In Memoriam – a tribute to a feminist sister

Awesome-Yellow-Rose
The Yellow Rose a symbol of joy and gladness
A recent personal tragedy made aware that philosophies of kindness are regarded more highly than is widely assumed, many remain impervious to the worse excesses of our materialistic culture. The values associated with a more traditional culture still exist within contemporary culture, values such as friendship, compassion and caring. The respect shown towards my sister by her many friends demonstrated how these highly these values are still regarded. The turnout at her funeral and the grief expressed showed how much people value this individuals whose life demonstrated these principles in practice. She was a woman who worked in the caring services, most recently teaching children that had been excluded from school because of behavioural problems. Even accepting back into her class a violent teenager who had made an attack on her. She was a central figure in many friendship groups and social activities such as the book club. These friends all supported each other through the problems that life throws up, illness and death for example. Men seem to lack these support groups as we seem much more one dimensional in our relationships.When I started my last job I made friends with Keith, yet it was a number of years before I knew he had two children in their teens. We just talked about work, philosophy and politics, never our families. One sociologist made a study of language use and she came to the conclusion that women make much more use of relational language. Going back to my example if we had been women, we would asked each other about family and known almost immediately how many children each had. I think one writer wrote that it is woman kind that civilises mankind. Perhaps illustrated by a remark made by my wife. When hearing that the British army was to allow women to engage in combat on the frontline, who said that, ‘I thought we were capable of better than that’. What the life of my sister reminded was that there is a different culture within our society of which I as man was unfamiliar.

Feminist philosophers and theologians believe that their gender gives them a very distinct life, which makes the dominant male oriented philosophies and theologies of our society irrelevant to those who don’t have the male experience of life. Grace Jantzen is one of these writers. She in her book ‘Becoming Divine”,redrafts Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality to give it a distinctly feminist context. For Arendt natality is a philosophy of rebirth, a philosophy of revolution and change. There are times when the power exercised by the dominant group in society weakens and falters.This is becomes a time of opportunity, a time when a public space opens up which allows all those feelings and ideas that had been repressed to be expressed. It is a brief moment of time in which change in the social order can occur as new ideas are given the time and space to take root. The Arab spring briefly appeared to be one such moment of natality, it seemed as if Arab societies could be reborn on more egalitarian lines, when fairness established as one of the founding principles of a new society. Unfortunately, in all but Tunisia the old repressive forces reasserted themselves with renewed vigour.

People of mine and my sister’s generation thought the 1960s was such a time of rebirth and the remaking of society. A time of the ‘the Age of Aquarius’, certainly it was for many individuals, who in response to the times entered into the caring professions or adopted an alternative lifestyle. Unfortunately this brief spring time of liberation was crushed by the forces of reaction. Not the cruel reaction of a repressive police state, but the overwhelmingly seductive power of the consumer society. Potential revolutionaries were bought off by the promise of wealth. I can remember conversations between avowed Marxists in which the main topic of conversation was house prices and how they would benefit from the rise in these prices. The wealth on offer was so much greater than any of our parents knew so young people it easily seduced into becoming willing participant in the consumer society. What remained of the revolution of ideas and behaviours, quickly metamorphosed into a revolution of style and appearance. Revolution was to be expressed in liking a particular type of music or through dress, revolution segued into glam rock, it was a revolution of style. This revolution left intact the very fundamentals of the old unequal society, the power of the old order was never really challenged. When the opportunity came in the mid 1970s this group savagely reasserted its claim to wealth and privilege. The welfare state was slowly dismantled, poverty appeared again on our streets in the person of the beggar.
One interview I saw on television encapsulated this change. A representative of a country landowners association said how the fashion for large country houses had changed. In the 1960s these great houses were being knocked down, whereas in the ‘noughties’ there was a renewed interest in building great country houses. He failed to mention that this was a consequence of increasing inequality of wealth and income in the country.

Grace Janzten was part of new rising group of feminist thinkers who reacted against the philosophy of the times, that of Neo-Liberalism in its many forms. These new patriarchal philosophies were as the old male religions the philosophies of anti-life given new guises. These old new philosophies for her sprung from the inability of men to directly experience the act of creation, that is giving birth. It was the experience of or the potential experience of this that gave women a different understanding of life. Central to women’s lives are the acts of creation and nurture, as without nurturing that created thing, life would not thrive. Masculinist philosophies such as Neo-Liberalism make the nurturing society impossible. Its very Darwinism emphasis on winners and losers is anti-nurture, as in such a society only the winners thrive. Rather than thrive the great majority of society, that is the losers languish and flounder. The number of children in poverty is rising and those malnourished children lose out in the academic race that is now schooling. They cannot compete with their better fed and resourced rivals. Neo-Liberal Britain is the society of the precariat and the underclass, where only the possession of wealth is celebrated. A Jantzenist society would be very different, in that all its children would be nurtured and all have an opportunity to succeed. This would mean the removing of those barriers to aspiration, that is the many barriers placed in the way of the children of the poor by low income and poverty. Motherhood would be the basic principle around which society would be structured, rather than the very masculinist one of power.

Jantzen never really develops how her philosophy/theology in the context of remaking society, her interest is in power. How to grab back power from the patriarchy. Her solution is the development of a feminist philosophy of natality and life as a counterweight to dominant masculinist philosophies of power and violence. She wants equal recognition in society for the very different life experience of women. This in turn brings me back to my sister and I, as our childhood experiences demonstrate the two very distinct philosophies of life. She would work as a volunteer for the St.Johns Ambulance Brigade, which meant giving up her spare time to work in the wards of the local hospital. While I went out with my friends fishing or shooting, more usually the former, inflicting pain and suffering on the local wildlife. Although Grace Jantzen can justifiably be accused of presenting a very idealised view of women’s life experience, it does not diminish her claim for the need for a powerful feminist philosophy of natality to oppose and limit the predatory masculinist Social Darwinist philosophies of today. It is the latter that have wreaked havoc on society reintroducing to it, poverty, insecurity and ill health all the evils of the societies of the past.

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