Saturday, January 16, 2010

Writing women's history (by Suzie)

Two Marys who shaped women’s history in different ways died this month. I’ve been thinking of them as well as the women who passed along the news to me.

Mary Daly supplied the language for a radical understanding of women in patriarchy. Some would say that Mary Ruthsdotter took the liberal route of educating people on women’s history, although I consider that radical in its own way.

Echidne wrote wrote about Mary Daly last week after her death. Later, I got an email from Edie Daly, who sent the following to her friends. (I'm using it with her permission.) Edie was not a blood relative, but there was a relation.
As we all age and deepen in our knowledge and wisdom, we think about those who directed our feet into paths we decided to follow. Mary Daly is one of those hags that directed my path to feminist thought and ethical action. It was her way with words, her Wicidary that made me think of my own language and the ways I choose to speak. Patriarchy is so much a part of our lives directed by our speech. Revolting Hag is what I am. Mary Daly gave me the words to re-shape my life. From Spelling, as in Casting of Spells, to uncovering and understanding all those oppressive words that we had integrated into our own self-doubt and internalized oppression. Words like Hag, Spinster, Crone, Heathen, Witch, are words that have immense power and energy. Words that we have now woven into the everyday fabric of our Be-Dazzling lives. She encouraged us to see what words are made of. How dis-ease, dis-cover, dis-closing, are constructed to do patriarchy's bidding.
Feminism doesn’t rely on a few prominent women, no matter how inspiring. It is the work of many people, such as Edie, pictured above.

In 1981, Edie opened a women's bookstore in Madeira Beach, Fla., and then co-founded a lesbian feminist organization called Women's Energy Bank (WEB), which held monthly salons for women for 24 years and produces a publication called Womyn's Words. In 2006, she donated WEB papers to the University of South Florida for its new collection of Florida Women’s History and LGBT History. Please read more about her life at that link. For the past five years, she has facilitated weekend workshops on Alternatives to Violence with women at a federal prison.

To that same history collection, I donated papers relating to the treatment of women at the Tampa Tribune and the coverage of women in the community. Some day, someone may be interested that a publisher at a major newspaper in the 1990s would still ask female reporters to stand up and twirl around so that he could see their outfits.

This week, I heard from another friend, Doris Weatherford, who “has been publishing books on women's history for twenty years.” I highly recommend them, but more important, she has won praise from Hillary Clinton.

Doris emailed to tell me that Mary Ruthsdotter had died. Mary had lived in Sebastopol, Calif., where she and her husband helped found a cohousing community. Recently, she had been supporting the National Women’s History Museum.

Mary was a founder of the National Women’s History Project, and you can read the history of her own life on that site as well as in her obituary. Her photo is on the right. She and the other NWHP founders persuaded Ronald Reagan to declare March as National Women’s History Month. In my career, I found that designation greatly helpful when I was trying to sneak some women’s history into the newspaper.

Women's history comforts me. I see how one woman influences many. When one dies, I know others will continue.