I mentioned a couple of posts ago that my last post on Feminism and Religion was about my grandma’s memorial service. This is a snippet:
However, this is what I would say about her, and what I did say about her: my grandma lived her life and was a vibrant example to all of us of how to live well and wisely one’s wild and precious life. I valued most about her all the interesting things she did. She was active and busy. She was always doing stuff. And, it was cool stuff and she was a cool person and I loved her and learned from her precisely because she was so busy and interesting all the dang time. I come from a long line of busy women with lots of interests and abilities. Maybe that is just fine.
I received a comment remarking on the “doing” orientation of my memorial speech/service and this gave me food for thought:
Having read both your eulogy and Grace’s, I’m left wondering if we define feminism in terms of doing instead of being. I think I do, and I wonder if that doesn’t get me in trouble sometimes. I hear you acknowledging and affirming your own lineage of “doing,” and that seems to be a good thing. I’m not calling that personal affirmation into question, but our collective understanding of feminism. Anybody have any thoughts on this? Are we still trying to overcome the stereotype of the passive female? Or is this connected to our need for feminist activism? And what is a feminist “being” anyway? Being feminist in the moment? Embodying the Goddess?
These are excellent questions to consider and something I actually turned over a LOT while I was writing this and in thinking about my grandmother because I could see that this was happening. So, I thought I’d share what I turned over in my response to the comment…
How DO we define a feminist mode of “being” (or any kind of “be-ing” for that matter)? Being, how someone IS and how we know who we are, often eludes definitional capture, which is exactly why we describe others in terms of doing. What IS “being” anyway? Often, I actually find the idea of “just BE” or “be-ing” or the like crowds up my head with yet another admonition of something I’m supposed to DO to be “correct” and adequately self-helped. I’ve also noted that it feels damaging to me to associate “doing” or activity as a “masculine” trait and “being” (or passivity/receptivity) as “feminine.” I also know that in feminism or otherwise it often takes “doers” to get good work done–suffragists, for example! (our activist lineage you reference too)
In regular life, however, rather than theory or self-help books, I find we see someone’s being through the doing–and that can be feminist aligned or otherwise, for sure!
Returning to my grandma as my example, through her doing, I saw her being. In the quilts she made, I saw her love and attention. This in a real sense was her language of being. And, because she DID, one of those very quilts is still there on my bed and I sleep under it every night, even though her being is no longer here with us (or is it still here, because it is still communicated through the works she left behind her?). Her name is signed with a clear, confident stroke on my bedspread in her own hand and it covers me as I sleep. It was through her travels, that we saw her spirit of adventure. It was through the works of her hands that we saw her creativity. It was through her words and conversations and the books she read that we saw her intelligence. If she hadn’t been willing to DO those things, could we have actually seen who she WAS? Brilliant, irrepressible, adventurous, determined…
(Actions speak louder than words!)
Of course, balance is also important. “Doing” self-care also matters. In self-care practices, I think we encounter being in a feminist sense (maybe??). I maintain my daily woodspractice of sitting in the woods each day–there, I can just BE at last! Or, can I? Since the moment of being requires doing to get there–I had to get up, leave the house, go to the woods, walk up onto the rock and sit there, paying attention, feeling the air, thinking my poems, hearing the birds, watching the sunset. That is still doing, in its way. And, I like it.
Ah ha! So, might a feminist-aligned distinction also be found in doing for others vs. doing for/with oneself, perhaps? (I think my grandma actually got this one down really–I easily see both of these in her life)
I’ve actually struggled quite a bit in my own life with self-recrimination over not being able to “just BE,” “better.” And, it is in that sense that I recognized the “noble legacy” of coming from a lone line of busy, do-ing women.
So, while our works or our “doings” may be how we are valued and that is kind of bad/patriarchal–but these opportunities are also how we show people that we value them too (feminist). HOW we “do” matters and it in THAT that we can find a feminist connection. In showing up, in doing that memorial service and doing that speech through my tears, I showed the room my own being and how we are/were connected. That was what I could DO for my family and for my grandma. Prepare a service that was loving and respectful and that honored her and who she was, at least to us—and through that, other people could see who she was too. She wrote her own obituary and picked out her own picture for it and chose the menu for her own memorial luncheon. That is doing too, yes, but it also epitomizes her way of being–I don’t know that the two can be separated or unwound from the the other. And, that active quality of doing life, was then, who she WAS in being. It is circular (and that’s pretty goddessy in itself!).
How can we describe someone without describing things they did to evidence that? To demonstrate that? I’m not sure. I think without being able to describe the doings of others, we end up with exactly the platitudes and caricatures that I find most decidedly unfeminist. i.e. “She was always loving and caring and supported me 100%.” I find THAT type of memorial statement hollow and nearly meaningless in the vagueness as well as very self-centered (I.e. Only defined in relationship to how “she made me feel.”) How do we actually KNOW that she was those things, how did we SEE that from or with her, or—all too often—-is that just what we think people are supposed to say about grandmas and we find we never knew who she was at all? (Because all we looked for or tried to feel was a stereotype of “she was always loving and nurturing” and forgot about, or never paid attention to, her laughing on the back of an elephant in Africa?)
I sense even more to write about here… ;-D
(As a side note, since she died, I’ve also found myself reconsidering the notion of “stuff” and “clutter” being somehow bad or undesirable, because that is what we have left now. I know that “memories are what matter,” blah, blah, blah, but the fact is that the “stuff” that remains of my grandma’s life and presence is a vehicle for memory and an echo of her and her being/doing that means she is still a part of my life in a tangible way, not just in a when-my-mind-turns-to-her way. Does that make sense? For example, I have one of her Shirley Temple dolls from 1957. Towards the end of fall when the doll came to live with me, I took her down to the woods for a visit. Now she sits in my kitchen. I like the connection. :))