Sunday, November 25, 2018

Gloria Steinem goes on my hero list!

I have a new hero! Her name is Gloria. Gloria Steinem.
I only read this book because it was the first selection for 
Emma Watson's Feminist Book Club on Goodreads.
Although I find it a bit difficult to participate much in the online discussions due to the many many many participants, I do check in every once in awhile and have found even that to be beneficial! I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read this book and get to know about Ms. Steinem's life and accomplishments, which are by no means trivial! 
And...I learned so very much!
The book opens with a story about the annual motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota! (I am only familiar with this due to the fact that my husband is a biker who has been there.) Please. Do not make erroneous assumptions. Ms. Steinem was not there to participate in the rally herself, rather she was simply traveling there for a meeting. When to their surprise, this diverse group of six women find themselves smack dab in the middle of thousands of bikers!

She admits they were initially a bit intimidated, even if not by the presence of 'bikers,' definitely overwhelmed at the vast numbers of them everywhere they looked! She happens upon a couple (man and wife) who are well into their "empty nest" years. The woman describes her transition from riding behind her husband to owning and operating her own motorcycle--a "big gorgeous purple Harley"! According to her, she had to "put [her] foot down" to be able to "[take] the road on my own," and now she and her husband are truly partners and he is quite comfortable with the arrangement and especially her autonomy. Beyond being entertaining, Steinem notes there are lessons to be learned:
What seems to be one thing from a distance is very different close up. (xv)
Sure! Compare seeing thousands of motorcycles and bikers in your immediate environment with getting to know two of those bikers personally. Big difference! My note about this experience: This is the same for any prejudice about any group of people; once you get to know some of the individual 'members,' you realize they are just people, like you, just with different life experiences and circumstances.

Steinem quotes Robin Morgan: 
"Hate generalizes, love specifies." (xxi)
I believe that is so very true. Those who are prejudiced always discriminate against groups of people: females, non-whites, etc. While those who love indiscriminately typically know individuals within these groups...  

...I've come to believe that, inside, each of us has a purple motorcycle.
We have only to discover it--and ride. (xv)
I agree. Though I would no longer trust myself to learn to physically handle a motorcycle on my own at this age, had my circumstances been different in the past, I would have almost certainly 'taken the road on my own!' Riding is a blast!

Steinem has a very subtle and gentle sense of humor throughout the book as she describes her varied experiences and the knowledge she has gained from them.
When people ask me why I still have 
hope and energy after all these years, 
I always say: Because I travel.
For more than four decades, I've spent 
at least half my time on the road. (xvii)

Since learning causes our brains to grow new synapses, I like to believe 
that the road is sharpening my mind and lengthening my life with surprise. (181)
I became a person whose friends and hopes were as spread out as my life. It just felt natural that the one common element in that life was the road. (xvii)
I was amazed to discover that Steinem's childhood included much moving around with little stability. Not even a real house for much of the time. She believes her penchant for travel as an adult is much derived from this rather 'gypsy-like' beginning to her life. Of her father:
When he swung through a state where he had friends, he never called in advance; 
he just dropped in. He didn't even make plans for poker and chess games he loved so much,
but found them by happenstance. He took comfort in not knowing about the future.
As he always said, "If I don't know what will happen tomorrow, it could be wonderful!" (19)
I guess that's true...with no expectations or plans you can always be surprised! The men got points from me for creativity:
My father was unable to resist swearing, and my mother had asked 
that he not swear around his daughters, so he named the family dog Dammit. (19)
I couldn't resist laughing at that! :) Steinem's description of her father is especially poignant, for although some of his child-rearing practices might not have been stellar (i.e. allowing them to watch whatever movie he wanted to watch, etc.), Steinem feels that
Because of my father, only kindness felt like home. (23)
...his faith in a friendly universe helped balance my mother's fear of a threatening one. 
He gave me that gift. He let in the light. (23)
That, as opposed to:
Whether by dowry murders in India, honor killings in Egypt, 
or domestic violence in the United States, 
records show that women are most likely to be beaten or killed at home and by men they know. Statistically speaking, home is an even more dangerous place for women than the road. (xxv)
I had never considered the overall statistics from this perspective, but that is correct. Such a very sad statement about humanity's progress, or more so, the lack thereof in these areas. 
Perhaps the most revolutionary act for a woman will be a self-willed journey--
and to be welcomed when she comes home. (xxv)

I admit to being jealous of her life as a young adult. Not only did she complete her bachelor's degree in a timely manner, but then she took off and lived in India for two years! Wow! I am impressed! And it is from her time spent in that country that she learned invaluable and indelible lessons about organizing people. 
...I discovered the magic of people telling their own stories to groups of strangers.
It's as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories 
the tellers themselves didn't know they had within them. 
Also, one of the simplest paths to deep change is 
for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, 
and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak. (xxiii)
So true, and yet not so easily accomplished, especially when those with social status and political power refuse to listen, ever. It was in these two years that Steinem discovered, experienced, and facilitated "Talking Circles." In coordination with Gandhi organizers, she traveled to remote villages and helped educate and organize the females. 
It was the first time I had witnessed the ancient and modern magic of groups in which anyone may speak in turn, everyone must listen, and consensus is more important than time. 
I had no idea that such talking circles had been a common form of governance for most 
of human history, from the Kwei and San in southern Africa, the ancestors of us all, 
to the First Nations on my own continent, 
where layers of such circles turned into the Iroquois Confederacy, 
the oldest continuous democracy in the world. (36)
Now that is some TRUE history, not just an anglo-centered view of U.S./World history as most of us were taught in school! I had read many years ago that the Iroquois Confederacy was the true model used for the U.S. government when first established. 
Talking circles once existed in Europe, too, before floods, famines, 
and patriarchal rule replaced them with hierarchy, priests, and kings. 
I didn't even know, as we sat in Ramnad, that a wave of talking circles and "testifying" 
was going on in black churches of my own country and igniting the civil rights movement. 
I certainly didn't guess that, a decade later, I would see consciousness-raising groups, 
women's talking circles, giving birth to the feminist movement. 
All I knew was that some deep part of me was being nourished and transformed
 right along with the villagers. (36)
The organizing wisdom she gleaned from these experiences:
If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them.
If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live.
If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye. (37)

She makes a point of noting that Indira Gandhi instituted the first national family planning program, knowing from these informal talking circles that 
"ordinary women would use it, even if in secret, and literacy had little to do with it." (34)
For although these women might have few literacy skills, they were smart enough to know when their bodies were suffering from too many pregnancies too close together. Steinem abandoned most all her possessions while traveling throughout India and admitted she "felt oddly free" traveling so light and relying upon the kindness of villagers for her needs. 

What we're told about this country is way too limited by generalities, sound bites, 
and even the supposedly enlightened idea that there are two sides to every question. 
In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two, and those who don't. (xx)
Ooohh. I love this so much! There are always more interpretations/perspectives than you may believe possible!

Some of her favorite experiences:
...being interviewed by a nine-year-old girl who was the best player on an otherwise 
all-boy football team; and meeting a Latina college student, the daughter of undocumented immigrants, who handed me her card: CANDIDATE FOR THE U.S. PRESIDENCY, 2032. (xxiii)

Although she had bunches of reasons for her conscious decision NOT to attend Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington in 1963,
...I found myself on my way. All I can say years later is: 
If you find yourself drawn to an event against all logic, go. 
The universe is telling you something. (41)
And that is certainly the truth. Follow your gut! The one thing her companion noted was the lack of females on the podium--only ONE! 
Even the dictionary defines adventurer as "a person who has, enjoys, or seeks adventures," 
but adventuress is "a woman who uses unscrupulous means 
in order to gain wealth or social position." (xxv)

Unbelievable! Our society's attitudes are so skewed regarding gender!
When humans are ranked instead of linked, everyone loses. (44)
I vowed silently that I would never become an obstacle to any man's freedom. (xxiv)

Steinem admitted that at political meetings, she had typically given suggestions to a man sitting next to her, "knowing that if a man offered them, they would be taken more seriously." Until she was chastised by a black woman, 
"You white women,...if you don't stand up for yourselves, 
how can you stand up for anybody else?" (42)
More truth! This one remark certainly hit home for me. I had rather figured that out decades ago, if I wasn't able to advocate for myself and 'my kind,' how could I ever advocate for others? "Practice what you preach"! :)

...the most reliable predictor of whether a country is violent within itself--
or will use military violence against another country--is not poverty, natural resources, religion, 
or even degree of democracy; it's violence against females. 
It normalizes all other violence. (43)
Now that is some powerful stuff! Quantitative stats to uphold what is ethically and morally "right"! I love it when that happens!
 Polls show that what women fear most from men is violence, 
and what men fear most from women is ridicule. (180)
Perhaps why female comedians are not given more positive attention? 
"Only in comedy does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity." (180)
Tina Fey on the predominance of males, white males, in comedy. 

Altogether, I can't imagine technology replacing bookstores completely, 
any more than movies about a country replace going there. 
Wherever I go, bookstores are still the closest thing to a town square. (53)
Magical words for us obsessive bibiophiles! :)

Recently, an Ethiopian and several Kenyan drivers have sounded a bigger alarm. As one said,
"I never thought I would see a second wave of colonialism, but there is one and it's Chinese. 
Our countries are becoming wholly owned subsidiaries of China."
Maybe U.S. policy makers should talk to taxi drivers. (75)
I admit that initially I was not a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), however, once I learned more about China's increasing influence in the world, I realized this may well be a case of 'keeping your enemies closer'...or at least those who may try to dominate the world.

Public opinion polls have long proved there is majority support for pretty much every issue that the women's movement has brought up, but those of us, women or men, 
who identify with feminism are still made to feel isolated, wrong, out of step. 
At first, feminists were assumed to be only discontented suburban housewives; 
then a small bunch of women's libbers, "bra burners," and radicals; then women on welfare; 
then briefcase-carrying imitations of male executives; then unfulfilled women 
who forgot to have children; then women voters responsible 
for a gender gap that really could decide elections. 
That last was too dangerous, so suddenly we were told we were in a "postfeminist" age, 
so we would relax, stop, quit. Indeed, the common purpose in all these disparate and
 contradictory descriptions is to slow and stop a challenge to the current hierarchy.
But controversy is a teacher. The accusation that feminism is bad for the family 
leads to understanding it's bad for the patriarchal variety, 
but good for democratic families that are the basis of democracy. 
The idea that women are "our own worst enemies" forces us to admit 
that we don't have the power to be, even if we wanted to. (102)
I've noticed that, if an audience is half women and half men, 
women worry about the reaction of the men around them. 
But in one that is two-thirds women and one-third men, 
women respond as they would on their own, and men hear women speaking honestly. 
When people of color are in the majority instead of the minority, 
audiences are often the best education that white listeners can have. (102-103)
Oh, so true! Over the past year I have had the immense pleasure of being in direct contact with more 'people of color' in one place than ever before in my life. It has been and is so much fun to get to know more people who don't look like me even better! And it does make a difference as to the overall make-up of a crowd regarding what overt reactions and behaviors you will witness.

You should read this book for her description of at the 1971 Harvard Law Review banquet. Suffice it to say, one of the male Harvard faculty becomes outraged and blasts her for having dared to judge the Harvard Law School at all. As was suggested to her later, in the future when any similar disruption occurs, basically proving your point, "Just pause, let the audience absorb the hostility, then say, 'I didn't pay him to say that.'" Ha! What great advice!

During a protest at an abortion clinic...
A staff member tells me that one of the female picketers has come in 
when the men were not around, had an abortion, and gone back to picket the next day. 
This sounds surrealistic to me--but not to the staff member. She explains that women 
in such anti-abortion groups are more likely to be deprived of birth control and 
so to need an abortion. They then feel guilty--and picket even more. 
This restriction on birth control may also explain why studies have long shown that Catholic women in general are more likely to have an abortion than are their Protestant counterparts. (190)
I sit and sigh as I type this... This is one major reason for my atheistic/secular humanist beliefs--the hypocrisy that organized religion engenders!

Steinem talks about being in historical places and the spiritual/mystical feelings that can result. Then once she has returned to New York she is sitting in her favorite place amid the tall outcroppings of igneous rock in Central Park, just a short walk from her apartment and thinking:
Who rested in this same place long ago, before theDutch and then the English arrived?
Whose hand touched this stone, and who looked at the same horizon? 
This vertical history feels more intimate and sensory than written history. 
It's been reaching out all along, I just wasn't paying attention. (217)
I have had very similar experiences at George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, particularly thinking of the slaves and servants; especially walking the same land on which lived Abraham Lincoln in both Indiana and Illinois. I often wonder if it is just fanciful imaginings of my mind...or a true aura. It truly doesn't matter to me. I love that feeling!

Much information about Native Americans:
...across that diversity, they shared such common struggles as dealing with 
a federal government that had yet to honor one treaty in its entirety, 
gaining control of the schooling and treatment of their own children, protecting their land 
from exploitation for oil, uranium, and other resources on it--and much more. 
For instance, women on reservations suffered the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, 
yet the non-Native men who were the majority of their assaulters were not subject 
to tribal police or jurisdiction, and were mostly ignored by the larger legal system. (221)
This immediately brought to mind The Round House by Louise Erdrich! The point is made that unlike other First Nations/first peoples/indigenous cultures around the world, theirs exist only their home country, and if their children do not learn it from them, it will die since there are no other places for them to return to to learn such knowledge. Good point! Many times these children were starved and abused, but even when their treatment was relatively humane, 
...teaching Native languages and practicing Native religion was illegal, 
something that continued until the 1970's. (222) the 1970's the Indian Health Service of the U.S. Government admitted 
that thousands of Native women had been sterilized without their informed consent. 
Some called it a long-term strategy for taking over Indian lands, 
and others said it was the same racism that had sterilized black women in the South. 
Both the traditionalists and the young radicals of the American Indian Movement 
called it "slow genocide." It also took away women's ultimate power. (222)

...Native nations were often matrilineal: that is, clan identity passed through the mother, 
and a husband joined a wife's household, not vice versa. Matrilineal does not mean matriarchal, which like patriarchal, assumes that some group has to dominate--a failure of the imagination. Rather, female and male roles were distinct but flexible and equally valued. 
Women were usually in charge of agriculture and men of hunting, 
but one was not more important than the other. (222)

Native American women used herbal compounds to naturally abort fetuses when they discovered they were pregnant and realized it was too soon for their bodies to have recovered and carry another child to term. I never knew this! This is a demonstration of common sense for the overall health and well-being of females!

Many Native languages lack gendered pronouns like he and she
A human being was simply a human being. 
Even the concept of chief, an English word of French origin, 
reflected a European assumption that there had to be one male kinglike leader. 
In fact, caucus, a word derived from the Algonquin languages, better reflected 
the layers of talking circles and the goal of consensus that were at the heart of governance. 
Men and women might have different duties, but the point was balance. 
For instance, men spoke at meetings, 
but women appointed and informed the men who spoke. (223)

While in California, seated with a professor of premonotheistic spirituatlity, plus several women from some of the California tribes (California has more Native Americans than any other state):
All agreed that the paradigm of human organization had been the circle, 
not the pyramid or hierarchy--and it could be again.
I'd never known there was a paradigm that linked instead of ranked.

...Ben Franklin had indeed cited the Iroquois Confederacy as a model.
 He was well aware of its success in unifying vast areas of the United States and Canada by bringing together Native nations for mutual decisions but also allowing autonomy in local ones. He hoped the Constitution could do the same for the thirteen states. 
That's why he invited two Iroquois men to Philadelphia as advisers. 
Among their first questions was said to be: "Where are the women?" (224) was the equality of women in those nations that inspired white women neighbors to begin organizing the suffrage movement.

...Feminism is memory. 
"Feminists too often believe...that no one has ever experienced the kind of society 
that empowered women and made that empowerment the basis of rules and civilization. 
The price the feminist community must pay because it is not necessary confusion, division and much lost time.(225) 

The root of oppression is the loss of memory. (226)


Clearly, Columbus never "discovered" American, in either sense of that word.
The people who knew it were already here. (238)

Wilma, who was the first woman to be Principal Chief, undergoes daily chemotherapy for cancer.
"Every day is a good day--because we are part of everything alive." (239)

Roots can exist without flowers, but no flower can exist without roots. (117)

 No matter what your political beliefs, this book is so much more 
than just a reminiscence of a life lived!
Do yourself a favor and check it out!

Happy reading!

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