An exchange on Feminism and Revolution: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
I would like to begin by expressing appreciation for Julie Matthaei’s beautiful description of women, who, unwilling to accept suffering, frustration, and limitation, bravely looked up and then beyond themselves to honestly explore together a flexible and developing consciousness about what is going on.
This essay is a marvelously succinct summary of the evolving overall progressive position in the world. I identified with the described evolution in thinking away from ideas like “struggle,” “opposition,” “fight,” or “demands,” which have often seemed to me, at least from the point of view of the big picture, almost part of the problem—sadly weak and inadvertently empowering to those opposed. Oppositional politics, where today’s identity politics tends to find itself, is divisive when unity is needed.
But oppositional/identity consciousness was a necessary step in a new sort of anti-heroic journey. The old story was about the hero with his dividing sword, killing the dragon of unconsciousness, superstition, and mass oppression, and then emerging the triumphant, glorious individual. What Julie describes is a new story: the feminist refusal to accept servility, a standing up straight, a self-affirmation, yes, and then a reaching out in compassionate solidarity with others seeking needed solutions: new ways of life.
The journey described is a profound one. It is reflective of an overall human intellectual journey starting with the urge to differentiate and break down perceptions into discrete elements that can be measured and controlled, as in the scientific method, which has now reached confusing and counterintuitive aspects of reality which demonstrate the limited usefulness of a narrow view. Now we are reaching an emerging awareness that it has to be within the whole, the pattern, the flow expressed by an unknown and perhaps immeasurable number of variables that we can find our way to participate in what is really going on.
The solidarity economy implies a forthright taking on of a big part of what’s going on—the economy—as a shared creation, not a pretentiously mystified science suitable to be wielded only by expert apologists for exploitative and abusive capitalism. The economy is a collectively created human artifact. As malleable as is all of human culture, an economy can be collectively re-created to suit new priorities—and new realities.
After all, what is an economy for? To make rich people richer? That seems increasingly like a dangerously narrow view. No, the economy is for the provisioning of all life. We must quickly agree on our most deeply held, shared holistic goals so that we can work together. In the present predicament, as young people are increasingly aware, survival alone might be a good place to start. There are climate lawsuits being brought by young people, and huge demos against gun killings in schools. Those kids are becoming well aware of what their goals are.
Matthaei is right about the many solidarity economy examples around the world. Just about anywhere, participation by anyone right now is an option. We can support a local food economy, asylum-seekers of many types, small businesses, cooperatives, public schools, affordable housing, restorative justice, community arts, public transit, local civic organizations. These are everyday activities.
The survival-friendly vision is about decentralization: local empowerment in human scale, pedestrian-friendly, resilient strong towns and neighborhoods with diverse local economies and disaster-ready patterns of development, even if that means unbuilding some places while building better somewhere safer, or restoring derelict places.
I’m looking forward to bioregional renewal by means of regenerative agriculture, which will bring a lot of people back to the land, tending human-scale ecological agriculture systems that know how to harvest and handle water, build deep rich soils, and grow clean nutritious food near where it is needed. We can start open-source local manufacturing, support diverse artisan traditions, and set up local electricity generation and internet hubs. We can reward all forms of human nurturance. There are plenty of jobs. We need to take on the provisioning of ourselves in proper style—in passionate solidarity with all life.
There are many new understandings to be had, new capabilities to implement, better results to be enjoyed. There is much for young people to look forward to learning and doing. New holistic land management practices have recently been discovered that can harness ecological flows, allowing us for the first time to blend our efforts with massive existing momentums realizing marvelous efficiencies. Instead of struggling in opposition to and fighting against nature, our provisioning efforts can become a delightful harmonized dancing with natural effects, a wise, deeply knowledgeable and highly skilled surfing of ecological flows. Because of these new insights and a new feeling for relationships and interactions among systems of nested wholes, we now know how to restore springs and rivers, to re-green deserts, to recreate built environments needing less energy, and to manage our own economy and money. We can do this at scale. What we need are open minds and hearts, human solidarity and cohesion, intelligence, caring, and attention. We don’t need capital and machines raking in huge commodity surpluses. We need just-in-time human nurturance.
Are these new perspectives and new priorities perhaps more womanly in character than what’s been going on? Yes, I think so. These new understandings are based in a focus on relationships, the inclusion of all influences, a softness to bending and blending, a receptiveness to experience allowing new ideas, a deep caring for well-being. All these are traditionally female traits necessary to the success of the primary nurturers.
Certainly, we need a movement of movements coming together to accomplish what is needed at this time. In resistance, we awoke to the knowledge of who we are. Now it is time to recognize all those other people who are just like us. We humans are about to shift from resisting to building. We have to.
We have to quickly build up civic institutional knowledge about how to survive as our unsustainable systems stop sustaining us. We need cohesive communities. A progressive movement can work with churches, Kiwanis Clubs, or bowling leagues. Any social structure bringing people together is precious. We need to build with what we have, with eyes on the prize. We need to promulgate new memes and talk about new values. We need to mobilize an ethic of mutual aid and gain broad support for a communal spirit raising all members, spreading hope and even excitement.
Instead of doom and gloom, we look forward to affordable ways of life leading to much better health and deeper fulfillment. Instead of people despairing in loneliness and hopelessness, they will come together in new walkable, people-friendly built places. We will invent new livelihoods and ways of life. We will provision ourselves locally just enough and just on time, in solidarity globally, while restoring vibrant ecosystems, both human and wild, without generating surpluses vulnerable to exploitation. That’s the new proletarian r/evolution—led by a women’s movement embracing life.
Cite as Susan Butler, "Contribution to 'Roundtable on Feminism and Revolution,'" Great Transition Initiative (June 2018), www.greattransition.org/roundtable/feminism-revolution-susan-butler.
As a forum for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.
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