Weekend Post

by Jewelles Smith / 05.27.2012

The first week of WHRI is completed and I feel much rejuvenated after sleeping most of yesterday (Saturday). The jet lag and asthma/allergies really caught up to me by the end of Friday. I also had an exposure to an allergen in the classroom and had to use my asthma nebulizer. I think the most distressing part of allergies is the complete lack of control I have even when I try to do everything I can to inform people. I realize that no one deliberately exposes another human being, My allergies are not the same as another’s and this is the most dangerous aspect of allergies – as well versed as I am with allergies, I know I have been guilty of inadvertently exposing others. Due to the sometimes lethal consequences, this is one of the most isolating aspects of my own dis/ability struggle. Environmental exposures are impossible to fully account for. I had to start the prednisone as provided by my specialist part way through the week. I am hoping to circumvent antibiotics and the inevitable mayhem on my body.

Some highlights of my week outside of the Institute included attending the Teamsters‘ strike and standing on the picket line at Vaughan (Ontario). It was great to talk to the workers and hear their concerns and their commitment to labour rights. I got to talk to my sons a couple times. I miss them so much, yet I would not give up this opportunity for anything and am so thankful that I have John, such a supportive person in my life, to make this six weeks possible.

Friday I participated in the yoga session. Post yoga, I felt disengaged from myself for a few hours. I find my body’s limitations distressing. Most of my right side simply does not respond to the movement, yet my left side seems to respond pretty well. Now with the injury to my foot, I feel very unbalanced, literally. I wonder about doing movements where I only use one half of my body, will this create more imbalance in my body? Some of the movements that required me to lay on my back, I could very much feel the area at my tailbone where I have injured myself so badly when I took the fall down the basement stairs a little more than a year ago. A big concern though deals with the meditative part of the yoga experience. A lot of my PTSD therapy is trying to remain engaged and mindfully in the moment/experience. It is far too easy for me to disassociate myself from my current experiences. The distress that years of abuse marked on my body are still very powerful, despite years of personal work and therapy. However, I am fully committed to participating in the yoga aspect of the Institute – I am stubborn that way. Despite that, I do need to remain personally committed to keeping my connection and awareness strong.

The last two days of the instructional week, I did not post. This is not because I did not write something down, it was just that the posts weren’t very coherent and, as they didn’t rhyme, I couldn’t pass them off as poetry.
Some of the memorable highlights of Thursday and Friday included:

  1. continued lecture on Human Rights by Alda Facio, a lecture by Dr. Angela Miles in which she discusses “the Burning Times” and her chapter: “North American Feminisms/GLobal Feminisms–Contradictory or complimentary?”.
  2. We met Martha Morgan who will be attending the CEDAW week which starts tomorrow.
  3. On Thursday we watched “The Burning Times
  4. In the evening I read Maria Mies article “Colonization and Housewifization“.

On Thursday evening we read “Towards Neo-Patriarchy” by Paola Melchiori in anticipation of Alda’s lecture and I wanted to expand a bit on this. The invisibility of women’s current discrimination, not so much in the laws but rather an internal acceptance of the patriarchy’s framing of the issue regarding “choice” or lack of choice. This is the source of the backlash against women who have gained so many rights over their bodies and their reproductive rights. Currently there is a backward slide where “[a] renewed attack is conducted for the absolute need to control women’s choices on their bodies, not only by religious people but also by the most laic scientists and politicians, in the name of civilization and moral values” (p 5). According to Alda: The patriarchy exists in the culture now, not so much in the laws. There is violence but at the same time you realize there is “love” after. It is difficult to see the patriarchy because there are so many men in our lives that we love. We do not want to “blame” these men. There is a challenge in describing patriarchy without falling into a dichotomy that does not really exist.

This really hit home when think about the last conversation I had with my Oma. She was so afraid for me, saying, “But Jewelles, no man is going to want you if you cannot have his children.” And she was not wrong, in many ways. Although I live my life as an independent woman, and I strive for equality in my own life, too often, there is a disconnect from my own beliefs on equality and the reality of the world we live in. There have been men who seemed to be amazing persons, yet on the subject of children, they “wanted their own“. I remember being terribly sad that my Oma could not see that I wanted equality and I remember thinking how backward she was. Yet, in fact she was a realist. As much as she wanted me to have an independent life and make my own decisions, her own history had taught her that the reality of the current world we live in is much more complicated that the idealist “right” to equality. I may have that right, but it took a very long time for me to meet someone who wanted a relationship with me, as I am, and with my children, as they are. The need to have their “own” children is a sad reflection in our culture where the concept of ownership is still very prevalent in the actions with regard to the relationship of men and their families. Still today, for men seeking a “serious” relationship with a woman, too often her potential ability to provide children genetically related to the male defines how far the relationship will develop. My answer to my Oma at the time remains the same, although I have learned that my belief and feelings are not reflected in society in general: “But, Oma, I have two beautiful, healthy boy children. And I am a strong, kind, loving, intelligent woman–why would a man not want to be part of my family?!”

One of the articles we were referenced by Dr. Angela Miles, was Adrienne Rich’s commencement address to Smith College in 1979. “What does a Woman Need to Know?”. A copy of this can be found in Rich’s anthology of Prose: Blood, Bread and Poetry. In her lecture on Friday, Miles discussed Rich’s concept of the “Eye of the Outsider” and the relevance this has to feminism today. Rich wrote: “Gradually those flashes of insight, which at the times could seem like brushes with madness, began to demand that I struggle to connect them with each other, to insist that I take them seriously, it was only when I could finally affirm the outsider’s eye as the source of a legitimate and coherent vision, that I began to be able to do the work I truly wanted to do, live the kind of life I truly wanted to live, instead of carrying out the assignments I had been given  as a privileged women and a token” (5-4). I could not find a copy of this article online, but I highly recommend taking the time to read it if you can get your hands on the book.

I keep coming back to the Conscious Communication Credo statement to “Stand our ground without taking ground from others.” How can we ensure that all women’s voices are heard and that rifts are dealt with via communication and comprehension of each woman’s particular struggle? How do we maintain the strength of women’s voices and yet not for one minute forget that what each of us needs is not the same, but our individual gain is a gain for all women? I have spent much time this week pondering these and other pertinent questions. The reality is that too often we either feel silenced by our sisters or, even worse, not listened to. Yet at the root of our struggle we are all seeking to find equality, even if this equality looks different for each woman. However the solution is not to ignore our gender, but to embrace and define our femininity. We need to find the words to address our concerns, by meeting together and opening our ears to the stories of our sisters and collectively determining how to resist Androcentrism. A couple weeks ago I attended an incredible conference on Mothering. In the forum, “What do Mothers Need” held prior to the conference, so many women spoke of their struggles, especially in the current neoliberal context. When the opportunity to openly discuss our concerns in a closed room was before us, it was interesting to see the disconnects being aired as well as the connections that were being made. I believe that we as a movement need to keep the aforementioned statement in mind in all our dealings with one another: “Stand our ground without taking ground from others.” This is a subject that I believe I will be returning to again and again. I hope to have conversations with women who recognize this as a place to build from.

There are other thoughts and ideas swimming through my head. I will address them, but for a time will continue to ponder. What about mentorship in the woman’s movement? How can we address the disconnection that seems to be occurring between the generation of 30 years ago, and the new leaders in our movement? How do we connect with one another to hear our herstory?  How can we use mechanisms such as international law to address the continued barriers that women face worldwide? The idea of holistic knowledge–where do I stand on this?

I am hoping that this course and the inevitable reflection that stems from it will allow me to solidify a coherent position on these issues.