Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Politics of Race and Gender (in Therapy)

I went to the library with Alisha today because she needed some books for a paper, basically asks the question, what would the history of psychology be like if women had more influence than men? One of the books she took out is called The Politics of Race and Gender in Therapy (an anthology edited by Lenora Fulani. On the bus heading back to my place, I was holding her books, and this one book was the one on top, so I started looking through it. There are some really interesting submissions, I would like to read them all myself just to read them! I want to share some of the entries, one being a poem, the other an article (I'll pick out some quotes). The article has what some people would call some foul language, and for that I do apologise to those who would be offended, but I will write it just as it is written in the book.

"I Am a Woman" by Jessie Fields
Eyes on me daily
Frankly staring

My heel-less height
Wild natural fair, unadorned ears
and unfeminine clothes
Shock the eyes accustomed to the sight
of styled hair, make-up, and earrings.

I stand before the eyes wide with the question:
"Are you a man or a woman?"

The sex code broken.
The dress code defied.
And no slot to put me in.

It is an unwritten rule
that all female children must have their ears pierced
That all women must
wear earrings.

If you don't believe this as a rule
Defy it as I do daily.

Stand with me
when someone calls me sir
Listen to me say
"I am a woman"
Watch them star past me,
and continue to call me sir.
Listen to them say
"Women can't be that tall"
"You don't look like a woman"

How does a woman look?

I am a woman
A woman looks
like the woman she is.
I look like myself, a woman.
I define myself.
I define the woman I am.
And how this woman looks
And what this woman does
And who this woman loves
And I will be
no less than all of me.
I am a woman.

"The Necessary Bitch" by Judy Simmons
Sometimes I act like a bitch for the same reasons that Sojourner Truth ripped off her bodice in public and asked, "Ain't I a woman too?" I mean, really, am I not somebody's child? Don't I bleed if you cut me? Haven't I dreamed of flying?

A woman is a bitch if she stands up for herself, speaks her mind, insists on her rights and space, isn't deferential to men and would rather make a scene than die or turn the other cheek. Except if she's over 65 and a grandmother: Then asserting herself is okay because she's already sacrificed herself for home, hubby, kids, church and community, so she deserves a little indulgence. Besides, she's no threat.

I saw Black women bent double for 12 hours a day, eight-foot sacks harnessed to their backs, picking cotton with cracked, bloody fingers. In 1955. One of them was my college-graduate mother, who wasn't paid enough as a Negro teacher in the segregated South to feed, clothe and shelter only the two of us.
I saw my dark-skinned, country roommate at Talladega College who kept her eyes on the floor and meekly submitted to bullying because that's what a black Black girl with nappy hair could expect and deserved. In 1960.
I saw the women of Laurel, Mississippi, whose work in a chicken factory gave them bloated, ulcerated arms, and who bled through to their outer garments because they'd be fired if they left the line to change their menstrual pad or tampon. In 1980.

[Talking about the word "bitch."] ...The word was profane and had the concept disgusting. It referred to a loose woman who had sex without benefit of marriage and was vain and worldly - a gaudy, painted harlot who probably sand "Gimme mah gin!" and wiggled her hips, tempting upright, God-fearing men to stray from the straight and narrow. Virtuous girls had to avoid even the appearance of evil by keeping their legs crossed, their eyes downcast, their mouths full of soap and their heads clouded with fear and guilt for having sinful thoughts.
Sinful thoughts included sexual ones, of course, but those were venial compared with an even worse heresy; thinking that you, a mere female, were as good as or even better than boys and men.

I think we're cheating ourselves by accepting the bitch label and trying to make it mean something positive. We're having enought trouble gaining self-esteem as it is, without using a very suspect word to label the kind of person we're struggling to become. Bitch is too easy and narrow a concept for what's really going on with me, with us women.

Many Black women are unwilling to identify with feminism, apparently feeling that a feminist is a privileged white, racist, anti-male woman. In fact, feminist means exactly what some of us are trying to make bitch mean: a woman who takes her power out of others' hands and into her own and decides who she wants to be, how she'll be responsible and what she'll make of life on her own terms.

Frequently those of us who do pick up on some of feminism's flashier aspects make the fundamental mistake of wanting the privilege without paying the price. Taking power and directing our lives isn't simply a matter of flexing our women's-lib mouth muscles and throwing jargonistic tantrums to get our own way.
Being a new-style bitch of a feminist isn't just a matter of waking up one morning and shouting "I gotta be me." I've been doing that for years, and all it makes me is a rebellious child who has spent her life reacting against people instead of moving toward her own identity and goals.

I want to stop being my own worst enemy and start being my best friend. I want to decide who I am, mostly, and what work I want to do, seriously. I want to spend half as much energy and ingenuity making myself economically and politically powerful as I've spent trying to show some man how worthwhile my love, loyalty and talents are to him (I'll be filthy rich in six months). I want women and men to respect their separate-but-equal struggles to be whole, balanced human beings. And when I'm standing up for myself and my beliefs to the best of my ability, I want to be recognised as a complex, loving, hurting, angry, courageous woman. Maybe a feminist. Definitely much more and much better than a bitch.

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