- Thursday, January 15, 2009
There were little skirmishes along the way. Sometime in college, as I recall, my growing feminism ruined Thanksgiving. During dinner, my uncle, a no-nonsense Naval Academy graduate, made some comment— now long forgotten and probably more benign than I recognized—to which I took great offense. I began a tirade about rape, patriarchy, the oppression of "womyn," and the suffocating roles of wives and mothers. (None of which, with the exception of patriarchy, had I personally experienced.) Any refutation of my sweeping condemnations was met with increased volume and passion on my part. I had lived a mere two decades, but in my opinion I possessed the wisdom of the ages.
Then there was the time I stunned my father with the announcement that if I were ever to marry, I wasn't going to change my last name. At the time, I thought it was a repressive and unnecessary tradition, and I didn't see any reason to change my identity just because I would obtain a husband. I honestly thought my father would champion my idea because he was the father of three daughters and if we all changed our names, the family name would die with him.
But he didn't seem pleased, which genuinely surprised me. In hindsight I honestly don't know if it was the information or my attitude that provoked his reaction.
I learned a lot of theory in women's studies classes, but surprisingly, I didn't learn a lot of actual history. We learned about the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, but not anything earlier. I don't recall studying anything written prior to Betty Friedan's influential book from the 1960s, The Feminine Mystique … which is to say, nothing earlier than my own lifetime. It would be years before I learned about the suffrage movement that preceded modern feminism, the differing impacts of the Reformation and Enlightenment on gender roles, and, finally, what the Bible says about men and women.
Feminism taught me that men were the problem, but in the end feminist politics left me yawning. While I had no problem agreeing that men in general were the problem, individual and specific men seemed far more agreeable and even attractive to me. After awhile, the strident victimhood of feminism lost its appeal. Though one of my fellow graduates went to work for feminist political action groups—the National Organization for Women (NOW) and then the Feminist Majority—I took my journalism diploma and my women's studies certificate and pursued a career in media.
It wasn't long before my definition and practice of feminism became as generic as that of the next woman clutching Cosmopolitan magazine. Social constructs and gender theories were dim memories. I was left with androgynous "dress for success" fashion, a hyper perception of sexual harassment and discrimination on the job, and a caricature of masculine sexuality as a model of freedom for both sexes. Aggression at work and on dinner dates was the legacy of my education.
When I was twenty-nine, I surveyed my life and perceived the emptiness of it. A relentless self-focus hadn't produced much happiness.
The Fractured Feminine Psyche
During this time, a friend of mine lent me a book, telling me how helpful it was for "reclaiming a whole feminine psyche." The book's premise was that women could be restored by studying the weaknesses and strengths of the goddesses from Greek mythology and by seeking to reconcile these archetypes into one complete woman. I took the test in the book and found out that I tested very high as Athena, the warrior goddess who sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus. This is the section of the summary that I noted in my journal at the time:
"It's easy to spot Athena in the modern world. She's out there in every sense of the word. Editing magazines, running women's studies departments in colleges, hosting talk shows, making fact-finding tours to Nicaragua, producing films, challenging the local legislature.
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