This post was originally published in radical feminist journal “Rain and Thunder” in its “Positive” issue #52 (Fall, 2011).
I am positive that we are in the midst of a glorious revolution. All outward appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Listen. If you listen, you can hear us in revolt. Hear that? that is the sound of a door opening, a woman inviting a girl into her home. A woman asking another woman for help. Three women together making stickers to paste onto porn magazines. laughter. a splash as two women leap fully clothed into the ocean after a day of intervening in men’s brutality toward women (mostly women they are supposed to love). Listen, there is the sound of shovels in dirt; a match struck to light a torch; the clink of tools from a tool belt; a car starting up…voices, murmuring. muffled laughter, a shriek over there. We are plotting our liberation. There is a lot to do, there are many lives that hang in the balance. It is a fine balance between hope and despair and yet an enormous, yawning chasm between slavery and freedom. Can we even see freedom from here?
No. Not yet. But we can sense how it might feel. We can hear it if we stop from time to time and attend to the subtle sensuousness of advancing liberation. Like the wind in the trees by the river, rattling the poplar leaves like dishes in a sink. Like the warmth of a fire on a cold winter night; the light of a full moon on snow. We are there. We are living the revolution. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with this woman I know. She asked why I thought we were in a revolution, she thinks the revolution is dead, if it ever lived at all. It seemed to me that she was angry with me, or at least annoyed, that I could think that I, that we, are part of a revolutionary movement. I couldn’t answer her to her satisfaction. I said, “I am optimistic, I HAVE to believe that we are moving, that we will win, and I see miracles all around.” She accused me of individualism and being naive and she said she does not have that where she lives. She teaches in a university in a huge city in North America, in the United States, land of the brave home of the free, and she is all alone and she can’t see her way. She sees only, it seems, conflict and despair. Loneliness.
I can’t go where my friend goes, I can’t afford to believe what she believes — that we have lost — that women will never be free.
I don’t know what freedom looks like. There are glimpses of it, though. Like the shimmer of an oasis on the horizon of a forever desert. When we share the details of our work together. When we tell the stories of women who got safe, together with our help—when we take ourselves seriously and accept responsibilities and learn from each other and celebrate successes—those are glimmers of freedom.
A moment of despair: Though, you know what, our opinions do not matter when we are all prisoners of war. Hannah Arendt, in her book On Totalitarianism, talked about the debating clubs that developed among the Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Their opinions, she said, did not matter. Sure they had freedom of expression, but they were still marked for death. They were not free at all.
Some of us now have more slack in our chain–but we are no less chained. In this current system of inter-locking systems we will never have power, we will always be in danger.
Where is the way? The only way—the only way to be free is to create it together. Women together. We must be women together. And the only way to create it together is to imagine it, and then do the work. Do the work. Notice the miracles of resistance.
While we are working together we are walking that fine line between hope and despair. Walking that line together, we can feel more hope than despair because we are women together. And in hearing or own voices and those of our comrades, the loneliness dissipates, the confusion reorganizes into resolve, and the fear—well, the fear remains, doesn’t it. It remains and it reminds us that anything we do that is frightening is also worth doing.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. In a quiet moment, you can hear her breathing.
My mom first showed me a way to freedom. Listen:
It was more than thirty years ago, before there were any transition houses in our small Prairie city, (when there were perhaps three in the whole country, at that) my mom helped her friend leave a man who abused her. My mom helped her friend escape and she stood toe-to-toe with a man who drank and beat his wife and controlled his family with the vice-like grip of a frightened man. She said to me once, “she was my friend, and when you have a friend, you help her.” true that. I didn’t even remember this story until nearly twenty years after it happened. It is one of the miracles of my life.
Here is the story, I credit my mom for my first radical feminist example:
Mom and her friend taught kindergarten together. I’m still not allowed to say her friend’s name, even though her former husband is now long dead, and her three boys all grown up and moved on. Even though Mom never sees this friend anymore, too painful was that time for her that she cut all ties when the divorce was final. Partly to protect Mom from the wrath of her ex-husband, partly to protect herself from the pain of the memory. All that fear, that quaking worry for her children and herself. The man was armed and dangerous and only his wife and children knew how mean and crazy he was.
Mom guessed, though. Mom guessed and found a couple of ways to ask her friend, “what’s going on over there?” there was no room in the questions Mom asked for the answer, “oh, everything’s fine”.
But slowly the story came out. And then a phone call: “Will you help me pack? I have to leave this week” one late summer afternoon. I can’t remember the exact time of year, but she called up her boss (who was also her friends boss) and said, “I have to go, S__’s in trouble, can you find coverage for me for a week or so?” and Mrs. Ruff, (of course another woman, a tiny fearsome woman herself) said, “of course. God bless you.” Mrs. Ruff was also a devout Christian. She was forever asking for god to bless people. And she meant it, too.
Mom and I wrapped some small presents for her friend’s sons. We labeled them with the date and time at which they could open them while they were on the road. The youngest figured out the time difference and he wanted to open them on Alberta time, then it would be earlier.
While they were gone, Bill called our house. My brother and I were under strict instructions to NEVER speak to him. He got Dad on the phone a couple of times. But the only response he got was “I don’t know, Bill. I don’t know where she is.”
My mother was afraid. She was afraid or her friend and for us, her family. She must have been afraid for herself, too. But she did what she was asked. She was together with her friend– and for a moment, one shining moment on the highway together, driving into the setting sun, all uncertainty and relief, they were free. Together they were free.
This is how freedom is gained. When we risk everything for our friends. When we save a woman’s life. We need each other. My mom still misses her friend, but she has the story. And I have the example. The inspiration. The understanding that love makes everything possible. My mothers love for her friend, and her love for us.
Another world is not only possible, she is on her way…
When we can hear her on her way, we can look up and see the possibilities on the horizon. We can hear the murmur of women’s voices together. We hear the shouts of relief when another of us finds her voice, when strength returns to her upraised fist. We. Women together. One by one and in small groups, it seems we are tunneling very slow underground. But we share a memory of light and air. We share a belief in the humanity of men. We share an impatience for freedom. We share an understanding that we are worth more and better and we will achieve it. Together.
…in a quiet moment, we can hear her breathing.