powerful in our sexuality or degrading ourselves. We are either for state-funded abortion or anti-woman. Our feminist attitudes are judged by our haircuts, our shoes, and our glasses. In this mindset, everything is a political statement. There is even a hierarchy of sexualities among some feminists (no doubt in reaction to homophobia and to experiences of male oppression). To be lesbian is more feminist than bisexual, and to be heterosexual is the least feminist of all. I know heterosexual women who won’t date men because they don’t want to appear to be compromising feminism. Such a feminism lacks creativity and is highly critical and impersonal. Being that we have cocooned ourselves, many of us simply shy away from such judgments and any public display of personal opinions. We become uninvolved.
Hope and Healing
This outlook appears rather grim, as it should. However, there is hope. A feminism that approaches, nay, is essentially involved in our spiritual selves offers us safe space to seek truth, healing, and community. As members of EEWC well know, women’s painful experiences are often silenced in religion, so women cannot find healing in a faith community.
My healing moment came after I read Virginia Ramey Mollenkott’s The Divine Feminine, which had been assigned in one of my college courses. I took the book to the chapel, read it in a pew, and breathed my first breath of the Mother who surrounds me. My soul poured out all that happened, and for the first time, I felt compassion and righteous anger rather than blame. Until that moment, I had no idea that a connection to God could come of my feminist attitudes. The fusion of the two opened a whole new world for me.
That moment created the lens through which I view feminism. The black and white photograph of our feminist struggles today is framed by a gilded Technicolor frame of healing and joy. I see that EEWC is in a perfect position to bring this news to women of my generation. Most of us have no idea that a fusion between feminism and faith is possible, much less so well-established. We have no idea that such dynamic women have worked so passionately to alleviate the very problem we face. Our coffee tables are devoid of publications like Daughters of Sarah, and our shelves have Mary Daly rather than the scholars of EEWC. In fact, we don’t even know that EEWC exists. We are yet again kept in the dark about the very thing that can help us.
My first conference was one of the only times I have felt positive, inspirational feminist community. Should this privilege be reserved for the few women who discover an EEWC poster and tentatively attend? Should we not be more “out there” with our God-filled organization? Women of EEWC, I ask you to reach out to my generation with your message. I beg you to help us by thinking in creative and healing ways. Help us see the colors in the starkness, the hope in the desolation. More importantly, help us reach out to others with strength, with courage, and fierce compassion. Give us motivation to leave our cocoons. Let us brainstorm on this, think creatively, and come together with ideas. Let us take on this mission.
My generation is waiting.
© 2004 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, EEWC Update, volume 28, number 2, Summer (July-September) 2004