Grange Copeland, a Feminist

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Alice Walker knows how to craft a tale that shows so many feminist elements. What is impressive is that she did this with her first novel at the age of 21.

For our online feminist book club discussion, I was the first one to pick our novel to read. I’ve been wanting to finish reading Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland for years. I kept picking up the novel…starting it and not reading it the entire way. However, I am glad that I stuck with it this time because it is a phenomenal read!!

Today, I finished it, and it took my breath away. Not only it has many truths ring brilliantly that are brought center stage, but Walker does something that a writer has never did to me before. She evoked a multitude of emotions from which provoked me to examine certain aspects of what feminism is concerning the main character and his family. Here’s what the novel is about first and foremost.

The Third Life of Grange Copeland is an African American saga about a black family, the Copelands. The novel reveals to us the main protagonist, Grange Copeland, is quite unhappy with his life. Grange’s depression results from being a sharecropper. His existence or his identity is owned by the owner of the land who he share crops from. For Grange, his life is non-existent. Being oppressed by the white owner gives him no hope. Grange’s depression turns into rage and he neglects neglect his family. Eventually, he abandons them. Once abandoned, his wife, Margaret, commits suicide with her bastard baby, and his son, Brownfield, leaves and heads up North to look for his father.

The results are devastatingly astounding. Brownfield is unable to get passed his father’s uncaring behavior and abandonment. Brownfield’s years of resentment at Grange proves fatal. Brownfield has a family of his own that he treats horrifically. Brownfield also falls into the same kind of oppressive work his father did—sharecropping. Along with his existing resentment towards his father and sharecropping oppressing him, Brownfield physically, emotionally, verbally, and mentally abuses his family. As the novel progresses, his abuse becomes so bad that he shoots his wife in the face and kills her—leaving his three daughters motherless and fatherless (Brownfield ends up going to jail for several years, but due to the abuse of his wife and his daughters and his daughters being split up, his family is completely destroyed).

Grange takes Ruth, the youngest child, and cares for her. In a remarkable transformation, Grange is a positive parental figure to Ruth that he could not be with Brownfield. This is because Grange’s experiences from his journey to the North impacts his life. He is able to care for Ruth. Through that caring, he is able to give Ruth the necessary guidance and love to sustain herself and break the Copeland cycle of neglect and abuse.

I consider Grange Copeland a feminist. Why is Grange Copeland a feminist?

For starters, Grange Copeland is a feminist because:

1) He teaches Ruth in how to be independent.

Grange does not hold back in teaching Ruth how to become independent: “Nothing move him to repent of his independent method of raising her” (207).  In the novel, Grange continues to encourage Ruth to read, “Free to play in the cabin they built far back in the words, free to read comics and books Grange cunningly stole from the white library. . .” (195). Due to Ruth reading and becoming educate, Grange does not prohibit her for learning or gaining knowledge. He encourages it because “His one duty in the world was to prepare Ruth for some great and herculean task, some magnificent and deadly struggle, some harsh and foreboding reality” (207). Even when Grange gives Ruth the money he has saved for her to sustain herself, he tells her: “You go to the bank first thing in the morning” (219) even though he drives her there. Yet, I suspect she has to deposit the money because she will be the one, after he passes away, to withdraw the money when she needs or wants it. Grange has also taught her to do other activities for herself like driving, grocery shopping, etc:  “He had already taught her to drive, and now, it became her duty to drive into town to do the shopping, confronting for the first time, alone, the whites who owned and ran the town. Grange’s plan was to teach her everything he knew. Already, he liked to boast, ‘Your aim’s a heap better than mine!’” (220).

For an older male grandparent to teach his granddaughter how to become independent during times where patriarchy is violently enforced is mind blowing. When examining how Grange treated women in his past to how he treats Ruth is in itself astounding. The message I get from the novel is that “an old dog can learn new tricks”—especially tricks that will help break the cycle within his or her family. In contrast to Brownfield, yes, Grange did not teach his son to be independent and encourage educations to promote independent thinking. Yet, to Grange’s credit, he teaches his granddaughter to be armed with knowledge, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance. For a black man who has received oppression from whites and had low self-esteem, Grange, on his own journey, does not continue to influence his blood relatives to their own destruction. With Ruth, he teachers her the same as he would if she was his grandson.

2) He takes responsibility for how he hurt others in the past.

I believe a part of feminism is knowing that you are self-aware about who you are. That means taking responsibility for the misdeeds or disservices that you’ve done to others and how you have treated them. In order for someone to promote equality, he or she must realize how he or she has oppressed others or himself/herself of the same equalities (rights/privileges).

In the scene where Grange, Ruth, Brownfield, and Josie encounter each other, Grange speaks about his wrongdoings and how one must be accountable for his actions. He particularly speaks to Ruth, but I also believe he is speaking to Brownfield indirectly as well:

“By George, I know the danger of putting all the blame on somebody else for the mess you make out of your life. I feel into the trap myself! And I’m bound to believe that that’s the way the white folks can corrupt you even when you done held up before. ‘Cause when they got you thinking that they’re to blame for everything they have you thinking they’ve some kind of gods! You can’t do nothing wrong without them behind it. You gits just as weak as water, no feeling of doing nothing yourself. Then you begins to think up evil and begins to destroy everybody around you, and you blames it on the crackers. Shit! Nobody’s as powerful as we make them out to be. We got our own souls, don’t we? (212-213).

There are many passages like this one where Grange admits responsibility for causing his family hurt. A part of being a feminist is identifying how you’ve oppressed others and caused them pain. Grange does that. He admits to how he caused his wife and his son pained. But he also points out that Brownfield can no longer blame anyone for making choices to hurt other people as well. Even Brownfield can no longer blame Grange for the choices he has made in how he hurt Brownfield. Grange tells Ruth this:

“ ‘Your daddy’s done taught me something I didn’t know about blame and guilt,’ he said. ‘You see, I figure he could blame a good part of his life on me; I didn’t offer him no directions and, he thought, no love. But when he became a man himself, with his own opportunity to righten the wrong I done him by being good to his own children, he had a chance to become a real man, a daddy in his own right. That was the time should of just forgot about what I done to him—and to his ma. But he messed up with his children, his wife and his home, and never yet blamed hisself. And never blaming hisself done made him weak. He no longer have to think beyond me and the white folks to get to the root of all his problems. Damn, if thinking like that ain’t made noodles out of his brains’” (212).

Grange does what Brownfield cannot do; he is able to admit his own fault and hand in how treated Brownfield. But as I said previously, Brownfield will not admit that he is responsible for murdering Mem, is responsible for abusing his children, and is responsible for allowing his internal rage to consume him in where he hurts his own family…where he has no family.

3) Grange is a feminist because of sacrifice and dedication.

In the ultimate act of redemption and love, Grange sacrifices himself so Ruth can have the chance to break the destructive cycle of the Copeland family. We find out that Brownfield makes good on his promise to take Ruth by stooping to the same level as the “so called white folks he blames” for making him into the monster he is. He convinces Judge Harry to rule in favor of him having custody of Ruth since she is still a minor (sixteen). When Judge Harry rules that Ruth return to Brownfield, Grange shoots Brownfield, and he and Ruth flee back to their farm.

While running to the car, Ruth tells Grange, “We don’t have a chance.” (247). But Grange corrects her, “I ain’t. […], but you do” (247).

Grange and Ruth arrive on the farm where the police catch up with him and shoot him. While he is dying, the narrator reveals: “He had been shot and felt the blood spreading under his shirt. He did not want Ruth to see. Other than that he was not afraid. He did not even hear the rustle of footsteps creeping nearer.

‘Oh, you poor thing, you poor thing,’ he murmured finally, desolate, but also for the sound of a human voice, bending over to the ground and then rearing back, rocking himself in his own arms to a final sleep” (248).

In raising Ruth and making sure that she is financially secure and able to have the life she chooses, Grange sacrifices his freedom and his life when he kills Brownfield. He knows that Brownfield will hurt Ruth badly…or even kill her. He will either murder her spirit or her physically…or do both. Just like Brownfield broke Meme and murdered her. Grange cannot allow that for Ruth is the family member who will break the cycle of hatred, violence, and oppression—not just within the Copeland family but as someone who wants to change the racial barriers between whites and blacks in American society.

When I started reading The Third Life of Grange Copeland, I looked at Grange with such distasteful judgment. How can you like a character who abandons his family and who treats his son and his wife like shit?

Yet, Walker’s storytelling abilities do not fail readers at all. What she does is miraculous. She shows us that someone who has been oppressed, who has abandoned his family, and who has murdered someone can be redeemed. Does it make what Grange did to his family and to others right? No, it does not. Yet, all what he has done for Ruth should not go unnoticed, either.

Due to his interactions with Ruth, due to his inner honesty, due to feeling like he had to kill Brownfield to protect the Copeland legacy in breaking their family’s unhealthy cycle, and due to surrendering himself so his grandbaby could have a chance to have a more equal and fulfilling life, I still say that Grange is a feminist. His actions are a feminist and for that, may his granddaughter never know what it is like to have hate almost destroy you. Grange’s transformation aids in Ruth becoming a feminist. She also has the will to fight for black people to have equal opportunities and rights as well.

Regards,
Sophia

Pack the Punch: Positive Discussions from Awesome Feminists

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A friend and I decided to start an online feminist book club. She and I were discussing Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone where she made comments about the author creating situations for the character that showed fat-shaming. As we went back and forth on our opinions, we realize our positive discussion should go to another level.

I came up with the idea that we began an online Facebook feminist book club to continue our feminist discussions. Once before, another friend and I created an online Google group feminist book club, but it did not work out well. Many of us got busy, and we were unable to discuss our book club selections like we did before.

I wanted to try again because I love discussing books. However, I especially love discussing books about feminism…and everything in particular. One reason why I miss attending college classes is because I miss the discussion. Now, since I am a decade more mature, I can contribute to intellectual discussions better.

What is the benefit in creating a feminist online book club?

For starters, let’s talk about why I decided to create an online feminist book club due to the feminist waves.

I call myself a Generation XYer. I feel like I am in between Generation X and Generation Y. I know all the ways of most typical Generation Xers. Most Generation Xers are characterized as being independent due to most of our parents working. Even though I come from a poor working, welfare family, my behaviors I characterize as being Generation X behaviors. I am quite independent and resourceful. Pretty much, I like figuring things out myself the majority of the time. I use a lot of common sense as well. I also want to maintain the history of certain methods that I’ve learned from my parents and others who are the same peer age as them (learning about history, learning to write well, proving to others that I am skillful and resourceful).

But I am also a part of Generation Y. In elementary school, my peers and I were introduced to technology…using computers. We would usually, go weekly or bi-weekly, to a Mac computer lab (when Apple products began to really take off in new ways) to do arithmetic. We also started becoming aware of the emergence of technology and how fast it started evolving. The majority of us have embraced it because many of us utilize it in our daily lives.

Where does feminist fit in with being a Generation XYer? Well, I am also a part of Third Wave and Fourth Wave Feminism.

Third wave feminism particularly deals with:

First, third‐wavers emphasize that because they are a new generation, they necessarily have to have their own distinctive version of feminism: “We are the first generation for whom feminism has been entwined in the fabric of our lives; it is natural that many of us are feminists. … This country hasn’t heard enough from young feminists. We’re here, and we have a lot to say about our ideas and hopes and struggles and our place within feminism” (Findlen 2006, 6–7, 9). While many second‐wavers bemoan the invisibility of feminism among young women, Baumgardner and Richards assert that “feminism is out there, tucked into our daily acts of righteousness and self‐respect. … For our generation feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice that we have it—it’s simply in the water” (2000, 17). Unlike their mothers’ generation, who had to prove themselves, third‐wavers consider themselves entitled to equality and self‐fulfillment—“the legacy of feminism for me was a sense of entitlement” (Findlen 2006, 6)—even as they recognize continuing injustices.

Third‐wavers want their own version of feminism that addresses their different societal contexts and the particular set of challenges they face. For example, young women today face a world colonized by the mass media and information technology, and they see themselves as more sophisticated and media savvy than feminists from their mothers’ generation. A lot of third‐wave literature emphasizes the importance of cultural production and critique, focusing particular attention on female pop icons, hip‐hop music, and beauty culture, rather than on traditional politics per se.Bitch, for example, advocates “thinking critically about every message the mass media sends; it’s about loudly articulating what’s wrong and what’s right with what we see” (Jervis 2006b, 263). In the newly published bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of “Bitch” Magazine, the editors argue that “anyone who protests that a focus on pop culture distracts from ‘real’ feminist issues and lacks a commitment to social change needs to turn on the TV—it’s a public gauge of attitudes about everything from abortion … to poverty … to political power. … The world of pop culture is … the marketplace of ideas” (Jervis and Zeisler 2006, xxi–xxii). (http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/588436) from What Is Third Wave Feminism: A New Direction Essay by R. Claire Sydner

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It is true; I do possess a certain entitlement, but it is the entitlement of busting my ass and expecting rewards for busting my ass for I’ve taken advantage of many of opportunities that have came my way in the 32 years I’ve been so far. However, because I was raised in a poor working welfare family, the type of survival skill set I have has let me also realized that entitlement can vanish like cotton candy quickly in your mouth.

Yet, I am also part of being fourth wave, the new wave, which is how social media is being used as another tool for good and for evil. The way I define fourth wave feminism is that:

1) The way feminists are communicating for one. We are fully fledged into the technological world now. We have advanced Smart phones that are mini-laptops basically, and we have tablets now. It is not just desktops and laptops now. We have tech devices that fit in the palm of our hands…and in the back pocket of our jeans. The way we read…is different now. Instead of lugging around ten books in my back pack, I just need a few tablets with thousands of books at my disposal.

Instead of communicating on my telephone at my office or my cell phone, I can text you, email you, or Skype you. If you look at all the waves, look at the communication of all the waves. This is one of the differences between the waves. Third wavers communicate by using the media to their advantage. Yet, now, fourth wavers can communicate by these advanced devices…and WEBSITES. Our media has involved into social media. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are the ways we communicate with each other primarily now. And the upcoming generations…Y and Z have embraced this communication. In order for feminists to keep our eyes on the prize, we all must embrace these new ways of communication.

2) The issues:

Fourth wavers issues are social media…and media itself. No, we still have the old issues from the other waves (like women having it all, like women being educated, like women trying to be working mothers, like women trying to have equalitarian relationships, etc.) , but because of our advancements on how we communicate, we have new issues arise. Our news reportings…well, celebrity news has dominated news entirely. We know more about celebrity lives because most websites are bombarded with news about their lives. Due to knowing about their lives, viewers and readers are starting to see in full front the feminist politics of the entertainment business and how it has treated women for a very long time. We are also seeing beauty standards becoming worse because the online media is bombarding all of us with celebrities getting into shape, glamorizing “baby bumps,” and how celebrities look great or terrible with their sense of appearance and clothing style.

3) The type of entitlement that exists: What also defines fourth wave feminism is the entitlement card. There are many young women I see who feel entitled because they went to a good school and graduated from a good college that they will instantly get a job. I also see with many young women believing that they will have everything. Job security, children, and a devoted husband…and great friends. Since entering my thirties, I thought that I could have it all, too. Maybe that’s passed on from third wave feminists. From our second wavers, we believed that we should fight to have everything. Yet, I certainly believe that some feminists or even women…believe that. In my twenties, I thought that I would have everything as well. Yet, it did not happen that way. I discovered that women cannot have everything at once. And sometimes, due to education and how you plan things, you sometimes don’t get everything in your life time. It can be a difficult lesson for a feminist to swallow, but I had to swallow it…and the truth that went down my throat was rough. However, the burn lessen and lessen as I realize that we all pay a price for experience for it gives us wisdom. The reason why I wanted to start an online book club again because I will always be an educator no matter what kind of job I do. As an educator, you have to get with the times in order to reach the students. How are you supposed to communicate with them if you can’t even relate to them? It is the same thing with feminism. As we move forward, social media is here to stay. If you are resistant in using it, then, you are stunting your purpose…your calling. An online feminist book club is helping my friend and me with the times. We want to continue to have feminist discussions about literature. We want to connect those thoughts. You never ever stop learning wisdom. Wisdom is the key to spiritual success and a liberating life. Wisdom empowers us to help ourselves so we can help others. Already, our online feminist book club has taught us the power of what we know with experience. We are discussing Alice Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland. After reading that novel, it made a strong impact in making me realize who I am. The novel communicates feminist and existential elements to me that I’ve been searching for…and a found many answers in this novel. I will be writing an essay about it as well. Our feminist online book club has already achieved what I’ve been searching for… Self-realizations and lessons about myself. And the continuing thirst for being an activist and making a different in my community…and myself.

Cheers, Sophia

What Is This Business about the “Flemminist Wave” & “Common Sense Feminism”?

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A Conversation Between the Sophia’s

Inner child Sophia: “I hate it when people are treated badly. I hate it when I get treated differently than other kids. I hate it when people want let me decide if I want to wear a red shirt or a blue shirt. I hate it! I hate!”

Outer adult Sophia: “I strongly oppose injustice. Injustice causes many distress. All throughout my life, I’ve seen great people get treated unequally or unfairly due to their skin color, their politics, their gender, their sex, their age, and what class they are in. I’ve felt oppression from racism, sexism, and elitism. All these “isms” have to do with politics involving in them. As a grown up now, I still fight these issues/concerns on some levels, but adult Sophia can do a lot more to make sure that she is not treated well…and can help others who need and want her in the process.”

I’ve been doing online blogging since 2001, and I’ve been journaling since I was in 10th grade. I’ve always written about my personal life; however, I started writing essays throughout college to improve my writings…and since graduate school, I’ve been practicing and honing in on how to craft my essay skills better. Since my college years, I’ve labeled myself as a feminist. It is until recently I started to think about what kind of feminist I am. There are many different types of feminists because feminism within itself is very specific. You have black feminists and womanists, chicana feminists, liberal feminists, anarch feminists, social and Marxist feminists, radical feminists, cultural feminists, separatists and lesbian feminists, multiracial feminists, postcolonial feminists, third-world feminists, standpoint feminists, Libertarian feminists, post-structural feminists, postmodern feminists, French feminists, environmental feminists, and transfeminists. In some sense, I am hugely some of these types of feminists while I am a little bit of each in others. A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to label myself under all these feminisms…and call myself a “common sense feminist.”

How would I define a common sense feminist? A common sense feminist, for me, is a feminist who uses her intellect, her smarts, her empathy, and sympathy to sort out issues that bother her or moments that should be celebrated for her and all. A common sense feminist also has wisdom to know not to make mistakes…and when she does, she actually learns from her mistakes. A common sense feminist will fight the good fight, and then, stop when the good fight isn’t fightable anymore. What does mean for blogging about it?

For a few years now, I’ve been thinking about how I want to solidified my feminist discussions into a focal blog. Well, it all came to me this morning.

Scholars have termed the feminist waves: zero, first, second, third, and fourth wave feminists. Well, can’t a person entitled her own wave in her own life? My feminists writings are characterized by me. I am the one who is creating these essays through my eyes by using my experiences, knowledge, and my perceptions on how I see matters. It is only fitting for me to find something that I am beyond comfortable with that describes how I see feminism and what it means to me through the scope of concerns and issues…and positives I see in the feminist movement.

All feminists are their own waves. The way we all see things is what matters. We may not always agree, but we respectfully agree to disagree. It is okay to be different, and it is okay not to always agree. The most important aspect is to always be respectful, support, and understand where we all coming from.

Most of all, we need to understand who we are and what believe in.
Regards,
Sophia