Musings on politics, erotica, philosophy and whatever else comes to mind
|- and today we make sure no one smears her name with the label feminist.
Doris Lessing died yesterday. She was 94 and lived a full and long life, as many people have commented on - and still it makes me sad. It makes me sad because her name has been such a staple throughout my childhood. I am the product of a family in which debate on abstract matters such as liberty, rights and, yes, feminism, whiled away many an evening or car journey. The name Doris Lessing was a regular occurrence in these.
So, I followed the obituaries and commentaries with interest yesterday. The most common quote, in all the articles and comments, was the following one:
“What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion.”
Doris Lessing, The New York Times, 25 July 1982
In 94 years of life, of thoughtful and deep writings, the quote she is being defined upon is the one in which, so many say, she proclaims not to be a feminist. Two things stuck in my craw in this:
We are fast in declaring someone not a feminist.
We are just as fast in making sure that is message we are upholding, no matter what else has been said by that person.
Feminism or no feminism - that is the question
I think that quote is really up for debate. What I hear from it is not a denial of feminism, but a reminder that nothing in this world should be accepted on “faith” alone, that nothing should be followed in extremes. I am not doubting Doris Lessing is critical of feminism, so am I, so should anyone be - just as we should be critical of anything that purports to hold a truth. Truth, of any kind, does not need faith, does not need to be protected by acceptance but forged by constant doubt and question.
Feminism as a dirty secret
What I find more interesting is that we are working incredibly hard to make sure she is not “tainted” by the label feminist, even to the level where our comments sideline or even exclude all the other labels her writings addressed, tried to make us think about - liberty, justice, rights, faith.
Why? Why has feminism become a dirty label? When I ask this question, people tell me it is because of the extremism of feminism in the 1970s, the popular perception of it standing for hating men (I have talked about the actual theory here before). But that seems improbable as a reason to avoid the label - few people avoid the label of Christianity, or any other religion, and there is enough extremism to go around in any of them.
I have argued before, it is because of the connection we have made, but refuse to acknowledge and discuss, between feminism and sex. I have discussed that before here as well - and will do so again, repeatedly. But I don’t want that discussion to be here. Instead I want to give some other quotes to stand for an amazing writer who died yesterday:
“Very few people really care about freedom, about liberty, about the truth, very few. Very few people have guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born.”
“Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”
“What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better.”
“That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.”
“A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough...People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.”
“I am a person who continually destroys the possibilities of a future because of the numbers of alternative viewpoints I can focus on the present.”
“In university they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools.”
“Women have an extraordinary ability to withdraw from the sexual relationship, to immunize themselves against it, in such a way that their men can be left feeling let down and insulted without having anything tangible to complain of.”
“The charge that the United Nations are using bacteriological warfare in Korea cannot be dismissed merely because it would be insane.”
“We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly more stupid than ourselves to accept truths that the great men have always known. They have known for thousands of years that to lock a sick person into solitary confinement makes him worse. They have known for thousands of years that a poor man who is frightened of his landlord and of the police is a slave. They have known it. We know it. But do the great enlightened mass of the British people know it? No. It is our task, Ella, yours and mine, to tell them. Because the great men are too great to be bothered. They are already discovering how to colonise Venus and to irrigate the moon. That is what is important for our time. You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we’ll put all our energies, all our talents into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.”
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