Feminism: an Anti-System

First published in 1974, Feminism As Therapy, written by Anica Vesel Mander and Anne Kent Rush (New York, Random House, 1974), was a primary influence in defining my identity as a therapist. Re-reading this small but mighty book thirty-four years later is both confirming of how far feminism has evolved and, at the same time, how much we have yet to accomplish.

Unlike other isms, feminism is “an anti-system; one which seems to be continually in the process of evolving and is needing always at its core to remain fluid and changing and growing and moving.” On the other hand, having noted that, feminism, seems to me to be in retrograde.

A retrograde action, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is one that you think makes a situation “worse rather than better….” Thus, we seem to be in a real retrograde step for human rights.

My “We’Moon Calendar” indicates that, as I write, Mercury is in retrograde: a warning, among others, that anything mechanical is in jeopardy of malfunctioning. May my computer not respond to planet Mercury.

It is true that women are making headway in what we know is the patriarchal culture in which we live. One hundred women have recently been elected to serve in Congress: twelve are now in the Senate, 98 are in the House of Representatives.

It is also true that women are closing the earnings gap. Women are nearly half of the workforce, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and are the sole breadwinner in half the families in the US. However, on average, women continue to earn just 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men.

A glimmer of light

Yet, a glimmer of light. From the New York Times, this little tid-bit: Victoria’s Secret stock is dropping as the company’s strategy and message have fallen out of fashion: Women no longer want to be told that they must look sexy for men!

According to Mander and Rush, “one  premise of feminism is that sexual oppression is the basis of all repressions.” The #MeToo movement has been instrumental in revealing the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse, particularly in the film and gymnastics industries, as well as in the corporate world.

But how can we celebrate this step forward when our country’s chief executive is a self-proclaimed abuser of women?

I know it may seem insignificant to some…to others, I’m “too sensitive,” but every time I see a “Men Working” sign, I groan and remember when feminist pressure changed those orange warnings to the more inclusive “Workers.” The reality is that women, and girls, on some level, do notice those kinds of indicators of feminism in retrograde.

My favorite tee-shirt says, FEMINISM IS THE RADICAL NOTION THAT WOMEN ARE PEOPLE.  (Coined by Marie Shear in 1986.)

As feminists who were coming out in the late 60’s and 70’s, we were reluctant to identify with those radicals from the East and West Coasts such as Shulamith Firestone and Ti-Grace Atkinson. We mid-westerners refuted being radical feminists.

So, imagine my surprise when, in preparation for this writing, I went to the internet and googled “Radical Feminism” and discovered that according to Wikipedia, I’ve been a radical feminist all along.

“Radical feminists view society as fundamentally a patriarchy in which men dominate and oppress women…and seek to abolish the patriarchy in order to ‘liberate everyone from an unjust society by challenging existing social norms and institutions, [including] opposing the sexual objectification of women and raising public awareness about such issues as rape and violence against women and challenging the concept of gender roles.’”

While some of us have been more affected than others, the reality is that we are all products of a sexist/racist/capitalist culture and have been politically alienated and disenfranchised.  Moving out of retrograde means making connections…between personal power and economic power, between our internal selves and our external world. It means putting voice to what our concerns are for our Mother Earth and all her Beings.

Revisiting feminism now beckons me to exhume the writings of my radical foremothers and be ready to answer the call to action…again.

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