Thursday, November 09, 2006


Last night, late for me - at 10 p.m. - I was having a telephone conversation with a lesbian writer I idolize. Being in school gives me the opportunity to define projects that put me in contact with cool people like the writer I was speaking with. In addition to a valuable oral interview for a seminar paper that I am writing, it was an opportunity to remember how important lesbian writing and lesbian poetry was during the 1970s and 1980s. One of the things that I like about history is it gives me an opportunity to feel a part of times that I missed. Last night, on the telephone, I felt like I was a lesbian poet in 1979. I imagined myself swapping poems with these women I admire. I imagined the validation of having a poem published in Sinister Wisdom. It was magical. Working to preserve history makes me a part of that time even though I was nine years old then and trapped in Saginaw.

The other thing that the telephone call reminded me of is the importance of not dismissing essentialism. I see too many easy dismissals of things that women believed and worked on in the 1970s and early 1980s as “essentialist” as though it wasn’t sophisticated and didn’t have a full understanding of the world that we have now-as though people were consciously naive and not just living in the midst of the life that they had. While feminism and queer theory have had many fascinating and important developments since 1985, there are important ideas and theories to remember and retain from earlier times, even if they have now been labeled “essentialist” or a product of “cultural feminism.”

The woman I was talking to last night is going to do work to remember that and write that work in a way that can be heard and understood by the contemporary academic constructs. I’m excited about that because I feel so strongly about the importance of doing that work and not forgetting or dismissing “essentialism” or “cultural feminism.” It’s interesting because I am always excited to hear about others doing work on projects that interest me. My secret hope is that someone will write the book that I want to read and let me off the hook. I tell this to Helen each time she asks me about my work on the feminist history of the nuclear age. I keep reading and reading and reading hoping that someone will write this so that I don’t have to, so that I can get off the hook for writing it. No one has. I hope if I delay and delay and delay someone will when in fact the delays just give me more stress about the responsibility of telling this history. I am constantly trying to find a feminist analysis that will release me from this obligation, but everything about my feminism tells me that this is an important aspect of feminism: taking responsibility for making things visible that have been forgotten or overlooked. I try to convince myself that it is co-dependent; I tell myself that I don’t have to take responsibility for anything other than myself, my actions, my body. I don’t believe it. I feel this obligation to all of those women scientists, to the women who protested and organized to end the nuclear age. I feel an obligation to the lesbian poets who wrote and organized and work to envision a future in which I could sit and write poems about pussy and bring them to a graduate course and not be labeled, dismissed, or ridiculed (although their work did a lot, there is still more to do from what I have seen). I feel this responsibility. I dream about it. I stresses me out. Still, I cannot rationalize or intellectualize my way out of it. So I try to let go of that and put that energy into gathering the information, reading the books, finding the data, interviewing the people, understanding the ideas.

All of that to say, even though I know that it isn't trendy to think about essentialism and even though I know that thinking there are important messages in cultural feminism for us today, I believe in them. I can’t give up on them.

One of the reasons that I can't give up on essentialism because I cannot imagine living in a world where women aren't doing work like Metaformia. Metaformia is a journal of menstruation and culture. It is online. It is a new venture, a contemporary translation of cultural feminism into a cyberfeminist age. On my list of books to review, Mary Daly’s new book and a reprint of Monica Sjoo. These things matter to us today, more than history, too, I feel like they have some secret within them, some message that helps us understand how to move forward.

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