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.