– A Radical Lesbian Feminist Perspective
A good way to not “other” or marginalize women is to not call them something you would never want to be called. In terms of ageism, this goes both ways. I’m getting ageism now but when I was first in the Lesbian Feminist community in 1970 when I was 19, I was less respected because of my age (though the class-privileged young Lesbians got much better treatment).
Do not name me against my will. Do not presume to know how I want to be named without asking me. Do not call me “elder,” “elderly,” “geriatric,” or “crone.” Do not assume that naming me in a category as different from yourself is flattering. Do not assume that I agree to be part of the mainstream ageist and heterosexist separation of females. Ageism is one of the many ways that patriarchy divides women from each other.
Wouldn’t it be better to make all Lesbians and women welcome and have truly inclusive and diverse Lesbian communities without driving anyone away by “othering” and oppressing her?
Similarly, do not call me “cis” or “cunt.” Even the feminist/Wiccan “maiden, mother, crone” is based on sexism and heterosexism – pre-fucked, currently fucked, post-fucked – all identities associated with bonding with men, with no recognition of females who say no to men and to male rules and patriarchy. I do not agree to any of it. My identity is based on being a Lesbian.
Aren’t all old women oppressed enough without doing it in the name of feminism? Why categorize one group of females from another except to divide us? Yes, we may measure and treasure our ways of being different from the mainstream. But ask first before those of you with privilege dare to call us names. Do not patronize us.
A name I particularly hate is “young lady.” When I was a girl, pompous feminine teachers told us they would force us to be “young ladies,” which meant trying to destroy our natural, wild girl selves. Being yourself means falling in love with other girls and forming communities, like my friends and I did in our all-girls’ high school. Some girls rolled around wrestling on the floor. Not “ladylike.” A few of us refused to obey those ridiculous rules that restricted our movements, minds and freedom. How terrible for a girl to take up space, stand and walk grounded and with pride. Mincing and wriggling while walking is not natural. Holding in your body while males are encouraged to take up space is training for girls to be obedient servants, victims, and rape bait. All aspects of male-defined femininity are devised to separate females’ bodies from our minds and spirits. “Lady” is also classist, with its origins in English aristocracy. It is especially insulting to any female who refuses male rules to be feminine, such as Butches.
Men use “young lady” to patronize us, as if they expect us to giggle in gratitude for calling us “young.” If you object, they act as if you are insulting them. But they expect themselves to be addressed in ways that gives them respect and dignity.
I also object to ageism directed at younger women. When I hear someone called “immature” as an explanation for what I see women in their sixties doing, it’s clearly about choice and not age. I also object to older Lesbian Feminists who patronizingly call young Lesbian Feminists “kids,” implying they are less wise or radical, when that is not true. In the five Radical Feminist groups I moderate online, we have members from all over the world, with politics as strong as those of us who are old. This includes dear friends who I agree with on every complex issue and they seem to have much deeper understanding of issues like Lesbian oppression and classism and even disability than many of my friends who are two and three times their age. The older Lesbians who are “othering” them as less aware may feel like it helps cushion their own age oppression, but it just isolates and divides us further. (That particular insult is personal since my mother continued to call me and my friends “kids” even when we were in our fifties and sixties because we were never going to be “real” adults to her because I hadn’t gotten married or reproduced.)
I am not even that old at 66 (in 2017), and I don’t feel very different from how I’ve always felt. You don’t make a decision to become old. It just happens. So it will happen to everyone, if they live long enough. It is therefore in all women’s interest that old females be treated with respect and equality.
Perhaps that is part of what causes ageism: the fear of becoming old – so you try to make distance and end up objectifying old women. It’s not even that patriarchy is consistently youth-worshipping, because some old men are given the most respect, ruling countries, deciding the fate of everyone else. Actors in their eighties are called “handsome,” while old women are made to feel ugly, unwanted, and even monstrous. There are so many media portrayals of old women as dangerous, fairy tale nightmares, while it is rich old white men who are literally destroying the earth.
Old women are hated, instead of being appreciated for what we’ve learned, and what we can teach. Sadly, some women even say they want to become men in order to avoid becoming “old women.”
The most ageism I’ve gotten as a Radical Lesbian Feminist writer has been from the trans cult – the men who appropriate Lesbian identity and use ageism to discount and erase my and Janice Raymond’s and Mary Daly’s and other radical politics by calling us “dinosaurs.” They talk as if their ideas are new (they aren’t – we’ve been countering their female-hatred and Lesbian-hatred for over forty years). Those of us who have continued being politically active have seen public feminism become so right wing/mainstream as to be almost meaningless. Politics do not necessarily improve as time goes by. Even politicians who were right wing extremists in the Sixties are now considered moderate.
I understand why the supporters of the trans cult want to discredit us – many of them even threaten to rape and kill us – because the truths we point out expose their lies and threaten their power. But why do some women who call themselves Radical Feminists also tell us to “retire”? It’s for similarly arrogant reasons – to censor us because our radicalism threatens their privilege. Appearing radical is trendy, but truly radical politics reveals them to be more mainstream.
Of course it’s hard getting older, as health tends to decline (although I know Lesbians in their sixties and seventies with far more stamina and strength than some in their thirties and forties). Some older women will live longer than some younger because of growing up before food, air, and water were so polluted, and before nuclear age radiation existed. Modern GMO “food,” toxic soy, and food cooked and stored in poisonous plastic (soy and plastic are xenoestrogens) are damaging our bodies and minds, causing cancer, hormonal problems, depression and mental illness. Almost all younger women I know have health problems that were rare before.
The media spreads lies to get people to accept the unacceptable. We are told that people live longer now, but, except for infants and women in childbirth dying, that isn’t true, as death records show. People also had healthier lives. We are told that cancer and Alzheimer’s are genetically caused, but that would mean no increase over time. Those of us who lived sixty years ago know that cancer was so rare that a child with leukemia was on the evening television news, and no one had Alzheimer’s.
Dementia was also very rare and not assumed to be a common result of growing old. I lived in a very polluted industrialized area, knowing many old people in my enormous extended family and large neighborhood, yet my step-grandfather was the only person I remember who got cancer. It certainly was not one in three or two, like now.
Of course there are genetic vulnerabilities, but the real source of these epidemic illnesses is exposure to environmental toxins, (There is NO safe dose of radiation in spite of the propaganda. Stanford Medical School taught my Physician’s Assistant that 20 percent of all cancers are now caused by CAT scans. That is a horrifying one out of five.)
People now happily buy toxic products to pollute their homes and neighborhoods, with laundry fumes spewing from drier vents making our neighborhoods smell like factories.
And the medical system makes a fortune by “trying to find a cure,” instead of stopping what they know is the cause. It’s all about making the rich richer.
Younger people often don’t know the truth. A current myth is that fascist Reagan was a good president. Lies told often enough are believed – unless those of us who remember the truth tell it.
Barbara Macdonald’s (with Cynthia Rich) book, Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging and Ageism, from 1983, is still the best book I’ve read about ageism, with that old Seventies direct, radical, and sensible Radical Lesbian Feminist politics that I rarely see now. The book began when Barbara was 62 and Cynthia was 41. Barbara described being so alone as an old woman in her community, treated as “other” by younger women.
Almost thirty years later, my experience is very different, though ageism of course still exists and younger women are clearly more valued. I see older Lesbians being dismissed with a glance, just as I see those with less privilege in other ways dismissed. Still, old and older Lesbians now have a huge loving community. We no longer have our bookstores, coffee houses, or bars, so we meet in public, het, or gay male spaces for a night. There is so much for older Lesbians that sometimes I have to choose between three events in one evening. One of my friends in her twenties likes to go to the dances where ages range from twenties to seventies. I also love that age diversity, especially when older is the majority.
It’s a shame when Lesbians automatically reject possible friends or lovers simply because of age. We have many differences among us, but I would like to think that all could be overcome with enough love for each other.
After the feminism of the last forty two years, it’s been a shock to see older Lesbians desperately trying to look young in ways that only accentuate their age. Some even have had plastic surgery, so I appreciate the handsome and beautiful old Lesbians who look comfortable in their skin, proud of who they are, happy to be with other old Lesbians.
I am a lifelong Lesbian, working class Butch, born in 1950. I began writing as a Radical Lesbian Feminist in 1970, when I found the San Francisco Bay Area Lesbian Feminist community. I worked with Lesbian collectives, including on one of the first Lesbian Feminist conferences in the US, in 1972, the local women’s bookstore, Lesbian Coffeehouse, Dyke Separatist Gathering in 1983. I co-wrote and published Dykes and Gorgons in 1973, and Dykes-Loving-Dykes in 1990. My articles have been printed in For Lesbians Only, Lesbian Ethics, Mehr al das Herz Gebrochen, Finding the Lesbians, Lesbian Friendships, Lesbian Inciter, Sinister Wisdom, Hag Rag, Lesbian International, Lesbian Voices, etc. Our book is being translated into Russian, Portuguese, and German.
I am continuing posting Radical Lesbian Feminist articles at my two blogs. My first blog now has our entire book, published in 1990, updated.