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Women, Power

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Parent Issue
Month
May
Year
1986
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
OCR Text

The Washtenaw County affiliate of Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND) wasfounded by S har ron Singleton and others in December of 1984. Agenda is pleased to print the text of the following speech given by Singleton in December of 1985 marking thefirst year of the organization and of her presidency. Singleton will be leaving Ann Arbor for Providence, Rhode sland at the end of this month. Helio everyone! It's great to see all of you and we particularly want to welcome guests. This first year of Washtenaw County WAND has been quite an amazing year. I never dreamed, a year ago, that such a marvelously vital organization would come to life with so many people involved and so many accomplishments, or that I would have the nerve to be standing up here before you to talk about women, power and politics. I think these facts themselves say something about women's power and abilities. I want to begin by saying that I certainly am no authority on this subject. The research I have done, however, has been fascinating and I have learned a lot which I'd like to share with you. I had never particularly made it my business, as many as you have, to study women or women's issues in any depth. So when I went to the library to do a little research, I was amazed to find that there were three whole file drawers on women! Granted, some of these books contained less than scholarly or profound insights into the issue of women and power that I was concerned about, such as the book, "How to be a Successful Mistress and Happy Wife," and my favorite,"An Intelligent Man's Guide to Understanding Women." In all of these books, however, it was amazing how little there was on women and power. In any case, my interest in this subject was aroused after hearing Helen Caldicott state,"The age of women has arrived. If we don't stand up and rapidly become elected to the highest offices in the country and change America's national policies from those of death to those of life, we will all be exterminated." That belief is the basis for the formation of WAND. This was a radically new idea for me. Previous to this, I had only lamented and despaired and suffered from gross ignorance about the nuclear peni. Now I am convinced of two things: that she is right and that it will be a very long, hard struggle. Dr. Caldicott's argument, which I won't reitérate in its entirety, is that we are living on the brink of nuclear annihilation and that when she looks at how we got there, she sees a violent, militaristic world, dominated by men. She also describes her own experiences, how as she has travels around the world talking about the dangers of nuclear war, women are the ones who respond most strongly and emotionally and ask her,"What can we do?" She thinks this response arises out of women's closer connection with child-bearing and with the mother's strong instinct to protect her children. I believe her analysis of the situation is basically correct, but I think a lot more needs to be said about how we can turn things around and what the problems are. First of all, very basically, one has to have power to make changes. Are there different kinds of power? How do we get it? One fairly universal measure of power has been the electoral franchise-the vote. Nations, groups and individuals have fought long and bloody battles, both figuratively and literally, to get the vote. The history of women's suffrage is worth looking at a little more closely. It actually began in 1833, when the American Anti-Slavery Society was formed. Women played a pivotal role in the movement, but their public involvement was severely restricted by men and has been largely unacknowledged in most historical accounts. Women attending meetings of the men's abolitionist societies were sternly informed that they were to listen and leam, but not to raise their voices. Churches closed their doors to women speakers. Susan B.Anthony was once burned in effigy for speaking in a community where most people were as strongly opposed to slavery as she was, but who would not tolérate a woman speaking in public. This treatment brought into sharp focus for women the realization that their own situations were not much better than those of the slaves they were trying to free. A husband absolutely controlled his wife's person, children and property. To Elizabeth Cady Stanton, there was only one way to change this--women must have the right to vote. So, for more than 20 years women ran their campaign for the right to vote as a sideline to the anti-slavery movement, suffering extreme abuse such as being hosed down with cold water while speaking on a cold winter night (and continuing to speak) and having their lives threatened. (In one city , the mayor mounted the platform alongside one woman speaker with revolver in hand to protect her.) But one of the most devestating forms of antagonism to the suffrage movement was that of ridicule. For half a century, jokes about suffrage were standard: in the press, on the vaudeville stage, in the bar rooms. This has continued throughout history. Any time women dared to threaten male establishments, ridicule has been more effective than abuse. As is usually the case, something of valué carne from these hardships. Lucy Stone talking down hecklers became one of the most effective women speakers this country ever oroduced, and Susan B. Anthony learned tricks of organization without which the suffrage victory could never have been won. Noncthcless, when women pleaded that the words "or sex" be inserted into the 15th ammendmcnt granüng "negro males" the right to vote, they were turncd down and accused of jeopardizing the entire abolitionist movement. It took 50 more years for women to win the right to vote. Many of those who worked so hard for so long never lived to see their victory. Was getting the vote the key to unlocking the hidden treasures of full participation in American democracy? Let's look at a few facts. While during the past several decades tremendous gains have been made by women, access to political power remains as elusive as ever. Numbers translated into votes can créate power and women have it over men in terms of numbers. We constitute 53% of the vote, yet currently make up only 4% of nationally elected representatives. There are only 2 woman Senators of 100, and in the entire history of our country, only 12 women have served in the U.S. Senate, 6 of whom were appointed to fill unexpired terms, due usually to the deaths of their husbands. In the House, out of about 435 members, only 23 are women. Two women currently serve as Govemors and only a total of 47 women hold office in State government nation-wide. In State legislatures women represent 14.7% of the total number of legislators. These are appalling figures! This, after 70 years of presumably being able to vote ourselves into any office we desire. Figures on the global level are informative too. While women make up half of the world's population and work twothirds of the world's working hours, they only receive one-tenth of the world's income, own l100th of the world's property and constitute 10% of the seats on national legislatures. Clearly, women nationally and globally are-not a powerful group. The reasons for our lack of involvement are many and complex, but I think that theyare basically a combination of an institutionalized, self-conscious determination on the part of men in power to keep women out of power and a deepseated sense on the part of many women of their inadequacy for, or the inappropriateness of, political involvement. (The latter perhaps deriving from the former.) It's hardly surprising when we look at what the women's movement has revealed to us regarding discrimination to ward women on every level--from the personal and domestic to education, labor, business, and religión. It's a given that in none of these arcas do we fïnd women equally represented in the upper echelons. Most men enter politics through having attained high-level success in the areas of law, business or education-attainments that still elude women. And yet women constitute the backbone of party politics. They do the organizing, canvassing, phoning, mailing, polling, and generally get the vote out. No matter what their talents or accomplishments, traditionally, as New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu said, "Women do the lickin' and the stickin' while men plan the strategy." Research also shows that most men enter politics in a very self-conscious, determined, career-oriented way, already schooled in the ways of competition and the rough and tumble of public life, while women often seem to stumble into politics to advance a particular cause. Now I'm not suggesting that women are pure and selfless while men are evil and calculating. But they are very different and often those differences have been distorted to the point where male behaviors and attitudes have been considered the norm while female behaviours have been considered deviant or even worse, insignificanL Numbers translated into votes can créate power and women have it over men in terms of numbers. We constitute 53% of the vote, y et currently make up only 4% of nationally elected representatives. There are only 2 woman Senators of 100, and in the entire history of our country, only 12 women have served in the U.S. Senate, 6 of whom were appointed to fill unexpired terms, due usually to the deaths of their husbands. In the House, out of about 435 members, only 23 are women. Two women currently serve as Governors and only a total of 47 women hold office in State government nation-wide. In State legislatures women represent 14.7% of the total number of legislators. These are appalling figures! This, after 70 years of presumably being able to vote ourselves into any office we desire. Carol Giligan, in her book, "In a Different Voice," re-examines traditional developmental psychology theories and describes a number of fasciniating studies of school children. She shows how much of our perceptions of "normal development" are based on how the male child develops. Frued built his theory of psychosexual development around the experienced of the male child that culminate in the Oedipus complex. Freud saw women's different development as deviant because they were anatomically deprived by nature. Much of the standard work which developed after that time, delineating children's growth and the development of ideas of faimess, laws, and moráis, was based on Freud's ideas. In 1974, however, Nancy Chodorow ascribed the universal differences between male and female personalities and roles not to anatomy but to the fact that women are largely responsible for early child care. Because mothers experience their daughters as more like and continuous with themselves and their sons as opposite, girls fuse the experience of attachment with the formation of their own identity while boys, in forming their own masculine identity, must separate themselves from their mothers. Her research indicates that, "Since masculinity is defined through separation, while femininity is defined through attachment, male gender identity is threatened by intimacy while female gender identity is threatened by separation." Other studies also revealed interesting sex differences in play. Of particular interest was the fact that boys' games were often interrupted by quarrels, but never called off. hi fact, the boys seemed to enjoy the arguments as much as the game and the usual resolution was to repeat the play. In contrast, squabbles among the girls tended to end the game. The quarrel was usually seen to threaten relationships and rather than do that, the girls chose to end the game. Boys were found to be fascinated with rules and legalities and the development of fair procedures for resolving conflicts, while girls were more willing to make exceptions to rules and more ready to accept innovations in games. Without a great deal of elaboration, we can see how these behaviors get played out in adult life. The volumes of research behind this brief description help us to understand why women are less interested in competition and conflict than in interdependence and taking care. But involvement in politics means and competition and conflict; and all of the important decisions in life are political decisions that involve the welfare of our families, especially decisions about war and peace. Women can no longer afford to stay out of the game. What we do need to do is to change the rules because the current ones are surely leading us to the final disastrous end game. Let's take a look at the different strengths and powers that women have and could bring to bear upon changing national priorities. Jean Baker Miller, in her book, "Toward a New Psychology of Women," says that for women today, power may be defined as the capacity to implement People have always engaged in power struggles to control others rather than be controlled themselves. But in the realm of human development, the reverse is true: the greater developed an individual is, the more able, more effective, and less restrictive of others he or she will be. Women do not come from a background of membership in a group that believed it needed subordinates or that power was necessary for its self-image. Yet women do have problems with power. We often don't use our powers openly and we fear power. These are important problem areas we need to pay attention to. However, women can readily turn to others for help in dealing with these areas and can use our abi litios to support one another as we develop more effective and appropriate ways to deal with power. We do not need to diminish others or take on the desructive attributes which are merely a part of maintaining a dominantsubordinate system. Women start, however, from a position in which they have been dominated. To move out of that positiion requires a power base from which to make the first step; that is, to resist attempts to control and limit them. Jean Baker Miller again suggests that power in the world has operated without the special values women can bring to it - a sense of connectedness and interrelatedness. Full participation by women, she says, would result in not using power as a poor substitute for other things, like cooperation. Dependence versus independence is a limited concept. Feeling effective and free and at the same time intense connections with other people may be more difficult to achieve, but will help us all to créate more humane, lifeenhancing institutions anci policies. Other strengths I believe women have which will he!p us in our struggles toward self-realization and political involvement are: A willingness to get our hands dirty. I remember when my daughter was in nursery school and they were carving the Halloween pumpkin, the teacher told me that it was always the little girls who stuck their hands into the pumpkin to pull the slippery insides out while the little boys said, "Yuck!" More seriously, for thousands of years before we had professionals, who birthed the babies (and changed the diapers), who physically tended the 111, who washed and prepared the dead for burial? Women are too close to the awesome processes of birth, life, and death to be afraid of them. We also have great fortitude and endurance. Think of the pioneer women, leaving home and family, often never to see them again, burying their children who died along the way, and moving on to an unknown future. Think of young women you see on dark winter momings, often black and probably poor, waiting for a bus with a child or two in tow, to take the children to day care and then themselves to a job - only to repeat the process all over again at the end of the day and then arriving home to cook supper, clean house, put the children to bed, maybe pay some bilis and start all over again the next moming. We can learn almost anything when we have to. I don't feel that I've been particularly well-prepared ahead of time for almost anything I've ever done, including being married, raising children and working with the chronically mentally ill. My MSW in policy and administration certainly didn't prepare me for working with schizophrenics. The important things in life I've learned to do because I've had to. Learning to be involved in politics isn't any differenL We can do at least 6 things at once. We often laugh at this and joke about it -- but believe me it's no joke! We can work at a job, keep a home basically functioning, tend to children andor a husband, maintain close relationships and usually do community work as well. Some of us don't do this alone but some of us do. Now I'm not necessarily advocating this superwoman lifestyle because it costs us dearly. One thing that suffers is the ability to concéntrate on any one thing at a time. However, the ability to organize all of this ought to count for a lot and be put to good use in the political arena We women are good mediators and traditionally have been the ones "to keep peace in the family." But here we have to take a close look at the issue of conflict. Have we been the mediators out of a position of strength or because we are terrified of conflict and powerless to do otherwise? Or because that role has been assigned to us by men? Most societies as a whole don't do well with conflict and handle it in very dangerous ways. There is very little recognition that conflict is a necessary state of being and needs appropriate forms of expression. Women are particularly taught to see conflict as frightening and bad, and overt conflict for women has been taboo since subordinates do not openly engage in conflict. But when conflict is forced underground it becomes distorted and saturated with destructive force. Perhaps this is partly what men are sensing when they fear they are involved with a "castrating female." Women as a group can only engage in indirect conflict until they can act from a base of strength in the real world. But conflict is necessary for growth and change. Without it, everything is static and stagnant In fact, all of the traditional good, "womanly" qualities already mentioned, like helping in the development of others, are (cont. on page 15 ) Women,Power and Politics (continued front page 9) the very characteristics that are not functional for success in the world as it is. They are, however, the qualities necessary for making the world different The challenge is to learn to make appropriate use of conflict as we move from the one state to the other. Does conflict mean seeing the "Other" as enemy? I feel strongly that it does not. The conduct of conflict does not have to be the way it has been. There can be other ways of conducting conflict than by creating an enemy. As women, we have much we can leam from men we may have considered to be "over against us." Men can help us learn the political systems and realities. We can help men leam tht men don't lose when women win. Men can teach us that we can argüe about the rules and still play the game. Women can teach men that no game is worth the destructin of one human life. Also, there are dedicated , caring men in our own midst who can teach us much about peace. What we could learn from each other if only we would! I believe that we're inextricably together in this struggle for peace, and for the long haul. I also believe that we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to millions of women who have gone before: the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the settlement house workers, all the caregivers, the educators and nurses, the social workers, the lowly party workers (the stickers and lickers!), the volunteers and the early women's rights workers. I think their long struggles and disappointments need to be benchmarks for us. I think we have to be prepared to make deep, painful sacrifices like they did, take greater risks, give up more if we really believe disarmament is the most important work we can do right now. I'm afraid that women as a group don't have the sense of righteous indignation and moral responsibility those early women had. In this apathetic and affluent society, it is too easy to become self-indulgent, intemalizing the male image of us as not particularly serious people, people who don't understand "Afghanistan" and "throw-weight", people who have made cosmetics one of the nation's largest industries. In our efforts to attain what men have, we have engaged in self-destructive behaviours. We smoke more, we drink more, and we have more high blood pressure and ulcers. While there is so much more to learn and so many skills we need to cultívate, we still need to speak out more about what we know really counts. We need to organizo and act forcefully together. We need to continue agitiating for politica! power and insisting that those who currently have political power use it responsibly. One day, as I staggered to the check-out counter at the library with a stack of books on women and politics, a very nice older woman at the counter couldn't help but comment on my having so many books on this theme. She told me she deeply believed that because women were the more emotional sex, that this rendered them vulnerable and that what all women in their heart-of-hearts really wanted was not politkal power, but to be able to look up to a strong man who would take care of them and protect them. I think that that's not what a woman wants, that's what a child wants. That's what the child in all of us wants, to be protected and taken care of. Because we're all basically afraid, afraid of who we are and who the other person is, afraid to trust, to reveal ourselves. This is so transparently true on the global level. And so the child in all of us sits trembling behind an increasingly grotesque barricade of deadly weapons, hoping that the other, the enemy, won't strike first or won't cali our bluff. Truly, we must all grow up quickly and recognize and recognize that there is no ultímate safety net, or total freedom from risk, and that every effort we make toward that end takes us one step closer to alienation and destruction. There is no other choice but what all mature people finally must recognize, the necessity to open oneself (and one's nation) to another, to see one's humanity in another and so realize that to thrcaten that other is to threaten the very essence of oneself. And since life really seeks ufe, I believe we can, if we so choose, live out peacefully what is left us of the millions of past years of an infinitcly wondrous, miraculous and interconnected cvolutionary destiny. Sharron Singleton WAND General Meeting 12-22-85 We can learn almost anything when we have to. I don't feel that I've been particularly well prepared ahead of time for almost anything I've ever done, including being married, raising children and working with the chronically mentally Hl. My MSW in policy and administraron certainly didn't prepare me for working with schizophrenics. The important things in life I've learned to do because I've had to. Learning to be involved in politics isn't any different.