Thursday, January 17, 2008

The personal is still political

I've been thinking about women's lives a lot lately. I used to think about them all the time, when I headed up a university women's center. I'm proud of the work I got to do there, but got pretty burned out (and just plain burned) and had to take a mental break.

However, being mom to a seventeen-year old daughter means growing up female in the U.S. is never too far from my consciousness, particularly in a week when there was an attempted abduction of a young high school woman in the area.

Then today, T. and I got to talking about how it seems that in the 1970's and 80's, progressive women who got married kept their last name (I'm not going to use the word "maiden." Please!) Or, maybe they and their husband hyphenated or created a new name altogether. Since the 90's, it seems that more and more women are taking their husband's name.

Now when I was a teenager growing up in the 70's in my small Indiana hometown, the library was my sanctuary.

Rushville Library

I happened upon the one shelf of feminist books. I have no idea of the book or author, but I read a very powerful essay about the politics of the name issue. As I remember it, the author asserted that the tradition could be traced back to the days when a woman was considered the property of her husband. She made a powerful argument that our name is our identity...when we change the name we are given at birth, we are allowing a part of our identity to be subjugated. I vowed at that moment never to change my name, and I never have.

I'm not going to make this a polemic about the issue, and certainly many of my close friends have made a different decision, and I respect their choice.

At the same time, we must always remember that the personal IS cannot be otherwise...and we too easily forget the historical and political context of our choices. (Well, Hillary is very aware of the political context. She's essentially gone from Hillary Rodham to Hillary Rodham Clinton to Hillary Clinton.)

And finally, when I went to a church we're thinking of getting involved in, and the minister said, "We come to church so we don't forget," I remembered. I remembered that feminism is the first social justice issue I cared about, not just because of that small library shelf, but also because of the very powerful ways in which I had personally experienced and witnessed violence against women.

So, I'm gonna continue to do my part. Sometimes it's a little thing, like wearing my Take Back the Needles shirt. You pretty much have to be both a feminist and a knitter to get it, so I mostly just get looks of befuddlement when I wear it. Depending on who's asking, I might offer a bit of an explanation. I might tell them about the Take Back the Night movement. I might tell them that knitting needles were once used to induce abortions, when desperate women had few options. And I might tell them about the newest generation of diy/riot grrls/young feminists who subvert traditional notions of women's crafts and create awesome works of art in the process.

(Coincidentally, today, my Stitch 'n Bitch calendar featured Barbara Walker, who most knitters revere as the author of treasured knitting patterns. But most of us DON'T know that she also wrote The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, along with several other books about women's spirituality and history.)

And I'm gonna do my part in a somewhat bigger way. Today I went to a casting call for our community V-Day production, a performance of The Vagina Monologues, to benefit our local Rape Crisis Center and the women of New Orleans.

I have a long history with VDay, going back to when I helped RIT become the first college in the area to participate, back in 2000. It was a life-changing experience, and it is also one of the reasons I got "burned," as mentioned above.

Now I am ready to move to a next step with VDay, where I get to participate only as a cast member (rather than as producer/counselor/advocate/lightning rod).

Like everyone, I have a lot of things going on in my life. And my personal life hasn't had a lot of political activity in it lately. If I'm going to honor my ethic of living a life that attempts to live up to my ideals, I have to make the time. Just like I made the time to grow my own veggies, support my local Farmers' Market, preserve a lot of homegrown, handpicked produce to carry us through the winter, and commute by bike/bus whenever possible.

And this is a way I can be a part of reminding members of my community about the lives of women...from all the ways we experience our vaginas, through birth, sex, violence, and power.

How can that NOT be political?

The performance is March 8, 8 pm. More details to come...Save the Date!

1 comment:

Tracy said...

That's cool that you're doing the V-Day production! Good for you!