Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Second Innocence

Innocence n. 1. the quality of state of being innocent; freedom from sin or moral wrong. 2. freedom from legal or specific wrong; guiltlessness. 3. simplicity; absence of guile or cunning; naiveté. 4. lack of knowledge or understanding. 5. harmlessness; innocuousness. 6. chastity.


Since the story of Eve and the apple, or perhaps since the myth of Pandora and the freeing of all the evils of the world, the idea of innocence has been linked with ignorance linguistically as well as ideologically, particularly for women. Greeks, Romans, and Christians, whatever disputes they might have harbored, all agreed that women were originally responsible for all pain, sorrow, and tragedy in the world and maintained that an innocent woman was one who lacked knowledge and was free of curiosity. Even as our societies changed in other ways, the ideas of purity and passivity have remained intrinsically linked for women. Both the “natural” virtue of women as well as their “natural” corruptibility have been used by our societies as excuses to keep us silent, powerless, and out of the public sphere.

Yet, thanks to the bravery and activeness of our mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers, the western world has recently become a much freer place for females. Suffrage, the freedom to wed the men of our own choosing, the opportunity to gain an education, and the ability to contribute to society in the way of our choosing are all fairly recent gains. Now that our time has come to work to improve the societies in which we live for our daughters, many of us struggle with the more subtle sexist issues that remain embedded in our society, and even in our own psyches. As we put the final strokes on a new image of femininity, one free of the idea that we must be virginal to be virtuous and powerless to be pure, we must decide what of our ancestors’ view of femininity remains true and what must be re-written. Questions about what it means to be a woman in the west find their way into all arenas of public and private life as we redefine antiquated ideas of dress, professionalism, sex, love, and family. It is to the search for valid answers to all these questions that we dedicate this blog.

We begin with the affirmation of a second kind of innocence, one divorced from the idea of ignorance. An innocence that does not find its basis in a lack of experience, but in an acceptance of our triumphs and failures, an understanding of our own motivations, and in a dedication to improving that understanding and bettering the world for ourselves and each other. As we accept our role as shapers of our own societies, we must not think of ourselves as made guilty through our passion for knowledge and power, but made worthy by our understanding and experience.