It’s about time I posted something about what this blog is for. The picture above gives a short answer to that. In this post I’ll elaborate on that a bit.
I started transcribing feminist material and publishing it here without a preconceived plan in mind for the blog. I transcribed a couple of interviews Sheila Jeffreys gave to Meghan Murphy on request by a friend, and publishing them here (on what was at that point a blog gathering dust) was just an easy way of linking to the transcripts for those that wanted them. It carried on in a pretty haphazard fashion from there, a convenient way to make a collection of resources as I happened on them. So I didn’t start out with A Plan. But now, a few months down the line, it’s about time I clarified my intentions.
I’m relatively new to feminism, by which I mean it’s only been a couple of years since a sister opened the door for me to step through. I thought I was a feminist before that, but, frankly, I didn’t know the meaning of the word – I was using it as shorthand for the everyone-agrees-with-it, no-actual-analysis-involved idea that men and women should be equal. I was also a bit of a smart aleck who thought she knew a thing or two about feminism because – and here a derisive snort is in order – I’d studied it at university. Luckily for me, I encountered an actual feminist doing actual feminism who suggested I go and read some actual feminist writing instead of the pomo stuff I was spouting, and I’m glad to report that that’s exactly what I did. So this was only a couple of years ago. And as I’m sure anyone reading this blog already knows, the whole process of consciousness-raising is long and difficult and ongoing, although not linear, and studded with epiphanies where a shift in perception can be sudden, immediate even. But the point is that two years isn’t a long time in that process. So this blog is, from a quite selfish point of view, part of my learning and consciousness raising process. I’d just come to the end of my degree (don’t assume I’m young by that; I was a mature student) and this tour through ‘The Feminist Canon’ reflects the habit I picked up in that academic world of the dutiful plough through The Canon in order to become Knowledgable about a Field. I realize there’s irony there. It’s kind of a patriarchal way of going about things. Coming from a working class background I had bust a gut to Do It Properly so I could pass as an educated person. What’s patriarchal about this is the idea that the novice is unqualified to speak until they have proven themselves fully acquainted with the (patriarchally approved) canon and have various badges and baubles to show for it. Then, and not before, they can speak with authority. The vestiges of this idea are still clinging to me and this is in large part why there are so few of my own words on this blog. Far from freeing my mind, going through that educational mill turned out to be stultifying and deadening.
That realization has made me pretty angry, because discovering radical feminism, which I had been taught was an historical phenomenon, no longer relevant in light of the progress of ideas since then, I find that there’s this whole body of work by women, by feminists, which was denied to me. It simply wasn’t there, on the reading lists, in the libraries, in the bookshops. This body of work that is utterly relevant. Not just ignored, but derided and dismissed. This derision and dismissal is a belt and braces approach to silencing on the part of the patriarchy. Mere silence and invisibility might not be enough to do the job.
Towards the end of my degree, I’d started reading feminist blogs, and then feminist books, and, my final module being on political theory, I decided to incorporate some of what I was learning into my final piece of work. I read a long article by Val Plumwood and it BLEW MY MIND. Not only because it was so clear and so perception-shifting, not only because I couldn’t believe that such work had been denied to me as a student (obviously Val P was not on any recommended reading list), but also because I clocked that the work of the men I was obliged to study for that particular topic seemed to do that thing that men do, when a woman says something and it’s ignored, then moments later a man says it and everyone throws their hands in the air and congratulates him on his brilliant thinking. THAT. I was writing my final assignment with a broken hand, my partner’s mother had just died, my daughter had just had an abortion, and my mother was recovering from an operation. So I was generally pretty pissed off at that time, had limited energy for this assignment and wasn’t in the mood to mince my words. Predictably my diatribe didn’t earn many brownie points from the marker but it was the most honest, ‘alive’ writing I’d produced in the whole five years.
So the point of this long, overly personal ramble is to give you a bit of background. Middle-aged woman with all sorts of shit going on discovers feminism despite the mind-deadening, thought-blocking, speech-preventing effects of academentia. Having got the degree out of the way I set about reading whatever I chose to read, and that has been the work of those radical feminists that was denied to me when I was an actual bona fide student. See the picture. Mary Daly’s Pure Lust, stamped WITHDRAWN from a university library. The shits.
I’ve regurgitated Mary Daly’s work on this blog. Since reading FCM’s recent post I have stopped to think: is this the parroting of which she speaks? There’s no getting around it: it is. Is there any value in doing this? Well, I hope there is. From a personal perspective, it’s given me a way of engaging with these ideas in a different way than if I’d just sat in my armchair and read them. And by putting them up here, I hope that more women will read them. Because I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I am these books are not on the library shelves. You have to buy them second hand, and fortunately enough copies were printed that it’s still possible to find second hand copies, like the copy of Pure Lust I ordered that arrived with its sad, dwindling list of ‘due back at the library’ dates at the front and the word “WITHDRAWN” stamped all over it. No longer relevant. A historical phenomenon. One of those old school social movements underpinned by a GRAND NARRATIVE with a naïve belief in [snort!] liberation, all of which has obviously been debunked by those indecipherable French chaps since then so, you know, don’t even bother reading them.
So I have regurgitated chunks of Mary Daly’s work on this blog both for selfish reasons and non-selfish reasons. I publish them in the hope that other women will find them more easily than I did, and in formats that mean they can be read and searched and highlighted and transferred to all manner of devices or printed out to be read the old fashioned way. Because the place where I encountered the woman who opened this door for me is no longer the place it was. I was just lucky to be in that place at that time, and I’m lucky to have the resources to buy copies of these books. I’ve thought about it and I still think this is a worthwhile thing to do. What it is not is a creative endeavour. It’s more of a virtual librarianship endeavour.
I’ve noticed that the proponents of queer theory and the like accuse radical feminists of being “stuck in the 1970s,” the assumption being made that we haven’t “progressed” to their more up-to-date stuff. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that plenty of us come to radical feminism having already read, understood, and rejected their more “up-to-date stuff.” I find in radical feminism the truth about my life, and my mother’s life, and my daughter’s life, and my sister’s life. As CBL recently commented, the overwhelming feeling upon reading the words of a radical feminist is a sense of relief: it’s not just me then. This doesn’t mean I see radical feminism as therapy – although it can be therapeutic if viewed in that individualistic sense. That’s all very well for the individual but kept on that level it doesn’t do anything. Radical feminism enables us to recognize ourselves as members of a class, or more accurately, a caste, created and maintained by men for the benefit of men. With this knowledge, we can act collectively to challenge this system of male supremacy. Once you see this reality – and it’s there in the fabric of all of our lives – you can’t unsee it, and it’s potential to destabilize, dislodge, undermine, overthrow male power is such that this knowledge must be silenced. That’s why Mary Daly’s books aren’t on library shelves any more. Like no other, she elaborates the philosophy of radical feminism, its underpinnings and its implications and how it works and what it means. There aren’t too many books being published now that build on what Mary Daly and her contemporary foresisters did in their writing, although women like Sheila Jeffreys and Catharine MacKinnon continue to be published (although not without a fight). The thriving radical feminist blogosphere is where some amazing – by which I mean A-mazing – work is being done: creative work, living work. This is not one of those blogs. It is, I acknowledge, simply an archive, a link to the words of some of those foresisters which, if the P had its way, would be erased forever.
Acknowledgment: thanks to FCM for encouraging me to put these words together.