Four years ago, I was a housewife, though I didn’t think of myself that way. I had a three-month old baby girl, born Caesarian, and I was just beginning to pull physically out of that. My worries were how to resolve the jealousy of her three-year-old brother; how to get the right nourishment into all our bodies, especially mine (I was breast-feeding her and was often tired); how to get tomatoes off the vines as long into September as possible and figure out when you were supposed to pick acorn squash; how to keep myself alive as a writer (I was writing poetry, diary, and small press book reviews for The Durham Herald); and how to love and provide that nourishment for the whole family. We were five and lived in an old farm house in Cedar Grove. An article on me in the Herald of July 1972 had as a headline: “Peace in the country for Poet Judy Hogan.”
I was peaceful — but a storm was brewing, though I didn’t like to think about it. My life has changed radically in the last four years.
I am 39 now. I live in Chapel Hill, in Chase Park, one of two interracial housing developments sponsored by the Interchurch Council, which grew out of the Civil Rights’ movement of the 60’s and the desperate need for better housing for blacks in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. I live — as one of a minority of white families — alone with my three children. Their father and I have been separated almost two years, and this summer he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am partly self-sufficient. I have a small income from a project grant to help distribute small magazines in the South. I am still writing poetry and diary. Since I’m selling small press materials, I’m no longer reviewing them; but as a result of my attending several national small press conferences and becoming more involved in the small press movement, nationwide, I have become a board member of COSMEP, the national organization — grass-roots in orientation and characterized by a strong spirit of participatory democracy — which serves them and almost since my election to that board in July, 1975, I have been the organization’s chairperson.
In 1972 I didn’t know much about the women’s movement. In 1976 I would describe myself as a moderate feminist. In 1972 I didn’t even think much about politics per se; in 1976, I think a lot about national literary politics and am up to my ears in it. When a member of the COSMEP board is invited to attend a meeting of someone else’s organization, I am usually the one to go — often ostensibly to fight with them — because of a perceived injustice in the way they are operating.
I am still in the home — though I have given up one particular vision of a family and home — but I am also very much in the world. And I expect I will continue to be, for the next few years anyway. I have a fantasy of getting back to the country; rebuilding the home (I find I am not against marriage, just marriage which binds people into outmoded roles and stifles individual growth); and giving major time to my primary work (as a human being, the only work I can do that no one else can, for sure): writing. But in the meantime, I am — rather actively — as one person described me in the women’s anthology, Red War Sticks, “a political animal.”
I was struck some months ago by something Anaïs Nin said in an essay called “In Favor of the Sensitive Man,” in a book by that title:
Watching these young couples and how they resolve the problems of new attitudes, new consciousness, I feel we might be approaching a humanistic era in which differences and inequalities may be resolved without war.
Yoko Ono proposed the ‘feminization of society.’ The use of feminine tendencies as a positive force to change the world . . . We can evolve rather than revolt.
She goes on:
The empathy these new men show woman is born of their acceptance of their own emotional, intuitive, sensory and humanistic approach to relationships. They allow themselves to weep (men never wept), to show vulnerability, to expose their fantasies, share their inmost selves. Some women are baffled by the new regime. They have not yet recognized that to have empathy one must to some extent feel what the other feels. That means that if woman is to assert her creativity or her gifts, man has to assert his own crucial dislike of what was expected of him in the past.” (P. 53)
What interests me here is the possibility that as more and more women come into positions of leadership — and this seems to be happening a lot right now — there may be new dynamics in how these women relate both to other culturally changed people (men and women who have felt and are feeling the move to lead more authentic lives, build all their human relationships on a foundation of honesty and trust and the new truths) and also in how these women relate to more static organizations and authority figures within the society. I think something fairly big is happening, but it is very hard to articulate — and it is a very emotional subject to try to discuss; and harder to gather the evidence and prove anything about. But I’d like to throw out some questions and share some of my own experiences and see what other people have to say — what other new perceptions and experiences are out there which may be similar.
One thing I notice (and have learned to be aware of in myself) is that my impulsiveness and openness — when I was in even fairly hostile and charged situations — has tended to be an asset, not a liability. People tend to trust me instinctively, as I have trusted them. It has been harder for me not to trust, to hide information, than to freely extend a hand and say everything I was thinking. With people who had any decency and conscience left, I think this has tended to disarm them. Communication improved. For instance, I used essentially the same weapons — honesty and openness and making myself more vulnerable than I asked them to be — with two different groups of people. The first (Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines) led me on — but eventually did not come through with the reforms and changes for which my organization was pressing. They even perhaps used the time my peacemaking efforts bought to let their own inner sickness (i.e., hard-core politicizing, which I define as fighting only for yourself or your small group and to hell with the community as a whole) get worse. In any case, I was not effective; but I gave them every chance — which was perhaps, in the long run, even worse for them, as more people in the wider community lost faith in them, even as I gained more trust and respect within the community. (This is my perception based on my re-election to the COSMEP board this Spring, but I think it’s true. )
The second group — the National Endowment Literature Panel — seemed at the time to have been very glad for additional perspectives and perceptions I offered them, seemed to take what I was saying seriously, and there are, I feel, palpable results: several new small press appointments to the panel of people who can hardly be called “token,” since they are well-known, fair-minded, and outspoken, and already have a lot of people’s trust.
In both cases I didn’t know what I would do. The COSMEP Board itself wanted me to go but didn’t give me much specific in the way of message. In fact, I had the feeling I would probably err where they were concerned, that the danger was I’d be too nice, a big push-over, get bought off, and not be taken seriously. I had learned enough about both groups historically not to be naive; but I wasn’t exactly a militant in my style. And there had been others, more experienced and more militant than I, who were clearly skeptical of anything new I might accomplish.
My main weapon — in addition to openness and really caring what happened to the presses I was trying to represent and learning as much as I could from others who’d had more experience — was my intuition. I had built inside myself, in my own relationship to myself, a greater and greater trust in my best of deepest impulses which, for want of a better name, I call my intuition. My experience seemed to be that I didn’t know what to do, but I trusted I would know when the time came because my intuition would tell me. And I was right. There was no time to figure things out. When I was in a tough spot with a given group of people, I had to react, not knowing how they’d react, or if my small press compatriots would approve. It was, or felt like, all risk. And I did it on that basis. I leapt — and afterwards, discovered, to my surprise, I did OK. It was, maybe, even the best thing I could have done, to become honestly impulsive, to express feeling to these people directly, to tell them my distress, to tell them why what they were doing or saying bothered me. I didn’t accuse or point a finger, except by implication; I shared my own (very real) distress.
One group learned — and grew; because my distress was symbolic, symptomatic, and they knew that; the other group didn’t.
But I suppose my feminine nature was very much a part of the action. I opened myself and my care in situations most of us, especially men, are taught not to do that. We are taught to keep defenses up, not take them down. To distrust the opponent who has wronged us. To hate, not love, the incorrigible enemy.
But some principle, instinctive if inarticulate in me, and perhaps even my ignorance (I did not know any other way) caused me to give people maximum credit for their human-beingness, to hold them responsible for hurting me, and myself responsible for not being unjust to them even if they deserved it.
What I want to report is success. And that maybe this is one way women can help our present troubled society when they are given opportunities like I’ve had: trust their human responses and instincts and go through the invisible walls that cause us all so much suffering.
In fact, I’m mischievous enough to wonder why the hell men can’t do this more, too. I know the men I respect the most do share their weakness, need, vulnerability and pain. With Nin, I, too, am in favor of the sensitive man. Furthermore, for all the noise to the contrary, I’m beginning to believe that the “we shall overcome” faith of this period (60’s and 70’s) — active, as I know it right now in the ranks of the small presses — is winning. Structures in the larger society are beginning to loosen up and let new energy and new ways in — or else they die. A rather lonely death, I might add.