women, cont. (76)

Tue, 25 Apr 89 22:47:36 EDT

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 893. Tuesday, 25 Apr 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 25 Apr 89 00:34 EDT (10 lines)
Subject: HUMANIST discussion: Healers and witchcraft

(2) Date: 25 April 1989, 11:19:08 EDT (46 lines)
Subject: subconsciousness-raising and the "use of women"

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 25 Apr 89 00:34 EDT
Subject: HUMANIST discussion: Healers and witchcraft

Somebody, I forget who, inquired about books about women as healers
and witchcraft. I just got in my mail today a flyer from Rutgers University
Press which that person would be interested in. They have just published
a collection of essays on that subject _Women as Healers: Cross-Cultural
Perspectives_ edited by Carol Shepherd McClain.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------49----
Date: 25 April 1989, 11:19:08 EDT
Subject: subconsciousness-raising and the "use of women"

Having one's unconscious verbal mannerisms analysed in public is like
being hit by a rock in a snowball. You don't know where it came from or
why, you don't know who the person is who threw it, you don't know why
you are being punished or for what, but the rock still hurts. The rock
in this case was an accusation of unconscious sexism for my use of the
phrase "the use of women in the practice of medicine, as midwives,
doctors, or nurses."

I have already made my peace with Ms. Matheson, but I do want to address
the issue of being accused and convicted of using sexist language.
The deep irony of the situation was that I had made my query on behalf
of my wife, who is a nurse interested in the history of women in
medicine, and for myself as a professor of English interested in the
conflicting Renaissance images of woman as nurse and poisoner, healer
and witch (see Keith Thomas's great book), or help-meet and snare
(Milton's images). My wife helped me draft the note to Humanist, and
she found nothing offensive in the wording of it. Both of us are quite
conscious of the fact that society *has* "used" women, but neither of us
had any intentions of implying that women should be "used."

When one is accused of an unconsious mannerism in style, in order to
have one's consciousness raised, there is no way to avoid being found
guilty. I do plead innocent, however, and I stand on my record as a
journal editor who has published the work of women scholars consistently
and constantly since 1966 (when there wern't that many women scholars in
the liberal arts) and allowed my journal often to be used as a forum for
feminist criticism; and I stand on my teaching as well. Ms. Matheson
cannot know that I normally give a fifteen-minute tirade towards the
beginning of the term in writing courses on the use of the phrase "the
little woman" to illustrate sexist language, or that I discuss
oppression of women extensively in courses on Renaissance literature. I
often will include an author like Ariosto because he is a delightful
exception to the patriarchal rule (in varying senses of that phrase). I
just plain *dislike* sexism in the home, the workplace, or in the
professional interpretation of history or literature. So for me (and
for my wife in this case), to be accused even of unconscious sexism is
especially painful. Sexism is a charged issue that divides what Milton
called "the two great sexes." Arguing it often causes mutual male and
female distrust and suspicion, dividing humans from humanism. I am
sorry that accusations have arisen in such an open-minded forum as
Humanist. I and my wife do appreciate all the helpful responses to my