Confessions of a Recovering Feminist
By Carolyn Baker
For more than 30 years, I have defined myself as a feminist. As a feminist, I not only struggled ardently for three decades on behalf of women's equality in every aspect of human existence, but more specifically, I believed that female values were more desirable than male values, and that patriarchy (a way of living based on power and control) was synonymous with masculinity and male values.
Today I am a person in recovery -- recovery from alcoholism and various other addictions. For me, recovery is above all else, a process -- a process which is constantly in flux and never completely finished. In fact, I have come to believe that the very nature of life itself is process.
Recently I wandered into a bookstore in another stale thinking that I might obtain a copy of Fire In The Belly: On Being A Man, by Sam Keen. When I asked the woman proprietor if there was a men's section in the store, she looked bewildered and replied, "Other than the lesbian and women's studies section, we believe that every other part of the store is the men's section, because men run the world." When I asked if there was a section pertaining to men's recovery, she answered, "Well, some people are asking for that Robert Bly book, but that's about it."
With some exceptions, this is essentially the kind of response I hear when I speak with my feminist sisters about the men's mythopoetic movement which finally made the cover of Newsweek a few weeks ago. Many women take a dim view of female interest in the men's movement and wonder why women like me aren't putting more, instead of less, energy into the women's movement these days.
My answer to that question is that my own healing process has made painfully clear to me that after a lifetime of struggling for gender equity and determination to be seen and treated as whole human beings, it is now time for the women's movement (feminist or otherwise) to look within at its own shadow. Earlier in the struggle, it was necessary to focus on our victimization as women which has not ended and which we must continually challenge. But in the process of healing from any kind of victimization, it becomes crucial at some point to turn inward and face the dark parts of the soul that are inevitably foisted on the victim in the ordeals of oppression.
I recently watched a talk show in which a famous feminist attorney and feminist psychologist were accompanying a courageous woman who had just won a lawsuit against her father for childhood sexual abuse. The mood of the survivor was one of vitality, wisdom, empowerment and warmth. Meanwhile, the two feminist professionals spouted rhetoric and took snide potshots at patriarchy. At one point, the psychologist stated that more than 90 percent of child sexual assault is committed by males. She went on to imply that basically women just don't do this sort of thing, and children are much safer with women. Having been severely abused by women myself and having worked with survivors of all forms of abuse for over a decade, I was aghast at such ignorance and self-righteousness.
The real truth is that women do physically, sexually, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually abuse other human beings. We have been as ecologically irresponsible as males, insisting on disposable diapers, pre-packaged convenience foods, fur coats and "throwaway" everything. We are as guilty of emotional incest (for example, relating to our children as surrogate spouses) as men are. In Iron John, Robert Bly speaks of all the subtle nuances of the mother-son wound. He reminds us that tribal societies knew the devastating consequences of older males not taking responsibility to mentor younger males, and that women, regardless of how well-intentioned, cannot provide the same things for their sons emotionally as men can. Likewise, Marion Woodman's works are replete with reminders of the wounds that all children incur at the hands of "unmothered mothers."
Although many feminists would shudder in horror at the thought of having an "inner male," any human being who is truly self-reflective will acknowledge the presence of an inner opposite. The male in all of us who can change the oil, master the computer or backpack the wilderness is as wounded as our femaleness has been in a male-dominated culture. In the struggle to reclaim "womanpower" and "womanspace," feminists have failed to own the positive values, as well as the wounding, of the inner male. I agree with Woodman's assertion that when women deny the woundedness of the inner male, we become "possessed" by the negative aspects of the wound and gain our gender equity at the expense of our wholeness, turning into extensions of patriarchy in female bodies. Projection is a crucial underpinning of the patriarchal principle, i.e., "I'm fine, and if everyone else would just change, we would all be fine."
Many women are making their descent into the psyche and the dark night of the soul that looking at the feminine shadow entails. Similarly, many men are making their descents into the "hairy, scary, wet, swampy places" of Bly's Iron John. What is becoming increasingly apparent to me is how much both women and men need each other's journeys. To become whole individuals and whole as a planet, we must value, and hopefully dialog about our personal confrontations with inner demons. Much of the men's movement is about men's acknowledging the wounding of their inner feminine and healing the wound through deep grief, connection with nature, the senses, the body, and finding nurturing and support from each other. Men journeying on this path have learned much from the women's movement and finally see their own wounds in ours. If women are willing to look at their shadow, they will ultimately find somewhere in the psyche a wounded male, and if we are open, there is much the men's movement can show us about the healing of that part of ourselves.
In my opinion, political feminism and the ''blame game," as Sam Keen calls it, is outdated. It may be that the last stage of the women's movement (a long, hard look at our inner demons) will be what is clearly the first stage of the men's movement. Nevertheless, we can no longer afford to ignore each other's journeys. The bigger picture is about world peace and balanced ecosystems. Ultimately, these depend on women and men honoring and talking with each other with respect to how we have all been wounded by the war, work and gender-role ethic of the Western, technological mind. I agree with Keen's challenge that "What the majority of men have not done is confront the feminist analysis and world view and sort out the healing treasures from the toxic trash." The women's movement is not dead, but stagnant and stalled -- not so much because of Reagan or Bush or an evil external "patriarchy," but because we are not yet willing to take responsibility for the female shadow and the inner patriarchy. The price we pay for refusing to do so is much too great, for as Keen writes: "We are all huddled together on a worldwide battlefield, brothers and sisters in a nuclear family, one race, indivisible, with destruction and fallout for all."
© 1992 Carolyn Baker