— by Donna Mitchell
A few years ago due to a traumatic event I suddenly found myself going from committed married life in a religious cult to being a single mom questioning everything I had ever believed. In the Christian group I was in, being female automatically made me less important than males, and I was expected to be submissive and quiet on most matters of importance within the group.
The question of why I was there and stayed there for 15 years is a subject for another essay. My point is, I was suspect because of religious definitions based solely on my sex: female. While I had been mentally leaving this group and their beliefs for many years without realizing it, it took me a lot longer to rid myself of the effects of living in the hold of a strict patriarchal mindset. Finally I renounced it all– the Christian beliefs, the lack of tolerance to others, the beliefs about God and who that was or was not. I then joined the women’s movement wholeheartedly. I joined feminine divine email groups, found feminist internet blogs and womyn’s rights websites and immersed myself in all of them. I read articles and book reviews on everything from the beginnings of feminism, the Religious Right’s cruel tactics, violence against women, pros and cons of legal sex work as well as how womyn’s health care is simply not an important issue to the government.I begin to realize how far feminist ideas had advanced, but also how much work was still needed. I was becoming more and more informed about the state of feminism now and deciding my place in it.As I explored the internet for reading material, I also found festivals and cool womyn’s get-togethers and I felt a desire to go and be with womyn and enjoy womon-centered activities, thoughts, conversations and rituals. It seemed the next best step in my new attempts at feminism to actually be in the company of these amazing activists.As I started tentatively stepping into feminist circles and speaking out and asking questions, it became apparent on some levels that my sexuality would become an issue. Not being a lesbian seemed to be proof I wasn’t a true feminist and that to love a man as a sexual partner meant I wasn’t truly in step with feminist ideals. In talking with lesbian friends I know locally as well as new friends met at festivals, it became apparent that there was distrust between hetero and lesbian feminists. On one level I understand the issue as I found out many lesbians felt that when things got tough and someone needed to stand up, hetero womyn simply wouldn’t back them up.The belief seemed to be that hetero womyn had more to lose and would not support true lesbian issues, since they could move back into a heteronormative lifestyle and not be grouped with lesbians.
Midwife and mom
I pondered this as I tried to reach out and see what I could do as a new feminist still trying to find my way, but also living in the trenches as I believe I am, by opposing the patriarchal medical system here in a very anti womon, anti-child and anti-freedom Southern state. Helping womyn birth at home seemed to me to be the epitome of feminist activism — doing what is our right as womyn even when the male system has enacted laws against us. (As a side note, by profession, I am a homebirth midwife in a state that does not sanction or legally allow midwifery as an option. I encourage womon- centered and womon-controlled choices about pregnancy and birth. For years I have loved being around womyn in all stages of their empowering births.)
I do know about the inequalities and injustices I face as a womon. I know the fear and trepidation of just walking out at night alone in the city, being in a restaurant without a partner or criticized when it is known I am not a Christian anymore. I know the feeling of rage when a pregnant woman’s right to birth with a midwife is viewed as “abuse towards the baby” or “a selfish need for a candlelit birth above safety” by the state. I know how it is to be treated by a male doctor who believes women do not need all the information on any procedure-just sign on the dotted line and trust him. I know what its like to look back and see the herstory of the way the medical (patriarchal) system has always treated womyns health care as if womyn were guinea pigs. I am a womon who is treated as all womyn are.
But I admit I don’t know what it is like to be lesbian womon in this culture, or an African American womon or a Latina womon or disabled womon or disabled womon. I don’t have those experiences at all. But I believe I don’t need those experiences to stand up for cruelty to womyn or to be a feminist. The bottom line is that womyn’s rights are womyn’s rights, and I am fighting for them in my own way in my own community on a daily basis.
I do consider myself a fledgling feminist. I won’t claim to know all the issues, the herstory of it all, the key womyn who have been involved or even with whom I am primarily politically aligned so far as what I stand for. I can sit back for now and watch and observe the feminist movement and learn from some powerful women, both lesbian and hetero. It is something I fully intend to do at this point as well as continue to subvert the patriarchal system as much as possible in my own small way in my community with my group of womyn companions.
I enjoy the company of womyn. If being a lesbian is truly a sexual orientation and not a choice, then I am not lesbian. Still, I am womon-centered in everything I do. My life’s passion/work is still about womyn. I go to womyn’s festivals and womyn’s events. But so far as sexual orientation, I am hetero. I know it would be easier to “fit in”in some places if I just chose to be a lesbian, but I am not willing to deny who I am for anyone else ever again. Trying to become what others think I should be is no longer an option for me. Becoming who I am meant to be is what I am striving for as a feminist.
I hope to make a difference in my community in whatever way I can, but I am standing in opposition towards what I believe to be the only true enemy of womyn’s rights- patriarchy.
—Donna Mitchell is a homebirth midwife, single mother of nine children, herbalist, aromatherapist, and women’s health practitioner. She lives in a state that is hostile to anything that empowers womyn in areas of education or health care. She is a recovering Christian and a worshipper of the goddess Hecate and Morrigan.
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