Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Our bright-eyed, bushy tailed days

I met two very young job candidates today, whose enthusiasm reminded me of when I first graduated. Ironically, I'd also just read Gloria Steinem's ('57) commencement address at my undergrad school a few days ago. How I miss our community of kindred spirits who cherished freedom, knowledge, wisdom and compassion, and who felt that our generation of women could literally change the world!

As you should expect from any Smithie worth her salt - real or fictional (say Cristina in Grey's Anatomy, Charlotte in Sex and the City, Ellen in Gilmore Girls) - expect strong feminist opinions ahead!

On mothers and daughters:
My generation of young women said things like, “I'm not going to be anything like my mother" ... Now, I meet many young women who say something like, “I hope I can have as interesting a life as my mother.” Not the same life, but as interesting. And when I hear this, it brings tears to my eyes -- because I know there is not only love between generations, as there always has been, but now there is respect, learning, a sense of balance, even an invitation to adventure.

On career and family:
Your generation has made giant strides into public life, but often still says: How can I combine career and family? I say to you from the bottom of my heart that when you ask that question you are setting your sights way too low. First of all, there can be no answer until men are asking the same question. Second, every other modern democracy in the world is way, way ahead of this country in providing a national system of childcare, and job patterns adapted to the needs of parents, both men and women.

So don’t get guilty. Get mad. Get active. If this is a problem that affects millions of unique women, then the only answer is to organize. I know it may be hard for women to believe that men can be loving and nurturing of small children – just as it may be hard for men to believe that women can be expert and achieving in public life as they have.... But raising young children – or being raised to raise children – is the way men are most likely to develop their own full circle of human qualities, and stop reproducing the prison of the “masculine” role. Just as our role in the public life frees us of the prison of the "feminine" role.

For that matter, our kids do what they see, not what they’re told. If children don’t see whole people, they’re much less likely to become whole people – at least, not without a lot of hard work in later life.

On society and family:
Which leads us into the big question of violence. Gender roles provide the slippery slope to the normalization of control and violence in all their forms, from sexualized violence to military violence – which is the distance from A. to B. Until the family paradigm of human relationships is about cooperation and not domination or hierarchy, we’re unlikely to imagine cooperation as normal or even possible in public life.

It’s already too dangerous in this era when there are more slaves in proportion to the world’s population – more people held by force or coercion without benefit from their work – more now than there were in the 1800s. Sex trafficking, labor trafficking, children and adults forced into armies: they all add up to a global human-trafficking industry that is more profitable than the arms trade, and second only to the drug trade. The big difference now from the 1800s is that the United Nations estimates that 80% of those who are enslaved are women and children.

On community and revolution:
It won’t be easy to hang on to this vision of possibilities in ourselves and in others if we are alone in a world that’s organized a different way. We are communal creatures. So make sure you’re not alone after you leave this community at Smith. Make sure you meet with a few friends once a week or once a month; people you can share experiences and hopes with – and vice versa.

While we’re at it over the next fifty years, remember that the end doesn’t justify the means, the means ARE the ends. If we want joy and music and friendship and laughter at the end of our revolution, we must have joy and music and friendship and laughter along the way. Emma Goldman had the right idea about dancing at the revolution. So, my beloved comrades, yes this is the longest of all revolutions and that will mean a lot of struggle, a lot of organizing together and a lot of unity, but that also means a lot of dancing.


Dzen said...

Although I do not share the heritage of being a Smithie, I can say that I am very inspired by the commentary... so, let's dance! :) Thanks for sharing.

Cilipadi said...

Jenn! Let all strong women dance indeed. We can make you an honorary Smithie, if you like. Hope all's well!