Monday, April 16, 2007

A friend of mine and I, we talk about women's stuff a lot; we're feminists.

She told me about a public television special she saw on Aimee Semple Macpherson. Her telling me made me know Aimee Semple Macpherson was a woman leader.

That's stating the obvious. She was a woman. She was a leader. She was a woman leader in a time when there weren't many. She spoke. Thousands listened.

But it took hours of feminist conversations plus one fairly respectful TV show to know that.

Before that conversation, what I knew about Macpherson is she was an evangelist and she stagedher own kidnapping.

I learned that starting her career as a public speaker in the 1920's when the Ku Klux Klan was flourishing, she sought out and welcomed African-Americans in her meetings.

She was very popular when she staged her kidnapping. She went to Mexico. Lots of people thought it was a fake the instant it happened, or was said to happen.

Some people believed she was in peril. People lined the beaches, en masse, where she was said to have disappeared, looking for her.

That doesn't make lots of sense even if she was kidnapped, but it was humans, and humans don't always make sense.

Now, looking back, some people say at the height of her popularity she could not handle the level of attention she was getting so she ran away.

The kidnapping was revealed as a fake. Her popularity declined, but was not extinguished. She kept working as a God speaker on a smaller scale, a scale she could handle.

There's a book called "Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them" by Dale Spender. One of the points of the book is that for centuries some women have operated as intellectual leaders while they were alive. Then when they died, the men who decided what thinkers matter on an ongoing basis disappeared between generations.

So generation after generation of women thinker felt like the first generation of women thinkers, even though they weren't.

A frequent way of analyzing the thinking of leading women intellectuals after their death goes like this: "Ha, ha, ha."

A good man writing a letter to the San Francisco Sunday supplement, Image Magazine, wrote that men try to control and disempower women through agressive mockery. What a great phrase. Would that I remembered the writer's name.

Some leading women thinkers of the past were totally erased. Others were spun by men who lived later with aggresive mockery so that everyone was supposed to know that the very mention of their name should elicit laughter. It wasn't needful to read anything they had written.


Dale Spender described the mockery and erasure process in "Women of Ideas and What Men Have Done to Them." At the end of the book she says she learned by doing this research to never believe anything that is generally accepted by everyone that is negative about a specific woman.

She knows she always has to do her own research on specific women. She has to experience the work the woman produced. Read abouther life in detail, not in general. Know about the times she lived in. Then there might be the beginning of knowing about who this woman was.

Knowing that a woman has been mocked through history could just mean she's a woman.

Margaret Fuller, an American thinker, is quoted as saying, "I accept the universe." Some guy thinker of the time said, "She'd better."

Yeah. And standing above everything so much that you feel like saying, "I accept the universe" is a privilege that has been taken most by pale men. There are things wrong with thinking like that. However, the man of her time who said she'd better wasn't critiquing that way of thinking but aggresively mocking a woman daring to think that way.

"In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" by Alice Walker, an essay, the title essay in a book of essay. Many women didn't and don't get to complete their thoughts or make their artworks.

They had to do everything they could just to survive, often to take care of kids. But they did what they could. They had the art impulse, the thought impulse. Go back and look.

"In Search of Our Mother's Gardens"--look at what women did in the department of beauty. Less valued because done with living materials? Less valued because done by women?

Aimee Semple Macpherson is easy to make fun of. Her first name means friend, lover, person who loves. Huge drive that. A drive in many ways, some more publicized than others.

Aimee Semple Macpherson helped make herself look ridiculous by staging a kidnapping and found the right scale for herself.