Metaphors are Not Value-Free [Rant]

“I have a similar adverse reaction when interviewed by the gay press.  “No,” I say, “I will not be entering the ring draped in a rainbow-striped flag.”  I must have been out of the country when they took the vote on that one.  I abhor the rainbow stripe and would prefer something along the lines of a simple skull and crossbones.”

From “The Knockout” in Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This is how I feel every time I see something involving women’s spirituality that relates women to nature.  I don’t have to garden in tune with my menstrual cycles and the phases of the moon in order to be properly spiritual and/or feminist.  I don’t care if the theme of the 2014 AAR was the environment, naming all the women’s roundtables things like “Weeding and Seeding: The Role of the Scholar in Gender-based Violence and Activism” or “Shared Gardens: Celebrating Feminist Scholarship Across Generations” is damaging.  In this context, in the context of the academy, a place where women are still fighting to be taken seriously, it is nonsensical to use flowery metaphors.  Literally.

I felt similarly when reading Sandra Schneider’s article “Feminist Spirituality:  Christian Alternative or Alternative to Christianity?”  I really thought she was pushing this agenda that a woman cannot take the Eucharist like her male counterparts and be a Catholic, while also being a “proper” feminist.  Who is she to say that?  Who am I to say that?  Feminism is not a mandate of making sure every action is in opposition to “the patriarchy”.  Feminism is the ability to decide, and to be able to do so with freedom and equality.  If a woman enjoys makeup, jewelry, and taking care of her husband…she is not a bad feminist, and she is not a ‘good’ model of femininity.  If a woman curses, is promiscuous, dresses provocatively…she is not a ‘bad’ model of womanhood.  What makes one a bad feminist is feeling as though she must take care of her husband or be subservient or be inferior.  What makes one a bad feminist is attacking men, ignoring specific issues men face.  What makes one a bad feminist is deciding how things ‘should’ be done and critiquing women who disagree.  What makes one a bad feminist is blindness to the issues of other women—women who are not white, the demographic feminism in the U.S. has historically been shaped by and for.  Incidentally, these are also things that make one a less than ideal person.

There’s nothing inherently bad about using these metaphors of spirituality and nature, women and the symbolism of nurturing care.  It’s the context that makes the decision questionable.  Instead of a bold reclamation, it begets passive reaffirmation.  While it may be relevant for many women, these images are not appropriate in the sphere of academia.  Unless the discussions and tables deal with related topics, keep your nurturing nature maternal metaphors out of the equation.


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