BY LIZ AXELROD
Lately, I’ve been horrified, dumfounded, hysterical and generally nauseated by what I see as the breaking-down of women’s rights and liberties. Before I go into a major serious RANT, I need to parse it out. Not just for you but also for me. I’m not going to talk politics or Hillary or Gloria Steinem on Bill Maher--it’s all out there, click and see. I’m going to talk about what we need to read to make sure we don’t fall further down this slippery slope.
I’m going out on a limb here by (almost) admitting my age--I grew up after the "Bra Burners" and before "Girls Gone Wild." This sandwich of time was idyllic. I thought I could be anyone, have anything, and my tits would never matter in the choices I made (well, they would--but only to my advantage).
I went forth with no fear and pursued a career in the Music Industry, DJing in the fabulous Danceteria where I had beautiful boys to carry my crates of records, dance with, do drugs with and party until the lights came on the next evening if I wanted to. I moved from DJ to Record Promoter and traveled the world with my artists. I never felt a sense of--"oh, she’s a girl, lets treat her less than…" I never felt danger in my femininity. I walked home by myself in the city at 4 a.m. and the only time I had a problem, my local drug dealers (who wouldn’t sell to me because they thought I was a cop--go figure) stopped the drunken lout who followed me out of the club and said, "this is a LADY, you do not treat her like that." Then they told me to "get going" and I figure they beat him just a little bloody.
I got married, then pregnant, then decided it was time to retire from the music industry. I no longer felt the need to stay out until 3:30 a.m. with potential artists, radio executives, venue promoters, or MTV/VH1 executives. It was my choice, always my choice. My sex had nothing to do with it. Being a mother did put a new layer on how I would make choices in the future, but they were still made without the thought of "am I overstepping my bounds."
So yes, I’ve been lucky. I haven’t really had to think about FEMINISM in relation to what it means to me. I used my writing skills, my power of persuasion, my brains (yes, and sometimes my tits) to get what I wanted from life as I was growing up and mostly I got it. And mostly, it was fine the way I got it. If there was growing misogyny in my circle, I either plowed right past it or weeded it out (or both).
It seems today we have come to a point of no recall and quite possibly no return. Those idyllic days may never show their head to my daughter and I worry for the young girls out there trying to figure out how to deal with a world-wide epidemic of female bashing. What do we do when we are confronted by the likes of Boku Harim, Sexual Assaults on Campus, Hobby Lobby, and then those Photos of Women Who Don’t Need Feminism? (OMG!!)
What do we do? We go back to the source. We read. We remember and we try our best to reach out to our daughters and those who are too young to understand a world before rape became terminal, before stoning women for having affairs became the norm in the Middle East, and before "mansplaining" was nothing more than a Cheech & Chong joke. We need to talk about the tools and the abuse and the revelations and the rights and the reality of what could happen if we don’t learn how to speak up. With that in mind, I have put together a list of books and history lessons. Consider this your early spring required thinking space.
What you do with the knowledge is up to you. We are still free to make up our own minds and protest and rage and be outraged. However, to those girls who don’t need feminism, I say this: you are riding on the backs of those who sweated and raged at a world where women did not have the right to own property, did not have the right to vote, were not taught to read and write! In 1904 there were only 4 colleges that accepted women! These things are in the backs of our minds and also in the backs of many of the Tea Party Republicans, Right-to-lifers and Man’s Rights morons. Let them know in no way are we going to go back to that!!! They are trying their best to chip away at our hard won rights. Do not give them the opportunity. Keep in mind--in 1970 Iran was full of fresh faced women wearing shorts and getting medical degrees. Then came the Taliban…
Read these for Solace, Knowledge, Security and Power: feminism
1. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood: I go back to this every time the fear begins. I’m currently teaching it in my English 102 Literature Class. There are so many lessons in this novel. It starts with a frozen bank account and ends with a society ravaged by infertility, fascism and the very few (1% ?) who are allowed to "own" and impregnate the brainwashed, tortured fertile women left in their society. The red robes covering all but the eyes, the powerful persuasion, the one mind, one religion, one goal--enforced with whips, guns and hangings…Does this sound just a little familiar?
2. Female Chauvinist Pigs; Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, Ariel Levy. To those women who don’t need feminism, I say--READ THIS NOW. Understand you are part of the problem, and the solution is for you to see what women have made of themselves since "Girls Gone Wild" and how misogyny has been able to take hold of this and give us a major run for our rights. These girls don’t realize they are sitting in the "pooh" they created and if they don’t wash up soon it will harden--and the cracks are not going to be pretty.
3. Bad Feminist, Roxanne Gay. From Sweet Valley High, to Blurred Lines, with trips around the woods in the lake, and a penchant for Scrabble, Gay provides a harrowing look at today’s world of media and manipulation through her highly educated, big brown, wide-open eyes. She gives us the feminist take on Girls and why it’s just a little too white but we still love it. I taught a few of the essays from the book in my English 101 class last semester and most of my students went out and bought the book on their own. We spent two three-hour classes discussing "How We All Lose" by thinking we can have it all, and "Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them." It was not nearly enough. We need more of this voice. Desperately.
4. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Wolfe--"Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind." When Woolf wrote that famous line and "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction" she was taking huge liberties. In 1929 women did not even have the right to own property. "Poetic License and personal property" go hand in hand. Read about the struggle women writers went through in their quest to be independent and think about what you have today. Hold onto it.
5. Feminist theory from Margin to Center, bell hooks. The author of Aint I a Woman speaks about the history of women (black and white) and our rights. hooks paints a picture of what black women went through from slavery to today, and the struggles are not pretty. As a leader of the second wave of feminist movement, she rallied at the university level and pushed to get women’s studies, feminist studies and gender equality out of the institutionalized ghetto and showed us how to develop a system of resistance.
And, just in case, here are some places to brush up on your feminism:
- Susan B. Anthony was not only a voting rights activist, she was an abolitionist, a teacher and a reformer. Read about the strides she made in the 1900’s for Women’s Rights.
- Read about the history of the Women’s Rights Movement and take a look at the timeline.
- From the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to today--it’s eye opening how far we’ve come and how much we stand to lose.
- Remember, even with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act we still average 70 cents on the dollar to men. We have much to lose if we fall into the trap of complacency. Be active! Be strong! Be a Rebel Girl!
There is much, much more discussion to be had about equality and how it pertains not just to women, but to everyone of every color, every religion, and every gender orientation. And there are many more lessons to learn. We will not give up and we will stay strong and centered and keep our rights and own our power. We’ll develop more power. We’ll work to understand what is going on and try to find a way to make equality real. That is the truest sign of strength.
Liz Axelrod received her MFA from the New School in 2013. She writes poems, book reviews, essays, fiction and anything her pointed pen finger deems relevant. Her work has been published in The Rumpus, Publisher’s Weekly, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, Counterpunch, Nap Magazine, Yes Poetry, The Ampersand Review, and more. Her Chapbook "Go Ask Alice" was chosen as a finalist in the 2015 Finishing Line Press New Woman's Voices Competition and will be published in March, 2016. She is an Adjunct Professor at SUNY Westchester Community College, a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, staff writer for Luna Luna Magazine, and co-host and curator of the Cedermere Reading Series in the home of William Cullen Bryant. Find her here: www.yourmoonsmine.com