Where’s Emma Goldman When You Need Her?

A few days ago an obnoxious made-up holiday presented itself. I’m probably going to anger some people now—it was International Women’s Day. And to start it just right, Hillary Clinton rang the bell at the UN that day or whatever the hell it is they do to start their morning of tedious bullshit wrangling. I don’t hate my fellow xx chromosome holders, it’s not that, obviously….. but how is this day celebrated? Can I get a piñata? Is mail delivered? Are bras optional?  Do women in South Africa get a no rapin’ pass that day?

I guess I’m wondering why we really need a day to celebrate half the population. Can’t we just have an Empty Platitude Day to take care of all the shortcomings of society? This would be much easier than performing tangible acts. Or even better, how about just treating each other with a similar kindness and moving on to the next issue? Do we need to mark a day like this on calenders and have some war-mongering woman “represent” at the UN?

But it did make me think—the kind of women that get the Yeah! Betsy Ross treatment on holidays like this……. I have a couple of other women that pop into my mind. The kind that would not be mentioned in a Hillary speech.

Certain individuals truly amaze me. They were so beautifully clear sighted, and they bloomed in unlikely circumstances. Being female likely made it decidedly more rare to develop such crazy notions during their times. People like Voltairine de Cleyre,–born to a poor family, she was one of the lesser known anarchists of the Chicago awakening, that Haymaker era. Voltairine was sent off to a convent early in life. Here she was, a 13 year old girl in 1879 being washed over with ever manner of persuasion developed over centuries by the church. Yet somehow she resisted even though she believed she might even go to hell. She just felt that it was all wrong. Now that’s fighting authority…..thinking they might really be in charge of the afterlife, but to not accept it, to opt for hell if necessary. She was able to bide her time and made the decision to speak against boundaries and fanged rules for the rest of her life. She was malleable with her beliefs, always able to adapt when a new logic became evident. She wrote poems to express her belief system as well as penning more concrete, reasoned arguments. She never became well known, largely because she did not fit clearly into any subset of the anarchism movement. Unlike the Groucho Marx saying: “I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”…….she didn’t want to join a club with those who didn’t believe in clubs. That makes sense to me. She died pretty young, at age 45. This probably also contributed to her lesser known status among free-thinkers of that era. She simply wasn’t given enough time.

Emma Goldman should be considered here as well. She most definitely would not be mentioned during a women are so great, moms are lovely and we-are-all-so-not-glass-ceiling-believers feel good speech. Those speeches that encourage not change, but molding into the toxic landscape already present. We all need to be carnivores if we are to achieve anything! She is someone I can relate to a little bit more than Voltairine. I understand her fiery inconsistency, different moments call for different ways. I’m sure her heart was full of love and that she was a burst of energy to be in a room with. She called Voltairine “the most gifted and brilliant anarchist woman America ever produced.”  But she also said she was ugly. And Voltairine really wasn’t—if anything she was quite lovely—tons of those old time photos with her gazing celestially exist. And Emma even hung around with weirdos who had titles like “The Hobo Gynecologist”. I had this notion that the appeal of hobodom in days of yore was actually not having an occupation, certainly not that of a gynecologist. I can’t even imagine how annoying the clanking of his speculums must have been in his red and white polka dot bag on a stick (that they were required by law to carry). So Emma, in all her wonderful quirkiness, is a woman I have great fondness for. As well as for the clean decency in her writing. I’m not surprised that she was branded “dangerous” as she had a sound logic that absolutely laid bare the injustices of the day. And remarkably her words are needed in our era as well. They hold up to time.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to do a bashing on men piece….a did you ever notice men never put the toilet seat down thing. I just happened to think about these two women because I saw that International Feel Good About Something That Should Be A Given, That Women Matter As Much As Men But Sadly Don’t So Here’s A Stupid Day For You. I do believe we are all equally absurd, me probably more than most (of males or females).

I’m sure that for these two women, it was probably a little bit more difficult to be respected, even fellow anarchist thinkers likely had some sexist misgivings in those days. So just a little more amazing to me that they managed to get their voices heard despite this. Flowers blooming in rubble, that sort of thing. But no, it’s not a….oh if only women were in charge. I know, I know. Margaret Thatcher, a Sarah Palin maybe. ….. It sure as hell wouldn’t be a person of my notions. And it wouldn’t be a man of those notions, either. If they slip through you know they are toxic. That potential for awful is just as present in females. That’s the abrasive bit. Women are always held up to be more staid, more in control of base leanings or the very opposite, emotional wrecks. Just an equal opportunity human frailty would be a pretty welcome philosophy. Then maybe the chance to view each other with love instead of the “other” label would exist.

What I want to close with is this: Stupid holidays deserve a subversive look. On the next International Women’s Day think about Voltairine and Emma. Maybe think about them on the other days too.

 Kathleen Wallace can be reached at klwallace@riseup.net or here.

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest.

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