Guest Post by Vliet Tiptree
We have just lost some of our most respected radical feminist elders who were part of the Second Wave of feminism, namely, Mary Daly and Andrea Dworkin, but there remain alive and definitely kicking many more. Some of us who are over 60 and well-known include Germaine Greer and Catharine MacKinnon. Many of us have worked steadily over the years on reform issues or gone into scientific research or examined future feminist societies through the vehicle of science fiction. Many of us have entered the professions and helped women one-on-one in our careers.
Others of us were once very involved and our lives were changed by the Second Wave. Over the years we were unable to contribute much due to survival or other issues. But here we are again. What has brought us back?
For one thing, the period around the sixties is a fascinating time of life to be a woman for many of us. We are “retiring”, or at least, we have mastered our professions and our finances have stabilized. Our children, if we had them, are no longer dependents, and if we never had children, we have well-developed and fulfilling lives not focused on them. Many of us have found that in addition to a mature viewpoint with real perspective, we are at the height of our intellectual powers and have again an interest in exploring our situation on this planet as women. We may have other resources as well, but time to reflect and re-enter and engage with crucial issues is our greatest asset.
Many of us have had to deal with issues of male control over our thinking and livelihood during these intervening years. But a very large proportion of us who found ourselves married at some point are now divorced or widowed, and free in a way we have never felt free, free to think without hindrance. I think of it as being able to raise our heads above water and look around. We’re not flailing any more.
There are a couple of perceptions of older women that have bearing on my idea that older women are returning to radical feminism with some special strengths. We complain that we have become “invisible” to men, but that has advantages. We appear harmless. We aren’t noticed. We’re seen as quiet caretakers devoted to families or sad lonely women living alone in our homes. In short, we are not seen as threats or as part of the hurly-burly of political and social life any more. Men finally leave us alone (except for the occasional mugging when we’re out late and alone on the street).
It’s a wonderful cover. Most of us who live alone love it. Those of us who fought to get good educations and jobs are masters of our areas of knowledge. We’re much more healthy and independent and physically active than our forebearers. We look around and what do we see? When we started out in the working world, the U.S. Civil Rights Act hadn’t even been passed. The idea of full equality in the public world for women, until about 1968, was a joke. The private world, the domestic world, was not discussed and there were few statistics about how women fared in that world.
What we see is progress, real progress in the public world of education and employment (though not particularly in politics). We also see an increased interest and research in that enormous shadowy layer underneath where women live their family lives. And we see in this private world that this is where the patriarchy is making its stand. This is the bedrock, not the public sector where law has some effect. When the public layer is stripped away, an ancient system based on coercions ranging from economic to religion to cultural mores to frank intimidation to homicide is revealed. There is no evidence that we can see that the violence is decreasing from its age-old ubiquitousness. In fact, it appears that the more women develop strategies to avoid the coerciveness of the traditional family system, the more vicious the coerciveness becomes. It’s the hard layer, the more stubborn, dangerous, intractable one.
We have been there. We know the score. We aren’t distracted any more, and we have the experience of decades living and working amid the struggle.
We older women used to barely exist. If childbearing didn’t get us, the witch-hunts would. Yet here we are in large numbers, and we do talk to our daughters and granddaughters, we do fund social action work, we do have computers and legal savvy, and that old adage that older people just get more and more closed-down and narrow-minded sure doesn’t seem to apply to this cohort I’m in.
We just may turn out to be the secret weapon of radical feminism.
old and strong
the oaks speak –
Vliet Tiptree is a writer, poet, and ex-attorney blogging at http://vlietfeministpoetry.blogspot.com.