Searching for a Post-Sexist Society
By Lydia Sargent
Originally posted in Z Magazine on 3 May 2010
Imagine a baby. A baby girl, like the one pictured here [photo was unavailable]. It’s March 1942 and she’s two months old. At the New York hospital where she was born, they immediately identify her gender with a white business card attached to her hospital baby bed, with a little pink ribbon on the card. They put a pink beaded bracelet around her wrist. Her older brother got the same thing when he was born two years earlier—only in blue. This girl baby lies in her bassinet covered by a blanket crocheted by her grandmother and smiles up at the world. If she knew what was in store for her she would not be smiling. In fact, based on the intersection of her gender, class, and race/ethnicity, we can predict this baby girl’s life in some detail. Add in genetic factors, her parents’ individual preferences, geographical location, religion, and a few other surprises and we can predict her future (and that of her brother) in even greater detail—as we can the lives of the other babies born around this time.
In this baby girl’s case, her parents are White Anglo-Saxon Presbyterian Republican (WASP-R), well educated, members of a professional intellectual social lifestyle and network that considers its status to be based on their hard work, in the best Calvinist tradition. This requires, of course, the belief that those who aren’t in that group are lazy or, in her father’s view, Catholic dupes. Her father graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law School. After serving in World War II, he joined a prestigious, conservative law firm on Wall Street with the help of his Harvard connections. Her mother, at the time of her marriage, was working toward a masters in English from Barnard/Columbia University.
Our baby girl’s father is the head of the family in every sense of the word. While her mother is in charge of all things domestic, it is always with his approval. He holds the checkbook and all finances go through him—even asking for $1 for the movies, which he gives reluctantly, crinkling the bills for 5 minutes to make sure a $5 bill isn’t stuck to the $1. Her mother is his sounding board, bearer of his children, and contributor to his status through volunteer work at approved clubs and social organizations. Later, her mother’s volunteer work, along with her father’s business contacts, pave the way for their children’s entry into the right schools and the right WASP-R social circle.
Our baby girl’s parents see their role as preparing their daughter to be a social helpmate for her future White Anglo-Saxon Presbyterian husband, who will, hopefully, be a corporate lawyer—although a few other professions might be approved. Her brother is to BE a corporate lawyer. This means that our baby girl and her brother’s upbringing is informed by their particular combination of gender, class, and race (and the culture that goes with it). This combination puts them at the top of the hierarchy of all other gender, class, and race/ethnic combinations in the U.S.
Navigating the Patriarchy
As she grows, our baby girl is taught proper girl behavior—basically, to be quiet, take up as little space as possible, and look nice. She is punished for disobedience (i.e., not looking nice, being “fresh,” and taking up too much space). Punishment is being locked in her room or spanked or both. When she grows taller than her mother, it’s a slap in the face.
At church she learns about God, the all powerful father of everyone, maker of all things—who apparently created the original baby girl by taking a rib from a man called Adam.
When she is old enough, our baby girls goes to a private school for girls and obediently learns what she is taught by often scary, strict teachers. At no time does she make any decisions about her life or consider that she can have opinions other than those imparted by parents and teachers.
The toys she and her brother play with are those approved for their genders. She plays with dolls and the many doll accessories; he plays with trains and erector sets. When they play cowboys and Indians, she is the Indian. (Although they both shoot each other and die equally, she stays dead longer.) When they play Office, he is the boss, she is the secretary (which she prefers because she loves those rainbow pads she buys with her 25 cents a week allowance at Woolworths). When they play dress up, he is the King, she is the princess.
Their reading material is different as well. He reads the Hardy Boys and Marvel Comics about superheroes, she reads Nancy Drew mysteries, the Honey Bunch series, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and Archie and Little Lulu comics.
At a certain point, when she’s old enough to take the public bus to school, she is taught how to navigate the city streets full of male predators who are, as described by her parents, “low class.” She learns to avoid eye contact and to cross the street if she sees a gang of “toughs.” Still, in her teenage years, there is no avoiding having her thighs felt up by men on crowded subways and at the movies with her girlfriends. She is approached by men in the street, numerous times, to “come on, honey, let’s go for a ride.” She realizes she can’t eat in restaurants alone, go to the movies alone, or move freely in public areas without fear of men. She will either be considered fair game (the 1940s and 50s version of asking for it) or thought to be a prostitute looking for business. Later, she finds it confusing that she is being raised to depend on a man to protect her from…other men.
Meanwhile, her brother’s upbringing is even more rigid because sons are human beings and daughters are just girls. He must avoid and, therefore, often have contempt for, all things female, including the color pink, girl toys, girl games, girl talk, girl clothes, etc. While she can read the Hardy Boys, he cannot read Nancy Drew. While she can play sports and be somewhat androgynous until puberty, he cannot appear to be artistic or sensitive in any way. If he is not good at sports, he is called faggot or derogatory names, i.e., parts of girls’ anatomy. While her family tasks involve baby-sitting her younger siblings, cleaning, helping in the kitchen, his family tasks include helping their father pack the car when they take trips and mowing the lawn. He cannot help their mother with the dishes or with younger siblings or anything indoors and domestic related. His punishment is more severe and long-lasting as it is administered by their father.
This gender/class training continues through their teenage years when they learn ballroom dancing so they can attend a series of approved social dances at places like the Plaza, the Waldorf Astoria, and the Pierre hotels. They cannot (and couldn’t, in any case, because they don’t meet them) go to these affairs with anyone Catholic, Jewish, or non-WASP-R. On dates to these social dances, she is to let her escort open all doors, including the taxi door, and to walk holding her escort’s arm. She’s not sure why, but it has something to do with being the “weaker” sex.
She wears a dress to all social situations with boys, never pants, except in the summer. On dates, from age 12 or 20, she is expected to squeeze her body into a girdle and stuff her size triple A bra with tissue paper, and shove her feet into pointy shoes that are too small. She’s expected to cover her face with makeup so she’ll look pretty, but not so the boys will want to have sex with her. She’s supposed to shave every single hair off her body and spray every single hair on her head. Often on these dates, she can hardly breathe, smile, stand up, sit down, walk, or talk in an attempt to catch some pimply, clammy, disgusting boy whose idea of conversation consists of grunting and whose head comes up to her waist.
She (and most WASP-R girls) know nothing much about sex, which is a sin before marriage (later there is an amendment to permit sex while engaged). She senses that sex is something for boys/men and that her role is to lie there until it’s over. She doesn’t really know how you get pregnant except that it happens when you have sex; or that there is such a thing as abortion, which is illegal and a bigger sin.
Eventually, this upbringing culminates in our baby girl’s debutante party where she is presented to society, which means she has to step up the search for the right man to marry after she graduates from college. At that point she is supposed to transfer from psychological and economic dependence on her father to dependence on her husband.
This upbringing is being carried out through the backdrop of World War II, the Holocaust, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, the Korean War, the height of anti-communism and the subsequent blacklist, the Cuban Missile Crisis, endless cowboy (good guys) and Indian (savages) movies, lynchings in the South, the birth of rock and roll, and the popularity of Freud and his views of women and hysteria and sexual repression and, especially, the supposed female envy of the male and his all-powerful “member.”
Somewhere in the mix, our baby girl also sees the movies Rebel Without a Cause, and reads Catcher in the Rye, which represent the few irreverent spots in her cookie-cutter culture.
Rebellion, Sort Of
Which brings us to 1963 when our baby girl is to graduate from college along with all the other girls and boys all over the U.S. who have been experiencing their particular pre-determined by class, race, and gender lives. However, there’s something happening here. In our baby girl’s case, she has been noticing things along the way, beginning around age 11 or 12. She realizes she hates being told what to do by her parents and teachers, especially when she thinks the rules are stupid or being used solely for authoritarian control.
She reasons that God couldn’t possibly know what the millions of people in world are doing every minute of the day so she decides Sunday School and religion itself are stupid—although she retains a fondness for the very good-looking, sexy, Anglo-Saxon Jesus depicted in the paintings in her personal Bible, given to her when she is confirmed at age 13. The fact that this ritual allows her to join millions of others in taking communion by symbolically drinking Christ’s blood and eating his flesh (in the form of grape juice and a square of white bread) seems insane to her.
Because her upper class neighborhood borders on a poorer section of the city, she sees many of what she and her friends call “tough” boys and girls in the park across the street and decides they look perfectly nice. On occasion, she and her friends play dodge ball with the boys (and she notices the tough girls don’t join in and wonders why).
She doesn’t see why her grandmother’s black maid and chauffeur are inferior and why they must work for her wealthy paternal grandparents, whom she loves, but thinks are a bit weird and she doesn’t see why anybody should have to wait on them—or anyone else, for that matter.
She realizes she’s been lied to about many things. Particularly, this society she’s been prepared for. Most of the WASP-R boys she encounters seem just plain mean so why are they the favored gender? Plus, the whole story about being created from Adam’s rib had to be, frankly, crap.
At the girls private school her parents send her to, she learns to see girls as intelligent, funny, interesting, athletic, scientific, mathematic, artistic, and collaborative. She actually considers girls somewhat superior to boys as examples of human beings. Although, she notes that when her funny, interesting, athletic, math genius classmates attend the social dances required of them, these wonderful girls, in the presence of boys, become, essentially, marshmallows for the evening—as per their gender instructions.
She notices that even at her girl school where everyone is the same class/ethnicity, they are tracked into different groups based on IQ and social maturity. She thinks the whole business of closed groups based on anything that seems to connote superiority is ridiculous and just plain wrong. She doesn’t mind forming a group, but one that is fun and welcoming, not exclusive.
She thinks most of what she’s been told about Freud is crap. She has never for one second envied the male, uh, “member.” Quite the opposite. She considers herself and her friends to be quite the thing. And besides, as a female, she will never have to go to war, a horrible fate—from the pictures she’s seen in Life magazine year after year—and she feels frightened for her brother. She much prefers having and caring for cute little babies (she has by now three adorable younger siblings), as long as she can still do things as an adult that she has enjoyed or excelled at as a child: sports, reading, writing, and acting (she secretly dreams of becoming a movie star like Ingrid Bergman).
And if WASP-Rs are so superior, why do they need to go to extreme lengths to hide the imperfections they claim not to have—like teeth straightening, putting “your face on” (full make-up) when with boys, and endlessly dieting.
She learns about revolutions against monarchies but never about the fight for women’s rights, which seems odd given that the very existence of her private girls’ school depended on the first wave of feminist struggles in their fight for women’s suffrage.
She starts to rebel. She lies to her parents in order to do some of the things they won’t let her do. She feels this is justified because they have lied to her. She discovers sarcasm—guaranteed to drive boys and her parents crazy with disapproval. Finally, she rejects her father as the ultimate wise authority, when he hits her at the age of 16, with a belt, for not performing her proper female role.
She begins to identify with the only option open to her as an alternative: becoming a beatnik, a misogynist culture if there ever was one. But rebellious female role models have been limited to Queen Elizabeth I and Joan of Arc so she is forced to identify with Jack Kerouac’s rebellion and ignore the sexism, a word she won’t hear for another eight years or so. And by senior year in college, she definitely knows she was lied to about sex before marriage and masturbation being sins.
Escaping to Patriarchy-lite
So our grown up baby girl is faced with a painful choice as she prepares to graduate during the early years of the Kennedy administration, during the post-beatnik, early folk years, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the beginning of the Vietnam War, the beginning of ban the bomb and civil rights. She can return to the patriarchal family to do what? She is basically unemployable and, besides, earning money is off the table, according to her father. So that path seems a psychological death, a killing of her spirit, a spirit she is not supposed to have. There have, she admits, been many wonderful moments growing up. They had been a sort of perfect WASP-R family before puberty, while she and her brother were cute and obedient. Also, she’s enjoyed her father’s fondness for puns and Maurice Chevalier imitations and her mother’s extraordinary capacity to raise five children and still run numerous WASP-R committees. She has especially enjoyed being on her own or with friends—most of these moments involving sports, theater, and all things creative.
But by now she knows she’s never going to become the WASP-R wife of a corporate lawyer as dictated by her father and supported by her mother. She realizes she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her parents. She hates their politics, their morality, their bigotry. So she creates a life with someone who doesn’t give a fig for the WASP-R culture; whose parents (a Jewish/Scandinavian combination) are totally different from hers; whose father, a painter, teaches art and reads I.F. Stone’s Weekly. Her own father kicks her out, removes her picture from the wall and says he will pray for her.
But escaping in 1963 means she takes on, to a certain extent, the life described in The Feminine Mystique—that is,she disappears as a self-actualized individual and becomes Mrs. Him and Mother. No more softball games in Central Park with her classmates. No more making up modern dances to Elvis Presley music or directing class plays.
In spite of this, she approaches marriage and parenthood with excitement, determined to avoid becoming like her parents. In the next four years, our grown up baby girl has three babies of her own and vows never to lie to them about the world they’ve been born into. She discovers why the need for pink and blue bracelets and ribbons at birth. It’s so people know how to talk to babies in a gender appropriate way. She sees the horror on people’s faces when they discover that the infant they’ve been cooing sweetly to, and declaring “such a pretty baby,” is actually a boy. She vows never to limit their gender choices and makes sure to dispel the Freudian girl envy of the boy’s “member.”
She raises her babies during the three assassinations—JFK, MLK, and RFK. She lives downstairs from a young couple who have been active supporting civil rights for blacks in the South and she realizes she doesn’t have a clue what that’s all about. She reads about the anti-war march to the Pentagon when “hippies” confront soldiers and put flowers in their guns. She isn’t sure what that’s all about, but, like the believer in American democracy she was raised to be, she feels that, since America is in Vietnam helping out, they can’t abandon those being slaughtered by Communists and whoever else.
At one point, she expresses this view to her father-in-law and he spends 45-minutes explaining the war to her from a more radical perspective. What he tells her makes more sense than anything she was told by her parents and schoolteachers. He seems un-fettered by the class, race, gender prescriptions she has been used to, leaving him free to think for himself. As a result of this conversation, she starts reading newspapers and crying mornings` over the killing. Meanwhile, mothers of her children’s classmates share information about exciting feminist books to read by someone called Doris Lessing. And she starts reading. Finally, she decides she has to do something.
Reading, Reading, and More Reading
She joins a local peace group and begins getting signatures on anti-war petitions. She campaigns for a women peace candidate for State Representative. Then, from 1968 or so through 1975, all hell breaks loose and her alienation is explained by the information that trickles down to her from the various social movements. Eventually, she joins the staff of an anti-war coalition and attends many huge demonstrations—where she hears talks by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. She marches against the war, against racism; she attends take back the night events, she identifies with feminism, gets divorced, lives in a collective, has her consciousness-raised, and pursues, along with a partner, a revolutionary agenda for the next 38 years.
She keeps reading. She likes The Second Sex where Simone de Beauvoir astutely observes: “But first we must ask what is a woman? Woman has ovaries…a uterus…. And these particularities imprison her in her subjectivity … circumscribe her within the limits of her own nature. It is often said that she thinks with her glands…. Man simply ignores the fact that his anatomy also includes glands, such as the testicles…and that they secrete hormones. Man thinks of his body as a direct and normal connection to the world, whereas he regards the body of a woman as a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it.
“Thus, humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but relative to him…. Man can think of himself without woman; she cannot think of herself without man. For the man she is sex….absolute sex, no less. She is defined and differentiated with reference to man…and not he with reference to her. She is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute, she is the Other.”
She learns about socialism and marxism and anarchism and other isms. She struggles to make sense of concepts like surplus value, feeling that she cannot really be radical or write about things until she studies them in depth—although she’s not sure how to organize a working class person by lecturing that: “Under capitalism dead labor is all the accumulated value of past labor owned as capital….. Dead labor is in contradiction with living labor because it is used to increase production of use values only if it realizes an exchange value and creates a profit.”
Or “Jameson sees Derrida’s return to the young Marx as a way of conceiving of post-modern virtuality; a daily spectrality that undermines the present and the real without any longer attracting attention at all; it marks the originality of our social situation, but no-one has re-identified it as a very old thing in quite this dramatic way—it is the emergence of spectrality of the messianic as the differential deployment of the tekhne.”
She learns about Marxist feminism: “Capital and private property are the cause of women’s particular oppression just as capital is the cause of the exploitation of workers in general and women’s participation in the labor force is the key to her emancipation.” But, since she was raised specifically not to participate in the labor force, she seems to be excluded from the radical liberatory process.
She learns about radical feminism in which there is “no private domain that is not political and no political issue that is not ultimately personal, and that the original and basic class division is between the sexes, and that the motive force in history is the striving of men for power and domination over women, the dialectic of sex. So the key to women’s liberation lies in the elimination of the traffic in women and of obligatory sexualities and sex roles.” But she doesn’t like the fact that, in this theory, her brother isn’t necessarily welcome.
She learns about socialist feminism: “The oppression of women is a result of the partnership of patriarchy and capital: patriarchy being defined as a set of social relations which has a material base and in which there are hierarchical relations between men and solidarity among them to enable them to dominate women. So the liberation of women will require an overthrow of both capitalism and patriarchy.” She likes this one, but it doesn’t have much to say about the liberation of people “of color.”
She wonders why the struggle for liberation seems to involve a hierarchy of oppressions where activists are constantly arguing for race to be addressed first or gender or class or whatever. She also notes a worrisome, but different kind of exclusivity—one of theory, practice, attire, and length of hair,
Men in the Movement
In order to more fully comprehend these various strains of radicalism, she joins a study group, while working on the staff of an anti-war group where she experiences men in the movement and witnesses discussions/meetings where men greet each other as “bros” and where all the women seem to be there because they are affiliated with one or another of the bros. At these meetings the bros talk and talk and talk. Then a woman says something, quickly, which the bros ignore or interrupt after the fifth word or complain about how the woman has talked for too long or the bros engage in a mass clearing of phlegm or side conversations about what Marx or Foucault said on page 53 of some lengthy volume they’ve been reading. Then the men resume their meeting interactions with each other.
She notes that the functioning of the anti-war office resembles ever so slightly the dynamics of a traditional home/corporate office, but it’s not so bad because they are stopping a war. Besides, she has escaped something far worse.
Eventually, women decide that playing traditional roles just doesn’t cut it and she and others begin to fight for their place in a radical movement. She participates in political media and theater projects where the structures are collective. She enjoys these, but notes that the level of sexism and the boss/worker dynamic still depends on the level of consciousness of the participants, which makes the feminists, gays, and the occasional person of color on the staffs just a bit edgy. She does find, however, that she is able to reclaim a self similar to those few empowering moments she experienced at age 16 or so, only better. She also notices that through political theater, she can be almost “equal” to men, in the audiences’ eyes. Whereas in political collectives, she can never “rap” about Habermas the way the bros can. To compensate, she reverts to her mother’s skill of being an extremely efficient, hard worker.
Institutionalizing Our Values
Eventually, she joins others in creating a media project where they try to incorporate democracy in the non-hierarchical structure and process of their workplace. They do this by breaking down oppressive work assignments and corporate arrangements so that each person has a mix of intellectual, rote, creative, and business tasks. They develop a set of principles to deal with the typical hierarchies, divisions of labor, and decision-making structures that continue to exist in many of the “alternative” progressive projects she’s witnessed, inevitably reverting to some kind of oppressive division of labor. They decide that:
(1) all information relevant to decisions must be available to all project participants
(2) no hiring and firing other than by agreement of the whole project according to well understood, rather than some individual or subset inviting new staff members
(3) no monopolizing of the ability to generate the funds needed for the project
(4) participatory democracy in decision making, including one person/one vote on overarching issues, and self-management of one’s own circumstances
(5) salary equalization
(6) equality of work assignments for conditions and empowerment effects so that each staff person has a combination of tasks comparable to other people’s jobs: i.e., a balanced job complex.
Our grown up baby girl becomes more empowered. While she remembers rarely speaking up in 17 years of schooling, she begins to participate in discussions and decision making. Although, she notes that if she participates too much or speaks with too much authority, she is derided by some for being too male—which seems to be a bad thing. But she keeps going and manages to combine political work with doing what she likes best—theater, creating, collaborating, producing things, learning new skills. In her work, she travels and talks to people involved in worker-owned factories, worker self-management collectives, and anti-authoritarian movements, where they are trying to create real democracy through decision-making assemblies, applying values of solidarity, equity, diversity, and self-management
She realizes there are problems with the structure mostly relating to the “baggage” people bring to the process, yet, she is convinced that this alternative workplace arrangement has the potential to eliminate all hierarchies, including those of gender, race, and class; even, eventually, if applied to other areas, enable women to become equal partners in families and other endeavors.
A Participatory Society
At some point, our baby girl becomes a grandmother. And she worries about her grandchildren’s future. She notes that, for all the babies born after 1960, it is no longer so easy to predict their lives in such great detail, based on their class, race, and gender. This seems to her a profound, positive change. But she’s also aware that if she described the world they will grow up in to her young grandchildren, without the romanticized description she knows they will hear in school, it will include a litany of wars, environmental degradation, the threat of nuclear annihilation, stultifying injustice, continuing violence against—and objectification of—women and others who challenge their prescribed gender assignments. Would they think she was crazy? Would they look at her quizzically and remark, “You’re kidding?” Frankly, at some level, she wouldn’t want them to know.
She notes that the further things get from the energy of the 1960s and the movements that followed, the more the radical changes need defending because the basic institutions have stayed the same. In the mainstream, a younger generation seems to be following more traditional, predictable paths (flooded by media, cultural gender, class, race messages). Being radical seems to have become its own somewhat predictable class, race, and gender club, closed off to protect and maintain the integrity of each groups’ politics against a strengthened right-wing attack.
She wishes she could have done more for her children and grandchildren. She wishes that her own life could have been different. She wonders what kind of world she would have found welcoming and exciting. She knows she doesn’t want a world where she’s “equal” as long she doesn’t act like the first sex, which means her gender assignment is still being determined for her. She would, in fact, like to be bumped up from the “Other” to full human status.
She certainly doesn’t want a world where brain size, genetic endowment, and class, race, gender, and anything else are used to define her and her life. While she enjoys the differences in people’s cultural differences, she would like a world where these differences aren’t the basis for an oppressive hierarchy, but a contribution to an exciting diversity.
She knows she would like a world where one of the goals of society is that she (and her brother, and everyone else) can realize their full potentials, assuming by full potential we don’t mean being a mass murderer/sociopath. She believes that kind of world is possible because as the “second sex,” raised in the company of mainly women, she has witnessed the more cooperative nature of humans. She believes in humans’ innate goodness and, in her case, she knows that a marshmallow (a shy, frightened, baby girl), raised in a rigid race/class/gender prescribed hierarchical system, has the potential to radically change her consciousness in as little as 45 minutes and blossom into someone quite different.
She would like to have parents, and any other adults in charge of raising her, to consider her an apprentice adult, rather than a behavior modification project or a student in obedience school taught not only when to sit, but how to sit—and to look pretty while doing it. Being an apprentice adult means that she and her brother would learn to how be independent, how to take care of themselves equally, rather than she learning how to cook and sew and clean house, while her brother doesn’t. This apprenticeship concept seems preferable to “you’re my dependents until you’re 21, so do what I say” parenting.
She imagines a world where she can have a varied, creative life with institutions that foster cooperation, classlessness, unprescribed gender relations, and where she can participate in decisions about the world and the society, community, and “family” she is born into.
She’d like her apprenticeship to include some of the usual stuff—reading, writing, and arithmetic—but also a way to learn things that would prepare her for an exciting adult society. She’d like that society to be something like the democratic workplace she experienced in her media project and to have a general atmosphere of creative collaboration, where every person would take profound joy in the potentials and contributions of others.
She imagines a society organized completely differently. Rather than having to balance work and family and all the rest of it, she’d like to be guaranteed (from the age of 18 or so) a social security wage, or contract, which would assert her right to basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, and a travel pass for use on a range of environmentally safe transportation options (trains, hovercrafts, bikes, trucks, whatever).
In exchange for this social security contract, she would agree to participate in a mix of social responsibilities combined with others that help her develop and utilize her particular potential and ensure that she can have a diverse, secure, and interesting life. She’d like to call this a balanced life complex.
A Balanced Life Complex
She would like the mix of things, for which she (and her brother) get a social wage, to include, at the very least:
Political Councils (things like local/regional/national decision making assemblies, serving on a crisis aid core, jury duty, citizen peacekeeping)
Social Production (whatever various communities have democratically decided through a series of assemblies that they need/want)
Environment (caring for the non-human world, which would involve things like recycling, urban planning, architecture, garbage pick-up, animal health)
Caretaking or Guardianship (caring for the human world, such as parenting, apprentice advising, daycare, elder care, education, healthcare, community needs)
Culture (art, music, theater, dance, games, sports, writing, media)
Other (personal time, sabbatical, research, travel, taking stock, setting a new mix of the above areas)
In addition, within each of these areas, she (and her brother) would have a balanced mix of tasks. When she is around six-years-old, she’d like to apprentice in youth assemblies where she can discuss some of the same topics being considered in the adult assemblies, particularly issues that would affect her and her brother. There, she can learn about political issues and how to discuss and make decisions democratically, preparing her for eventual participation as an adult. She thinks six is a good age to begin because she has had incredible, baggage-free discussions with her children and grandchildren at that age and is certain young children can help create a better society than the one we’ve got.
In addition, as an apprentice adult, she imagines her education would include learning the range of information and skills necessary for choosing her future mix of responsibilities. So, along with participation in the political assemblies and learning some of the usual subjects, which would focus on general knowledge and reasoning, she would want to learn (as would her brother) about all the varied options in the categories of culture, environment, social production, and care-taking.
At age 13, she imagines being ready to apprentice in a rotating mix of those areas so that, by age 16 or so, she can become independent of her parents/guardians/teachers, receive her own social security contract, and begin to design her own initial balanced life complex. She imagines that as an adult, instead of always having to juggle her time—as in the current society where economic life dominates and separates genders, classes, and races into separate jobs, communities, and spheres of life—her mix of responsibilities (and her brother’s) would prioritize a balance of a wide and diverse range of areas—i.e., some aspect of culture, social production, political council activity, environment, and caretaking arranged on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis depending on her age and life circumstances.
She would like this society to make time for taking stock—hence, the “other” category listed in her mix. She imagines a two-week period every three years or so would be nice when a societal—possibly global—retreat is called for. All manner of councils would meet, take stock, discuss societal goals, present changes, rearrange life and job complexes, and set guidelines and priorities for the next period.
She believes that a world like the one she’s imagined, where gender, class, and race/ethnicity no longer predetermine what people’s lives will be like, could lead not only to a post-sexist society, but to a post-racist, post-classist world as well. For most of her thirties years on the left, the economy has been the locus of revolution, relegating other areas to add-on status. Instead, she believes that, without changing the race/class/gender hierarchies of consciousness, behavior, and life choices that begin in families at birth, there will be no revolution for women or all those also defined as “the Other”—which means there will be no revolution at all.
She feels certain of this, partly because of the immense contributions of the revolutionary women before, during, and after the late 1960s social and cultural uprising. She has witnessed, as a result, a progressive trajectory from the prescribed gender/class/race hierarchical culture of her parents to her own and her children’s parenting.
As a baby girl in 1942, she would like to have grown up in a world that welcomed her participation and where citizens rejoiced in each others’ particular contributions and potentials. That would certainly justify our baby girl’s smile, as she looks up from her bassinet. Maybe all the other baby girls (and their baby brothers) are smiling, too. And the ribbons decorating their hospital cribs are all the colors of the rainbow.
Lydia Sargent is co-founder of South End Press and Z Magazine. She has been on the staff of Z since its inception in 1988. She is also a playwright, actor, and director.