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1999: Kathleen L. Ward - "Let Us Be Wise and Consider These Things": Feminist Thought and Action in the Academy and Beyond


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1999: Kathleen L. Ward - "Let Us Be Wise and Consider These Things": Feminist Thought and Action in the Academy and Beyond

K Ward

Kathleen L. Ward is an Associate Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies and teaches, researches, and writes about women and African American literature and culture. She also directs the University Honors Program. Dr. Ward earned her B.A. in English from Brigham Young University in Provo and her M.A. and Ph.D degrees in American Studies from the University of Hawai'i. She lives in Punalu'u with her family, frequent visitors, six cats, a large dog, and pet pig Hamlet. As an introduction, she offers the following narrative:

"I come from a line of strong women: a great-great grandmother who bore thirteen children in Alabama and lost three of the six sons she sent to fight in the Civil War; my great grandmother who journeyed by wagon from Alabama to the Pacific Northwest, not a Mormon pioneer but definitely a pioneer; my grandmother, Susan Jane Briskey, and her sister, my great-aunt Mary, who with their family homesteaded a ranch in Leavenworth, Washington that remains a gathering place for my family today. Gram taught me always to look out for "the little guy"; Aunt Mary taught me to look out for myself and not take too much guff from anyone. Anna Pickett, a woman who came in hard times to visit my grandmother and never left, and Ivey Pearce, who also came and stayed (not relatives but most assuredly kin) made certain in a multitude of ways that my siblings and I never doubted that we mattered in the world. Some of you have met my mother, Marguerite Folsom Fromm, who entered BYU-Hawai'i last Winter as a freshman, two months following her 75th birthday. I have as well three sisters of accomplishment and four daughters and daughters-in law, Jennifer, Allison, Paula and Von, each with immense capacities for life. These strong women are my legacy.

"Also my legacy are my father, James Fromm; Gale Ward, my partner of 34 years; three brothers; five sons and sons-in-law, Robert, Chris, Ben, Ryan and Eamonn; and my first grandbaby, Jonah. Many are here with me today. They are deeply loved, men who live well with strong women."


 

"Let Us Be Wise and Consider These Things":

Feminist Thought and Action in the Academy and Beyond

Upon returning to graduate school in 1983, I came to listen to and love the voices of women, though my feminist leanings were well in place prior to that time. It was a fine moment to be continuing my education, positioned in the wake of the women's movement--that turbulent, challenging, and magnificent women's movement of the 70's--and the Civil Rights movement initiated a decade before. The 1980's in the United States were years to sort through, to stand back and assess, for social movements bring change and change has a mind of its own, not always resulting in what was hoped for, nor what was feared. And so, it was a fitting time to move forward into the academic arena and become an involved participant in feminist discourse. Yet I found little support for my feminism here at BYU-Hawai'i. The prevailing stereotype of a male-bashing, bra-burning, embittered female was a tenacious one, an image that still persists, especially for those who have never explored, through formal or individual study, the many facets of feminism, the many kinds of feminisms. Listen to some across campus responses gathered last fall by the women and men in our women's studies course:

  • "Feminists hate men; they belittle the value of men. I would never hire a woman who was a feminist."
  • "When I hear the word feminism I think of misguided women who are very upset and bitter."
  • "Feminism is a thing of the past. Women today don't need it."
  • "Feminism is the single most reason that the family unit has broken apart."
  • "My country will never be led by a woman. I could never accept it and neither can the people of my country." There were some who saw feminism in a positive light:
  • "Feminists have brought about some good, especially for women."
  • "Women have something to say and we need to pay attention."
  • "For me, feminism is about empowering people--men, women, and children."

It is not enough to say I disagree with the first set of views and agree with the second! Indeed, I propose that feminism is one of the most significant and ultimately positive forces for social change that has occurred in our century. I propose, as well, that our current perceptions of the world, how each of us sees things, what we construct as our place and our possibilities as we approach a new century, have been determined in concrete ways by nearly three decades of feminist thought and action.

Certainly I am aware of the agitation contemporary feminism generates and the concerns many of you have: the swift association of feminism to abortion and to homosexual lifestyles, to a weakening of family and thus of whole societies. Yet, as described by Mary Stovall Richards in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, "Far from a monolithic ideology, feminist theory embraces a variety of views . . . and argues for a pluralistic vision of the world that regards as equally important the experiences of women of all races and classes . . . " (506). Richards continues: "[Feminists] often differ on specific goals and tactics. Personal, religious, and political values all influence which reforms and measures a specific feminist will support" (506).

Yes, some feminists are pro-choice and gay rights advocates, often for reasons I'm convinced we, too, would find compelling were we not responding to higher counsel. Some advance quality child care and equal opportunities for women in the workplace. Others promote education and women's leadership in the business and political realms. Some feminists organize to bring greater respect to the work that women do in their homes and communities and champion a woman's choice to remain at home with children (at the same time, I hope, recognizing that being a stay-at-home mother is not and has never been an option of a majority of the world's women. In truth, the biggest problem facing women worldwide is not whether to stay home or work but where to find clean water). Clearly, there are many, many feminist efforts.

Turn with me to the words of Mosiah in The Book of Mormon who, in challenging the desires of his people to have a king appointed over them, says, "Let us be wise and consider these things"(Mosiah 29:8). His statement signals the situation's complexity. They are to use their minds, draw on their wisdom as they reexamine the old and familiar tradition of kingship which they believe to be the best way. In today's language, they are to move out of their comfort zones, challenge their assumptions. Let us, too, be wise and challenge our assumptions about feminism, considering some of its effects that we need find neither threatening nor offensive but in sure harmony with gospel living, liberating in the truest sense of that fine word.

Picture of Bell Hooks

bell hooks at an interview with Orlo

An area strongly influenced by what black feminist bell hooks calls not the women's movement but "women's movement" has been the academy. Time will not allow even a cursory exploration of all spheres of the university, but let me make my point with an exemplary few, beginning with what I know best: literature.

As the serious movement of women accelerated during the 70's, an early endeavor of western feminist scholars was to challenge the literary canon, that established and esteemed body of literature written nearly entirely by white men (and until very recently they had to be dead white men) and studied to some extent by every student earning a university degree. Feminists posed new questions about the canonical works. How are women represented--in a novel, a play, a short-story? What roles do they play in the unfolding action? Does the work expect the reader to adopt either a male or a female perspective in order to experience it fully? Does it present the male experience and point of view as the human one, the norm against which the female is measured? They are new questions for old texts.

Feminist literary scholars also wanted to know: where were all the women writers? As recently as thirty years ago it was possible for a literate person to go through life rarely or never reading a work written by a woman. As recently as ten years ago (and possibly fewer) it was possible for students to graduate in literature acquainted with only a sprinkling of women writers. That far more men than women wrote in the past is indisputable. Yet women did write, and bit by bit feminists began to construct an imposing female literary tradition. They discovered women's writings never before acknowledged; they recovered writings, works once published but having either fallen into disfavor or gone out of print. They also gave credibility to forms of writing hitherto receiving little recognition--letters, diaries, memoirs- contributing significantly to the current renaissance of the narrative form. Through feminist efforts, we now read and study and write about works such as The Awakening by Kate Chopin, "Life in the Iron-Mills" by Rebecca Harding Davis (an imperfect work but a startling forerunner to modern naturalism), the entire body of work by African American writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, and, gradually, writings by non-English speaking women. We now have renewed interest in and new readings of past works by women: Aphra Behn, brilliant, unconventional author of fiction and plays and an early voice against slavery, everything written by Jane Austen, the works of the Bronte sisters with greatest attention to Charlotte's Jane Eyre for its embedded (and bold) critique of 19th century English society.

Discovery and recovery of the past are not enough, however. Such endeavors must alter the present and all that follows. Frantz Fanon urged indigenous scholars upon retrieving their pasts of "glory, dignity, and solemnity" to go on and "work and fight . . . to construct the future" (154). In much the same manner, feminists have looked to the past in order to better imagine and construct the present, and the future. So what have been the subsequent opportunities for contemporary women writers? While theirs has been a pathway strewn with obstacles and casualties, feminism has ignited a visible interest in, and thus a market for, women's writing (even poor writing, I'm afraid, but that's a small matter--poor writing has always found its way into print). Both major and small presses are publishing writing by today's women, including their theoretical and critical work. Numerous feminist scholars have written on the act and art of writing and reading by women, resulting in a profusion of approaches and conclusions invaluable to literary study.

Women, of course, write about everything; no subject is off limits to an open and creative mind. But their angle of vision is sometimes uniquely female, as are their thematic interests. I have been drawn to their writings about the natural world, some that support the wider ecofeminism effort to return respect to our living earth. I relish their multiple treatments of mothering, especially of othermothers or mothermuses, the non-kin women in communities who help to raise and preserve children. I am encouraged by the myriad ways women write about their own bodies and sexuality, responding with candor and wisdom, with wit and not infrequently with outrage, to the expectations of physical beauty and feminine demeanor our cultures impose on us. I want to develop this latter theme during the next few minutes, for we are all vulnerable to the lure of the beauty-myth.

Socially constructed definitions of female beauty cause young girls in many societies to dislike their developing bodies and a good many women to be perpetually dissatisfied with theirs. This phenomenon is not confined to western cultures, but in the western world at this particular point in time, it goes something like this: breasts, yes, certainly breasts, but not too little and, then again, not too big--though if we must choose, go for large. Not, however, if we're talking about hips and legs; no, no, hips should be narrow, legs thin. Long, tossable hair, clear skin, oh, and the suntanned look, definitely the suntanned look, unless of course, you are a woman of color, then the lighter--or whiter--the better.

Women are told through language, all forms of media--television, film, magazines, the internet--through beauty pageants, jokes, advertising, popular music, fashion, art, and literature that we are to be good to look at, that we must ready ourselves (and our daughters) for the admiring gaze of others (including each other, but that's a complexity for another day). Turn heads if we can, and if we can't, feel somehow diminished.

I am not talking here about the healthy attraction of the sexes, that wondrous chemistry that keeps civilizations going and transforms an otherwise humdrum day into a many splendored thing. Nor am I talking about the aesthetic beauty of the human body. I'm talking, rather, about the commodification of women's bodies, women's bodies as advertisements for products ranging from sleek new cars to cans of bug spray, women's bodies as objects of sexual scrutiny and male and female fantasy. I'm talking about both the covert and open control of women around the world in which their chastity is less their own than the guarded property of patriarchy, their behaviors carefully prescribed and transmitted in what Laurel Thatcher Ulrich calls "a lifetime of instruction in femininity" (93).

It is not a new issue and reaches across cultures, classes, and time. Surely the tension inherent in women as objects was on the mind of Samoan author Sia Figiel when she created her series of poems, "Songs of the Fat Brown Woman," in which the fat brown woman, "a sight to see" with her "lavalava too small for her waist" hops on the bus and "the girls / and boys whisper / and men and women whisper / and children and cat whisper whisper / and pigs too sometimes," all whispering about her large brown body as it shakes and sways (5-6). Do not misunderstand Figiel's good-humor. In her poetry she, too, is resisting the fixed notions of beauty coming from both outside her culture and within, aware that to define a woman by her physical attributes is an abuse that constrains and limits.

Equally telling is Kathleen Frazier's "Poem in Which My Legs Are Accepted." I have tried to imagine a poem with that title written by a man: "Poem in Which My Legs Are Accepted," by Robert Frost. We laugh, but why is it such an absurd thought? And why, when I share this poem in women's literature seminars, does it resonate so clearly for women from varied cultures, one even writing me months later to request a copy? Following is my favorite of what I call body/sexuality/power poems. It is written by Lucille Clifton, a full-bodied African American woman, and is titled "Homage to My Hips":

these hips are big hips
they need space to move around in.
They don't fit into little
petty places. These hips
are free hips
they don't like to be held back.
These hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
These hips are mighty hips.
These hips are magic hips.
I have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top! (158)


Clifton is a woman "happy in her skin," having developed what Patricia Hill Collins and others call the "resistant consciousness" crucial to black women in the United States (227-30). Like Figiel's "Songs of the Fat Brown Woman," her poem is a refusal to be defined--or erased.

A Celebration of Women Writers

But not all responses are so triumphant, not all voices so confident. Attempting to live up to or repudiate socially sanctioned notions of beauty and femininity takes heavy tolls on the lives of women, beginning when they are young girls. No one who reads Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye will forget Pecola Breedlove, the young black girl who yearns for Shirley Temple curls and clear blue eyes. The daughter of a worn-down mother who cleans white people's houses and a father, burdened by his own set of sorrows, who sexually abuses her, she believes the getting of blue eyes and fair ringlets will forever transform her impoverished life: It had occcurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights--if those eyes were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different. . . . If she looked different, beautiful, maybe [her father] would be different, and [her mother] too. Maybe they'd say, "Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola. We musn't do bad things in front of those pretty eyes." (40)

And what of other areas of study to wisely consider? Early feminist historians knew well that recorded history was just that--his story. In her pivotal work, The Majority Finds Its Past, Gerda Lerner calls for "a paradigm shift, . . . a fundamental re-evaluation of the assumptions and methodology of traditional history and traditional thought (180). Women's history, states Lerner, "challenges the traditional assumption that man is the measure of all that is significant, and that the activities pursued by men are by definition significant, while those pursued by women are subordinate in importance" (180). To include women's lives in historical accounts does, indeed, require a shift, from the public to the private realm, a shift not only of focus but of regard for what takes place there. What women were doing and thinking and contributing while men were living the history we read about is of utmost importance and provides a very different angle from which to view and critique the past.

Thus, no longer is it enough to know that the English Renaissance is a rich and complicated time marked by a Civil War and characterized by unrivaled intellectual and artistic outpourings. To understand the Renaissance we need also know that women did not share in the progress, that while men of all classes gained greater autonomy and rights, women saw their power and influence shrink. In the words of one, life was "a continual labor" (qtd. in Fraser 467). And so it was. Public records (some that include my own ancestors) show that most Renaissance women were in a state of "unceasing pregnancy, child-nursing--and child burying" (Fraser 61). There is record of Elizabeth Duncombe, for instance, who gave birth to nineteen children in twenty-two years, six of whom lived to adulthood (which, according to Antonia Fraser, was "the average survival rate for upper- and middle-class families of the time" [74]).

It is the private records, diaries and letters, that bring into sharpest focus the experiences of women. They contain pleas that husbands will return from distant travels and that aging parents will prosper. They convey the anguish of women and men forced too often to bury their children, and the fear of death (and guilt for fearing) that women faced with each pregnancy, some, their fear of childbirth so great they preferred to stay single (Frazer 70). In 17th-century England there were few helps for protracted and difficult labors or postpartum fevers. Women often died, and so the "big-bellied" or "great-bellied" look, common and socially approved, was surely accompanied by inner quakings. Is this knowledge not part of knowing the Renaissance? One diary captures the widespread concern mothers had for their children left behind should they not survive the birthing ordeal. I fear, says Elizabeth Josceline, "the loss my little one should have, in wanting me" (qtd. in Fraser 69). Josceline left detailed instructions for the raising of her yet unborn child, including that "there was [to be] no swearing or speaking 'scurrilous words'" (69). She died nine days following childbirth.

The details I have selected include neither the attendant joy in mothering nor the innumerable related tasks, though both are evident in personal records. Nor do they include the frequent excursions for some women into the public domain. Despite such limitations, they are details that bring us momentarily into the daily lives of Renaissance women and into a broader and deeper understanding of their time. Both are goals of feminist historians.

Famous Women Historians

All forms of narrative, written and oral, are among sources valued by scholars intent upon writing women and other excluded groups into histories. I am influenced in multiple ways by feminist historians as I consider my own history, utilizing the story-telling power of narrative and visualizing the past through my foremothers' eyes. What follows is a brief excerpt from an account I wrote several years ago following a visit to the graves of my great great grandparents. Their graves are in a small family cemetery in rural Alabama.

The Briskey cemetery is surrounded by bits of rotted fence and has close to 20 graves in it. I soon find my great-great grandmother and grandfather. I sit on their large, raised tombstones and think of them, in my mind talking to them in the way we talk to loved ones who have died, the way I envision Alice Walker talking to Zora Neale Hurston as she tried to figure out which grave was hers in an overgrown Florida cemetery. I consider their large family of twelve sons and a daughter. (How was it, great-great grandmother, to give birth to and raise thirteen children?). I wonder about their struggle to keep the place going during the Civil War. (And just what did the war mean to you, here in the quiet woods of Alabama?) But already I know six sons went to war, and nearby are three memorial stones for the three who died within months of each other. (How did you endure the loss of three sons? Did you believe so deeply in the cause that you could give without bitterness these children?) (And what did you think when your youngest, my own grandmother's father, and his brother, left with their families for the distant West? Did you rejoice at their courage and cheer the new possibilities? I think not. I think you knew as they pulled away in their loaded wagons you would never see them again, that they would be just as gone from you as the sons who died in battle.)

The turmoil I imagine in my great-great grandmother's breast, and felt by all who left that day and all who stayed, is not to suggest she took no part in the public celebration of the westward expansion, only to remind that the public coverage of the frontier movement is incomplete without the private accounts that more fully envelop the lives of women. My great-great grandmother left no diary from which to recreate her life; other women did, and their accounts, gathered and validated by feminist historians, help me imagine hers.

When Gerda Lerner contested male-centered histories and called for a paradigm shift in history study, she also set forth her vision of "a new universal history, a holistic history which will be a synthesis of traditional [male] history and women's history . . ." (180). While the Eurocentric concept of universality has since been challenged by scholars arguing that many groups as well as both genders make up civilizations, each with its own view of the universal, her holistic vision, that of "a history based on the recognition that women have always been essential to the making of history" (180), holds steady and continues to guide feminist historians in their revisionist efforts.

Let us consider (wisely, of course) yet another area of feminist thought and action. Recently while away at a conference with five of our Honors students, we visited the Art Institute of Chicago where the work of Mary Cassatt was on exhibit. The drawings and paintings of mother and child that Cassatt is most noted for were truly remarkable, as was the range of her lesser known works. One reviewer believes we can thank feminism for our evening of art, for the revived interest in women artists that has moved Cassatt and others to the foreground as "subjects of critical reappraisal and major exhibitions" (Heller A8).

Art study has followed a pattern similar to that of literature and history, perhaps coming into focus with less heated debate, but nonetheless, with some of the same questions sparking the conversation. Linda Nochlin's 1971 article, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" acknowledged the few, such as Cassatt, but threw an unforgiving floodlight on the scarcity of women in the arts and, in the doing, rallied interest in the study and promotion of women artists. According to professor Michael Ann Holly, "The whole category of what art survives and what we write about is being rethought (qtd. In Heller A8). "The struggle," concurs feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti, "is . . . over imaging and naming. It is about whose representations will prevail" (qtd. in Thornham iv).

Some of you here today may be the beneficiaries of this feminist conversation, and I hope that you are! In our home we have a greatly enjoyed collection of student and faculty art gathered over the last twenty years. Of the many artists, only four are women. This does not reduce our pleasure in the art we have; it does raise the same question Nochlin asked 25 years ago: where are all the women artists?

Also emerging out of the conversation is another enterprise, this one centered on the viewer. Influenced by a consortium of theoretical stances, a piece of art today may well be approached as a text awaiting its reader, its viewer, us. But it is a gendered text and we are gendered readers, insist feminists, ever-mindful of the role gender plays both in the images created and in the viewer's experience with those images. What do women see when they look at a work of art (or view a film)? What do men see, and just whose gaze is the work intended for? This becomes especially thought-provoking, as well as problematic, in the case of female nudes, many of which are numbered among the classics and adorn the walls of art academies world wide. Were they painted for voyeuristic male eyes only? How then does a woman view such a painting? And what about the gaze of the woman within the painting, the woman nude before the viewer? They are questions that both intrigue and intrude and push art scholars and students alike to new, if not troubling, possibilities.

I have singled out a limited sphere of art study. Think, however, of all the other areas of artistic production and performance being enriched by feminist insistence that women's talents, in many cases their genius, no longer go undeveloped and underrated. The result is growing numbers of women composers, conductors, instrumentalists, vocalists (in all forms of music), choreographers, stage and film and opera performers, as well as directors and producers.

Another result that interests me as a member of our postmodern community is the blurring of borders between "high" culture, culture with a capital "C," and popular culture, that which is enjoyed by a wide sweep of the population. Feminism has contributed not to a leveling of the arts but to the comfortable and natural flow of audiences between varied art forms. As a single example, you heard as you entered today the voices of "Sweet Honey in the Rock," an a cappella vocal ensemble of African American women, some classically trained, several of whom hold doctorate degrees. They are women at home equally in grand music halls and crowded community centers, merging their highly trained voices with lyrics and sounds that protest racism, misogyny, and AIDS. And so I repeat, feminism, in the academy and beyond, is contributing richly to the milieu of the lives we live.

Famous Women Artists

I would like again to draw on last semester's conference trip to Chicago but in a less celebratory way. While walking across the University of Chicago campus, we began reading a series of statements written with chalk on the sidewalk: "Every 15 seconds a woman is beaten," read one. "Domestic Violence, the leading cause of injury to women, ages 15-44," said another. We didn't doubt the veracity of those announcements, that behind them were real women, real men, and often, frightened and hurt children. Yet they were distant figures. We concurred that here at BYU-Hawai'i we don't talk much about domestic violence, that it is difficult to grapple with and gets overshadowed by our academic and religious interests, even by the getting and spending of our daily lives.

Yet the feminist in me wonders: what if we were to confront this issue that impacts all families as wholeheartedly as we have same-sex marriage, as insistently as we do our economic woes? Domestic violence, after all, in some way affects each of us here today. It is the hidden, and not so hidden, secret: "What should I do?" a TVA student once asked me. "I hear the fighting. I hear the hitting and the pleading, and I think I should do something, but I don't know what." I understand this sense of helplessness. When my husband and I encountered a battling neighbor couple on our country road not long ago, we didn't know what to do either. Their van was blocking the road, she in the driver's seat, he outside attempting to drag her from it. Both were yelling, each was beating on the other. Our efforts to distract them failed, and after some moments, she drove into the nearby field and out of view. He quickly followed. A few weeks later they and their three children moved from our neighborhood. Need I say that they haunt us? Like the TVA student, we were unprepared to act. What we saw, and what he heard, we abhorred, but none of us had thought to rehearse our intervention, what we would do to cross the threshold into action. And few of you have thought what to do should you find yourselves in an abusive relationship, abused or abuser. Or what to do, being there at this time.

Domestic Violence

While domestic violence in all its forms has no identified academic home within the academy, feminists of both genders in the social sciences, particularly in the field of Social Work, have been dealing with its realities for three decades. They have gathered the statistics and made the claims, have examined the causes and broadcast the effects. They and their grass roots sister-movers beyond the university have linked arms and are the reason we have shelters for abused women, new laws and policies designed to protect endangered women and children, pressures to see that those laws are enforced, and programs for rehabilitation and education.

In all, the distribution of power plays a crucial role. Power and empowerment: two more words that make us uneasy. But power or the lack of it or the getting of it after being without are too important to shy away from. Empowered people are not battered people; empowered people do not struggle to find security within a home or a workplace or a culture, nor must they learn to behave in prescribed ways in order to accrue favor and exert influence. They are, instead, active and productive human beings, contributing to their own measure of joy and that of others. That the intellectual, social, and spiritual tools necessary to negotiate power (and the profound next step, "to establish peace") could be attained at the academy--especially, may I say, at this academy--is telling evidence of feminism's potential influence.

There are many other issues surrounding the family, all of particular interest to us as an LDS audience. They, too, are generating abundant response by social science scholars, feminist and non-feminist alike, and scholars across the university, those in health, business, and education, for instance. (Don't you wonder what we did before feminism when we had only half the world to contemplate?). Now available for integration into academic study is research on divorce and the complex make-up of contemporary families, on family structures in various cultures, on the importance of men as nurturers of children (why have we placed so much emphasis on women as nurturers and so little on men?), and on the role of motherhood. Voices vary here. Some see motherhood at the center of a woman's identity while others view it as one of numerous sources for her development. Sara Ruddick, author of Maternal Thinking, concentrates on "what mothers do rather than upon what we are" (587) and asserts that the concrete work of mothering, including that done by men and non-biological mothers, shapes positively the thinking and behavior of those who do it. Joan K. Peters pushes these ideas further in When Mothers Work and invites rethinking of today's style of self-sacrificing motherhood, urging its replacement with a self-nourishing variety that involves fathers fully and includes both the deep pleasures of mothering and the challenges of meaningful work. Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice and the Blade, focuses on the relationship of women and men over time and their comparative status within societies, advancing a partnership model to counter the prevailing one of dominance. Both models, claims Eisler, have histories reaching back millennia. She holds that if there once were "societies in which difference is not necessarily equated with inferiority or superiority" (xvii), such an equilibrium can again be attained, something akin to what Hugh Nibley envisions in his essay "Patriarchy and Matriarchy" in which neither pattern of social order prevails but a higher form of gender cooperation.

The influence of feminism, as I have been illustrating, comes from many directions and is cultivated in varied venues. I'd like to move to another of quite a different sort, this time outside the academy though you will quickly see it engages scholars within, as well. "Man forgives woman anything save the wit to outwit him," said Minna Antrim a century ago (qtd. In Barreca, Snowdrift 36), and while we may assume that we've outgrown that position, particularly at the university where the finest wits gather, humor remains a strategic ground for gender negotiation. Humor scholars have documented marked differences in which of the two genders most often tells jokes (guess which one), their reasons for using, or not using, humor, how the two sexes physically respond to jokes, and who thinks what is funny. I am one ever reluctant to make unnecessary distinctions between the sexes, but in the last weeks while preparing this lecture, I have tried-out numerous very funny jokes on my partner to which he has merely raised an eyebrow. He, in turn, has offered me a few which I assure you were clearly deficient. Yes, I exaggerate. The point I make is that the intersecting and instructive critiques of gender and humor (and increasingly of culture) are underway and have joined the larger feminist conversation.

In truth, female humorists are serious people; beneath the comic persona is often a woman as committed to toppling hierarchies as to entertaining audiences. Korean American comedienne Margaret Cho, knowing firsthand of the exoticizing of women of color, takes on the geisha girl stereotype: "Men look at me," she quips, "and think I'm going to walk on their backs or something. I tell them, 'The only time I'll walk on your back is if there's something on the other side of you I want.'" (Warren 46). Notice next the strategy of stand-up comic Pam Stone who at first appears to be targeting women's behavior, then shifts deftly to sexism: "Some women are so 'demure,'" she complains, "they don't like to talk about anything graphic. I had a girlfriend who told me she was in the hospital for female problems. I said, 'Get real! What does that mean?' She says, 'You know, female problems.' I said, 'What? You can't parallel park? You can't get credit?'" (Barreca, Women's 544). "Women's humor may be undervalued," says Regina Barreca, "but it is priceless. . . . It may have been ignored or challenged, but it [is a] powerful way to make ourselves heard" (They Used to Call Me 202).

The work of humorists and humorist scholars forms a lively nexus between the academy and the world beyond. I am also most interested in what is happening far beyond the academy. Whether under the banner of feminism or womanism, or neo-feminism, post-feminism or no title at all, there is significant movement of women around the globe.

. Over 30,000 women gathered at The Fourth Annual Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995. There women sought and found common ground and hammered out a platform for action that illustrates in each of its tenets: "All issues are women's issues."
. Out of the collective action of women throughout Africa and other parts of the world, the centuries-old tradition of female genital mutilation is being challenged and gradually replaced by new rituals that leave girl children's bodies intact.
. Through the insistent voice of Queen Noor of Jordan, and other women of privilege, the practice of loyalty deaths in Islamic countries is coming under scrutiny and some condemnation (loyalty death: the killing of a daughter or sister for bringing shame to her family through loss, or rumored loss, of her virginity).


Women everywhere are transforming the battle for human rights within their own countries and cultures. They are forming coalitions to confront authoritarian governments, insisting upon environmental justice (insisting, for instance, that their Pacific Ocean waters be free of nuclear testing and toxic waste), and working tirelessly to champion peace.

Such global action signals female determination to improve the lives of women, men, and children world-wide. It deserves our keenest attention. But let me conclude by returning us home. You have probably all noticed the current emphasis on "girl power," on confident young girls insisting on their intelligence and their femininity. The reading I've done on this trend has not been entirely reassuring, yet hope comes from a small incident, a metaphor for the upcoming generation of girls: A friend of mine from Hau'ula told me her 10-year-old daughter came home from school complaining that her science teacher only called on the boys. "He only calls on the boys, Mom, and the girls know the answers, too. We raise our hands but the boys holler out and he listens to just them." My friend, beginning to think a visit to school may be in order, asked, "Well, what did you girls do?" "Oh," said her daughter, "we all started clapping and chanting, 'Call on Jess-i-ka, call on Jess-i-ka. . . ." Now that's girl power!

Each area I have advanced today as evidence of feminist thought and action is deserving of far deeper discussion, as are those significant areas time does not allow. Yet let us agree on this: an array of ideas and perspectives is being articulated by and about women, some that counter our views, others that support our convictions, and still others, once understood, that may well change the way we think and act. This, too, we can agree upon: women's voices are being heard. The diverse contributions of women are no longer absent in the academy nor in the world at large.
And yet, I would be untrue to all women, past and present, who have struggled for change, and untrue to my own deepest concerns, if I were to stop there. However encouraged we may be by feminist accomplishment, all is not well, not even in Zion. Most university course material and curricula still reflect predominantly white male thinking, most faculty members and administrators, especially of higher rank, wear suits and ties--or aloha shirts. And in most (some would say all) cultures worldwide, women are disadvantaged in some ways in relation to men, sometimes to very great extremes. Surely it is for all these reasons that bell hooks calls the speaking up and out of women, in its many feminist forms, "courageous" (2). Let us, then, acknowledge and applaud this courage and the good it is doing. Let us be wise and consider these things.

Kathleen L. Ward
Box 1738 BYU-Hawai'i
Laie, HI 96762
wardk@byuh.edu

Works Cited

Barreca, Regina. They Used to Call Me Snow White . . . But I Drifted. New York: Viking, 1991.

---, ed. The Penguin Book of Women's Humor. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Clifton, Lucille. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir, 1969-1980 . Brockport, NY: BOA, Ltd.. 1987.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco: Harper, 1987.

Fanon, Frantz. "On National Culture." The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. Ed. Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. New York: Routledge, 1995. 153-57.

Figiel, Sia. To a Young Artist in Contemplation. Suva, Fiji: U of South Pacific P, 1998.

Fraser, Antonia. The Weaker Vessel. New York: Knopf, 1984.

Heller, Scott. "New Perspectives Surface in Art History." The Chronicle of Higher Education 8 Apr. 1992: A8-A9.

hooks, bell. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston: South End, 1989.

Lerner, Gerda. The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Washington Square, 1970.

Peters, Joan K. When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Our Selves. Reading, MA: Perseus, 1997.

Richards, Mary Stovall. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Volume 2. Ed. Daniel H. Ludlow. New York: MacMillan, 1992. 506-07.

Rudduck. Sara. "Maternal Thinking." Feminist Social Thought: A Reader. Ed. Diana Tietjens Meyers. New York: Routledge, 1997. 584-603.

Thornham, Sue. Passionate Detachment: An Introduction to Feminist Film Theory. London: Arnold, 1997.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Warren, Roz, ed. Revolutionary Laughter: The World of Women Comics. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1995.

Sites with more information:

BYU Continuing Education's Women's Conference home page

Women's Organizations

Amnesty International