We don’t know each other, although we have some contacts in common—my mentor, Carol Gilligan, and one of my co-authors on Mother Daughter Revolution, Marie Wilson. Of course, I say this to give myself a bit of legitimacy, because you are given advice from every corner—about as often as women are told to “smile” on the street—and why should you listen to me?
The personal and cultural dimensions of gender identity, intersected with class and race, have been my “beat,” so to speak. Identity and dignity are the passion drivers in this election. They call us to larger narratives and hopes for the future in which you, by virtue of your gender, race, and class, have played and are playing a dramatic, archetypal role. You seem to be a bit tone-deaf to the archetypal dimension of the campaign. You cannot … Read More »
Creation is the realm of Eros. No, I don’t mean eros as in erotic. There is a deeper meaning and experience of Eros that includes and goes beyond sexuality. This other, less known Eros comes from the Greeks, and emerged before the beautiful young god of erotic love that most of us are familiar with. Eros was the first deity to emerge from Chaos, coming into being simultaneously with the earth and the underworld. This Eros is often shown as neither male nor female. Creation couldn’t have happened without it. This Eros is the primordial creative impulse, the motive that drives all matter into its extraordinary manifestation as the Cosmos and all the lifeforms, including ourselves, that exist within it. That Eros, just like the erotic drive of sexuality, exists in all of us humans. Too often, we are not … Read More »
The hope for a united, pluralistic German culture within a larger unity of Europe will, to a considerable degree, depend on how we think about who we are as women and men. Just look at the gender muddle stirred up by the Koeln New Year’s attacks. How do we not blame women for being “provocative” and simultaneously not stigmatize men from cultures in which, as one Muslim asylum seeker from Eritrea said, “if someone wants a lady he can just take her and he will not be punished”? We are living side by side with such vastly different beliefs about the right and appropriate ways for women and men to behave. These differences aren’t casual or mere irritations. They go to the living heart of who we are.
Right now, gender is a minefield. The progress toward gender equality has created … Read More »
Gender, in a diverse global context, is an ongoing confrontation. The ways that we embody being male or female (or neither) vary remarkably from culture to culture, place to place. However, I find it very striking that it’s often very difficult to see this clearly. And if we do, it’s then very difficult not to have some kind of personal, emotional reaction to these differences—often some form of repulsion. Such responses are often particularly visceral because gender is entwined with the power and lure of sexuality. I’m not necessarily speaking about practices like Female Genital Mutilation, but the more subtle ways that our core identities frame our perceptions of what is normal, good, and right. A deep and unconscious attachment to our core gender identity easily can make us into subtle imperialists.
Our shared resistance, particularly in the West, to a … Read More »
I don’t know what “equality” really means any more. It’s so strange that after fifty years of movement toward gender equality, so much has changed, and yet what we have now is not the social transformation that I hoped for. In fact, we’re far from it.
Maybe I’m being too idealistic to expect more. But I didn’t expect that equality would come to be defined, as I feel it largely has been, as the equal right to do whatever one wants to do, to fulfill one’s lusts however one desires, regardless of the effect on anyone else. Somehow, even the notion of equality has become a tool of the status quo that plays zero sum games with men’s vs. women’s dignity, self-respect, and autonomy. My original inspiration could best be described as “the more beautiful world that our hearts know is … Read More »
The day after my very first appearance on New York cable TV—it was the 80s, so cable was new and small—I got a message at my office at the National Organization for Women where I was VP. It was from a well-known Dr. Oz-type doctor who did health reports on one of the big TV networks. I had no idea who he was, but my colleagues were all excited, thinking that this could be a real break for us to reach a bigger audience. He had seen my appearance on the local cable program, where I was speaking about women’s rights and equality, and he wanted me to call him.
I was nervous, but I called the number at the TV network that he gave me. It was his private line and he picked up the phone himself. As … Read More »
In the middle of nothing—that is, nothing but sand stretching in every direction—there is a peculiar oasis. It has huge palm trees with thick rough trunks and wild leafy tops placed in a grid: six by six. No oasis anywhere in the desert has palm trees that grow in a grid like a Cartesian plane. But here at New York University (NYU)-Abu Dhabi, this oasis of sorts is both the center of a contemporary university campus and the perfect metaphor for the unique type of global education that the university offers. Is this the kind of global education that will bring together the next generation globally? I’m not sure.
I was visiting NYU-Abu Dhabi as a stopover to visit my mentor, Carol Gilligan, and her husband Jim, on the way home from a visit to India. The two contexts, side-by-side, present … Read More »
The Potential of We Beyond the Gender Binary
Sometimes, when watching Kirstie Simson dance with others in concert, a different possibility for women and men arises before my eyes. Unlike the swan-like princesses and dashing dark-clad heroes of classical ballet that so often play out the polarity of feminine and masculine, the whirl of colliding, sinking, rolling, lifting bodies in Simson’s work defies any expected pattern. Female dancers drive and pounce, males curl and receive, or vice versa in endless permutations of call and response. An energetic impulse leaps from one dancer to another, passing through the dancer’s body, compelling it into motion to touch and move on. The sense is of human beings liberated, simple and open, in spontaneous creation. I forget that I am watching women and men, female and male, and find myself surprised and amazed by the … Read More »
When I watched Conchita Wurst sing her way to victory in the Eurovision competition in May 2014, I was thrilled. It wasn’t simply because her win was a triumph for transgender people everywhere (particularly given Putin’s gaybashing) but her unique masculine femininity (or vice versa) points us to a future in which the gender polarity that we feel is “normal” will no longer make sense. Conchita Wurst—the stage persona created by singer Thomas Neuwirth—breaks through drag queen conventions by sporting a full beard and no female prosthetics while wearing false eyelashes, big hair, and a sparkling gown. The transgender impulse challenges the very nature of male and female that has been the foundation of modern culture. It is an impulse toward a transcendence of biology that places a priority on freedom from the dualisms of modernity—masculine/feminine, mind/body, culture/nature—and thereby holds … Read More »