Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Whatever happened to consciousness raising?

I've been reading bell hooks lately.  She talks about the consciousness raising groups of the second wave, and how women need to first understand and divest themselves of their own internalized sexism before they can really be feminists.

I've thought about this a lot.  I know it was an obvious first step for me to examine my own attitudes and ingrained beliefs and values and to consider how I've been taught to uphold the values of the patriarchy.  It's a difficult process, to be sure.  Culture is a powerful force in that it creates an ingrained "normality" which takes a lot of work to examine and question.  It's also an ongoing process in that we are never free of the influences which shaped our worldview to begin with.

I know "feminists" in real life who are extremely active in the struggle for women's reproductive rights, yet actively promulgate the mores of masculinity and femininity in their personal lives.  I know "feminists" who do not believe that being anti-choice precludes the possibility of identifying as a feminist.

What I've longed for is a group I could meet with regularly, in person, to discuss feminism, to make the personal political, to prove, as hooks says, that "sisterhood is still powerful!"  I live in a fair-sized liberal city.  One would think that if such groups are still meeting anywhere, they'd be meeting here.  But after many frustrating google searches, I can't find a thing.

The Internet is an amazing tool, and I'm unspeakably grateful for the blogs I've found, the connections I've made, the education I've gotten, and the life-giving promise that I'm not alone in my thinking.  But can you imagine a room full of women sharing their experiences, offering ideas, supporting each other in the quest for a new paradigm for humanity?  Can you imagine a group of women of different classes, of different races, of different sexual orientations and identities, of all different backgrounds, coming together to fight our oppression in all its forms?

I can imagine it, and it seems like heaven.  I can picture these women in my living room, sharing their stories, their ideas, their hopes, as my toddler daughter wanders in and out, overhearing the snippets of conversation she'll someday participate in, enjoying the occasional fond embrace of any one of so many inspiring and diverse role models.  How I long for her to grow up in such a setting, and how I fear terribly for her in the world we're all inhabiting.

I believe in radical change.  I believe in revolution.  Surely I'm not the only one.  Surely there are other women right here in the lovely city I call home who believe in these things too.  My job (as in, the thing I do for a living) is a feminist job, and I've met some pretty awesome radical women there.  So where are the consciousness raising groups?

In real life, I'm an introvert, and even a bit of a hermit, when I can get away with it.  I don't like to be on center stage.  I don't like to be in charge of much beyond my own personhood.  I don't want to start a group, to promote a group, to run a group.  Besides my reticence,  I don't feel qualified.  But the allure of the warmth and light of intelligent, thoughtful females filling up a room with strength and hope is so great that I might just do it anyway.  My words on this blog feel like so much determination and hope cast into the ether.  My feminist job feels like a band-aid on a festering wound.  It's important to react to the damage that the patriarchy/kyriarchy causes, but I want and need more than that.  I want to be proactive.  I want to be a part of creating the world that I'd like to see my daughter grow up in.  I want to be part of the revolution, and I want to make that revolution happen now.

I want to see feminist schools, feminist community centers, feminist political parties, feminist shops, feminist television networks, feminist radio.  I want to see women rise up and demand what's ours.  We are more than half the population, so why the hell are women's studies generally confined to a shelf or two in even the most liberal bookstores?  Why are questions of our basic human rights relegated to the "special interest" category?  Why do even progressive men behave more often than not as if "women's interests" were something akin to the study of a remote and interesting but ultimately rather irrelevant tribe in some obscure region of the world?

This has got to change, and it seems to me that the change should begin with groups of real women who come together to talk about it.  It's all well and good for me to complain on the Internet about the daily injustices I face.  It's all well and good for me to complain to my favorite local bookstore that the "women's studies" section should be much, much bigger.  But I am nothing but a voice alone in the raging sea of misogyny, easily silenced with a few well-directed gendered insults.  I need a community of voices, clear and strong.  I need the power in numbers of women who are brave enough to buck the cultural training, to question the harmful lessons we've all been taught, to stand up and make waves and refuse to be passive any longer.  I need the hope and strength of a choir who, together, can make history.

Our voices will not be silenced.  Somehow, we have got to come together.  I'm going to keep thinking on this.
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