FUNERAL ORATION FOR THE BURIAL OF TRADITIONAL WOMANHOOD
By Kathie Amatniek
(Note: In January of 1968 with the SE Asia War raging the Jeanette Rankin Brigade came to Washington to pressure Congress to end the war. The Brigade was named for Jeanette Rankin, the first woman to be elected to Congress. Rankin voted against US entrance into both WWI and WWII and was a well known feminist and peace activist. Some of the radical women staged a mock funeral for traditional womanhood during the protest.)
You see here the remains of a female human being who during her all a lifetime was a familiar figure to billions of people in every corner of the world. Although scientists would classify this specimen within the genus species of homo sapiens, for many years [here has been considerable controversy as to whether she really belonged in some kind of sub-species of the genus. While the human being was distinguished as an animal who freed himself from his biological limitations by developing technology and expanding his consciousness, traditional womanhood has been recognized, defined and valued for her biological characteristics only and those social functions closely related to her biological characteristics.
As human beings, both men and women were sexual creatures and they shared their sexuality. But the other areas of humanity were closed off to traditional womanhood...the areas which, as has already been noted, were more characteristically human, less limited by biology. For some reason, man said to woman: you are less sexual when you participate in those other things, you are no longer attractive to me if you do so. I like you quiet and submissive. It makes me feel as if you don't love me, if you fail to let me do all the talking ...if you actually have something to say yourself. Or else, when I like you to be charming and well-educated...entertainment for me and an intelligent mother for my children....these qualities are for me and for me alone. When you confront the world outside the home - the world where I operate as an individual self as well as a husband and father - then, for some reason, I feel you are a challenge to me and you become sexless and aggressive.
If you turn me off too much, you knew, I'll find myself another woman. And if that happens, what will you do? You’ll be a nobody, that's what you'll be. An old maid, if I haven't deigned to marry you yet. A divorced woman..with some children, no doubt. Without me, you won't even have your sexuality anymore, that little bit of humanity which I have allowed you. And even if you manage to solve that problem in some kind of perverse way, it's going to be hard for you.
What kinds of jobs can you get to keep yourself in comfort? I control those few interesting challenging ones. And I control the salaries on all the other kinds of jobs from which my fellow men who work at them will at least get the satisfaction of more pay than you. And I control the government and its money which, you can bet your tax dollar, isn't going to get allotted for enough good nursery schools to put your children into so you can go out to work. And because of all these things, there can always be another woman in my life, when you no longer serve my needs.
And so traditional Womanhood, even if she was unhappy with her lot, believed that there was nothing she could do about it. She blamed herself for her limitations and she tried to adapt. She told herself and she told others that she was happy as half a person, as the "better half" of someone else, as the mother of others, powerless in her own right.
Though Traditional Womanhood was a hardy dame, the grand old lady finally died today - her doctor said, of a bad case of shock. Her flattering menfolk had managed to keep her alive for thousands of years. She survived the Amazon challenge. She survived the Lysistrata challenge. She survived the Feminist challenge. And she survived many face-liftings. She was burning her candle at one end on a dull wick and she went out slowly, but she finally went...not with a bang but a whimper.
There are some grounds for believing that our march today contributed to the lady's timely demise and this is partly the reason we have decided to hold her funeral here. The old hen, it turns out, was somewhat disturbed to hear us - other women, that is - asserting ourselves just this least little bit about critical problems in the world controlled by men. And it was particularly frightening to her to see other women, we- women, asserting ourselves together, however precariously, in some kind of solidarity, instead of completely resenting each other, being embarrassed by each other, hating each other and hating ourselves.
And we were-even attempting to organize ourselves on the basis of power...that little bit of power we are told we have here in America...the so-called power of wives and mothers. That this power is only a substitute for power, that it really amounts to nothing politically, is the reason why all of us attending this funeral must bury traditional womanhood tonight. We must bury her in Arlington Cemetery, however crowded it is by now. For in Arlington Cemetery, our national monument to war, alongside Traditional Manhood, is her natural resting place.
Now some sisters here are probably wondering why we should bother with such an unimportant matter at a time like this. Why should we bury traditional womanhood while hundreds of thousands of human beings are being brutally slaughtered in our names...when it would seem that our number one task is to devote our energies directly to ending this slaughter or else solve what seem to be more desperate problems at home?
Sisters who ask a question like this are failing to see that they really do have a problem as women in America...that their problem is social, not merely personal...and that their problem is so closely related and interlocked with the other problems in our country, the very problem of war itself...that we cannot hope to move toward a better world or even a truly democratic society at home until we begin to solve our own problems.
How many sisters failed to join our march today because they-were afraid their husbands' would disapprove? How many more sisters failed to join us today because they've been taught to believe that women are silly and a women's march even sillier? And how many millions of sisters all across America failed to join us because they think so little of themselves that they feel incapable of thinking for themselves...about the war in Vietnam or anything else. And if some sisters come to conclusions of their own, how many others of us fail to express 'these ideas' much less argue and demonstrate for them because we're afraid of seeming unattractive, silly, "uppity." To the America watching us, after all, we here on this march are mere women, looking silly and unattractive.
Yes, sisters, we have a problem as women all right, a problem which renders us powerless and ineffective over the issues of war and peace, as well as over our own lives. And although our problem is Traditional Manhood as much as Traditional Womanhood, we women must begin on the solution.
We must see that we can only solve our problem together, that we cannot solve it individually as earlier Feminist generations attempted to do. We women must organize so that for man there can be no "other woman" when we begin expressing ourselves and acting politically, when we insist to men that they share the housework and childcare, fully and equally, so that we can have independent lives as well.
Human qualities will make us attractive then, not servile qualities. We will want to have daughters as much as we want to have sons. Our children will not become victims of our unconscious resentments and our displaced ambitions. And both our daughters and sons will be free to develop themselves in just the directions they want to go as human beings.
Sisters: men need us, too, after all. And if we just get together and tell our men that we want our freedom as full human beings, that we don't want to live just through our man and his achievements and our mutual offsprings, that we want human power in our own right, not just "power behind the throne," that we want neither dominance or submission for anybody, anyplace, in Vietnam or in our own homes, and that when we all have our freedom we can truly love each other.
If men fail to see that love, justice and equality are the solution, that domination and exploitation hurt everybody, then our species is truly doomed; for if domination and exploitation and aggression are inherent biological c characteristics which cannot be overcome, then nuclear war is inevitable and we will have reached our evolutionary deadened by annihilating ourselves.
And that is why we must bury this lady in Arlington Cemetery tonight, why we must bury Submission alongside Aggression. And that is why we ask you to join us. It is only a symbolic happening, of course, and we have a lot of real work to do. We have new men as well as a new society to build.