Are We Going to Be The Way We Want the World to Be?

This has been nagging me for days. I guess because it’s come up. Are we going to be the way we want the world to be?

I think this is a tough, tough question for feminists to answer, in part because those of us in the third wave have felt the women of the second wave answer that question, often seemingly, at our expense, “no.”

We’ll talk about equality and sisterhood and treating each other with respect and creating that “good ole girls” network and bringing about a world of equality and social justice for all and to all a good night, but have we ever been worked in more ridiculous ways for longer hours for less pay all while cleaning up their dogs’ poop than at the hands of certain second wavers?

And our excuses, I think, have always been two-fold: 1. that the damage done by the Patriarchy is so great that, even when women start to “come to consciousness,” they are bound to be so fucked up by their experiences that we can’t expect them to always match their personal treatment of others to the big ideas they’re trotting out for the rest of us to live by and 2. that whatever we’re doing at this moment is so fragile that, even if what we’re doing is arguing for greater freedoms in some specific ways, we must be willing to curtail our own freedoms in those same ways in order ensure the survival of that fragile thing.

In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice our own happiness and well-being for the sake of “women everywhere.”

It’s not hard to see how this is the same old bullshit we’re always asked to take on, but wrapped in feminist wrapping paper. Women are always asked to put the well-being of the group ahead of our own well-being, to put the appearance of propriety above our own health and welfare, to leave it to future generations to have it better than we do.

I’ve talked before about how Maya Angelou says that most people don’t want change; they want exchange. They don’t want to dismantle power structures; they just want to be the ones on top for a while.

Even though we know those power structures hurt the folks on the bottom. Even though we know those power structures help destroy everyone stuck in them. And so on and so on. Just let us get our digs in first, before we’re all destroyed.

I honestly don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do. I don’t think that feminists want to be the ones in charge, the ones lording over men, for once. I don’t think we consciously want exchange.

I think, though, that we don’t commit to change. Not all the way.

And I get why. It’s hard to imagine what change would look like. Really implementing change leads to confusion and it’s hard to get widespread support for confusing things. And it’s hard to commit to something when you don’t know what the outcome might be.

But I keep thinking about the emails I get from my favorite critics, who are all the time teasing me about how men have to do very little to keep women down, when women are so willing to undermine each other. To paraphrase–sucks to find you’ve traded the jackboot on your neck for a Birkenstock.

I think that most people actually support women’s rights. I think if you sat down even the most curmudgeonly among us here and got them a little drunk and started asking them if they believe that women are equal to men, if there are ways the deck seems unfairly stacked against women, etc., they would all say, sure.

Why, then, don’t they identify as feminist?

I think it’s because they sense the change/exchange problem, even if they wouldn’t put it in those words.

We talk like we want one kind of world; we act like we believe we’re stuck with this one.

I don’t know how to overcome that. I’m sure I’m as guilty of it as anyone else.

But I just don’t think we can keep putting off real change. Nor should we. Feminism is supposed to benefit us. It’s supposed to make our lives better and us happier, in ways that are good for us.

Why would we put that off? Or give it up for ourselves hoping that maybe, just maybe, the next generation of women can have it?

Not all second-wavers are assholes. We wouldn’t have become feminists if most of the second-wavers didn’t make it look like important and fulfilling work (and fun! Sorry, Shannon, but pleasurable, pleasurable work, too).

If anything, we owe it to the next generation of women to be living important, daring, fulfilling, and pleasurable lives. We owe it to them to be honest with our struggles and our failures as well as our successes.  We don’t know what we’re doing.  True enough.

But we know that how we have been doing things doesn’t work.  We can point to that and say for sure.

I don’t know.  I’m just mulling over crap*.

_______________

*Ha, my brain is like a giant compost heap and I’m just churning away, hoping to turn all this trash into fertilizer.

That  makes me happy to realize.

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16 thoughts on “Are We Going to Be The Way We Want the World to Be?

  1. In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice our own happiness and well-being for the sake of “women everywhere.”

    It’s not hard to see how this is the same old bullshit we’re always asked to take on, but wrapped in feminist wrapping paper. Women are always asked to put the well-being of the group ahead of our own well-being, to put the appearance of propriety above our own health and welfare, to leave it to future generations to have it better than we do.

    Hell yes.

    Just, seriously. This is utterly and completely true.

    What I find interesting is the way this manages to spread completely beyond the borders of feminism proper.

    But I keep thinking about the emails I get from my favorite critics, who are all the time teasing me about how men have to do very little to keep women down, when women are so willing to undermine each other. To paraphrase–sucks to find you’ve traded the jackboot on your neck for a Birkenstock.

    I think that most people actually support women’s rights. I think if you sat down even the most curmudgeonly among us here and got them a little drunk and started asking them if they believe that women are equal to men, if there are ways the deck seems unfairly stacked against women, etc., they would all say, sure.

    Why, then, don’t they identify as feminist?

    When I read this bit, especially the last question, my mind snapped straight to the POC/WOC blogosphere. The part where BFP feels like she can only claim the “femi” part of her mantle by carving out a niche for radical WOC feminism. The part where Nezua, one of the best allies I can think of for just about any cause, doesn’t explicitly claim feminist or feminist-ally status as a result of the continued alienation radiating from “our side.” The part where [insert usual disclaimers]* hardly anyone talks about the shit that went down in LA recently, and all I can think is: “what if this had been the March for Women’s Lives?”

    And I know it’s kind of a tangent, or that it will be treated like a tangent (trying to discuss race and feminism or race and progressivism is only barely less divisive and… ultimately unproductive, in most forums… than resurrecting the Sex Wars)… but that is, structurally and emotionally, what comes up for me. If we’re working so hard… if what we’re doing is so good for everyone (Every marginalized group has women in it! Patriarchy hurts everyone involved! Women’s rights are human rights!)… then why are sympathetic people having such a hard time?

    That’s not a Nice Guy threat… it’s not saying “you need to prioritize what I want or, well, we’re just not going to do anything for you.” Time and again, the people having these arguments have said that they’re not willing to give up the cause… because they believe in it too. They’re saying that they can’t get into the movement, because the movement doesn’t want them. It’s.. it’s about how disagreements over form or substance or detail or focus are as likely to come out as “get the hell off my side” as anything useful.

    And I think part of that is the aging that any group goes through. To get started, to be heard, to get what you want.. you need strong, strident voices. You need unity. And to a degree, you need narrowness. You need to be able to pare down the issues and push and push until you’ve got your foot in the door.

    And, all things considered, you generally need relatively privileged people to make it work. You need rich white women and progressive white men to get feminism where it is today. You need/ed white allies for Civil Rights to get where it did, and to keep it going where it’s going. You need able bodied speakers to add their voices to the disabled. And so on and so forth.

    But you can’t stay there. It’s incomplete. And it’s incompatible with the broad ideals that get mentioned.

    Empowerment for a rich white woman does not mean the same thing it means for a poor white woman, or a middle class black woman, or a disabled woman of any race. What looks like meanest oppression to a smart, college educated young woman with everything else going for her might look like heaven to a woman who had to drop out of high school to feed herself. What sounds like freedom to an atheist woman who hates being told what to wear can be insulting and oppressive to a woman who just wants to be able to bathe modestly. And for damn sure, “choice” does not mean the same thing for a white woman who can’t get sterilized when she wants to as it does for a woman of color who was sterilized without her consent or knowledge, or a “bad” woman who desperately wants to have a baby.

    You cannot say that your movement is working for my rights if the only rights you’re working for are the ones you yourself endorse. If the only lens is the white one, then no matter how universal the cause is, and how much I am affected by and sympathetic to your issues… they will not speak adequately for me.

    That, more than anything, grounds my status as a Third Waver. Although I understand and accept the need for focus, I prioritize accuracy… and in order to get an accurate bead on what’s going on, you have to take an intersectional look.

    My, but I miss that preview button. I can’t tell if I want to make this a post all by its lonesome, or leave it here as a comment. Since I’ll probably never get it done if I do all the other stuff I want to do with it, I guess I’ll leave it here, for now.

    * Not to imply criticism/tell anyone what they should be writing about ; recognizing that not everyone lives here/has access to this/thinks it’s interesting ; people have busy lives/schedules/posting times and might not prioritize this ….etc. etc. ad nauseum.

  2. Ah the politics of shame.

    I’m not sure I understand point 2) in reasons we don’t live our stated values. Is the argument that says we women can’t, for example, enjoy ourselves as sexual beings (yet) because too many people still have old, bad values and misunderstand us and think that were sluts. If too many women act as “sluts” then we won’t be respected enough to change peoples’ minds such that we can become sexual without being labeled sluts? That we have to wait for others – those ostensibly in charge – to allow us to be certain ways? Or is there something else there that I am missing?

    I can see how this leads to a concern about the rule of law and who’s in charge because those making the above argument aren’t actually challenging authority; they are asking the authority to change the rules. Those who disagree are, at least, refusing to accept the authority. But then you are right to disagree with Angelou because rejecting the Patriarchy as authoritative doesn’t entail that I want to become the new authority. I could want to disperse authority widely, into, maybe, a genuine democratic process.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a fight about what changes to prioritize and how to strategize because being sexually “proper” does give one credibility in the eyes of some, and that credibility could be used to fight for, say, fair wages. Can we fight for everything at once? It wasn’t just the habits of the time that encouraged the Freedom Riders to wear suits and dresses to lunch counter sit-ins.

    As to 1) above: You’re not suggesting that it’s possible to avoid hypocrisy altogether, right? And, aren’t you the one who keeps reminding us that women, even feminists, are no more ethical than the average white man? I think we should all learn to walk the walk better than we talk the talk; however, I think you – more than anyone in my life – is teaching me how to test things out in word and in deed and try to be forgiving of my own and even others’ shortcomings in our attempts. The problem is that those in charge can use our failures against us and 1) becomes and argument for 2) – we MUST be better than everyone else so that we can have the credibility to force change. I think that’s mostly crap, as you say, but I see where it comes from and think those concerns need addressing somewhere along the way in our activism and in our provate choices and habits.

  3. ’m not sure I understand point 2) in reasons we don’t live our stated values. Is the argument that says we women can’t, for example, enjoy ourselves as sexual beings (yet) because too many people still have old, bad values and misunderstand us and think that were sluts. If too many women act as “sluts” then we won’t be respected enough to change peoples’ minds such that we can become sexual without being labeled sluts? That we have to wait for others – those ostensibly in charge – to allow us to be certain ways? Or is there something else there that I am missing?

    This particular issue, as I generally read it, is that “we” (feminists/women/progressives/lefties what have you) profess to be about equality and fullness of choice, but often turn right back around to yell at people for deviating too far from the choices we want. Hence strongly pro-abortion feminists berating women who choose to have babies, or arguing against waiting periods for sterilizations. Or the sex-positive vs. anti-pornography arguments. And so on and so forth.

    It’s not so much about individually not being able to do what we want because other people won’t say it’s okay, but about the collective mindfuck of placing your heart with a group that says it cares about you being allowed to be a full human being and do what you want, and getting yelled at for fulfilling that desire in ways that they don’t like. The issue is complicated because, as you mention, we can’t fight for everything at once. It doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately, many people can’t see their way from “hey, I can’t make that my priority right now” to “but I accept your right to do what is important to you anyway, and will work hard to make sure that my crusading doesn’t further oppress you.” Which means you get, for instance, WOC feminists getting told to sit down and shut up because their concerns were derailing the movement.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a fight about what changes to prioritize and how to strategize because being sexually “proper” does give one credibility in the eyes of some, and that credibility could be used to fight for, say, fair wages. Can we fight for everything at once? It wasn’t just the habits of the time that encouraged the Freedom Riders to wear suits and dresses to lunch counter sit-ins.

    Going with this for a moment, it seems like a bit of a dead end. Actually, it sounds like the continued problems that more mainstream feminists are having with mainstream democratic/progressive blogs. “Oh, we can’t deal with your special interest, because we don’t want to give the enemy any fodder.”

    Which may be prudent in the short run, but in the long run, it’s a damn poor substitute for actual change. If I have to hide who I am to fight for your right to do what you want… what then? The wedge thing only works as long as you’re willing to keep pushing it. But that’s not usually what happens. One marginalized group gets in a little bit, and suddenly, they’ve got everything to lose. So they stop fighting so they can keep what they’ve got.

    See: Bill Cosby, rich white feminists, ‘gay liberal elite’ and so on.

    That’s not to say that one oughtn’t prioritize. Certainly, one needs to figure out what one is working for and stick to it. But one also needs to realize the long term harm done by shoving people into the closet/margins/what have you.

  4. Mag, I love your authorial voice. It always makes me feel comforted and confronted. I don’t know how you strike that balance, but it’s nice. I love your long comments. Please don’t feel self-conscious about them.

    I just keep coming back to your ideas about fear and thinking that the only response to that kind of fear is compassion. We have to meet each other with compassion. We have to have compassion for ourselves when we fuck up (a hard one for me).

    But worse yet, I think, we have to have compassion for folks like this (http://www.news2wkrn.com/vv/2007/05/time_we_have.html –see the comments), who are openly, in public, talking about armed violence against brown people. I don’t know how to do that.

    Anyway, I bring them up in part because I don’t want to forget to blog about them this evening.

    Ha, I see the Professor has sneaked in here on me, with a bunch of good points, too.

    So, no, Professor. I don’t think it’s possible to avoid hypocrisy or even to make avoiding hypocrisy a main goal. After all, then we just get back into the mess of waiting around until things are perfect before we move–waiting for the time to be right, putting our needs second to the perceived needs of the movement.

    I don’t know. I can see in myself this strain of love for messy hypocrisy that joyfully does what pleases us and makes us free and I appreciate you reminding me of that. I don’t know what it is lately that has made me forget that love, but I find myself clinging to a rigid want to “do the right thing” and feeling so fucked up and terrible when I fail to do that.

    Where’s the girl who is motivated by pleasure and freedom? I don’t know and that scares me.

    But you know, I’ve been thinking about this, especially in the context of Shannon, who I hope will chime in, because, damn, if there’s any woman on the internet who can pop my bubble, it’s her–isn’t “what makes women happy” a good guide for what will make women free?

    If it makes Malia, for instance, happy to be in a covenant marriage with her husband and to stay at home and raise her children, and, at least from the outside, it seems to–who am I to criticize that? Isn’t the world big enough that Malia can be happy living that way?

    I mean, yes, it is. It is big enough. And it’s big enough for me to be single, too. And happy with that.

    My concern then, shouldn’t be with the happy housewife. More power to her. My concern should be with women who are unhappy.

    Right?

    I don’t know. It just seems to me that using women’s own experience of their own happiness as a guide and respecting that and listening when they tell us what they need to be happy…

    I don’t know. Maybe happiness isn’t the right concept.

    But pleasure. Are our lives pleasurable and, if not, what’s standing in the way of that and how can we help remove those barriers?

    That seems to me like a question that allows for a variety of experiences that please a variety of women and respects their cultural situations while allowing us to take a stand against culturally sanctioned ridiculousness–like FGM, which, clearly diminishes women’s pleasure, regardless of how good the arguments for it.

    I just don’t think pleasure is silly or frivolous. I think it can be a good guide to what makes us free. But I’m not sure I’m smart enough to explain how a life of pleasure leads to a life of freedom.

    I just feel it intuitively.

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  6. Ha! I don’t feel self-conscious about my posts. I feel selfish. ;) If it’s a good long comment that goes in a lot of different directions, half the time I want to take it to my place just to see who’ll follow the trackbacks.

    But I’m glad you like my voice!

    I think the pleasure thing is probably the most radical thing about you, B. Sure, some of your views on this or that issue may be further along the arbitrary left/right scales… but the emphasis on pleasure/happiness/eudaimonia (which is so one of my favorite concepts/words… that, and desiderata)… that’s really radical. And, I think, a good way to walk that line.

    I was talking to Breviloquence about all this, because we still don’t have the ‘net thing set up at home and he’s pining for y’all. In trying to describe it, I started talking about how you could divide the third wavers up into the “fullness of choice” people (“the choice to have or not have a child”, rather than “the choice to have an abortion,” or “the choice to pursue whatever sexual mores I may have” rather than “the choice to be openly gay”), and the intersectionality people. And it occurs to me that the happiness you’re talking about is a good way to measure both of them.

    You need an abundance of choices because people come from all different backgrounds and contexts. The thing is, most of the ones we have now aren’t that great at accomodating difference. And a lot of what we’ve been doing is thrashing out whether this choice or that choice was a valid and healthy one, in general. Is it a good thing to (be able to) have an abortion? Is it a good thing to (be able to) have sex this way, or that way? Given our status as situated knowers, and the various logistical issues faced with any group or movement… you wind up with decisions that reflect one type of person’s good.

    But what I want to see is a set of decisions that reflect the possibility that what is good can differ… and a corresponding focus on making sure that people who are in spaces that they aren’t happy with have the option to switch status. So the person who wants to be a stay at home mother should have the option, but not the obligation, to do so. The person who hates staying home with the kids should have the option to do something else. We oughtn’t categorically say “X is bad because it oppresses Y group,” except in the most extreme cases.

    (Which is not at all to preclude discussions about why someone might choose to do a certain thing, or the ramifications of choosing that certain thing in the society we now live in, or to even say that a choice might be bad for the person choosing it, even if it is a free choice. Those are all valid areas of discussion. What I am trying to avoid is things like “women who are forced to wear skirts/heels/pantyhose to work are oppressed by it, since many of them would rather wear pants – so nobody should wear skirts because it’s oppressive,” while allowing for discussions of how forced femininity is counterproductive or unsatisfying to the women who don’t want to go along with it, and how that sense of compulsion leads to godawful economic discrimination.)

  7. I think that talking about choices gets us really all boggled up because 1) we can and do choose things that are hurtful to us and although we need to have the right and space to do that we also need to be able to criticize ourselves and others for doing that, and 2) most feminisms are NOT about simply giving women more choices. To construe it that way is to immediately fall into the kinds of problems B is bringing up. And we can see, as Mag points out, that different options means different things to different women. One problem with the Patriarchy is that women had little to know choices in our lives; however, simply giving us more isn’t what we are aiming at.

    We praise or criticize people too much based on the actual choices they make when what it really at stake is why and how they make those choices – whether or not they really do have live options for making choices. Most feminisms, as I understand them, really are more about generating (healthy) live options for women and raising peoples’ consciousness to those as live. When we choose from too small a set or from motivations of fear or conformity, them we think they’ve failed to be thoroughly feminist. However, if we are not clear (or accurate) about the content of our criticisms, then the conversations turn into fights.

  8. Am I the only person who thinks of this game whenever I see the word “Eudamonia”? Probably? Okay.

    I guess as I read all these things about choice I’m getting lost. I’ve never understood why ‘choice’ as a concept needs to be validated by external deciders. To my mind Choice is only validated by Consequence. If the Consequence is immediately and directly physically or emotionally harmful to other individuals it is a bad choice and should be proscribed against. (Shooting people, for instance, is a “bad choice”.)

    I’m probably too individualist, though, because I don’t like the idea of our Choices having to be gauged against their merits by a larger group. Using the Malia example, there are schools of thought that say her Choice to stay home is harmful to the larger group of Feminism because she’s not striking the blow for equality in the workforce and she’s reinforcing negative stereotypes.
    That’s the kind of thing that pulls me away from collectivism whenever I’m tempted to dive back into it.

    The pleasure thing I especially don’t get. B.’s pleasure and her pursuit of that aren’t directly harmful to anyone that I can see. (I dunno, B, are you draining small children of their blood in order to derive pleasure for yourself?) So why is her–or any other woman’s pleasure–proscribed against? Because it makes All Of Us look “bad”?

    Maybe we ought to rethink our personal definitions of “bad”.

    while allowing for discussions of how forced femininity is counterproductive or unsatisfying to the women who don’t want to go along with it,

    Isn’t anything ‘forced’ counterproductive to a degree?

  9. Still reading this (off to dinner), but I’m with Maya. Not that people want exchange, but that they want More. More leads to exchange. Change depends on sacrifice, which means at some point going back to Less.

    People with power have it because they have not given it up. Power has to be won, playing by the existing rules. That requires learning the existing power culture, usually to the point of internalizing it, then being rewarded for proficiency at it. This create a psychological investment in the existing rules, perpetuating them.

    So now you have power. You “made it out.” You’ve established credibility with the power establishment. You get the rules. You have something to lose if the rules change. Your criticisms cannot be dismissed as sour grapes.

    Now we need the protesters. Someone raises the psychological costs of buying into the current “story”. Photos of dead soldiers, homeless people, aborted fetuses, lynchings, statistics about pay disparity. These someones become the enemies of the power structure.

    Perceptible change is only possible at this point. The powerful are made uncomfortable. You have credibility with the powerful; you are one of them. If you can present an alternative narrative, one that makes the bad pictures go away without costing the power structure too much, then they will internalize the new story.

    But the delta of change is only the difference between this story and the last, which is at most the cognitive dissonance of protest plus the eloquence of the new story. Tell too radical a story, and the cost of accepting it is not worth the relief it brings. The person who tells just the right story becomes a hero.

    Everyone who protested, everyone who told too bold a tale, become enemies. There is only one hero in any revision. One plus the powerful, who are congratulated for seeing the light.

    What we ask of those in any disadvantage, is to struggle to overcome their disadvantage, and then give that back up so that someday someone else can be a remembered as a hero. It’s noble, but it does not surprise me that, head finally about water, many swimmers are reluctant to submerge again.

  10. while allowing for discussions of how forced femininity is counterproductive or unsatisfying to the women who don’t want to go along with it,

    Isn’t anything ‘forced’ counterproductive to a degree?

    Heh, you’ve got me there, Kat. One might substitute “compulsory” (same idea, but less direct) or “pervasive [expectations of]” (more accurate, but also more of a mouthful and harder to argue about).

    The degree to which it is true, of course, is that bit where things get sticky for me. If persons A and B are forced to do the same thing – let’s say reading a book for class – which person A would do anyway, absent any coercion, but which person B does only greatest duress… then is it at any point acceptable to make both of them stop doing what they were doing before? That’s the exchange argument. This thing is bad for this group of people; we must therefore make it so that this thing doesn’t happen/isn’t an option/is less prevalent… with “this group” defined not as the group of people disaffected/disenfranchised/oppressed/harmed by the phenomenon, but the people affected/involved period.

    Of course, the degree to which that is a good or bad thing depends largely on what the issue is and who is involved/affected/harmed. And, yes, the degree and nature of that harm.

    My personal opinion is that as pertains to feminism, the harms perpetrated by denying the fullness of choice in the name of furthering the movement are significant enough to endanger the future of the movement as it stands. Many of its most looming (blogospheric) figures go too far toward exchange for my tastes, especially as given the particular people/interests in question, their exchange leaves me just as badly off as before, if not worse. It is ultimately raher selfish in that respect… I want a movement that has a place for me, not just thankless tasks. That, and if I roll my eyes any harder at the “inclusive” language, they might well fall all the way out.

  11. Okay, digested comments and panini. Random comment time.

    I wouldn’t claim to speak for feminism(s), but observation #1 is that in my ideal world every sliver of a cause would have its own movement, and people could choose how much energy to give to each, with much less being dissipated in struggling for control of the agenda of the more successful ones. I understand why that isn’t practical, but I’m sorry for it.

    I don’t know how to do those nice quotes, so: B: “But I’m not sure I’m smart enough to explain how a life of pleasure leads to a life of freedom.” We are all free to begin with. No to get all Sartre, but we are free to choose any action we like. What we cannot choose is the consequences of those actions. Other people are free to react the way they choose. Their choices may be unpleasant to us. In practical terms, an increase in pleasure is often a decrease in the negative consequences we feel when exercising our inherent freedom.

    For me freedom is the only goal for which I would entrust political power to a group. Professor mentioned “we also need to be able to criticize ourselves and others… [W]hen we choose … from motivations of fear or conformity, then we think they’ve failed to be thoroughly feminist.”

    This is the rub. To the extent that any -ism is about increasing the freedom of a group, when and once group criticism of choices begins, we are attempting to motivate people through conformity. I think that what tears at these movements… the simultaneous desire to free people and to control them.

    I gave my view of power above (summary: it depends on earned credibility). But B, this part is especially for you. “[W]e need to have compassion for folks like this… I don’t know how to do that… I find myself clinging to a rigid ‘do the right thing’ and feeling so fucked up and terrible when I fail to do that … Where’s the girl who is motivated by pleasure and freedom?”

    Okay. I want to change the world. But I don’t believe that I can change anyone through proselytizing. Nobody has ever moved a belief of mine one iota by condemning or condescending to me. But I have listened to a few people with very different outlooks because they seemed happy, wise and truly interested in my well-being. They lived lives of the kind of lives I wanted to live.

    This is gonna get random, and I second Magniloquence’s desire for comment previews, but bear with me. I want to tell a story.

    I had a (more friend-of-a-) friend in college. He was very much a good old boy, but he had a strange honesty about him. We used to talk about politics. He was died-in-the-wool Republican, but secretly listened to Indigo Girls.

    Anyway, one day we were riding in the car and he saw a brown guy, college age, talking to a petite blonde. He said to me, paraphrasing here, “see, that’s what I’m talking about… I look at that, and it makes me mad. (I bit my tongue.) But I’ve thought about it, why it makes me mad, and you know what? I can’t think of any good reason it should. But it does.”

    I’ve got to say, that was one of the most honest and brave things anyone ever said to me. There was nothing in it for him. He was basically saying, “you know, I think I’m prejudiced… I don’t know why, but I am.” Imagine confessing a character flaw to someone who doesn’t share it, whose opinion you valued. So we talked about it. I doubt he is doing recruitment drives for the NAACP now. But he was raised that way. He may not be able to change the way he sees the world, even if he wants to. But when he has kids, he probably won’t raise them the way that his father did.

    B., this is how to have compassion for people. There are people out there who say “those folks have decided to be gay” and we might say “why in the world would anyone choose to be gay in this society? For the T-shirt?” But when we hear about people who are bigoted, we assume they are bad people, who choose to feel and think the way they do. I know gay people. They didn’t choose it. I’ve known bigoted people, too. They didn’t choose it either.

    That doesn’t eliminate their moral responsibility. But it changes the way you approach them. They were told a story about the world growing up. It’s a carefully managed story. The people who cared for them, fed them, had their back in a fight, believed in that story. We want them to give up that story, and risk disloyalty to the world they know and the people they depend on. In their story, we have no respect for their traditions, for things they care about (God, family, children, etc). We just don’t understand. Calling them names is equivalent to talking about axes of evil… it mainly just reinforces the knee-jerk loyalty to the existing regime.

    Regime change starts with understanding their story. Listening to them, not condemning them. You may have a reaction to strike out. That is what they expect. You smile, they do not understand. They are curious. You show you care about them as a person. Most anger and hatred comes from pain that isn’t acknowledged. Understand what makes them angry. Use your perspective to tell them a story that better explains what ails them. In doing so, you enable them to improve their life. Do it from a spirit of giving. You don’t want to control them, you want to free them from a damaging story that has been passed down to them. Don’t see them as a bad person. See them as a good person imprisoned in a lie.

    You want to change the world. The only way to do it is one person at a time, understanding their burdens and freeing them from them.

    But most of all, change starts with living the kind of life that others would want to have. Growing up believing hateful things about people inevitably means that you live in a confrontational world. If you can live a life of compassion, generosity, and joy, you are living a life that someone with a bigoted worldview does not have access to. That is your trump card. Your way is better. Your way is better. Understand that those who passed your story and understanding to you did it out of love for you. They wanted you to be able to live a better life, and the world is better because of it. Your responsibility is to make that understanding available to others who are ready for it.

    Remember Billy Joel – “rather laugh with the sinners than die with the saints.” Appreciate the gift of being able to see the beauty in every person, being able to see the world around you as an invitation and not a threat. Wonder, and wait.

  12. Hmm. ‘s about time to leave, so I’m not going to get to all of this. But I wanted to take (slight) issue with this:

    We are all free to begin with. No to get all Sartre, but we are free to choose any action we like. What we cannot choose is the consequences of those actions. Other people are free to react the way they choose. Their choices may be unpleasant to us. In practical terms, an increase in pleasure is often a decrease in the negative consequences we feel when exercising our inherent freedom.

    In another thread a while ago (I’d look it up, but again, I’m about to leave work), I pointed out the difference between agency (the ability to choose or not choose an action) and opportunity (the chance to exercise one’s agency). The issue with a lot of the issues that bug me most is that even if I were to choose, with my agency, to do certain things, the way society/the world/nature/the blogosphere is set up, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to exercise that agency. And yes, a lot of those constraints are the result of others’ exercising their agency to counter mine… but a lot of them are results of the way the systems we live in are set up, too. A person doesn’t have to actively dislike me to marginalize me as a woman or a person of color; they could just proceed ‘as usual’ and not think about me at all. There are whole cases of problems (see the “food insecurity” thread, for instance), where the things standing in the way of one’s agency/freedom/what have you don’t involve active opposition from any defined person.

    I’m not saying that your formulation is wrong, but that it’s too narrow for the type of things I tend to want to point out. The system is a factor. Context is a factor. And essential freedom (the kind you lay out), nice as it is, is a piss-poor substitute for actual freedom – which I define as agency plus opportunity. That doesn’t imply anything about the presence or lack of consequences for exercising said agency, but it does mean that such consequences there are ought a) follow the event rather than precede it, and b) not be of such magnitude or type as to functionally preclude the exercise of agency.* I prefer to reserve the term “freedom” and the like for cases that meet those criteria, rather than the (admittedly more philosophically fashionable) prior ones.

    * That is, one might choose to [try to] wrest the gun from a terrorist pointing it at you, and given the layout of the room, one might have the opportunity to [attempt to] do so, but the consequences for [attempting] such an action (provided said terrorist is a decent shot – and in this case s/he is pointing the gun straight at you and is not distracted by anything else) are of a magnitude and type as to effectively preclude the exercise of your agency; even if you “won,” you would probably lose.

    (Oh! and for how to do blockquotes, you type [blockquote] and [/blockquote] around the words… except that you use the carat-style brackets for html, instead of the square ones I used.)

  13. Fair points. I think the value of focussing on the consequences of exercising freedom, rather than on the increase of freedom itself, is that consequences are more clear and understandable than freedom, and make more sense out of a legal context.

    By focusing energy on the consequences people experience from exercising their freedoms, I hope we (1) strengthen the freedoms by assuming and defending them rather than arguing for them, and (2) more clearly focus on what it is we want to change.

    But, yeah, big time, just because you are free (in the philosophical sense) doesn’t mean things are okay.

  14. B, this is one of those conversations I need to stay far, far way from; but I had to say, while reading this post, the tone and subtext seem almost identical to some of the letters of the New Testament.

    “How, then, shall we live?” I find the parallels absolutely fascinating.

  15. Slarti, I’ve been waiting to figure out how to tell you that I am Paul reincarnated.

    Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. That’s funny on so many levels. Sorry. Whew. That made me laugh.

    Mag, I love being called radical. I don’t feel very radical, but I’m happy to think that I might be.

    It just seems to me that a bunch of what Kat has to say is right on about our (feminists’) concern about how women (who may or may not be feminist) behave, us worrying about whether other women are doing.

    And I worry that such concern sometimes masks that traditional nonsense of us policing ourselves so that men don’t have to concern themselves with it.

    We want real change, that change is going to be something we can’t imagine. Not to keep going back to Carole Maso, but damn I love this essay and I do believe that what we’re doing is working for “A utopia of possibility. A utopia of choice.”

    If that’s the case, then we can’t be struggling over where we’re going, as if we’re all going to march in lock-step to get there. We have to find some way of discerning whether we’re on a right track. I think something like ethical pleasure–what feels good and hurts not–can guide us; not to someplace, we don’t know where we’re going. But to places we haven’t yet begun to imagine.

  16. I haven’t read past the title yet, but my first thought was, “Hell, no”.

    Being the way I want the world to be means I get assaulted and battered by strangers. Literally and repeatedly. In “nice” neighborhoods where others can sleep in public without being harmed.

    So now I walk around with an obvious weapon swinging menacingly from my hand. Who in their right mind would want the world to be like this? It beats letting them drive me into hiding though, like they do in so many countries.

    But that’s probably not what this post is about, so I’ll go read it now.

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