Saturday, January 4, 2014

Return to feminism

As the amount of time grows from the end of my marriage, I am more clearly able to see some of the deeply rooted beliefs that had taken hold during those 17 years of relationship.  One of them was turning my back on feminism, which I can see now was actually a break, rather than a conclusion.  I have spent some time in the past few days reflecting on my relationship with feminism and being pleasantly surprised by how important it has been to me, not least because my mother was a feminist of the 60s and 70s.

During my years living in a residential college at the University of Melbourne, I became the representative of the colleges on the Universities Feminist Committee.  To this day I am not sure how that happened, and I remember feeling utterly under-qualified for the position but determined to learn as much as I could. This experience of being thrust into positions that seem far beyond my abilities has been a recurring pattern in my life, but with the Feminist Committee, as with many other situations, I seemed to find my way and ultimately began to identify as a feminist.  This sometimes involved battling with the assumptions of the other women on the committee who felt that all women living in residential colleges were unduly privileged and therefore uninformed and un-critical.  I felt this was unjust and oppressive and told them so, and some of the members began to treat me with a little more respect.  Of course, there was some truth in their accusations, but I was right to suggest that women excluding other women from potential growth opportunities was a small-minded response.

During that time I purchased all the contemporary pop-feminist literature that was available, including Susan Faludi’s ‘Backlash: The undeclared war against women’, and Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ and ‘Fire with Fire’, as well as the less politically correct ‘Get your tongue out of my mouth, I’m kissing you goodbye’ and an older text by Colette Dowling ‘The Cinderella Complex’.  I also stole some books from my mother’s collection: ‘The Hite Report’ and ‘The Women’s Room’.  My social work lecturer encouraged us to read Foucault’s ‘The History of Sexuality’ and I remember Virginia Wolf’s ‘Orlando’ coming out as a movie during this time.  All in all, it was a reasonable beginning and I was well supported by my ‘privileged’ friendship networks to challenge assumptions and make loud speeches at dinner parties, even if I only had a few pieces to string together.

Over the next two decades I began to question feminism however, and I can see now that this was caused by the incongruence between the ideals of the discourse and the realities of my life.  I clearly remember thinking ‘What’s the point of all this feminist reading, it’s just making me terribly unhappy.  I can’t live up to these standards’.  After years of quiet raging, I turned my back on critical beliefs and turned towards more positive readings.  I reignited my passion for Humanism and it’s emphasis on unconditional positive regard – the opposite of holding critical perspectives.  I imbibed every positive psychology text that supported my individual choosing of happiness, and I focused on flourishing and creativity.  And I reignited my faith, moving through Buddhism to Integral Spirituality.  These were not wasted decades.  I learned a great deal from these scholars and I am particularly grateful to have developed a capacity to take responsibility for my own part in any challenging situation, rather than simply blaming others. 

In the year before my marriage ended however, I discovered a new discourse.  My studies of Ken Wilber’s integral thinking led me to two women (one American, one Australian) who had developed an on-going conversation called Feminine Power – Claire Zammit and Katherine Woodward Thomas.  This on-line group provided me with the impetus to value the contribution that women are here to make in the world.  The focus on mutually empowering relationships and choosing a calling that is bigger than individual happiness literally changed my world.  Learning to value myself again allowed me to make the important decisions that I had been trying to run away from.

It still took some time to come back to critical feminism however.  I recall participating in a Feminist Music Therapy symposium in Argentina in 2008 where I declared that there was no more need for feminism and that our mother’s had achieved all they could through this discourse (ahhh, it is a humiliating memory, I must admit).  But lately I have found myself tentatively poking around the edges of feminism again.  I have bought more books, read more articles, and allowed myself to be truly appalled by the statistics about the treatment of women in the world – supported by viewing many TED talks that provide important information about the issues facing many women in countries around the globe.  In my own privileged world at the University I have participated in women’s leadership forums where the facts are also oppressive and where male domination is still the status quo.  And finally I have found my way back to feminist theory. The opportunity to work with Sue Hadley as a Co-Editor of Voices: A world forum for music therapy (along with Brynjulf Stige), has been particularly inspiring.  And so have many women colleagues in my field and beyond – particularly the anti-oppressive work being advocated by Sue Baines, and Randi Rolvsjord’s ‘Resource Oriented Music Therapy’. 

I am making a re-commitment to feminism in this summer-time blog.  I aspire to problematize my research findings, and to shine light on the assumptions that underpin the oppressions that impinge on people’s full participation.  I recognize that my circle of influence is limited, but I aim to contribute what I can and to support others to do what they can.  I take up Craig Hamilton’s challenge (from the Integral Enlightenment group) – if not you, then who?