This is day 3 of the long weekender interview with Merimee Moffitt. Among her many roles, she is poet, teacher, activist, mother, and feminist and she rocks. If you are just checking in, her interview begins on Friday’s post and finishes up today with one of her poems.
Liza Wolff-Francis: What about people who are saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…” Do you think it’s about the word feminism?
Merimee Moffitt: Well, then I say, “Do you think we should be paid less for equal education? Women have equal job experience and equal education. You actually think they should be paid less because they are a woman? They shouldn’t get promoted?” They don’t agree with that.
Feminism is a tag word like communism to some fairly uneducated people. The pure idea of communism is a good idea- global sharing, hey! But as a political process, it hasn’t worked out yet. There are some good socialist programs, but they’re afraid of that word too. We’re programmed to be afraid.
I would guess that there’s a whole lot of TV shows from the 70’s or early 80’s that made jokes about feminists or feminism. The feminists are coming. The bra burners and bra burning didn’t happen and buckets of blood being thrown at soldiers didn’t happen, it’s all propaganda.
Merimee: Yeah. Turns out- government laws.
Liza: Wow. I didn’t know that.
Merimee: Hippies didn’t have bras to burn for one thing. And I never saw a woman burn her bra. There were a few flag burnings, but that’s a whole different issue. But the whole thing with buckets of blood being thrown on soldiers coming back from Vietnam, there have been investigations and it seems like it was a hyperbole that got out of hand. I lived in San Francisco for a whole bunch of those years and it wasn’t real, but that’s a whole separate issue too.
But feminism, people don’t like to be labeled for one thing.
Liza: Do you think it’s about the word though? Do you think women are against using the word “feminism,” or do you think they don’t want to be identified with women supporting women?
Merimee: That’s really a tough one because women generally do have support groups individually. Women have women friends. Women interact with women, the same way men interact with men, getting whatever they get- manism- machismo- I don’t know, they do their boy things. It’s a word that scares people. They think it means man-hating. My experience in the classroom with young people is that they think feminists hate men and I’m not sure where that comes from. But I’ve read feminist poems in the classroom to students and gotten the response, when did you start hating men? Because I talk about not wanting men to be oppressive, violent, unfair, unbearing, insensitive- either as a political structure, the patriarchy, which they pretty much are in a lot of ways. You see a lot of big businesses where women are still overlooked for the promotion. It’s happening less and less because it’s illegal and in a sense, people are simply taking feminism for granted. In fact, they’re very surprised to hear how things used to be.
Liza: Well, even the stuff you’re telling me, I’m like “Wow!”
Merimee: Yeah and the first jobs women worked, a man could put his hands on you and lead you around, put his arm around your shoulder, maybe even pat you on the butt. There was no recourse. That wasn’t considered assault, that’s just the way guys were. So people are taking our rights for granted. They see feminism, that the negativity in the word is abolishing men or something, men hating to the point that we don’t need men anymore, let’s just have women only stuff. There are some women like that, who may consider themselves feminist. But that’s a segment.
The time I got called a “man-hater” I spent a lot of time thinking about it deeply- and I think I have a poem about it, about loving men (laughs).
Liza: How do you think your feminism and your activism has worked its way into your poetry? They’re kind of interchangeable and I’ve heard a lot of your poetry, so I have an idea, but…
Merimee: Well, I don’t think I’m as angry as I used to be because I’ve claimed my space and my equality. I’m much less likely to blame somebody for my oppression. If someone is oppressing me, it’s often something that I’ve chosen, so I’m not as blaming. I’m not as mad. My most overt political activism was to join Code Pink, women for peace. I did that very actively for two years and it was physically quite hard on me and the person who was our leader that I worked with a lot. She was a recovering breast cancer person at the time and I was recovering from health issues and after two years, we were both just done. But, we do have a wonderful court case still standing in the federal court for discrimination against protestors. Some magic happened for us.
Code Pink was a women’s international peace group wearing pink. Pink to keep it light which isn’t really all that feminist of an idea. Pink representing femininity and happy silly side of things. Let’s have fun protesting the war. Let’s have fairy dust and blow bubbles and wear pink feather boas. We still got called traitorist bitches. We got spit at a time or two. We got flipped off. But mostly 90% or more people were supportive and talked seriously with us about rights for veterans. People coming up would stop and talk to us when we were out on the sidewalks protesting and picketing and wanting various politicians to live up to campaign promises and really work toward ending the so called war, the military occupation of Iraq. And that was a women’s group.
At one point we were doing a significant action that included dropping a big banner, a 60 foot banner that was quite heavy. It was about 15 feet wide and 60 feet long. We hung it from the parking structure across from Robinson Park and the head of the Vietnam Vets against the war wanted to start giving orders because it was a covert action.
We were going to get stopped and we had a goal to have it up for at least 15 minutes because they had done one in Washington and theirs had been up for 15 minutes in the senate building. And this gentleman just started giving orders and telling people what to do and I very happily said, “No, you can’t do that. She’s in charge. That woman, Becky, she’s in charge. She said we’re doing it that way and that’s what will happen and he looked at me like, ‘Okay, alright, just let me know if I can help, that’s all.’ And that felt good. It’s that kind of thing- not to cow tow just because they’re bigger and louder and stronger, they use their muscles when they need them (laughing).
Liza: What do you think about women supporting other women? You’re talking about that within that group too. How can women stay strong in the face of all that’s going on right now in the world and really support other women, even if sometimes they don’t agree with them?
Merimee: Boy, I certainly see something happening with the young women I work with at CNM because I’ve been there 9 years, so that’s enough time to see some change and before that it was juniors and seniors in high school. Women do not cow tow to men the way they used to. Women have a whole lot of business to take care of. They have their lives, their goals, their ambitions and they’re doing it and they generally have women in their support group. They have their sisters, mothers, friends, their babysitters. This is a glittering generality, but I’m seeing it.
Liza: So you’re seeing women supporting women.
Merimee: Women are supporting women in the ranks of- Middle America goes to CNM- the masses- all kinds of people and there’s not really a problem of men taking over the classroom, it just doesn’t happen, not with me at the helm anyway, it just doesn’t happen. Women are encouraged to speak up and have opinions and I don’t have to do much encouragement. It’s like women are right there. The whole thing that started years back where women stopped smiling all the time- they don’t have to have this shit eating grin on their faces all the time for some reason we had to be that way, and then it became this deadpan look, and uh, no emotion shown. Women went through this thing, it’s worked well. They’ll smile when they want to and they’ll say what they want. If I say on some woman’s toes or step out of line, I’ll get told right away, but a woman or a guy in the classroom. Women are getting stronger.
Liza: Do you ever see women fighting over men?
Merimee: It’s almost like women don’t even notice men anymore. (laughing) Now, women in my age group, yes. Not in the classroom, there’s very little flirting. They’re just not there to do that. They come in dressed like they want to dress, reflecting their mood and what’s convenient for them. It is no longer a man’s world. We’re winning and they’re taking it for granted. But that’s the scary part because there are some evil powers that will take those rights away. And gladly if they could.
A couple of afterthoughts:
Planned Parenthood just took this huge hit. It’s a huge hit against women. And those rights were hard won. We can’t let them take our health care and our right to choose, whether we have a mammogram or use birth control or have an abortion or the day after pill, we don’t want Newt Gingrich deciding when we should have our babies or when we should get mammograms. That’s sort of a disconnect, but those are basic rights. Maslow’s hierarchy is your basic rights have to be covered. It’s basic human rights. We have to watch out for those and protect those.
Matrifocal Point blog note: This Weekender’s Grrl Code is this last quote of Merimee’s. Grrl Code: An important part of feminism is to understand that it’s not over. It’s not going to be over. The power structure is so male dominated. Like I say to my daughters, old farts are going to die off and there’ll be a chance. At least half of the people in our power structure need to be women. And there’s a lot of good things happening. Last time I checked, there were more women getting graduate degrees than men and there is a problem with power women getting men.
Here is one of Merimee’s feminist poems. It was transcribed from an audio-recording and the line breaks are of the transcriber, not by Merimee. Enjoy
The World in a Word by Merimee Moffitt
Raise your hand if you’re a feminist today.
Once considered a radical notion,
Feminism is again a dirty word outside this inner sanctum
That’s propaganda, like you need a Hummer or Gloria’s fish needs a bicycle
Feminism is four syllables rich, not some puny explative.
Feminims rolls of the tongue like fertility and flirtiness,
the silt and sand of the Nile, the hot sun of New Mexico chiles,
but uterus envy, kind of a clunker,
the root of misogyny waving its wand at you and me
Get back Rosa, Get down from that glass ceiling
Hillary, know your place, nutcracker.
Uterus envy schools women into ridiculing ourselves
a five syllable pre-emptive strike from those
who would have us silent, compliant
like when good girls didn’t tell, when good girls
didn’t ask why we paid for our lives to be his wife.
Women with voice and confidence are feminists now.
Our wailing sirens lure, our hair entices, yet feminists
do not deny a right to choose, anyone’s right to ambition.
Power pricks trick girls into belittling themselves
advertising the vagina as empty space
no one home, a nothing until his presence and only his presence,
his fleshy key the only key?
Feminists can’t stand Rapunzel’s tower-
pining away, wasting their days
Oh, Oh where is my darling prince? Back then, Women coined the motto
Fuck housework, not literally sex with doornobs and broomhandles, unless of course…
let me deconstruct for you, toilets and washing machines
are not a life’s worth of fascinating,
Pick up your own damn socks was the first step,
honestly, ask your moms.
Males were dropping socks and underwear all over America
until feminists said No, no more.
The little lady’s job description was to clean up his shit,
so lots of stopped being little and stopped being ladies,
stopped with the nice. Feminism brings us the “she” and “her”
Women in text books, title IX, Feminism demands my body is mine,
keep your creepy translations of the Bible out of my womb, please
and off his ass. What a place for the Bible for God-fucking-sakes!
God likes sex by the way, she invented it.
I grew up with girdles and garter belts, tortuous bras,
principals, bosses, patting my ass, not one domestic violence law.
We’re not so far from the burquas, the chadors
We’ve come a short way sisters, in fifty years,
job for job, hers and his, 78 cents on the dollar still America
Come out of the closet America and join the feminist world.
Revel in womanhood,
womanist, feminist, liberty, justicia,
our hope for the future
Our world in a word. Our word in our words.
Que viven las feministas!