Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member

Last week, my 18-year-old nephew went to his high school prom. My mother asked me why I didn't attend my prom, and the only reason that I could come up with was that my crowd and I were down on our school. I graduated from high school in 1970 and prided myself on being an anti-establishment kid. If a club or an event was associated with the school, I didn't want any part of it.

In my twenties, I discovered certain clubs that I did want to belong to like SDS (Students for a Democratic Society,) NOW (the National Organization for Women) and the Feminist Party of Canada, which I believe existed for about 10 minutes. I also supported the New Democratic Party in Canada and the Democratic Party in the US. I was a party person! I had become a joiner but I always tried to join groups that were in some way "against" other groups.

Now I have reverted to my original stand. The only clubs that I belong to today are innocuous and uncontroversial like Toastmasters International and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Who can be FOR drunk driving? We'd be hard-pressed to envision a lobbying group that fought for the rights of drunks to get behind the wheel.

I used to participate in various women's collectives and women's centers, but I don't do that anymore. As much as I love other women and support most of the issues that collectives fight for, I find academic political correctness intolerable. Dissident feminist, Daphne Patai, has written extensively about the suffocating academic environment and the restrictions that many people find on campus in their Women's Studies classes. For a while, I considered myself one of the dissidents but then it seemed to me that the main purpose of groups like Women's Freedom Network was to criticize the traditional women's movement. That was never my goal, so I left the dissidents as well.

In D'Amour Road, my main character Tara is a devoted but ambivalent member of a local women's collective. The group is dedicated to eradicating sexual assault and raising public awareness about this horrific issue. Tara wholeheartedly supports the purpose of the group but she does not share their antipathy towards men. My fictional women's collective sees most issues in terms of black and white - e.g. everything is the fault of the patriarchy -- whereas Tara and I both see the world in terms of very complicated shades of gray.

There's a great sense of comfort and camaraderie in being a part of the group. It can be reassuring, reaffirming, energizing and empowering. But it can also be disturbing, confusing and alienating to belong to a group if you disagree with their policies or practices. I'd like to see certain social and political groups making more of an effort to accommodate different points of view. Debate is healthy. Disagreement is normal. I have Democratic friends who won't have lunch with Republicans! That's insane. Many people can find a common ground if they look hard enough for it. Meanwhile, I'm happy to echo Groucho's old saying, when he sent a telegram to his group stating, "Please accept my resignation. I don't want to be a part of any club that will have me as a member."

Sigrid Macdonald

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