July 12th, 2005

My Power

More Chickie Goodness

This article in the Washington Post is a seriously cool read-- it's all about a village in Kenya where a proponent of women's rights and reform has gathered to herself other women who were raped and therefore rejected by their husbands as having shamed them, and they formed an all-female village which is not only surviving but thriving.

I've never been much of a separatist-- I think we all need to learn to deal with one another in a way that we can't if we are shut away from each other-- but I can really see in some cases the need for safe space to build confidence and strength, and that's what these women are doing. Their village is something of a peaceful protest against a system of male privilege and oppression, and more specifically against the ingrained sexism of the men of their community. And it's working.

Women in Kenya and other parts of Africa are fighting back against the kind of institutionalized violence against women that we here can't even begin to comprehend as a fact of life-- forced marriages, genital mutilation, institutionalized rape and domestic abuse. They are winning seats in government and forcing their cultures to wake up to human rights abuses and the need for education and better laws, and they are going around the world to educate and appeal to other nations.

It's incredibly inspiring and it makes me proud to call myself a feminist. To anyone who sneers at the notion of calling themselves feminist and questions why we need it, I point to areas of the world like this one. We need to be in solidarity with our fighting sisters around the world. Women's rights are human rights, and "women's issues" are issues of progress and the greater good.

I bow to the goddess in these women. Namaste!
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Consumer Whore

What Is Poverty?

I read this essay in the Ecologist today (linked to it via Feministe) that I found really interesting and thought-provoking.

The author, Vandana Shiva, makes the argument that many of those who wish to fight poverty in the world don't understand what actually causes poverty. Read the article-- it's worth it.

One of the more interesting points she makes is that our mindset tends to assume that those who are not living in a state of advanced material progress are automatically poor (translation: savage and backwards) and must be developed (translation: brought into the modern capitalist mindset). She argues that cultures that are simple, primitive by our standards, but self-sustaining are not poor just because they are not consumers in the global market, and further that in many cases attempts to "develop" such areas actually creates a situation in which the people are made dependent on resources they can't afford under the economy imposed upon them.

I am not an economist by any stretch, and I can't intelligently agree with or refute her arguments on that score. (Although I'd be interested to hear from anyone who can.)

However, it did get me thinking about a lot of things. Like, our assumptions about what constitutes prosperity. Does it make you poor if you can't afford to go into a big McMall and buy a plasma TV or a pair of jeans or a lipstick or a CD? What if you don't particularly care about those things anyway?

Are you poor if you live close to the land, and are fairly well sustained by it, and don't have much in the way of tangible assets but also don't starve or go homeless?

The nature child in me thinks about how I and people I know tend to thrive on the times when we are able to camp, to shuck off some of the material world and walk barefoot in the grass and get closer to nature. That part of me looks around and thinks, a bit ruefully, that there is an awful lot of *stuff* in my life that I really don't need, stuff whose value is probably more symbolic (of comfort, of security, of love, of success) than anything else. That our culture tends to create demands for supplies we don't need, and thereby impoverishes our spirits as we let ourselves get trapped by the drive to work ever harder and make ever more money to acquire the things we didn't need until we were told we did. That material trappings aren't in and of themselves signs of progress and culture; that we still have it in us, with our iPods and SUVs, to be as barbaric and primitive as any warlike tribe living in huts in the grasslands.

On the other hand, the progressive in me thinks that I wouldn't make it a month living without plumbing or electricity, without a toilet or a stove or contact lenses or the Internet-- and that that's not necessarily a BAD thing. That our scientific, technological, and aesthetic advances are no less part of nature than the trees and rivers. That the materialistic people who jump on the bandwagon to buy the newest and priciest status gadget actually enable, through their greedy materialism if you will, those who produce those goods to keep producing and refining and eventually to find a way to make it more accessible and affordable to those of less means, or to expand into a whole other realm of ingenuity. That enjoying the possibilities of the material world isn't inherently bad or wrong, and that to think so is to buy into the spiritual-vs-material dichotomy sold by some of the religions and philosophies with which I disagree most vehemently. That our material progress brings us towards the eventual crossroads of science and magic, and in the meantime gives us countless miracles and marvels every day. That I look at something as simple as a pencil and marvel at the hundreds of thousands of people I am connected to through it, the people who were responsible for every minute detail of its production and marketing, and find in it a symbol of the essential interconnectedness of all things.

But is it possible that we can actually harm other cultures by trying to force them to meet our standards of prosperity and progress?

Is capitalism really a "one size fits all" proposition? Is it possible to thrive within another economic system? And if so, do we have the right to try to impose our system on others?

What does it mean to be really poor? Is it just about whether you can feed and shelter yourself, or is it about a certain standard of living?

Do people have an obligation to contribute materially or financially to their societies and/or the global market, and to consume from it? Is it possible to opt out of the system economically and still make a contribution of value to the community? How do you measure the worth of an artist, a spiritual teacher, a mother, a philosopher-- when it doesn't fit in with the way the system works?

Just some thoughts, from a too-pensive brain too late at night. Curious to see what others have to say on this, since I have a lot of thoughts and questions but no real conclusions.
Bite Me

No More Mr. Nice Guy

Permit me to be a bitch for a moment. I've been inspired.

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Edit: Since there have been several requests, I will just state here that it is ok to link this entry in your blog or website. Attribution can just be made to DivaLion. Please do not repost in whole or part without attribution and a link to this entry. Thanks for all your great comments!

Edit Redux: Some more or less final thoughts on this entry.
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