Saturday, September 19, 2015

Frustration and fantasy

For the past week, I've been running into to the same problematic theme everywhere I turn. It was on social media, in literature I tried to read, and even in the political arena, but a book on embracing motherhood was so filled with unsubstantiated assertions of the past that I had to sit down and write this. The topic is one that many people expect me, a feminist to embrace, but it is also one that I can't support in good conscience. It's a lovely fantasy, but it's also something that cannot be counted on.

Are you intrigued? Have you guessed what it is? It's the idea that at some point in the past, women (or even grenade kind in a broader interpretation that ropes nature into the conversation) ran the show, and that patriarchy is unnatural and wrong. It is an idea that dominated feminist thought, new age spirituality, and even chunks of modern literature, especially in the late 1960's to early 1980's. It influenced academia, art, and pop culture. It's also very hard to prove.
I will fully admit that the were have been matrilineal societies, that women's roles have not been static and unchanging, and that sexual or gender discrimination is not inevitable. I think that we have to look at the past very carefully, with full appreciation of our own bias and inherited cultural hang ups, before we can assess the hazy, fragmented, distant past. It's ready to fill in the blanks of history with our own imaginings, but it is dishonest,  and potentially harmful, too try to pass these off as fact. It's wonderful to imagine a future in which there is no discrimination based on ethnic identity, race, religion, or gender, but to use a murky or made up past to justify change can alienate whole new groups of people in the process. Don't get me wrong, I am fully in favour of expanding the voice of history to include the historical narratives of underrepresented groups, I just don't want to see it five with no evidence.

Challenge your assumptions about the past, look for evidence, examine your bias, and be aware of your agenda. These things can help us create clarity with regard to the past. Without this clarity, we run the risk of turning the past into a weapon, of cheapening all that humankind had and had not accomplished, and creating futures that are even more unsavoury than our present.

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