Monday, August 18, 2008

Feminism again

I posted a query about feminist theory of caregiving in the comments here. Scotlyn wrote a wonderful reply:
Pam, I can’t give you any ready answer with this, although I do understand what may lie ahead in relation to caring, having spent ten years helping to care for my husband’s uncle, who suffered from all of the worst manifestations of Alzheimer’s among other things. It is extremely difficult to bear sometimes. Not being recognised is par for the course, and it is hard enough, but Paddy, for example, came to fear things like taking a meal I had prepared in case I was trying to poison him…well, you can imagine.

What kept me going through the hard times, and also through the strange times when people kept saying “aren’t you good to him” (which I read as code for “I can’t imagine why you would even bother,”), was this. I spent much of my feminist youth arguing for independence for women (from our caring roles, among others). But as I grew older, had children, and acquired dependent relatives by other means, I have come to appreciate the value of “family,” small “f,” as opposed to Family, capital “F,” which is what homophobic, patriarchal defenders seek to protect.

In “families” - that is, the real life close-knit connections that people build for themselves within their closest circle - whether by choice, by birth, by adoption, by fostoring, or simply by close contact, each individual matters, not because they can contribute any material benefit, but because every person has a value and a place of their very own. Interdependence, rather than independence, defines how we operate within “families.”

To me, my role as a carer in a small-f “family” falls between two strong tendencies which powerful interests emphasise - but in opposite directions. The capital-F “Family,” that I learned in my Christian childhood was part of God’s plan, is a pre-determined set of rigid roles - “wife” “husband” “son” “daughter” - which lays out rules about who can participate (not lesbians or other homosexual folk), who is in charge (the father), and what the role consists in (wife=caring/nurturing).

On the other hand, the apparent liberation of being “independent,” is in some ways the capitalist trap, which says that people only have value as producers and consumers - if they are dependent on others they no longer have any value. That striving for independence can doom us to living each on our own island without being able to reach out to one another in care and/or in need.

But no one person can spend their life without needing - in childhood we need our parents or care-givers, and in age we will again (should we be so lucky to see it), and in between, some smaller proportion of us will always need some degree of care from others. And, as I see it, during the mid-adult years, those of us who are both strong and able do owe a duty of care to those within our reach who are in need - we owe it indirectly to those who have cared for us in the past, and those who will care for us in the future.

And, although it breaks my heart to say it, because I know for some avoiding this is for all practical purposes impossible, I do feel we relegate this duty of care to the state at our very great peril.
and then further:
Anyway, I have one more thought which relates back to the original quote that started this thread (learn to relevance:-)), as well, which is that, to me, the word “choice” also has some of those capitalist trap overtones. Capitalist market theory is about providing endless “choices,” from which ideally free agents can “choose,” but in real life we continually find ourselves in situations in which we really have little or no choice. And is the illusion of “choice” part of the illusion of “control?”

I know the situation you are struggling with is not of your choosing, nor of your husband’s choosing. It is what it is, and for no good or understandable reason.

It is important to remember that we are not necessarily diminished by recognising such limitations and still going on to live (and to love) as good and hard as we can within situations not of our choosing and beyone our control.

Just to live and to love, despite all, are sometimes in themselves the ultimate triumph.
I'm not sure I'm willing to give up seeing choice as central to feminism (partly because I think it a better center than self-realization, partly because my experience as a sexual abuse survivor makes it especially important to me to feel some control). I do believe that in addition to situations in which we have no choice, there are also meaningful choices and meaningless choices. Choosing between McDonalds and Burger King is a meaningless choice.

I am a part of a particular liberal Christian tradition that says if I look at my deepest desires, they will lead me to be the person God wants me to be. That and feminism lead me away from the traditional role of the self-sacrificing woman. Instead, I believe that to grow means being willing to chose to do things that are hard and painful. I think of those things as being for the good of the world. I will think more about Scotlyn's idea of small "f" family. Owing a duty indirectly to those who cared for me in the past is tricky for me because my mother abused me. I don't easily trust the idea of family as a refuge.

1 comment:

Pauline said...

Pearose said:"I've never felt the need to control anyone..."

Me neither.


You crack me up!