Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

CR Memories

For the third Carnival of Feminists, to be posted on November 16, Sour Duck asks for posts on a special theme, so since I haven't written anything for the first two carnivals I thought I'd tackle this one. The request is: "1970s feminist thought. However, this won't be a nostalgic look at second-wave feminism.' Oh no. I'm looking for pieces that engage with the themes and ideas of 1970s feminism, while applying them to current events, or looking to the future."

Well, regardless, I'm going to get nostalgic anyway, because my life is just that sort of continuum; things I did as a kid and a young adult still resonate for me today. I still have a love of Jewish rituals, certain hobbies to which I'm attached, a devotion to organization (be it work stuff or personal collections or groups of people), the need to communicate and tell stories, the feeling that everyone I hang out with is cooler and more interesting than me, and of course a feminist sensibility, which most often translates into "Hey, no fair leaving me and people like me out of your view of the world just 'cause we're girls!"

Since at least early adolescence, I've always felt like an outsider and a joiner simultaneously. I latch onto my interest-du-jour with an almost maniacal obsession, playing a "mean game of catch-up" until I reach a sufficient level of expertise to satisfy myself, then wonder why I still feel apart from others who share that interest. One of the things that my Women's Studies classes at Rutgers from 1975-79 (and there were a lot of them, I minored in WS) made me realize was that the "why am I different" thinking was (and would be) often related to the fact that my fellow hobbyists were male. When I discovered science fiction, for instance, my initial reading was Heinlein, Asimov and Bradbury, plentiful in the library but skewed male (extremely so in Heinlein's case). Quite the change from the fairy tales I'd collected and read as a kid, which almost always featured female protagonists, and one of the reasons I started reading only woman-written fantasy books a few years later. In keeping with this newfound consciousness I also began to see how women's opinions, creative endeavors and history were marginalized, even linguistically. (There's even a term used now for the systematic and continual erasure of women from history, but I can't seem to find it as I don't remember on which blog I first read it...)

And it seemed to me that the way to rectify a situation in which women's contributions were being ignored was to become a visible presence. With my girth and booming (often interrupting) voice I was visible enough, but at the time I didn't have the social skills or credentials to effect any substantive change beyond my own consciousness. At the time, though, that was enough. That's supposed to be what college is for, to broaden one's mind and horizons. And so I attended CR groups and took to CR experiments like "pretend for one week that you're a lesbian so you know what it's like to live with the stigma" (that worked very well at the time, so much so that I still remember the initial shocked reactions of my fellow dorm dwellers), and I learned the value of talking things out, of communicating experiences to find legitimacy and common ground.

And I think, more than anything else, that's the part of the '70s feminism I knew that I've taken with me into the 21st century. The need to keep talking with one another - a need that can now be fulfilled without ever meeting each other in person, dragging along the awkward physical baggage that gets in the way of our human commonality. A need that results in the creation of a collective presence too powerful and ubiquitous to be ignored any longer. With online communication and blogs we can set our own agenda, one that welcomes younger feminists so the wheel doesn't have to constantly be reinvented in a "two steps forward, one step back" fashion, one that maintains as permanent a record of our existence and importance as anything can get in these relatively ephemeral times. I'm looking forward to participating in that.