Monday, February 11, 2013

On Lies, Secrets, and Silences - Adrienne Rich

"The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education; you will do much better to think of yourselves as being here to claim one...This is the experience of taking responsibility toward yourselves...Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind...It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short, simply to avoid conflict and confrontation...It means that we insist on a life of meaningful means not to be continuously available to others when we need time for ourselves and our work...the difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference."

This is another text that I don't claim as having read because I was only required to read sections of it for class and I don't have, at present, time to delve into the rest (although in spite of that I have already read more than I needed to).

I read (which I list here to give you a feel for the contents of the book which are incredibly varied and vast): 
*The Forward: On History, Illiteracy, Passivity, Violence, and Women's Culture
*When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision
*The Anti-Feminist Woman
*Caryatid: Two Columns, I. Vietnam and Sexual Violence, II. Natalya Gorbanevskaya *Toward a Woman Centered University
*Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying
*It Is the Lesbian In Us
*Conditions for Work: The Common World of Women
*Claiming an Education
*Taking Women Students Seriously

By accident of my own reading choices and by design of my professor, Rich is in dialogue with all the other things I have read this year. She mentions Mary Wollstonecraft (who was apparently referred to as a 'hyena in petticoats'), Tillie Olsen, and Virginia Woolf (she writes, "Like VW I am aware of the women who are not with us here because they are washing the dishes and looking after the children...and I am thinking also of women whom she left out of the picture altogether - women who are washing other people's dishes and caring for other people's children"). It is in that reference to VW that demonstrates why yes, we do need another collection of essays on the rights and status of women in addition to all those that came before because the predecessors talk about women as though all women are straight, white, and upper middle class British/American women. 

AR brings into the discussion queer women, women of color, working class women, and women of different nationalities in order to give these other women a voice and an opportunity to discuss their unique experiences in contrast with those feminists who are coming from various privileges. "Toward a Woman Centered University" points out that the most necessary change that universities need to make is to provide cheap and excellent childcare that makes it possible for single moms, working moms, single working moms, or moms who don't have a stay at home dad (these essays are from the 1970s it should be said) can have the opportunity to go to school. My bestie is a mom of two littlies who is going to grad school and she and her husband both work full time - the scheduling gymnastics that requires is exhausting just to listen to her plan out. 

The other section of that chapter that nearly brought me to tears is when she discusses part time students. "The notion of the 'full-time' student has penalized both women and the poor. The student with a full-time job and a full-time academic program is obviously more handicapped than the student who can afford to go to college without working...[imagine what would make the difference]...between real achievement and a frantic attempt to muddle through."

I have worked my way through a B.S. and am working my way through an M.A. and it is, honestly, miserable. I love learning, and I'm pretty smart, but I don't think that I have any idea what I'm capable of because I have never been able to be an academic. When I encounter anything that I'm really interested in exploring further for ITS OWN SAKE, I typically find myself not having time and having to put it on the 'things to examine when I'm retired' (specifically right now I'm very intrigued by what linguistic differences there are in male and female syntax, but I'm definitely not researching it until I finish my degree). So much of what I loved about this book is what it said about my own experiences, and what it said about my students' experiences. Although much of what is said about gender and homophobia feels outdated (although sadly not entirely irrelevant), what it says about class, first-world privileges, and minorities is still incredibly fresh.

The only major issue I take with AR is her perspective on the sex industry. She is definitely of the feminists who are anti-pornography and anti-sex work. I am not sure if people can even compare the sex industry from the 1970s to now because there have been incredible changes in technology, access, legalization, independence of women in the industry from men, but I'm not ready to jump on board with her. I don't have a problem with her being against it - it's her book and she can write about whatever she takes issue with - but the rest of the ideas feel like a loose analysis that are looking at complicated problems and offering a few alternatives to be discussed in a dialogue, while the anti-sex-industry comments are woven in without any commentary as though every person is on board and she doesn't need to analyze, justify, or engage the audience in a dialogue about her opinions the way she does when she says "it is the lesbian in us who is creative." 

AR: if you don't present any kind of argument to support your opinion, I'm just going to have to say you're wrong to be completely against it.

No comments:

Post a Comment