Women, Feminism and Fear Part 5

Dear Erin:

That statistic about how many women served in Vietnam compared to men who went to jail is fascinating—that’s a fact I didn’t know.

And you didn’t step on any corns. I don’t agree with everything you say, but I do find your ideas interesting and thought provoking.

I do think you’re right about the regret people of the Vietnam era have about not serving. I know my personal feelings about this are complicated. Despite the fact that I grew up knowing that there were flaws in the American dream, I think I was basically idealistic about our country. Vietnam and other foreign policy disasters knocked most of that idealism out of me. I wanted to serve my country, but I no longer trusted the government to decide what the best way to serve should be.

I suspect the Peace Corps, VISTA, and a lot of 60s political activism was rooted in the urge to serve in a way that seemed positive and constructive, instead being sent to war for bad reasons. I know I made career choices back then based on what I thought the country needed—i.e., I organized food co-ops and ended up doing legal services work instead of going for the big bucks lawyer jobs.

What angers me the most about the Iraq War is that the soldiers I know are mostly idealistic about serving their country, and their willingness to give all has been abused by our bad foreign policy decisions. That is a Vietnam legacy.

But you’re right—Vietnam was 35 years ago and while we should look at how it has influenced things (we are so bad at history), we shouldn’t waste time fighting about it. (I notice that my father, who served in WWII, is annoyed by those of his generation who are remain obsessed with it.) While it’s impossible for me not to be influenced by that time—I was young and idealistic—I really don’t want to go back in time. The present is much more interesting.

The one place where I disagree with you is your comment that the “political, organized feminist movement [wanted] to escape the responsibility of guaranteeing the survival of the Republic” while still gaining women’s rights. I don’t think this is just Vietnam era politics; I think it has a lot to do with the attitude held by most people that women really aren’t capable of being soldiers. (One of the many reasons I like your book is the way you destroy that idea.) There was so much concern at the time that equal rights would lead to women being drafted (which, of course, it should if men are drafted) that I think many leaders made a decision to back off from military issues— decision made easier by the fact that they were uncomfortable with the military.

This isn’t unlike the arguments Linda Hirshman makes about how the movement backed away from challenging home and family arrangements, so that these days we defend working women on economic grounds, leaving open the implication that all real women would rather stay home with their children. I think they were afraid they would lose the majority of women if they concentrated on anything but workplace equity.

Both of these things scared a lot of women as well as most men. I think far too many women remain scared that they aren’t capable of doing things. I suspect it’s less ducking responsibility than it is fear of not measuring up.

I’ll just toss out an example of the kind of fear I’m talking about. About ten years ago, I was accepted at a six week science fiction writing workshop in Seattle. I decided to drive from DC to Seattle on my own. This wasn’t a big decision for me—I like to drive and I drive distances by myself all the time and have since I was in my 20s. But I found any number of women who thought I was either incredibly brave or incredibly dumb to do this. And this in the 1990s. I cannot imagine what these women would say about your travels in Iraq! I think many, many women are still circumscribing their lives due to fear of mostly unlikely things—which is something I really want to challenge by writing on self defense.

I have to give more thought to strength issues, but I am quite intrigued by that. I notice that among the women I train with in Aikido, many weigh more than they appear to weigh, which makes me question the weight charts.

Oh, I want to emphasize: I think the issues you’re raising are vitally important in bringing on a stronger and more powerful feminist movement and in building a constructive left as well. Keep your ideas coming.

Nancy Jane Moore

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