Yes, I am a feminist. Frankly, it feels a bit odd to say that, because it seems to me that anyone with a world-view that stops short of Islamic fundamentalism should consider themselves feminist. As the NOW says, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Or as Rebecca West put it, “People call me a Feminist whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a doormat.”
Boiled down to its essence, feminism is the belief that if a man and a woman do the same job in the workplace, they should get the same pay. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m a lesbian, although many lesbians are feminists. It doesn’t mean that I believe men should be closed into a box for a couple of generations while women get on with things, although I agree there are some men we could do without. Feminism is not even a declaration that women are superior to men (although in some things I believe they are, as men are superior in others.)
Feminism is not an assertion that a five-foot, ninety-seven pound woman should have hiring preference over a six-two, two-twenty pound man for a job hauling heavy loads. Feminism is an assertion that there are very few jobs like that, and that a woman can run a fork-lift as well as a man.
The reason I’m writing this brief essay is because in August, 2004 I am publishing a book that explores just these issues. Califia’s Daughters is classified as science fiction, because it’s set in the near future, but it is sci-fi in the same sense that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is. A book, in fact, that inspired me to write my own.
The Handmaid’s Tale made me very, very angry. Here was a book dubbed “feminist” that told the story of an entire generation of gutless females, who permitted themselves to be stripped of their rights, their dignity, and even their bank accounts, when all the time they controlled the world’s most precious and threatened resource, fertility. If it had been written by a man, it would have been scorned and reviled.
Califia’s Daughters started out as a refutation of the ideas Atwood’s book contained. Of course, in the way of novels, it took itself off into different directions, but it is still an exploration of women and authority. It is feminist in the sense that the women in it can be every bit as bone-headed and brutal as men. It is feminist in that it posits the theory that, if women were handed the world and told to run it, they would somehow manage.
Although I grew up in the usual 1950s family where the dad worked and the mom kept house, where boys went to college and girls might if there was enough money, an innate sense of pragmatism overrode my surroundings: Generally speaking, it simply did not occur to me that there were things I could not do because of my sex. Maybe it was because my parents did not stress the differences—we kids took our turns mowing the lawn (big lawn; push mower) and doing the dishes, stitching fallen hemlines and stacking firewood. And then as an adult, when there was plywood to be cut, it did not seem that my hands could manipulate the Skil saw with any less dexterity just because they had a Y chromosome in their musculature.
Women have been struggling for equal rights since long before I was born, and after I am gone they will no doubt continue to push back the bastions of archaic masculine limitations, in the West and beyond. Women cops and firefighters earn but a glance; women fly planes and advise presidents; women serve in the armed forces to a degree scarcely imaginable a generation ago, carrying guns, dying in combat, and performing acts of atrocity every bit as efficiently as their brothers.
However, I am also a mother and have spent countless hours in my life counseling new mothers in the art of breastfeeding. From that perspective, although I celebrate the fact that my sisters are allowed to participate fully in just as much madness as the boys are, nonetheless, I would draw the line at the point where the next generation’s rights are infringed. I am not talking about abortion, which up until the point of the fetus’s independent viability is no one’s business but the woman’s (although I freely admit that the brutal “late-term” abortion, rarely performed and even more rarely necessary, makes me queasy both physically and morally). I am talking about the rights of an infant to its mother’s milk and her presence for the first year of life, and to its right to a stable presence in its life, mother or father, for the next few years. Ripping a mother away from her infant in order for her to drive a humvee through the desert might be a literal interpretation of equal rights, but it leaves a child in want.
I admit, I feel the same way about a woman who chooses to return to a sixty hour a week office job when her child is six weeks old, that just maybe there are another person’s rights that take precedence. However, as other patriots have said before me, I may disagree with what she chooses to do, but I would fight for her right to make that choice.