If you listen, you can hear us in revolt

by easilyriled

image by R&T

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.

–Arundati Roy

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.

13 Responses to “If you listen, you can hear us in revolt”

  1. I needed to read this today. Thank you, easilyriled

  2. While we are working together we are walking that fine line between hope and despair.


  3. Brought tears, thanks, easily riled,


  4. That’s a very optimistic post, something that lacks in our politics nowadays because everything has gotten so much worse re patriarchy. For sure, we need to help other womyn get themselves out of abusive relationships with men. Standing up for other womyn (instead of viewing them as “stupid” for staying with abusive men) is the most important thing. And that’s a big step towards increasing female-identification within us. Many battered womyn have PTSD or Stockholm Syndrome, and we shouldn’t forget that when we try to get them to leave their husbands/boyfriends. So it’s an area of feminist practical work to tackle with prudence.

    One thing I certainly don’t agree with though is this:

    We share a belief in the humanity of men.

    This is why I sometimes would rather call myself a radical lesbian separatist than a ‘feminist.’ I have no interest in beliveving that men ‘can’ change. They have oppressed womyn for aeons and there have been virtually no signs of improvement on their part (I even suspect anti-pornography men of using their male privilege to impress girls and ‘get in their pants’ if you know what I mean). We have herstorically been trained to ‘like’ our oppressors, which is why I’d rather focus on womyn and ignore the so-called ‘socialisation’ of Y-chromosomed people…

    If only womyn weren’t so male-identified, more possibilities for a form of revolution would come closer, I agree. Men do not want to be ‘equal’ to womyn. Their whole history shows that. Our focus should therefore be the Liberation of womyn and NOT “equality.” ‘Equality’ feminist politics have only brought us very few gains so far…

  5. Loving and lyrical. You lift my heart.

    We soar on the updraft.

    Thank you.

  6. ER i think its great what you have done here: “we can sense how it might feel.” feeling all of this, what it would be like to be free really is possible, even its its just little glimpses and fleeting feelings, its just as you say. getting rid of PIV (for example) and “feeling” what its like to not be poked prodded and tweaked, and realizing thats all it was…and telling nigel i no longer want to be “poked” by him as he is walking through the kitchen either, you know? touch me how you imagine that *i* want to be touched, do i poke and tweak you all the time? this is a conversation i have actually had. and no, i am not advocating for nigels (i agree with others that there really is no hope for men, as a class…exceptionalism only) i am just saying. i am starting to “feel” on many levels what it would and should be like, and what we are missing and what we are providing for ourselves that noone else is going to. there is a “feeling” level and component to all of this, and how other things “feel” becomes intolerable in comparison, even when you never realized how irritating it all was, or that there was a better way.

  7. thank you, women, for your comments and critiques. I go back and forth about the potential humanity of men. It’s as difficult and painful as trying to imagine freedom–what *would* it be like to really be free of the fear of them? I have no idea. Men have a LOT to lose by becoming human, by moving over and shutting up (except when they need to call other men to account, of course). The men i know who have tried to do that, who have worked for the liberation of women as pro-feminist men, have paid a big price, and they have made a million stupid mistakes. Same as I have trying to address my racism. But none of it goes even a smidgen of the way to dismantling the patriarchal/capitalist/empire. but i can’t give up. I see the sons of my friends growing to become men and I mourn for them, but i try to offer what i can to remind them of what their mothers try to teach them. and the daughters of my friends, too, they are groomed to become women (well, perpetually ‘girls’, really) and it’s awful to watch. Not many can withstand the pressure, even the daughters of staunch feminists. but they are, all of them, joyful and delightful to be with. Every parent works hard to raise her children to a big life of freedom and some measure of success, even if we’re all part of that big fuckin’ machine. Even though we are all damaged by it too. I can’t give up on the menz. Like Maggie, though, I don’t have to spend much time with them, and I mostly choose to be with women. Maybe that’s why i am so hopeful for men, I really know so few. that’s kind of a sad realization…

  8. Maybe that’s why i am so hopeful for men, I really know so few. that’s kind of a sad realization…

    HA! yes you mayve figured it out there ER. get to know a few more and you may change your mind. or…watch more TV? 🙂

  9. You bring up community, which I think is necessary for liberation. Those of us who check out radical feminist blogs at least know that there are other women out there working towards these same goals. Your skeptical friend is isolated, and so she doesn’t have that same spark of hope that we’ve begun nurturing. I wish her well, and I hope that she finds others (online or IRL) and finds some sort of radical community.

    I also believe in men, sometimes.

    I like what Maggie said about being respectful toward women who are trapped with abusive men due to Stockholm Syndrome. Every woman shakes off her false consciousness at a different pace (and a very many not at all). For each one who does, however, I’ll celebrate.

    Thank you ER, once again. Thank you.

  10. I believe all babies are born good (and happy I have a boy and a girl, and it’s fairly obvious that boys are culturally conditioned to identifying with the oppressor class. The “knowledge” that blue= male sets in as early as 18 months! And, as a mother, there is literally nothing you can do to counteract the forces. Anybody who says differently are reverting to that old patriarchal adage of “blaming the mother” for the world’s problems.
    No, the only way forward is to seriously limit male power out there in the world, so we can stop them from destroying everyone and everything they touch.

  11. I wish I could believe you, but I don’t see it. I give to women all of the time, stand up for them, support them. And it is very rare to get it back. Patriarchy has made women wary and fearful of each other. This is the ugliest truth. This blog is a respite, but try to organize to get women together, in person, and you’ll see what I mean.

    So many women I know take from other women and give the best of themselves to men.
    They have no time (for women) but always have time for a man.

    I will never give up on women, ever. But this is getting hard and lonely….

  12. Julia, I understand where you are coming from, I see it all the time, womon dumping on other womon who have been good friends, in favour of a minute drop of male-time! I dispatched a 15 year friendship with a women who was part of a feminist circle I was in because as time went on it became obvious to many of us that she would drop us in favour of male attention anytime, even though she claimed to be an avowed feminist! We stood by this womon so many times but when it came to the crunch she did not return the support. It was painful to do this but it riled me and no one else seemed to have the courage to doit.
    I say all this not to be negative at all but to demonstrate how deep rooted women are in ‘pleasing males’ and the associates of males , by this I mean women who support men above their own sex.

    I have always put the womon in my life before men whether it be in private of public life and there have been times when I have felt the genuine possibilities of womons power in changeing our lot. Radical is something few womon believe is needed rather there is a belief for those with greater ‘slack in their chains” , that we are liberated to do as we please, the please, is all about liberated ways to please males…the rise in porn exemplifies this, more and more the pornification of the culture ensures that young womon accept it is OK to expose as much flesh in an average day as possible. Greer asserts that one of the reason for this ‘self exposure to the extreme’, is because male interests lay elsewhere and to gain attention womon have to be more and more explicit about exposing their flesh, in the shoddy betrayal, that if that is what men want it is OK!

    I agree that men will NOT give up the power they have come to see as their entitlement under patriarchy..few men see anything wrong with the current gender imbalances whether they are extreme or moderate versions . Solgiers in Iraq and Afghanistan for example are often heard to express the view that they wish in their Countries women were as under rigid control as many of the women they see daily within these cultures.

    I guess I ask myself time and again, ‘what does it take to radicalise women’, enough to stand up for themselves collectively and demand change or seperation. I strongly believe that the idea for the majority of women globally to live seperate from men is not even a pipe dream, it is non-existant.

    As a 2nd waver, we fought for basics, and these basics have been erroded or have gone all together. We never got past basics because as a force we disintergrated once a few basics were assumed to have been achieved and for those of us here in the West, we did not make further and more dynamic demands because we thought we had made substantial progress. Maybe we did in some areas but we are still fighting for basics IMHO. We as womon are not asking for regime change and that is what is needed Regime Change and that requires radicals who are prepared to die for the cause rather than live in dishonest comfort and ignoring the true situation of the onging war against womon.

    And thinking like I do like Julia says is a hard and lonely place, few womon would want to join…….but it is not about ‘giving up on womon’, it is about womon NOT giving up on themselves…we all deserve so much better…..


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