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Separating Wheat from Chaff

January 6, 2011

A few years ago when I first read one of Sonia Johnson’s books, I was really excited to see an unequivocal denunciation of maleness in print.  Of course, there were many things I didn’t like about the book, Out of This World, among them the overall straightness (most of them had children, sons at that) and whiteness (what can I say, they were white) and asceticism (deprived themselves of any and everything healthy, delicious, and/or just pleasurable for pleasure’s sake) of the lesbian characters, and the liberties the white author took with her nonwhite characters (she had them declare that they didn’t think of themselves as black or whatever the other nonwhite race was, can’t remember now), but I did find some value in it.

A friend of mine at the time told me that I should be careful of idolizing authors, that the author in question was regarded with some skepticism and even downright disdain in lesbian feminist circles because of her one-on-one interactions with friends and lovers – and though I was in no danger of idolizing Sonia Johnson just due to the many objections I had to her writing, my friend’s point was well taken.  It’s not necessary to like an author in order to agree with some of what she’s written.  And it’s not necessary to agree with everything an author has written in order to take something away from her work.

It’s been something I’ve kept in the back of my mind as I’ve been writing my own thoughts.  I’m not looking for anyone to agree with everything I’ve said, or to like me as a person because they might like some of the things I’ve written.  I know that it simply doesn’t work that way.  And that’s fine with me.  I’m certainly not going to try to force myself on anyone by reminding them over and over about whatever subjectively “great” things I’ve written down on paper.  I know that there isn’t an original thought under the sun – anything I or anyone has written has been thought, said, and lived by before, often by women of fewer means and privileges who didn’t have access to printing presses, or capital for self-publishing, or computers and internet service, or enough mainstream acceptability and sex-appeal (ie, enough whiteness, skinniness, “prettiness,” femininity, “classiness,” and “charm”) to attract the kinds of (male or female) people who could provide those opportunities.

I forgot these things recently, and I’m really glad I have friends around me who are willing to bring me back to my senses.  No matter what men say, thoughts cannot be owned by anyone; they don’t belong to any one person.  No one *owes* anyone anything for putting on paper what has already occurred to countless women before her, and will continue to occur to countless women after, even without her input.

7 Comments
  1. January 6, 2011 5:38 pm

    I agree that no one owns ideas. I do think, though, that women should be acknowledged for the work involved in capturing an idea and putting it across to others in an accessible way, or even holding it up for debate. That involves effort and work. So, in my opinion, when people plagiarise from AROOO, it’s offensive not because of the sharing of ideas, but because the work has not been acknowledged (and is passed off as the plagiariser’s own work instead). Or when a woman’s intellectual/political work is exploited by another woman for personal/financial profit, that is also out of order.

    • January 6, 2011 6:36 pm

      Yeah, I maybe went off on a bit of tangent there… :s

    • January 6, 2011 9:02 pm

      I do think, though, that women should be acknowledged for the work involved in capturing an idea and putting it across to others in an accessible way, or even holding it up for debate. That involves effort and work.

      This is a good point, TBL. I agree with this.

      I always struggled with this in academic situations, because I think there is a big difference between plagiarizing and simply coming up with a similar thought without exposure to someone else’s work. And the academic solution of, well, just make sure you read absolutely every word ever written on the subject so that you can credit other people with insights you had yourself, in order to not be accused of plagiarism, never sat right with me.

      On the other hand, it’s obvious when people are stealing from their contemporaries in the blog world. And it comes across to me more as the thieves attempting to own the ideas by refusing to give credit.

  2. Mary Sunshine permalink
    January 6, 2011 5:44 pm

    The need to establish oneself as a power figure within a population is to my mind a male energy.

    There’s been so much of this dynamic in the white feminist / lesbian feminist / lesbian separatist interactions.

    We lose, lose, lose as a result of this.

    Power comes from ownership, and ownership is established and maintained by threats and bullying. The essence of maleness.

    Margaret, I love your expression of your thoughts! They have energized me from the day I first started reading them.

    Plus, I love thoughts for the simple reason that they *can’t be owned*. Are we having fun with the intellectual property laws yet? Some fucking corp or other is trying to *own* a colour that they say is an integral part of their “brand”. Or a shape.

    I love Euclidean geometry, but Euclid never claimed to own it. In all modesty, if he hadn’t developed it, I would have done so for the good of (or torture of?) femalekind. 🙂

  3. January 6, 2011 6:48 pm

    It’s also true that all good/true ideas are much bigger than the people who claim to own them or to have first thought of them. They have an existence of their own outside of even what is written or told. I’m sorry if that sounds all mystical and shit, but I do believe that is true. Nobody can stop a woman who wants to get to the truth from getting to the truth. The truth is there to be found. It doesn’t matter if another woman got there first, or got there by a different route. It doesn’t change the nature of the truth. No one can ‘own’ it – like Mary says, that is a very male-identified way of thinking.

    • January 7, 2011 2:48 am

      Yes, and that’s more what I was trying to get at. There are lot of writers who think that they’re, I don’t know, giving something that could never be gotten any other way. And I think that’s a delusion encouraged by male supremacy. It affects a *lot* of the writers I see on the internet. I’ve always been clear that I write to find other women who already feel the way that I do and think the things that I think, but a lot of other writers explicitly state that they’re writing in order to teach-down to others.

    • Pseudoadrienne permalink
      January 7, 2011 3:49 am

      I prefer the forum approach when expressing ideas and thoughts, because it certainly helps and encourages women who have stifled their voices and opinions due to misogyny, racism, lesbophobia, etc., see that they’re not the only ones who have these views (but that’s no excuse for plagarism or having some delusional omniscient-complex and lording it over other people). That’s what AROOO has done for me after I became disenchanted by the “Third Wave” feminist, liberal blogosphere. I wasn’t the only one who had these more radical thoughts when it came to women’s liberation. And truth transcends the very artificial parameters of “intellectual property rights”, as TBL and Mary so brilliantly put it. Truth is not a corporate commodity for male profit and corruption.

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