Sunday, April 26, 2009

Women, the Movement & Poetry

I just purchased a book of poetry at the L.A. Times Festival of Books entitled Poems from the Women's Movement.  I anticipate great reading - I've only read one poem so far.

What I'm wondering about is the picture on the cover of the book.  It's a picture of women, arms linked, protesting in the streets for their rights.  First, I wonder, where has that spirit gone?  True, one might say women are now using the rights they've gained by protesting in the streets and protesting in other, perhaps more elegant, ways in boardrooms, on faculties, et al.  That is, the women who protested in the streets remember where they came from and are now taking the next step in moving the movement forward.

I think the problem lies with my generation of women, never having protested in the streets and taking advantage of the rights we now have without understanding that we are part of an ongoing struggle, being comfortable with what we were born to.  It's dangerous because one has only to look at the feminist rifts in society to see that awareness and subscription of my generation to an ideology of struggle is vital to addressing those rifts properly.

The next thing I'm worried about from the picture is that I see primarily white women in the picture.  I can locate one woman of South Asian or Near Eastern descent and one African-American woman with very light-colored skin in the picture.  That seems to be it for minorities.  Aside from my personal issues with race, this, I think is worrisome.  First, I remember when I was growing up middle-class in an upper-class neighborhood with serious developing racial rifts, I personally, though I benefited from the progress made primarily by white American women, thought some, if not all, of those women (through reading sketchily representative articles and encounters with white women of accomplishment I found cold) were racist.  It made me view feminism askance.

I don't think this is as big a problem as it may seem, as I've grown up, attended great schools of learning and realized that those who are part of the feminist movement are actually a multicultural group of women, including myself, brought together more by belief and ideology than the color of our skin.  More specifically, I've found that the feminist movement, as it exists today, if it ever was, is not racist.  That is, those minorities who have an inclination towards feminism will find on exploration that they are welcome to the movement.

It is still a problem though, with respect to those who do not have such an inclination, with those who cleave to tradition or the world as they find it.  I am speaking of the female ethnic minority in America who will see a picture like I see on the cover of my book in a textbook and, wavering between tradition and that first step toward an assertion of progressive womanhood, decide, based on some buried negative experiences with white women, perhaps, that no, the feminist movement is not for me.

Maybe I am just speaking about myself, as is inevitable if one writes long or short enough, and there's not that much to worry about, since I obviously found the women's movement in the end.  Or maybe I am also speaking for the new generation of female, primarily Asian and Latina, immigrants, and this is an issue that should be addressed.  How does one bridge the distance between a feminist movement that is certainly, mostly educated and immigrant women?  How do we rescue the meeker, bitter spirits who will not rise up in indignation without a helping hand?  How do we do that without taking on the guise of that very authority that is offensive?  I have known enough of hatred to say that, yes, if not met on equal ground, I, or one, will bite the hand that feeds.

One way is the academic's way.  One writes books, hopes that eventually the right women will find the articles and books.  But the right women?  Are there wrong women?  Is this a movement that carries the unwilling along in its wake, or is this a movement that requires full-involvement, or at least full subscription, of all women?  

To tell the truth, I don't have the answers to the questions I'm asking regarding how to bridge the gap between an educated movement and its publicly-schooled, if at all, potential participants who are struggling as it is to find a place for themselves in American society.  What does one do?  Picture books?  Feminist grade-school history books?  Seminars for teachers providing interesting curricula?  Is all this happening already as I write?

Admittedly I am getting older by the day, I don't have a lot of room to meet negativity from others in my life, and I am comfortable with the women's movement as I find it.  But I do remember who I was and fathom who I could have been, and there is a part of me unwilling to abandon that child or young woman to the whims of society and personal choice.  I also know as a participant in the women's movement, if only academically, that, yes, this is a movement that ultimately demands full-subscription of all potential participants.

Anyhow, the question of how to reach non-believers is a question I face, in my head, on other fronts besides the feminist front.  Complacency is the killer.  Pamphleting to the curious is the last resort.  Between where we are and where we might end up, there must be more actions than those we are taking.  On this front, as on the other fronts I consider, we have one last thing, when it comes down to it, in our favor.  There is in each of us a seed of indignation in the face of oppression.  My hope lies in the personal knowledge that I always was indignant, as an Asian-American woman.  To reach that seed of indignation and address its rational concerns without becoming, at least too obviously, the oppressor again is, I think, where feminism is headed.  It all comes down to numbers in the end.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Thanks for your post.