Inspiring women for dark times

One of my all-time favourite quotes is

Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully you can hear her breathe.”

Arundhati Roy

It is one of those things that has always rang in my head on tough days, and it has never rang more true (and felt more needed) than these days. But, for some strange, and wonderful, reason I have been coming across many of these kinds of reads recently. Lots of much needed hope floating my way. Call it chance, coincidence, or magic, whatever you like, but I have managed to stay very hopeful through the crisis, thanks to some amazing women thinkers. So I thought I’d share them with you, in case at least one of them helps you too.

One of the most loved and shared quotes by Gerda Lerner – my absolute favourite feminist theorist and historian – is:

“The system of patriarchy is a historic construct; it has a beginning; it will have an end. Its time seems to have nearly run its course (…) We are living in an age of unprecedented transformation. We are in the process of becoming.” 

And you could say that she’s as good an authority on this as can be – Gerda Lerner has pretty much invented the discipline of women’s history and wrote The Creation of Patriarchy – one of the most ground-breaking (and underappreciated) feminist history/theory books, which you can download for free here!

Adding to this, I heard both Naomi Klein and Rebecca Solnit say words to this effect quite recently. (And I’m being told I haven’t even read the book on hope – Hope in the Dark – that Solnit wrote even more explicitly on the topic!) In the Faraway Nearby, Solnit talks about a very difficult period in her life through stories, and manages to come out with a powerful message of resilience and hope, which helped me put things in perspective.

“To feel for someone enlarges the self and then that self shares risks and pains. Or to feel for something, since the last half century has seen a vast expansion of concern and compassion for the nonhuman world.”

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

And then I, again somewhat accidentally, discovered that she’s now doing regular live storytelling for emergencies on her Facebook profile. I listened to one this morning and came away with another powerful message:

 I think that the world is changing and when we come out of our homes, we’ll be very different people in some very important ways.”

A couple of years ago, I went to see Naomi Klein at the Southbank Centre for the Women of the World festival, and she absolutely blew me away. I had to take quite a bit of time to process the deep message of hope she’s expressed. I found myself lost. I felt elevated by it, and yet I could not fully process how she could be so hopeful, considering everything she knew, her work on climate change in capitalism, and the understanding she had of the complexity of the challenge that stood before us. Now, I am slowly learning to embrace her conviction and hope. Despite the gravity of the challenge. Despite the despair that is at times overwhelming. We have to, I think.

Then last night I tuned into a teach-in with Naomi Klein and Angela Davis organised by The Rising Majority, and I was inspired again by the overarching message of hope – from all speakers, not just Klein – despite the gravity of the crisis; this time in the context of the coronavirus, of course, but the message strikes me as quite universal:

 “Once you realise that you are in an emergency, a great deal is possible… Our job is to open the door of radical possibilities as wide as possible.”

Naomi Klein

And then I had a conversation with a friend not so long ago that illuminated to me why I was having such trouble accepting the message of hope two years ago, and until very recently to be honest. The major stumbling block was within me, not just in the complex, confusing and sometimes scary world that we live in. If we look at history, the evidence, humanity has really never been better placed to deal with the challenges that we face. But I had lived so long focusing on the negatives that my view became skewed. And I had to untwist it to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And then, once I saw that, with a bit of practice, it became increasingly easy to shift focus. Now I’m working on a reading list for time of crisis, multiple lists in fact… With messages of hope like these and more.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe that change is an individual project. I don’t believe we should internalise the world’s problems. But I do believe it is impossible to change the world for the better – even collectively – without hope, without believing that we can.

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit has just arrived in my mailbox. I waited for this book impatiently, as it seemed the perfect read for this harsh time, and a great way to follow The Faraway Nearby – with its message of hope through collective action. I only managed to read the first couple of pages so far, but one of struck me as the perfect note to end on, to summarise this post:

“Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win. Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons (…)

This has been a truly remarkable decade for movement-building, social change, and deep, profound shifts in ideas, perspective, and frameworks for broad parts of the population.” 

Rebecca Solnit

Another world really is possible. I can feel it now too. At last. The only question now is whether we can act and create it quickly enough to avoid our own extinction… I remain hopeful.

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