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steinem - The great strength of feminism—like that of the...

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Unformatted text preview: The great strength of feminism—like that of the black movement here, the Gandhian move- ment in India, and all the organic struggles for self-rule and simple justice—has always been ‘ encouragement for each of us to act, without waiting and theorizing about some future take- l over at the top. It’s no accident that, when some small group does accomplish a momentous top- down revolution, the change seems to benefit only those who made it. Even with the best intentions of giving “power to the peOple,” the revolution is betrayed. Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself. So we ask ourselves: What might a spec- trum of diverse, mutually supportive tactics really look like for us as individuals, for family and community groups, for men who care about equality, for children, and for political movements as a whole? Some actions will al- ways be unique to particular situations and thus unforeseeable. Others will be suited to times of great energy in our lives, and still others will make sense for those who are burnt out and need to know that a time of contemplation and assessment is okay. But here are some that may inspire action, if only to say, “No, that’s © Gloria Steinem, from Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (Holt, Rinehart, 1983}. Re- printed by permission of the author. 278 \g Meantime/7,524, - WA, t<,t;u.t&15f ,. GEM/£21., \ Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions w Gloria Steinem not right. But this is what I choose to do in stead." AS INDIVIDUALS In the early 19705 when I was traveling 3mg lecturing with feminist lawyer and black activist Florynce Kennedy, one of her many Epigrams went like this: “Unity in a movement situation is overrated. If you were the Establishment, which would you rather see coming in home. the door, five hundred mice or one lion?” the W3 Mindful of her teaching, I now often end Petitio lectures with an organizer's deal. If each person local 1 in the room promises that in the twenty—four ' Cheéi hours beginning the very next day she or he will see If do at least one outrageous thing in the cause of :10”: simple justice, then I promise I will, too. It P350 doesn't matter whether the act is as small as suasi, saying, “Pick it up yourself” (a major step for equa‘ those of us who have been our family’s servants) Redi' or as large as calling a strike. rThe point is that, son I if each of us does as promised, we can be pretty SP0“ sure of two results. First, the world one day later bath won't be quite the same. Second, we will have G“ such a good time that we will never again get up une‘ in the morning saying, "Will I do anything out- rageous?” but only "What outrageous act will I do today?" Ma Here are some samples I’ve recorded from the outrageous acts of real life. = Announced a permanent refusal to contribute a more money to a church or synagogue until lWomen too can become priests, ministers, and rabbis IAsked for a long-deserved raise, or, in the case of _ men and/or white folks, refused an undeserved one that is being given over the heads of others because of their race or sex. Written a well-reasoned critique of a sexist or rac- - ist textbook and passed it out on campus. Challenged some bit of woman-hating humor or ( imagery with the seriousness more often reserved for slurs based on religion or race. Shared with colleagues the knowledge of each oth- er’s salaries so that unfairnesses can be calculated. (It‘s interesting that employers try to keep us from telling the one fact we know.) Cared for a child or children so that an over- worked mother could have a day that is her own. ‘ k _ (This is especially revolutionary when done by a ' "" .7. man.) Iridtgzizifitfi Returned to a birth name or, in the case ofa man, . \ '_‘ a, gave his children both parents' names. many EP'g'a‘m- ,_ Left home for a week so that the father of your 'ement Sltuafion " young child could learn to be a parent. (As one ESEabllShmenh , - woman later reported calmly, “When I came ee coming in ) home, my husband and the baby had bonded, just one lion?" the way women and babies do”) Petitioned for a Women’s Studies section in a local library or bookstore. Checked a corporate employer’s giving programs, see if they are really inclusive by benefiting women with at least half oftheir dollars, and made suggestions if not. Personally talked to a politician who needed per- suasion to support, or reward for helping, issues of equality. Redivided a conventional house so that each per- son has a space for which he or she is solely re sponsible, with turns taken caring for kitchen, bathroom, and other shared rooms. Cot married to an equal, or divorced from an unequal. Left a violent lover or husband. Led a walkout from a m0vie that presents rape scenes or other violence as titillating and just fine. Made a formal complaint about working (or liv- ing) in a white ghetto. White people are also be- ing culturally deprived. 9. iy she or he will ’ in the cause of I will, too. i :3» ' is as small as I major step for mily's servantsl ie point is that; re can be pretty rel" again get egg 3 anything out- a,“ Outreous Acts and E ' do Rebellions 279 - Told the truth to a child, or a parent. - Said proudly, “I am a feminist. " {Because this word means a believer in equality, it's especially helpful when said by a man.) - Organized a block, apartment house, or dormi- tory to register and vote. - Personally picketed and/or sued a bigoted em- ployerl' teacher/ athletic coachfforemam'union boss. In addition to one-time outrageous acts, these are also the regular ones that should be the bottom line for each of us: writing five let- ters a week to lobby, criticize, or praise any- thing from TV shows to a senator; giving 10 percent of our incomes to social justice; going to one demonstration a month or one consciousness-raising group a week just to keep support and energy up; and figuring out how to lead our daily lives in a way that re- flects what we believe. People who actually in- corporate such day-by-day changes into their lives report that it isn’t difficult: five lobbying letters can be written while watching “The Late Show"; giving 10 percent of their in- comes often turns out to be the best invest~ ment they ever made; meetings create a free space, friends, and an antidote to isolation; and trying to transform a job or a family or a life-style in order to reflect beliefs, instead of the other way around, gives a satisfying sense of affecting the world. lfeach ofus only reached out and changed five other people in our lifetimes, the spiral of revolution would widen enormously—and we can do much more than that. IN GROUPS Some of the most effective group actions are the simplest: ' Dividing membership lists according to political district, from precinct level up, so we can inform and get out the pro-equality vote. ' Asking each organization we belong to, whether community or professional, union or religious, to 280 Liberal Feminism support issues of equality in their formal agendas. Making sure that the nonfeminist groups we're supporting don‘t have mostly women doing the work and mostly men on their boards. Making feminist groups feminist; that is, relevant to women of the widest diversity of age, race, economics, life-styles, and political labels practi- cal for the work at hand. (An inclusiveness that's best begun among the founders. It’s much tougher to start any group and only later reach out to “others. ”) Offering support where it's needed without being asked—for instance, to the school librarian who’s fighting right-wing censorship of feminist and other books; or to the new Family feeling racially isolated in the neighborhood. (Would you want to have to ask people to help you?) Identifying groups for coalitions and allies for is- sues. Streamlining communications. if there Were an emergency next week—a victim ofdiscrimination who needed defending, a piece of sinister legisla- tion gliding through city council——could your membership be alerted? Putting the group’s money where its heart is, and not where it isn't. That may mean contributing to the local battered women's shelter and protesting a community fund that gives far more to Boy Scouts than to Girl Scouts; or publishing a direc- tory of women-owned businesses; or withholding student-activity fees from a campus program that invites mostly white male speakers. (Be sure and let the other side know how much money they’re missing. To be more forceful, put your contribu- tions in an escrow account, with payment contin- gent on a specific improvement.) Organizing speak-outs and press conferences. There’s nothing like personal testimonies from the people who have experienced the problem first— hand. Giving public awards and dinners to women (and men) who've made a positive difierence. Bringing in speakers or Women's Studies courses to inform your members; running speakers’ bu— reaus so your group’s message gets out to the com- munity. Making sure new members feel invited and wel~ come once they arrive, with old members assigned to brief them and transfer group knowledge. - Connecting with other grou ally or nationally for shared and some insurance agai wheel. Obviously, we must be able to Che appropriate action from a full VOCabuia 08? tics, from voting to civil disobedience ofibc' supporting women in the trades to eco’nom?‘ boycotts and tax revolts, from congressigmc hearings to zap actions with humOr and an ml to the evening news. eye Given the feminization of poverty’ undercapitalized labor force with an uneqm] knowledge of technologyhin other words, a Third World country wherever we are-—We're beginning - to realize that the Horatio AlgeI model of individualistic economic progress doesn't work very well for us. Probably we have more to learn about economic deve10pment from our sisters in coontries recognized as the Third World. Cooperative ownership forms and communal capital formation may be as impor. tant to our future as concepts of equal pay. So far, these experiments have started small: three single mothers who combine chil- dren and resources to buy a house not one of them could afford alone; two women who buy a truck for long-distance hauling jobs; a dozen women who pool their savings to start a bakery or a housecleaning service, or single mothers and feminist architects who transform old build~ ings into new homes. But we're beginning to look at Third World examples of bigger efforts. If the poorest women in rural Kenya can pool their savings for years, buy a bus, make money from passengers, and . build a cooperative store, why can’t we with our greater resources help each other to do the ‘same? If illiterate women in India can found and run their own credit cooperative, thus giv- ing them low-interest loans for the goods they sell in the streets, how dare American women olence society must (l and W evitab‘ their : treatn aggre: degrc can l othe gress tity : hab hel' ” immobilized by a poor economy? It’s also a althy reversal of the usual How of expertise developed to underdeveloped country that .‘ y help feminists build bridges across national I. “15 of condescension and mistrust. Groups d Organizations have been the base of our IJig-oriented, electoral, consciousness-raising, 3;, d direct-action progress. In the future, they hwy be our economic base as well. ‘55 STRATEGISTS i of poverty, hm“ ing another impgr. n underdeveloped 3 with an unequal -in other words, 5 ever we are—we’re the Horatio Algerr economic pIOgress . Probably we have omic development ; recognized as the Nnership forms and I may be as impor- ts of equal pay. rents have started who combine chil- t house not one of women who buya ling jobs; a dozen gs to start a bakery or single mothers .‘ansform old build- ; :we’ve spent the first decade or so of the second -' gave of feminism on the riverbank, rescuing ch other from drowning. In the survival areas pe, battery, and other terrorist violence gainst women, for instance, we’ve begun to _ [ganize help through shelters, hot lines, pres- . sure on police to provide protection, reforms in - social services and legislation, and an insistence ‘ that society stop blaming the victim. Now, some of us must go to the head of the i river and keep the victims from falling in. i i For instance, we can pursue new strategies I ». that have proved effective in treating wife bat- ; I tcrers and other violent men. Such strategies ' ‘7 have been successful precisely because they * came from experiences and feminist insight: vi- olence is an addiction that a male-dominant , society creates by teaching us that “real men” , must dominate and control the world in general I _ and women in particular. When some men in- : evitably become addicted to violence to prove ‘ their masculinity, conventional Freudian-style treatment has only said: “Yes, men are natural aggressors, but you must learn to control the degree. ” That's like telling a drug addict that he can have just a little heroin. Treatment based on experience, on the other hand, says: “No, men are not natural ag- gressors; you must unhook your sense of iden- tify and masculinity from violence, and kick the habit completely." The few such programs that exist have been helpful to batterers, rapists and other violent "H E': )ok at Third World the poorest women r savings for years, In passengers, and Y Can't we with our other to do the I India can found Iperative, thus giv- for the goods they American women Outreous Acrs and Eu do Rebellion; 281 men, criminals, and dangerous citizens who have been judged untreatable precisely because they saw themselves as normal men. This fun- damental challenge to cultural ideas of mascu- linity might also holdvhope for less violent ways of solving conflicts on this fragile Spaceship Earth. That's one of hundreds of futurist exam- ples. There are many other strategies centered around four great goals: reproductive freedom,- work redefined; democratic families; and depo- liticized culture. Clearly, these goals can only be reached a long distance in the future. We are very far from the opposite shore. But the image of crossing a river may be too linear to describe the reality we experience. In fact, we repeat similar struggles that seem cy- clical and discouraging in the short run, yet each one is on slightly changed territory. One full revolution is not complete until it has passed through the superficiality of novelty and even law to become an accepted part of the culture. Only when we look back over a long passage of time do we see that each of these cycles has been moving in a direction. We see the spiral of history. In my first days of activism, I thought I would do this {“this" being feminism) for a few years and then return to my real life (what my “real life” might be, I did not know). Partly, that was a naive belief that injustice only had to be pointed out in order to be cured. Partly, it was a simple lack of courage. But like so many others now and in move- ments past, I’ve learned that this is not just some- thing we care about for a year or two or three. We are in it for life——and for our lives. Not even the spiral of history is needed to show the distance traveled. We have only to look back at the less complete people we ourselves used to be. And that is the last Survival Lesson: we took at how far we’ve come, and then we know—there can be no turning back. ...
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