Peeling Away the Patriarchy
“She has changed the way I think of Africa,” Fanny said. “She’s changed the way I think about a lot of things!”
“Good writers do that,” he murmured, distracted.
But he did not want to change the way he thought of Africa. Besides, when he wanted insight into Africa, he’d read a man.
But why should he try to read all the books that changed her life. She had time for those kinds of books. She taught literature! He had to read the books required by his profession. The teaching of American history ….
…..He wanted American history, the stuff he taught, to forever be the center of everyone’s attention. What a few white men wanted, thought, and did. For he liked the way he could sneak in some black men’s faces later on down the line. And then trace those backward until they appeared even before Columbus. It was like a backstitch in knitting, he imagined, the kind of history teaching that he did, knitting all the pieces, parts and colors that had been omitted from the original design. But now to have to consider African women writers and Kalahari bushmen! It seemed a bit much.
Both excerpts from Alice Walker (1989), The Temple of My Familiar. New York: Pocket Books.
It’s kind of a comfort to me to know that the only people on earth regularly following this blog are two of my four kids, and (I think) one sister. It takes the pressure off when I stall out for awhile. And I’ve stalled out recently, partly because the whole premise of this blog has become problematic to me.
I presented the blog in my “intro” as a contribution to the witch world, and that contribution was supposed to be intellectual rigor. I’m beginning to feel ashamed of the arrogance in this, as I read the works of witches (Starhawk, Ann Moura, and others) who show historical, scientific and psychological sophistication– and who are in any case better writers. But more troubling to me is the way I find myself, when I write, trying to justify myself to an internal tribunal of male academics. And the members of the tribunal all share the sense that a subject that only women write about can’t be serious.
I am the daughter of an academic, and grew up around his male colleagues. When I was very young, I simply didn’t see female professors, and when I began to meet female intellectuals, they rubbed me the wrong way. They seemed so competitive, so defensive; what was missing, I see now, was the easy air of authority that comes with knowing you’re the lawful inheritor of the world of the intellect. Women had to fight their way in, while the men could just assume the mantle.
I was a loud advocate for women’s rights in middle and high school, but somewhere in the course of college life, I drank the koolaid. The problem, I think, is that since my life was in disarray, I was vulnerable to the spoken and unspoken view that I had brought these on myself by being rebellious, non-believing, and non-compliant. I saw sexism and misogyny all around me, but could not carry these awarenesses gracefully– and why should I have? To carry them at all took considerable strength and courage; to be the kind of person who effects change around them (rather than being written off as a nut) was beyond my teenaged abilities. There was very little help to integrate my perspective into an adult identity; the pressure was to give it up.
So I found a way to persuade myself back into conventional belief. I became a “scholar,” studied the classics and pooh-poohed feminist readings of them. The point was to master “the canon,” which left little time for books by women, books by non-European authors, books by contemporaries. One had to climb the mountain and sit at the feet of the masters, and I put phenomenal energy and patience into doing just that.
I feel silly, at 53, finally coming back to what I knew at 17, and part of the process involves not blaming myself for being human, then and now. I struggle with a load of shame for having turned on myself the way I did, just the way abused children or oppressed people feel ashamed for having been powerless, or for having used their strengths to adapt to oppression. I feel the same shame they feel to find themselves repeating their own victimization as adults– as though they should have been, somehow, above carrying lasting hurt. I know what it’s like to feel that you have somehow morphed into the oppressor you hated. I cringe when I remember using my hard-won learning to defend the indefensible in my church and in western culture– to try to exonerate it from the clear reality of its determination to suppress women, then and now. I feel deep shame for having minimized or argued with women who were laboring to see through the bullshit.
Yet here I am, trying to show The Man that my interest in witchcraft is not just some silly chick thing.
Whatever intellectual rigor means to me, it can’t be allowed to become the code word for the male academic stamp of approval. It’s time to dismiss the tribunal.