kitchen table

Susan Be Stolen
July 25, 2006, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Feminism

I will be happy if I never hear an inspirational, Susan B. Anthony quote again. The NOW conference was filled with Susan B references–as introductions to speeches, as reasons to continue the fight, as the epithet to an annual report–and frankly, I’m bored with them. This is not to dismiss what Anthony and her contemporaries accomplished but come on, let’s please stop with this heroine-worship and open up our treasure chest of other women’s stories. I can’t decide if what I witnessed was a function of generational differences–second wave feminists and their lovefest for suffragist leaders, the women they grew up admiring–or theoretical differences–liberal feminists and their lovefest for women who, while admirable, are nonetheless the acceptable faces of a movement that was once-upon-a-time unacceptable.

I’ll take it even further. Allowing Susan B. Anthony, as an iconic figure, to dominate in such a way is like accepting Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks as the faces of the Civil Rights movement. Parks and King were important, no doubt, but their work only scratches the surface of the story. Their dominance in the discussion is a purposeful distraction, keeping the Civil Rights movement easily categorized and convenient for the high school history books. It doesn’t explore the challenges to hierarchal, top-down organizing that groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee made, it doesn’t allow us to see beyond the tired narrative of the Chosen One, the Great Leader. Similarly, the theft of Susan B. Anthony by racist, patriarchal institutions–not to mention mainstream, corporate institutions–distracts us from having a dialogue about what she and her comrades really did, including their failures. It’s a disservice to Anthony, to the feminist movement.

I’d like to hear from Emma Goldman more, Ella Baker, Septima Clark, and Carolyn Heilbrun. And these are just the heroines in my small education–who else is out there? In what other mouths can we find the words?


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