Monday, January 23, 2017

Feminism: or the right to be cleaned up after

Having seen some footage of signs and speeches (Ashley Judd!) from the women's marches around the world two days ago on January 21, I have some thoughts about feminism. I have had a long, ongoing relationship with the concept of feminism. I have interacted with many versions of it, and think I have finally come to what I think is feminism's most important message for me: it means the right to be cleaned up after.

I know this sounds lazy, but I assure you that to me is it profound. There are many iterations of feminism from the (very small minority) man-hating to the (very first wave) protecting women's basic rights to everything in between. While I do support the very public act of supporting women's issues, especially in the eyes of formal institutions like laws or economic privileges, the kind of feminism I am passionate about enacting takes place in the most private spaces: the home, within relationships, and in culture.

To illustrate my point, I am posting here a little story I read to my sociology 101 students when we get to the chapter on gender:

Conversation between a husband (H) and a psychologist (P):
Q: what do you do for a living Mr. Rogers?
H: I work as an accountant in a bank.
P: Your wife?
H: She doesn't work. She's a housewife.
Q: Who makes breakfast for your family?
H: My wife, because she doesn't work
Q: What time does your wife wake?
H: She wakes up early because it has to be organised. She organizes the lunch for the children, ensures that they are well-dressed and combed, if they had breakfast, if they brush their teeth and take all their school supplies. She wakes with the baby and changes diapers and clothes. Breastfeeds and makes snacks as well.
Q: How do your children get to school?
H: My wife takes them to school, because she doesn't work.
P: After taking their children to school, what does she do?
H: Usually takes a while to figure something out that she can do while she is out, so she doesn't have to pack and unpack the carseat too many times, like drop off bills or to make a stop at the supermarket. Sometimes she forgets something and has to make the trip all over again, baby in tow. Once back home, she has to feed the baby lunch and breastfeed again, get the baby's diaper changed and ready for a nap, sort the kitchen and then will take care of laundry and cleaning of the house. You know, because she doesn't work.
P: In the evening, after returning home from the office, what are you doing?
H: Rest, of course. Well, I'm tired after working all day in the bank.
Q: What does your wife do at night?
H: She makes dinner, serves my children and I, washes the dishes, orders once more the house, makes sure the dog is put away as well as any left over dinner. After helping children with HW she gets them prepared to sleep in pajamas and the baby is in fresh diapers, gives warm milk, verifies they brush their teeth. Once in bed she wakes frequently to continue to breastfeed and possibly change a diaper if needed while we rest. Because she doesn't have to get up for work.

Somebody asked her...
You are a woman who works or is it just "housewife"??
She replied:
I work as a wife of the home, 24 hours a day..
I am a mother,
I am a woman,
I am a daughter,
I'm the alarm clock,
I'm the cook,
I'm the maid,
I am the master,
I'm the bartender,
I'm the babysitter,
I'm a nurse,
I am a manual worker,
I'm a security officer,
I'm the advisor,
I am the comforter,
I don't have a vacation,
I don't have a licence for disease.
I don't have a day off
I work day and night,
I'm on duty all the time,
I do not receive salary and...
Even so, I often hear the phrase:
" but what do you do all day?"

So, feminism for me starts at this basic level of human interaction. It is the right to say 'I'm tired' and to be cleaned up after. To be taken care of, rather than taking care. It is the work that needs to be done to start equal rights, in my humble opinion. How do these leaders grow up and get the idea that women are worth less? It starts in their home. When they see their mama doing all of the above while the papa sits and relaxes. We all have a right to relax, to leave dishes dirty, to have a mind free from the invisible workload of keeping everything organized in the household. 

What does enacting this kind of feminism look like? It looks like a bunch of micro-interactions about dishes, childcare, laundry. It looks like leaving things dirty until they're cleaned up. It means not being the one who packs the diaper bag every time. It is doing these things free of guilt or anxiety (something I am working on constantly -- the guilt or anxiety has been placed there over years of socialization that this is a woman's duty). It is akin to the work in the previous post about tolerating discomfort (in being closer to nature). And it's hard to do. To re-make culture is a necessary and complicated way to revolutionize our world, to prepare for a future in which sexes are equal and we all live closer to the earth. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

repatterning civilization in Uruguay

I write this post sitting outside and a little green bug keeps jumping to different points of my body. It's annoying, but important, that I tolerate this little insect. A friend recently visited us here in Uruguay. She said, "I am going to have to get used to the heat. In the summer I move from air conditioned house to air conditioned train to air conditioned office." It is indeed an important (and unsustainable) part of our modern existence that we are alienated from nature. I don't mean this in the lofty sense. I mean it in a very practical one. We don't feel weather, we don't see bugs, our feet never get dirty, we never feel our skin respond to changes in temperature and humidity (unless in our outfitted, planned excursions to the gym). All that is different for us here in Uruguay, and it is the first step in getting close to nature, rather than trying to constantly defeat it.

I am on a listseve of what you might call environmental academics, and in a recent email chain a man named Ruben Nelson said the following:

To me what is most important... is [the] sense that the root patterns of our consciousness, cultures and form of civilization need to be re-conceived/re-patterned/reinvented.  That is, we need to re-pattern/reinvent the imagination by which we organize all of our experience, inside and out, including our formal organizations.  It is this wider, longer, deeper, more integral and more reflexive point, that we in the Modern/Industrial west are missing and resist.  We desperately want to "solve our problems" one piece at a time without having to even see, let alone think about and transform our unconsciously inherited Modern/Industrial patterns of consciousness, culture and forms of civilization.
We want sustainable forms of organization without having to pay the price of personal/cultural/civilizational transformation.  In Bonhoeffer's terms, we want cheap grace.  It was always thus.  Tragically, if we do not pay the price of a truly humane and sustainable future, we will not co-create one.
And to repeat the guts of my earlier post, the above is news that, at least to date, we in the Modern/Industrial West as well as most of the rest, are unwilling and, therefore unable, to see/hear.
In my view, developing the capacities -- personal, organizational, societal

-- to see, and undertake this wider and deeper civilizational-scale work is the most pressing issue of our day.  One cannot deal with a living complex human system one piece at a time.  But, bless us, we do try.

I see what we are doing here as the work of that personal cultural transformation that is so desperately needed if we (as a species? civilization? I am not sure exactly what form I mean) is going to survive. So, we learn how to live with imperfection, to tolerate the bugs and the sounds of birds and sweeping the leaves that are constantly dropping. To let your daughter play with the washed up sticks and stones on the beach (and to deal with a beach that hasn't been combed by the municipality). To feel the weather and be impacted by it ('run! get the clothes off the line!' is certainly something new to me).  To sweat and smell and do outdoor work. To work your day around the hot sun. To live life in the rhythms of a place. To make decisions based on the wind (can we swim at the beach today or are the waves too big?) or the clouds, or the hour of the day. It sounds dreamy, but when you are used to being immune to all of these considerations, it takes work to readjust. It is the work we are committed to doing - re-organizing our experience in a way the befits the impending future.