"Of Myth and Dreams" by L. Folk

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Compassionate Side of Feminism

Politics can bring out the best and worst in people; it can divide families and forge lifelong grudges. It can also flesh out underlying stigmas, ones you thought were long dead. Recently I have been called a feminist while in a political argument with someone near and dear to me, and this person meant it as an insult. (“You’re a…you’re a…feminist!”)

Huh?

“Of course I’m a feminist!” I said. “Why wouldn’t I be?” I assured this person that feminist does not mean man-hater. And then I paused for a moment. Why, in 2016, did I have to do this?

According to Dictionary.com, the word feminist means “[an advocate of] social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” I have no doubt that the person I was arguing with believes in gender equality—he may not be a Hillary supporter, but he’s not a male chauvinist. He just got the word wrong. Oversimplified. At least this is what I told myself.

My father was a feminist. He believed in me, empowered me to learn a primarily male vocation. He had full respect for my mother and empowered her too, to get an education. He believed my sister could hit a baseball just as far as any boy. My father—a man the family used to call “macho man” back in the day—coached and tutored his daughters as he did his son. He certainly didn’t fit the image of the bra-burning, picketing, fierce female that word seemingly invokes for some people.

Here’s the thing: the first feminists had to be fierce. They had to strike fear in the hearts of men (and women) to get the job done, to make gender equality a reality. Now, however, the glass ceiling is about to bust to pieces with Hillary Clinton poised to be the next president. So why does the word feminist still invoke the ferocity of the first feminists? Why does it imply man-hater to some people? Why are some people still intimidated? Is there still some deep-rooted sexism as part of their belief system?

People have their own experiences that fuel their belief systems; we, as humans, just tend to oversimplify things to our liking. That’s just the way we are. It’s important to combat this with education and open-mindedness, with the idea that life is a lot grander than we perceive it to be.  Yes, fierce goes with the word feminist, but let’s not leave it at that. Let’s remember that feminism is primarily a unifying force; let’s remember that it can be a compassionate force. Biologically speaking, compassion first began with females—mammalian mothers that gave birth to their babies (unlike reptilian mamas that laid their eggs and split).  It was at this point that nature called for nurture. It was the first form of compassion known in this vicious world of eat or be eaten.

Spiritually speaking, compassion is the most noble of our attributes, a divine gift from our Higher Power, whatever you believe it to be. The Golden Rule embodies compassion and is present in each of the major religions: do onto others as you would have done unto you. In seeing others as ourselves, compassion is the great equalizer.

Maybe you know this already. Maybe you also know that before the aggressive and violent patriarchal societies, there were kinder, gentler societies that lived fairly peaceful lives, societies that worshipped a goddess and honored the cycles of birth and death in the natural world. I’m talking about civilizations like the Minoans of ancient Crete who were excellent artisans and had gender equality as part of their legacy. Women were priests, artists, and rulers. The general population doesn’t know much about this, but feminists know.

Here’s another thing feminists know: it takes a village. It takes a village to raise a child, to give a homeless person a home, to help an addict recover, to help a sex-worker escape exploitation.

This is the philosophy behind our exhibit Women Artists and Writers: Compassion, Creativity, and Courage on display at Porter Mill Art Gallery in Beverly, MA for the month of August. This exhibit does two things: “counterpoint the looked-overness” of female artists (to quote Hilarie M. Sheets from the NYTimes) and also benefit the women of Amirah, a safe house for sex-trafficking survivors. We have included most of the art here in the summer edition. This art can be purchased online through our website by using our donate button (see home page); forty percent of all sales will go directly to Amirah.

This compassionate feminist philosophy also manifests itself in the poems, essays, and fiction included in the summer edition. Here you will read about shifts in consciousness from the skeptical to the compassionate, as noted in Kim-Marie Walker’s essay “On the Question of Compassion,” how Marathon bomber Jahar Tsarnaev is compared to a son in Heather Nelson’s poem “Prodigal,” the tenderness of mothering in Colleen Michaels’ poetry, the self soothing rituals of a female medic stationed in Afghanistan in “The Mirror” by Katelyn Gilbert, and a writing mentor’s courageous commitment to creating a safe space for Muslim feminists under the rule of the Taliban in “Creating Spaces of Nontraditional War Narratives” by Olivia Kate Cerrone.

I hope you find these works of art in our feminist summer edition of The Compassion Anthology as enlightening, inspirational, and a source of hope in this time of clear division and unrest.

Yours in creativity and compassion,
Laurette Folk, Editor of The Compassion Anthology

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