A feminist revolution

The other day I stumbled on a Kid Oakland diary titled for a women’s century that I had initially read almost 2 1/2 years ago, but has even more relevance to me today.

Here’s a few highlights.

…I think the feminist values of context, consensus and community will form the crux of how feminism will help move our society from one based, essentially, on war and greed…those twin obsessions of the the militarized state…to one based on sustainability and mutuality, on democratic community and interdependence on all levels. As we can see from around the globe, the current wave of feminism is very much about “fact-based” and “reality-based” pragmatism; the world powers must see that and understand it. This is a project as bold and necessary as any yet undertaken in our short history on this planet, even if, at the end of the day, it won’t look like ‘revolutions’ past.

Men throughout our history have priveleged a kind of rhetoric for change that is essentially full of machismo. Without dismissing the validity and heroism of previous sturggles for change, it is essential that we envision the possibility of a different kind of struggle, a different, and perhaps, more pragmatic way of making progressive change. Motherhood, femininity, and womanhood represent a direct connection to a kind of continuity, a sense of connectedness that for women is simply not abstract. It is those values we see in the worldwide movement for women’s empowerment. Continuity and connectedness are not ‘known traits’ of most previous movements for change, which privilege seismic shifts and dramatic breaks…It is high time that feminism and women’s empowerment help us look at the bigger picture and move our politics into one of making long term change based on a long term vision.

The interesting thing is that this was Kid Oakland’s response to the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. And here we are today with another opening on the court being discussed. Here’s what Obama said about the kind of person he would be looking for to fill that vacancy.

Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice (David) Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president, so I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

This isn’t the first time that Obama has addressed what he sees as priorities for a Supreme Court Justice. Here’s what he said in a speech to Planned Parenthood in July 2007.

I also think it’s important to understand that there is nothing wrong in voting against [judicial] nominees who don’t appear to share a broader vision of what the constitution is about. I think the Constitution can be interpreted in so many ways. And one way is a cramped and narrow way in which the Constitution and the courts essentially become the rubber stamps of the powerful in society.

And then there’s another vision of the court that says that the courts are the refuge of the powerless, because oftentimes they may lose in the democratic back-and-forth. They may be locked out and prevented from fully participating in the democratic process.<…>

You know, Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire. But the issues that come before the court are not sport. They’re life and death. And we need somebody who’s got the heart to recogni– the empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young, teenaged mom; the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.

As a matter of fact, as has been demonstrated by the folks at Progressive Spirit, Obama has been talking about empathy for a long time now. They have produced a video that documents the history of Obama talking about our “empathy deficit” and why its so important to correct that imbalance.

So as I hear all of the talk and controversy about Obama’s focus on empathy as a primary charactaristic for a Supreme Court nominee, I can’t help but think of the pragmatic change movement Kid Oakland described as the foundation for a “women’s century” based on context, continuity, and connectedness. It’s a perfect example of the slow steady righting of the ship that Obama has been steering all along. But because it happens without the seismic shifts and dramatic breaks, we too often fail to recognize it as a revolution.


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    • kj on May 3, 2009 at 17:21

    i am so fortunate to work with a woman who is another old hippie.  she is adept at disguising herself, much more so than i am, (she has spent her entire adult life in corporate), so it has taken awhile for her to open up.  but when she has, what a gift!  she is hysterically funny.  she is also tough as nails.  and deeply empathetic.  (her children are mixed-ethnic)

    this last week, as we’ve both pondered our helplessness in the face of a company merger that may toss many of us out on the street, she told me a story about the day she stood up in a meeting and told off her supervisor.  she’d sat there, quiet, listening, and then stood up and said, “You know what? You’re nothing but a lying snake in the grass.”  now, anyone who’s spent any time in a corporate environment knows what a ballsy action that was for a single mother with no degree and the prospect of hitting the street for speaking ‘truth to power.’   i told her about the epic (in my mind) confrontation in Walmart with the farmers re: Katrina and my telling my boss her logic and editorial made no sense.  we laughed ourselves silly at our bravery (ie, temper.)

    there is a power in powerlessness.  if i could find the words and the essence of that, i’d certainly try and write about it.

    • kj on May 3, 2009 at 18:02

    so many stories of strong, empathetic, women, as i know you know, have read, have listened to, NL. and the fact of seeing the model of what i would call an evolving male in our White House, as opposed to the aptly nicknamed “Chimp” who squatted there for eight years, is a fascinating process for some of us.  he is a man in partnership, a man who has spent his life exploring partnership.  no, i don’t know anymore than anyone else what that is going to look like.  andy more than what might have become reality had Sadat, with is fascinating wife and partner, Jehan, lived.

    but i do think that what is in front of us is an opportunity, if nothing else, to grow into the next step of male/female partnership. but then, you know, that’s a passion of mine.  🙂

    • kj on May 3, 2009 at 18:46

    i just won’t shut up.   😀

    it’s like noticing the reaction when a woman, in essence, says to a man, “Yeah, okay, I’ll consider you my equal.”  


    that threatens not only some men, but some women, as well.  my answer to that is a stereotypical male response, “Tough shit”  with a stereotypical female smile.  No need to go all ballastic, no need to be supportive just to be seen as “one of,” but be.  and take no leveling ‘down’ from anyone.

    thank god/goddess for my father, the old patriarch.  he taught me so much, because to him, i was a son, not a daughter; and for my mother, who took no shit from the old patriarch and could argue her point as well, if not better, than he could.

  1. ha ha.  Have had about 9 gazillion thoughts as I read the Essay then rj’s wonderful comment stream.

    I too am somewhat less articulate (and linkless) and more intuitive on all this, today anyway.

    One thing, that is in my mind, hovering, has been for a few months, but I have yet to connect the dots, or do any decent research really… is the Iroquois & Six Nations stuff I got interested in a bit ago…. specifically in terms of governing. Their focus on “consensus” and Councils… the way they had it worked it out, perfect if you ask me. And certain VITAL components of it got left out when USA Founders took on some of the democracy concepts from it.  

    Men, Council, Women Above Council somehow (I forget). Matriarchal system though. But just now, reading this, a little light bulb went off, and I thought OH! Supreme Court!! Yes! So now Im deciding that the Supreme Court should be all women! lol, kidding. Hard to explain, but it doesnt have to be literal male/female. ya know? Just more the yin/yang.

    okay on to some more.

    • kj on May 3, 2009 at 19:48

    who writes on this topic as well.  it would be great if she were here right now, too.

    ah well.  😉

    keep leading the ponies, NL.  i think they’re drinking, just not posting.   hee.

  2. The thing is, I dont consider myself a “feminist”. Im more a humanist, if I must assume some label.

    When I was in college, in my studies, I was fortunate to have some pretty terrific teachers. My Major was Cultural Anthro, but I had sort of an unofficial minor in Art History, non western stuff. But back in those days, there wasnt much interdisciplinary,  “official”,  like they have nowzadays.

    Anyway, there are some inherent things, we look to identify and classify things, and duality is pretty obvious, esp in terms of male/female. But I prefer more the yin/yang, although Ive never studied much in that direction.

    There was some very cool stuff in Yoruba (West Africa) art/culture… with numbers. As I recall… SEVEN is a very magical powerful #, well for many,  but for them, it was symbolic… four = female (two breast + two ovaries) and three = male (self explanatory I hope), so you have 7. I always thought that was kinda cool.

    Just thought this, sheesh, my daughter has recently informed me that she has determined that FOURTEEN is “her” number. It is her day of birth and also my mom’s. Hmmm.

    • rb137 on May 3, 2009 at 20:11

    my seven year old asked, “Why do people go straight for bad when they want power?”

    I am an intrepid feminist. But I don’t think the solution is to replace a macho social system with a macha one. We all have a balance of these things inside ourselves, and — as you say here — it is by correcting the empathy deficit that we can begin to correct the imbalance between feminine and masculine in the world today.

    And I don’t know how to answer my daughter just yet.  

  3. As Holy Water is to Vampires.

    It threatens their very existence.

    • kj on May 4, 2009 at 19:01

    i made a mistake coming back here.

    the sorrow for that is on me.

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