by Marie Goodwin
I find myself immersed in a reading stint focused on feminism and intersectionality lately. The last election cycle provided an across-the-board, bi-partisan gut-punch to the radical underpinnings of feminist work and everyone knows it; many are writing about it. Too many to list. As a college student in the 80's, I read many of the radical feminist thinkers and took them under advisement as I began to make my way as the world moved into the 1990's and beyond. But it hasn't been until relatively recently (say in the last ten years: "recent" for a fifty year old) that I've wedded the radical underpinnings of feminism to the critique of neo-liberal capitalism, thanks to The Ascent of Humanity. (And, really, how asleep at the switch do you have to be to study feminism in college and NOT understand that. See my earlier "DeSchooling" essays….) And only since I read Radical Homemakers, by Shannon Hayes, in 2010 did I connect it all, very deeply in fact, to the environmental movement and depth ecology.
Right now, feminism is fervently awakening to (or, to some a little older and more radical, rediscovering) these same ideas. Feminism's long-term future, I believe with all my heart, lies in radically critiquing deeply held economic systems while wedding itself creatively and inextricably to the enormity of the environmental catastrophe we find ourselves situated within. Even so, so much of the public conversation about feminism is STILL mired in semantics: about who is and who isn't included, drawing lines about who is "woke" and who still slumbers in a patriarchal soup of bullshit. This conversation, while Rome is burning, grows ever more wearisome. I have zero patience for the semantics discussions when there is so much work to do.
Yet here I am ... about to have a semantics discussion.
Ah. Semantics. What do we call the thing we are doing? There are few words more encumbered with emotional baggage, divisiveness, and posturing than the words "feminism" and "patriarchy" in our culture. Some feminists have given up entirely trying to define and use these terms and seeks to critique culture using other labels for themselves. I don't disagree with their reasoning, and it doesn't make them less "woke" or a less potent activist. At this point the term "feminism" -- with its important history and all that encompasses -- is too narrow a frame for me. And increasingly this is true of others that I speak with on this subject.
Feminism is now, as never before, entangled within the very broad ideas of changing cultural stories, specifically in radical economics, radical politics, and in environmentalism, with the clanging-bell urgency of our need to reclaim, as a species, our place as earth protectors for future generations. Perhaps it is time to think of feminism as, in the words of Thomas Berry and more recently Charles Eisenstein, one branch -- one avenue -- into our cultural exploration of the "the new story" (and "new story activism"). Perhaps "patriarchy" can be most simply described as "the old story," circumventing the male/female divide that so many hear in the word "patriarchy" (at least speakers of Indo-European languages.) New Story activism includes social justice, of course; an entire book, Blessed Unrest, attests to all the ways that this movement is growing strong world-wide and how social justice movements are, inextricably, linked to environmental movements. And most feminist activists I know would agree that they are a part of the "blessed unrest" -- perhaps one of the originators of this wide-spread global awakening.
My intent here is to try to use these terms to frame "feminism" in its broader context and encourage my allies everywhere, men and women, to adopt words and deeds that reflect this. This "reframing the conversation" is especially important today; the word "feminism" has been co-opted with alarming and increasing regularity by women who participate fully in the corporate world-destroying machine of neoliberal capitalism. It is now considered "feminist" by large swaths of the population to kill, starve, or poison other women and their children in the name of progress if you are a powerful woman in "developed" nations and making good money at doing so. It is considered "feminist" to bully and attempt to guilt others to vote and behave politically according to your definition of feminism, because -- you know -- "There's a special place in hell…." So perhaps embracing the radical roots of feminism and aligning your inner wordsmith to a larger frame is needed right now, especially if you are uncomfortable with the Time-Magazine-version of co-opted feminism "light." And right now, the biosphere -- our beloved home -- needs all the voices, especially women's, to stand on its side and say "NO MORE!" rather than fighting incessantly about whether the social-media target-of-the-moment is actually, in fact, deserving of the title "feminist"… (take your pick: Amy Schumer; Beyonce; trans-women; stay-at-home-moms; blah blah blah).
This semantics game is wearisome, folks.
We have much bigger fish to fry. Our children's children's lives, alongside the place that we all call home, are dependent on us figuring that out.
by Marie Goodwin
I have a bone to pick with some members of the unschooling community, and this bone-picking is a long time coming, frankly.
When I first started down the unschooling route, oh so many years, I spent a long time foraging for information on on-line forums (Mothering.com, for starters), joined boards, and finally jumped into the world of Facebook mostly to join unschooling groups and see what my ex-boyfriends were up to (I jest about the last one. Kinda-sorta). I thought surely, here, I'd find my tribe: tolerant, kind people walking a barely-lit path with their children, just like me. We would be comrades. Our kids would grow old together, even if I never met my virtual friends and mentors in real life. I took it as a given that these people would be patient and kind, answer my questions with helpful grace, and give me a high five with my little successes, which is what unschooling is entirely comprised of… day-to-day little successes. For many many years.
I was, with a few wonderful exceptions, wrong.
What I encountered from the get-go was a litany of dogmatic, mean-spiritedness, snark, judgement, condescension, and rude-ness, especially to newcomers asking simple questions. I mean, this is the internet. You get that no matter where your interests land, especially on Facebook. But I did expect better from unschoolers. I don't know why, but I did.
So I stopped going to such places and asking questions. I had a few friends on-line and in-real-life with experience. In the areas where I didn't have experience, I either asked them or I figured it out on my own. I wanted on-line community because the world is a vast and interesting place, but I was … well… disappointed. Disappointed in the Kool-aid drinking about who was "in" and who was "out," disappointed in the snark and testiness at newbies, disappointed in "leaders" who seemed to encourage this type of behavior in their on-line groups and pages.
And you know what? I get it. I get sick of defending our right as a family to walk this path -- this really freaking lonely path -- to outsiders. I get sick of every damn mainstream voice in the media and in our community saying what we are doing is crazy and won't work. I get REALLY sick of all the questions, asked over and over and over again: "How will they ever get into college?" "Don't you think they'll be weird?" "What about [*#&&%, #&@*@, &&@#^&*] socialization?" I am sick of it too.
But, unschooling parents, please, for the love of everything that is good in this world…. STOP BEING RUDE TO NEW PEOPLE ON-LINE.
You are not helping. You are not being cute and awesome. You don't look cool. Most importantly you are not engaging people to think more deeply. You are chasing people away who might be curious about this lifestyle, thinking, "Well, who wants to participate in unschooling if THAT is what you get for asking a simple, damn question?"
Why am I bringing this up today?
A "famous" unschooling mom [famous = someone who has been on mainstream media and had to endure mainstream bullying by mainstream talking heads; they are not famous because they are more skillful or better unschoolers in any way] posted today that her oldest had "graduated" from high school by taking some equivalency exam from a distance learning site. He had passed with high marks. Of course. But when I posed a question to said famous unschooling mom, asking quite simply what was the program that that her family had used, two of her followers replied with some snark to me, saying [I paraphrase], "There is no program. It's called unschooling dummy. Look it up," with a couple of other commenters dog-piling on at my [gasp] stupidity at asking about the "program" she was using. Stupid me. They told me.
This type of stuff is common. I see it on unschooling Facebook groups almost daily. I see people get (and have been myself) really defensive over the tiniest question directed at this lifestyle. But I also see how such emotional discharges damage the really revolutionary work that we are doing in this world. If we are going to actually make a change in the way education is constructed and delivered in this country, we are going to have to grow this movement outward to people not yet in it.
And being nasty to newbies when they ask simple questions is not going to get us there.