Monday, September 6, 2010

Here I am with Mala, at Twin Oaks...

As announced previously, we will be doing a motherhood issue. Partly this issue, which had as its genesis a panel on kick-ass mothers in sf at Wiscon, was revitalized by my discovery of Mala's 96 pp. thesis done at New College of Florida at the age of 22. Entitled "Post Gender Parenting: Reproduction and Childrearing in Feminist Science Fiction," the whole idea, she explains was "what parenting would be like without genders, or beyond genders." I was inspired to include one of our initial initiatives, which was to write about how the ideas we follow in the sf genre pan out in reality as well.

I discovered she had written such a thesis which applied ideas of feminist theorists to sf writing under the direction of Miriam Wallace, who supervised her, but did not herself specialize in science fiction, when going on a walk around the perimeters of Twin Oaks (, a community I have been visiting over the years and where my teenager was living for the summer on her own. Mala told me she had written her thesis on this topic when she discovered I was editing a feminist sf journal. Having given me a copy, I read it with complete absorption. Subsequently, I wondered how she felt about the theories and issues she discussed back then, having had the opportunity to live the ideas she had read about by now.

Her thesis, which we will publish either in whole or in part, covers such topics as Boundless Nurture Vs Benign Neglect: The All-Female Societies of Herland and Motherlines; Erasing Difference, Overcoming Dualism: The Hermaphrodite Societies of Sturgeon and Le Guin; Reproductive Equality in Marge Piercy and John Varley, and genetic and social engineering in Sherri Tepper and Doris Lessing.

Mala Ghoshal, age 35, has lived on Twin Oaks, an intentional community in Louisa, VA, for ten years. She and her partner of 16 years are the parents of  Zadek, almost 5, and Samir, age 1 and a half. I am interviewing her in her gorgeous spacious room with a view of the woods and a deck in the "SLG" which stands for a small living group building in the community.  Her small living group includes 11 people, including four kids and seven adults. Each has his or her own room, except in this community, the pronoun "co" is often substituted for "his" or "her." We each had to schedule in an hour in our labor sheets to arrange this meeting.

Q: Can you tell me what theorists you chose to use in this thesis and why?

M:  I chose to focus on three feminist theorists writing in the seventies and early eighties:  Shulamith Firestone, Mary O'Brien, and Adrienne Rich.

Q:Why did you focus on these three, and which of their ideas did you find most relevant for how you have lived your life raising your children outside of a nuclear family structure in the community you live in today?

M: Even though I went to college in the mid-nineties, I was very interested in and identified strongly with second-wave feminism and wanted to draw attention to second-wave theorists. Firestone and O'Brien talked more about biology and Rich more about social structures, so her work is most relevant to raising children in a context other than a nuclear family.

Q: What drew you to the second wave theorists, and do you identify yourself as part of the "third wave?" Why or why not?

 M:   I liked the second wave's focus on very tangible issues:  pay equity, violence against women.  When I was in college "psychoanalytic feminism" was the hip thing and I was impatient with that. I felt like we hadn't yet won the struggles the second wave had initiated.  I  felt like, when violence against women is a thing of the past and women are getting paid as much as men, then maybe I'll be interested in reading about feminist appropriations of Freud. I've always been a little skeptical of the term "third wave."

Q: Well, we could keep having discussions about theory, because this is so interesting, but can you tell me more about why you moved to Twin Oaks? Was the opportunity of raising children outside a nuclear family structure part of the draw?

A.  Definitely.  I was also drawn here for economic reasons:  I liked the idea of living in a Marxist society, where the workers own the means of production; where there isn't an owning class and a producing class; where we say, "From each according to cos ability, to each according to cos needs."  We also live out the Marxist ideal of not being tied to one job; I can be a  gardener in the morning, a tofu maker in the afternoon, a librarian in the evening.

And I was drawn to the ideal of living in a community that was tribe-sized, manageable, 100 people who all know each other and are connected to one another and feel responsibility toward one another.

Look for further interviews in the special issue on motherhood on how she felt reading this thesis later, and in particular, how she found the ideas from theory and fiction worked out in practice when raising children in an alternative structure. Look also for an interview with Elsa, a mother of two living in the same community.

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