27 May At The Crossroads
Upside down, backwards, sideways. No wonder we feel dizzy and nauseated much of the time. Legislators discuss ”consensual rape,” presidential spokespeople insist there are ”alternate facts,” and lies become beyond brazen since there are written, photographic, video, audible, publicly witnessed records and testimonies exposing the lies. Crowd size, for example. What was said in an un-doctored videotaped interview or speech. What crime was boldly committed and baldly denied. When enough of these accumulate—and they come in an avalanche daily—they leave tiny pits, then dents, in a citizen’s self confidence about recognizing reality, until the blizzard of pebbles becomes a pelting of stones and finally a hillside of boulders roaring down to bury the self, the truth, the real.
This happens through language and action both, via short-term tactics and long-term strategies. It’s so blatant it bewilders the rational mind. It’s so continual it exhausts attempts to select one discrete example and analyze that constructively. It’s so absurd that in lighter moments we liken it to Wonderland or the looking glass, with ourselves as Alice–shrinking, swelling, lost, being bullied, even being sentenced to our own beheading. There is fear, and worse: the massive combination of all this seems so encompassing as to feel overwhelming, it evokes despair. Nor is it a coincidence that women’s bodies and experiences, especially 50 years of articulating those experiences, and in the process saving lives and transforming cultures, are now the prime targets for attack. Sometimes, having been raised to blame ourselves for everything, women wonder what we did wrong. But we did no wrong and we were not wrong. We knew this would happen.
It’s pretty good to be right, at least in historical political terms, although it’s costly. In personal relationships, not always so good to be right, and exorbitant. (Obviously, I’m not referring to disagreements over whether the world is flat or Adam, Eve, and the dinosaurs all cohabited at the same time. Neither am I referring to any degree of domestic violence.) But being right historically and politically, based on real evidence acquired in serious study by serious people, is quite a useful thing. I found myself thinking how we wild eyed, wild haired, rebel feminists of the late 1960s through the 70s—and for many of us onward and still going—we were damned well right about some things.
Decidedly not ultra-egalitarianism, ultra-collectivity, anti-intellectualism, Lefty jargon (or jargon of any sort), no, that’s not what we were right about. But equal pay for equal work—and equal pay for comparable worth–we were right about that. We were right about a woman’s non-negotiable need for reproductive freedom, and freedom from domestic violence, and freedom to choose whom she loved, man or woman or both. I was right to liken women to a colonized people, mined for our natural resources—sex, childbearing, and “invisible,” unpaid labor—and I was right to call for the rising of that colonized people to take back our own land, e.g. our own bodies (“On Women As A Colonized People” in Going Too Far.) We were right to dare express (even a fraction of) our own anger. At the time, this society regarded these as unreasonable, excessive demands disowned as destructive even by many feminists, who feared such ideas might threaten any incremental progress women might be making. I was told, “Robin, this time you’re going too far” so frequently that I used those three words as a book title.
Today, with literally millions of women in the streets—at the women’s marches or over reproductive rights or any of the other so-called women’s issues which happen to include all issues–today, when I see all these women, I think with astonishment, my god, we were right! We were right to believe women would be the ones to turn it all around!
I think with pride about two women who were and are right, this very minute. Dr. Jennifer Freyd (University of Oregon, Department of Psychology) has worked for decades on the institutional betrayal of victims and on silencing tactics employed by perpetrators and the powerful when a survivor speaks up, whether about childhood sexual abuse or reporting rape on campus. Jennifer’s acronym for the tactics is DARVO: Denial, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender, which perfectly describe Donald Trump’s response whenever accusations against him land close to the bone: he is not crooked, Hillary is. He hasn’t publicly demonstrated nonstop, alarming, sociopathic behavior; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, has (even if it requires a faked videotape to pretend “proof” of that.)
This reversal, central to the dystopia in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, is also inherent in “consensual rape,” and “alternative facts,” and it sent me back to thoughts of another friend, gone now: Mary Daly, feminist philosopher. Had she lived to witness these days, the ferocity of her intellect would have relished demolishing the Trumpists’ inversions and reversals, and through her books we can still be in conversation with her mind. Mary wrote of reversal as one of the four central methods of patriarchal mystification, along with erasure, false polarization, and divide and conquer. Even in her early work, as she freed herself from being a radical Catholic theologian with multiple doctor-of-divinity degrees, this theme appears.
Mary noticed. She noticed that Adam gives birth to Eve, Zeus to Athena, that the body and blood of the Eucharist inverts the actual body that brings and feeds life with its own flesh and milk: the female body. Mary named false conclusion and false polarization. To Orwell’s fictional list of phrases—war is peace, freedom is slavery, the joy camp is a forced labor camp—Mary added current real-life examples: rest cure, finishing schools, intensive care, housewife, the natural look. Orwell had warned that ”ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving higher brain centers at all.” Against such practices Mary urged what she termed “positive paranoia.”
She noted the Christian trinity as a distorted reflection of the tripartite female divinity, Virgin-Mother-Crone, and traced how her own once-cherished Christianity had engineered the theft of images and archetypes from indigenous faith systems stretching back pre-history. She revealed how that Christianity’s conquest modeled on the Roman Empire had further elevated patriarchy and then demonized originators and practitioners of those earlier systems. She delighted in learning that even today in rural Ireland, some of the Scottish Highlands, and certain areas of Scandinavia, divination is believed possible if one sits on a three-legged stool at the crossing of three roads when the clock strikes midnight on Samhain, today known as All Hallows Eve or Hallowe’en.
Language maps it for us again. Before there was “Trinity,” there was trio, troika, and numerous other words for triple derived from the Latin. One variant was reserved for use as a name for the three-part sacred female archetype.
That name in English was Trivia.
Think what has become of that word.
Mary Daly could be a difficult friend—but worth every minute of indigestion. She drove me crazy and I miss her. If you have never read her, try it. Start with the earlier books and ease in to the unfettered late ones—which read like a collaboration written by Thomas Aquinas, Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Dr. Seuss, and . . . Mary. If you already know her work, take down a book or two from your shelves and meander again through that daring, darling, enduring mind.
The thing is, she was right. I was right in Going Too Far. Those of you reading this perhaps were there yourselves; if so, you were right. So if over the next months I find ways to pay homage to those contemporaries, bear with me. This isn’t just the sentimentality of a survivor. These were women who forged feminist theory from female experience and action, with no blueprint. They did so before “gender studies” and “gender theory” became a requirement for advancing in academic circles by writing unintelligible knockoffs from puerile scribblings by two French men—Derrida and Lacan. They/We did so because we were in the streets, where women now find ourselves again.
And what better way to deflect the pebbles and stones and boulders hurled at us now! We have a “herstory” because we dug it up from having been buried by previous avalanches. Where we could not find it we forged it, and we were right to do so. Remember that. Feminists today, in the streets and the boardrooms, in Congress and McDonald’s are right, too. Trust that. See you at the crossroads.