Saturday, November 10, 2007


I wouldn't have paid so much attention to this if I hadn't received an evaluation the week before in which my actual performance was acknowledged as benefiting the organization and but I was threatened with imminent termination on account of anonymous and unspecified complaints of my 'condescending' and 'contemptuous' attitude toward various employees. I'm not ready to lay out a brief here. But in my follow up interview my supervisor, a semi-closeted gay white man who is preparing for retirement within the year, actually volunteered that he 'suspected that gender was at issue' in the reaction I have incurred--and which he credited in his assessment (left in writing on my chair as he left the office for the weekend). Mind, my (women) colleagues with whom I shared the evaluation have called it 'insane'.

I was a feminist before I got out of braces. No flabby Friedan for me, nor Robin Morgan; I toted and quoted Shulamith Firestone throughout my early teens. I was deeply impressed by her unsentimental take on motherhood: 'giving birth is like shitting a pumpkin'. I've never been pregnant. I don't have a family. Could this be a reason? Just now I returned to look up the reference. The pages are yellow and the binding cracks as I open The Womens' Press paperback (with the iron logo). I'm too old even to wince any more at the marginalia; I'm almost ready for compassion--even admiration-- for me, nearly 30 years ago.

What did I know at 14, to underline: 'The smile is the child/woman equivalent of the shuffle; it indicates acquiescence of the victim to her own oppression'? or to find a boyfriend whom I could persuade to read the book, whose own comments (for example, in response to a passage in a section entitled 'The Racial Family: Oedipus/Electra, the Eternal Triangle, the Brothel-behind-the scenes', reading 'What the white woman doesn't know is that the black woman, not under the thumb of one man, can now be squashed by all. There is no alternative for either of them than the choice between being public or private property [my original underscore!], but because each still believes that the other is getting away with something, both can be fooled into mischanneling their frustration on to each other, rather than on to the real enemy, "The Man"' --) would read, in still pink ink: 'NOT GOOD'?

(To be fair: this same boyfriend was even then amassing an arrest record and FBI file that will ever put me to shame).

I'd thought this was all part of the detritus of my adolescence. That first world feminism belonged in classrooms, as a useful set of historical references that might help tomorrow's Goldman analysts better appreciate their opportunities, and maybe think twice about the life-work issues they, their colleagues, hires or (more theoretically) supervisors might face as women (who are still weirdly defined primarily by virtue of their reproductive function).

'Feminism is the inevitable female response to the development of a technology capable of freeing women from the tyranny of their sexual-reproductive roles--both the fundamental biological condition itself, and the sexual class system build upon, and reinforcing, this biological condition'.

Thus sprach Shulamith in The Dialectic of Sex, back in 1970. I picked it up nearly 15 years later, and after an initial conversion, left it on the shelf for a long time. There's a lot to leave behind (specifically, its repudiation of class in favor of gender as the fundamental basis of social order and struggle) but there's a lot more with which I find a renewed sympathy and inspiration as I brush the crumbs of dried binding glue from my lap.

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