by Mynda Peyton
When I first found out that the theme for this first issue of HA! was "The meaning of words: what does Feminism mean to you", I immediately thought. . . blank. . . I had no idea what to write about. Luckily my subconcious was working overtime, because images came to me, beautiful sepia images, black and white images, color polarized images. So when I went home and looked at our family photo album, my visual definition of Feminism emerged.
As a little girl I knew I was a feminist. How did I know? Well, I
watched a lot of T.V. from the '70s. '70s television programs were very
weird. Watch as a marketing tool clumsily tries to reflect and explain the
very complicated and very real changes occuring in society. Needless to
say, I got a little wacked out. I was a little girl soaking up 2nd wave
feminism over the T.V. set. But hey, I was a kid and I knew I was a
feminist. I had a lot of self-confidence; I was the belt swinging tom-boy
who wanted to be free and independent.
up and having a super-independent job where I could make lots of money and
have lots of power so that nobody could tell me what to do. My favorite
commercial went like this:
I can bring home the bacon (Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba) Fry it up in the pan And never, never let you forget you're a man, cause I'm a woman
Adolesence: aka, "Gee, my body's changing. Oh shit!" Confusion. Confusion is a word that could sum up my adolesence. During puberty I quit being a tom-boy. I lost a lot of confidence and entered the awkward and confused zone. I made it through still believing in my worth and still calling myself a feminist. But strange things were occuring to change my definition of feminism.
I was at an age when I needed to make sense of what was going on, both physically and mentally. I started looking for female role models. I looked and studied the women in my family, who were all strong, honest, no-bullshit women; only they never called themselves feminists. My church-going mother couldn't understand why a woman would want to work (unless she needed toand my mother needed to).
The only woman who bragged about being a feminist in my home town was Joyce, the white woman my grandmother worked for as a maid. My grandmother told me stories about her employees. I heard many unbelievable tales about Joyce's temper tantrums, her piles of cosmetics, her shopping extravaganzas, her affairs, and the strange world she inhabited. When Joyce came over to drop clothes off for my grandmother to iron, meeting her was an embarrassment.
I picked up on her unconscious condemnation and racism, her power plays over my grandmother. I hated this semi-powerful woman who chatted with me "about feminism" while waiting for my grandmother to finish ironing her clothes. I felt ashamed of being black and subjected to this bullshit, watching as my grandmother catered to it.
Slowly I got it. Joyce was the image I idolized in the T.V. commercials as a kid. Joyce, not my mother, was the successful feminist.
In college I received feminist theory. I was once again a feminist with solid abstract theory as my guide. I was introduced to, read, loved, and reflected upon writers like Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Frye, Young, Collins, MacKinnon, etc.
Suddenly in written theory my whole life was explained; I got it! Everything I saw, knew, heard became stunningly clear. I used theory to understand people, and myself! Only theory is not reality. It can be an illuminating metaphor, a guide, a conversation, but it doesn't always address my reality.
In college I understood life and the people around me from an abstract, theoretical viewpoint. This didn't help me communicate and find common ground with the housekeepers who cleaned up my dorm room, the cashiers at Harris Teeter who sold me food, or the boys I wanted to fuck, but didn't want to be dominated by (as in Kathryn MacKinnon's definition of human sexuality). I'm learning to get beyond theory. We ask questions about our everyday lives that we can answer.
Now I'm here. Not quite finished with college, taking a break, working a slack job, trying to figure it all out. I've seen my definition of feminism constantly reshape itself and explode past words and labels. I don't define Feminism now with words; I see it. All around me I see women's feminism. Women who are constantly shaping their roles in society, in their communities, at home, within themselves.
Now, I don't think of Feminism as a place, an idealized state of society, or one great standard way of being female. I instead see Feminism as the constructing process itself. I see Feminism when women value women as sources of insight, advice, information, stimulation, love, support, joy. When women value women. I see Feminism as collective knowledge that shapes reality and is shaped by it. I see Feminism in me and anyone who didn't want the bullshit that limited us: things that didn't don't give us what we want and need: freedom. Freedom being "the realization of one's destiny and ever-changing potential." I got this definition from Su Negrin's book: Begin at the Start.
I see Feminism when we look to each other to give meaning to words like morality, justice, power, or politics.
Feminism, I can't define it with words, but its easy to see. Look at your mom, the women who loved you, the women in our culture. women who create culture, women who make zines, women who sell food. I can go on and on. So I'll end by saying keep a photo album. It can be a visual reminder of our past, our values, our human history. It can also be a cool collection of photographs about the women we love. Photographs can be a very concrete visual definition of Feminism.