by Ed Mooney, guest blogger
In my 20’s and 30’s, feminism seemed to open the door to reflections about being a male. It was the early seventies. Wanting to be close to the action, my wife and young son and I moved to Berkeley.
It was a period of social upheaval and political violence marked by the Civil Rights struggle and the Free Speech, Anti-War, and Black Power Movements. The country was rocked by the assassinations of the two Kennedy’s, Martin Luther King and others. Feminism, by contrast was a soft presence. It was peaceful and unobtrusive.
In the beginning feminism urged women to rethink and refashion the shape of their identity. My first awareness of a feminist movement came in the form of consciousness raising groups. Several of my female colleagues attended “CR” groups, which became an important support for them as they shared and deconstructed their traditional female upbringing.
During this time I met Theodora Kroeber, mother of the novelist Ursula Le Guin, and a noted author herself. She didn’t speak explicitly of feminism, but she embodied it. I met her socially. She was my wife’s great aunt, and a fixture in the Berkeley cultural scene.
After the death of her husband, the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, Theodora married her 43-year-old editor. She was 73, breaking paths decades ahead of France’s new first lady, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 25 years older than her husband. Theodora was unafraid to write that a woman’s sex-life needn’t ever decline.
To learn more about this emerging movement, I read Nancy Chodorow, Carol Gilligan and Simone DeBeauvoir who put personal relationships and family in the spotlight.
I sensed that men could learn from women the arts of friendship, non-competitive discussion, mothering of children, and a wariness of the macho. I was sensitive to the Feminist critique of men as often cold, reserved and incompetent in intimate friendships. Hallway banter, or sports and politics talk, defined male sociability.
Women were social facilitators especially in family settings, and men, however competent at the work place, were handicapped as family communicators. They were good at barking orders or administrating punishments or making big financial decisions, but bad at soothing a child with a fever or handling adolescent crises, or making an in-law feel welcome – these were women’s tasks. Women were there to nurture and mother; men, to earn and play King.
I remember during my infant son’s first months, having to elbow my way toward the crib to enjoy him. Women visitors cooed and admired but I was invisible. Cooing was not my prerogative.
I was surrounded by families where a husband would report to his wife that the diaper needed changing, and wait for her to jump. In my case, I dived at the chance. If I couldn’t nurse, I could angle for alternative tactile contact.
Before moving to Berkeley, I remember being the only male at the playground having brought my baby there in a snuggle pack.
I was taking advantage of the liberty granted to professors to be off-campus for big hunks of time. Mothers gathered apart in small clutches. Getting to the park, I was once subjected to catcalls for impersonating a mother.
Gender roles can be stifling for men as well as for women, for boys as well as for girls. The question of gender identity has not disappeared, of course, but the stereotypes and practices in place in the 70s have softened. My life and the life of my son are richer for it.
Ed Mooney has a PhD in Philosophy from UC Santa Barbara. He taught 35 years in the Bay area, 10 years in Syracuse, NY, and 2 years in Israel. He now resides in Portland, Maine. He is the author of many books on Kierkegaard, one on American Philosophy, one on Thoreau, and a book of poetry. His article “Gender, Philosophy, and the Novel” (1987) is an earlier effort to come to grips with feminist issues.