It’s becoming more and more clear today that we have to ask the following questions:
– What do we seven and a half billion human beings really need?
– In order to lead a good life on this unique planet earth?
– Together with innumerable other living beings?
– As ancestors of future generations who probably also want to live on earth happily?
So, my main question here and now is:
– How is this question linked to feminism?
– In my European-Swiss context in 2019?
I will try and answer the question in fifteen minutes, in a personal way. I will explain why I still feel rooted in the feminist movement but started calling myself a “postpatriarchal thinker” some years ago.
Patriarchy is over!
At the end of the 20thcentury, in 1996, a group of Italian philosophers issued a text: “Patriarchy is Over”. In this text they above all expressed their joy: Feminism has been a successful movement! The world has changed! Let’s celebrate, let’s live our female freedom!
After this “jump for joy” they proposed a new kind of feminism that goes beyond “equality”. They asked: Is equality what we want? Equality with what or whom? Can it be an aim in itself? Should we start thinking about what we really want? Let’s create a viable symbolic and social order for our future!
When I first heard this simple phrase “Patriarchy is over” I was kind of shocked. At the same time I felt that I had already had the same idea but had not dared to say it out loud. It seemed to be a taboo in the feminist community to celebrate our own success and propose a next step. But isn’t it a wonderful challenge: Let’s stop focusing on anger and complaint. Let’s honor all the ancestors who fought for our freedom, and then finally benefit from our hard-won emancipation and take creative responsibility for our common world!
In 2000 I myself published a book „The End of Patriarchy. Theological-Political Texts in Transition”. In 2005 this book was followed by another: “Acting out of Abundance. A Postpatriarchal Ethics in Biblical Tradition”. This was the first time I used the term „postpatriarchal“ with a wider audience.
Patriarchy is over?
What do we mean when we talk about the end of patriarchy?
Certainly we do not say that heaven has arrived on earth. There is, as we all know, much discrimination and violence left, and there are strong backlashes as we can now see in the US, UK, Russia, Turkey, Brazil and many other countries, in Africa, too. Perhaps the fact that men can see their power evaporate makes them even more aggressive.
Instead, what postpatriarchal thinkers want to tell the world is this: Women (and many men and many in-betweens) do not believe in patriarchal dogmas any more. Like biblical prophets they stand up saying:
“Esteemed patriarchs, your time is over. Your power has gone. You haven’t been able to shape a viable world for all creatures. So, climb down from your thrones. Let’s take responsibility all together. Yes, the breakdown of an age-old mental and social structure causes confusion. So let’s face confusion and try to find ways out of it. Let’s leave behind the seemingly endless narratives of hetero couples – husband and wife, man and woman, white and black, culture versus nature, public versus private, market and household, reason and emotion, freedom and dependency, body and soul, theory and praxis and so on. Let’s set off for a fresh approach to our lived realities.”
In the meantime there have been more texts written about the end of patriarchy, by women and men. For example “L’Après Patriarcat” by the French sociologist Eric Macé and “The End of Patriarchy. Radical Feminism for Men” by the US-American journalist Robert Jensen.
Have I stopped being a feminist?
Feminism is where the Italian thinkers and where I have come from. To be honest, for most of us it was not the first space in which we learned to think and act politically. Before I became a feminist I had been a leftist, interested in justice, human rights and ecology. Shortly before I entered feminism I had started studying theology. Why theology? Above all because I was and I am still touched by the story of unconditional divine love that is: the acceptance of all human beings just as they are. I had discovered that the basis of human dignity and rights can be found in my biblical matrix. This is great.
However, we women soon realized that all the movements towards a good life of all humans on the vulnerable planet Earth were incomplete if we pretended to be “neutral” beings. No we are not neutral, we are gendered, we are different in many respects. As women and men, as black and white people, as Africans, Europeans, Asians etcetera, as differently abled people, we have different histories and, accordingly, different approaches to the world. We must analyze these differences and find out their political relevance. Luckily I soon came in contact with feminist theology, so I managed to link my religious self to the strong impulses that came from women like Mary Daly, Mercy Amba Oduyoye, Ivone Gebara and many others. For years we were busy creating links between our feminist insights and the biblical and Christian tradition, politics, the social question and ecology.
And this is exactly what I want to do as a postpatriarchal thinker, too. So, what I leave behind is first: equality as an aim in itself, and second: the separation of so-called “women’s questions” from the big questions of our common future. But I keep on insisting that we need an exact, a gendered evaluation of our present to shape our future.
There are still many people who think that climate change, peace and war, poverty, global inequality, violence etc. can be understood in a “neutral” way, and that “women’s rights” or the “gender issue” are something separate that can be solved separately. This is certainly wrong. I am even convinced that at the core of all the big problems we can find distorted perceptions of human differences.
Postpatriarchal thinking means uncovering links between seemingly “neutral” issues and the gender question, in order to create a good life for all
In the very influential Western tradition, for example, the original decision of Ancient Greek philosophers to separate a higher independent symbolically male sphere from a lower dependent subservient symbolically female sphere has had far-reaching consequences. There are, for example, strong links between the exploitation of nature and the neglect of traditional female care-work. There are causal connections between the exclusion of women and the structures of slavery, racism and the refusal to create a sustainable economy. We must uncover these links in order to adequately deal with the crucial questions of a viable future.
Let me show the deep roots of these links just by two examples:
First: The notion matter, materia in Greek, is derived from the Greek word meter which means mother. So, mothers in the Western tradition are set in analogy with a concept of mute exploitable soil the opposite of which is the independent free male mind. The consequence is that men often forget that they are vulnerable mortal natal natural beings, too. This oblivion has far-reaching ecological impacts.
Second: The notion nature is derived from the Latin verb nasci which means to be born. So “nature” means everything we do not owe to ourselves. It is true: as born, natal, natural beings we owe nearly everything to nature. However, Western culture largely denies our being born by women, thus the naturalness of humanity, placing “man” above nature, mortality above natality, an allegedly “independent” mind above the body. To deconstruct the false self-concept of “independence” is crucial for an effective socio-ecological politics.
There are many more correlations to be disclosed if we really want to solve the big questions we face as humanity. Traditionally, according to the patriarchal order, women are allocated to the “practical” side of life. We are supposed to incessantly help, heal and care. This is certainly a good thing. However, what we need as well or even more are good uncompromising life-affirming understandable theorists: postpatriarchal thinkers all over the world who take over responsibility for a new symbolic order.
The Care-Movement: Economy is Care
To conclude my 15 minutes speech I will tell you about the special commitment I’ve been working on for the last few years.
It’s a fact: I am still a theologian. However, I’ve stopped focusing on theology. One year ago I left the Swiss Reformed church. After forty years of fighting for a postpatriarchal interpretation of the biblical tradition I have become tired of church authorities who do not listen. I still believe that the core of the gospel, unconditional love, will survive. But having dropped the heavy load of Church membership has turned out to be a good feeling of liberation.
Leaving behind theology as my main interest and the church as my main space of action I have turned to a field that undoubtedly has a heavy impact on our global and local realities: the economy and economics. In 2015, we, five women from different backgrounds, founded an association called “Economy is Care”.
Economy is Care: this is not a new, but the original definition of the economy: Oiko-nomia in Greek is the theory and praxis of good housekeeping. What do good housekeepers do? They fulfill human needs, they care for those who are living in our common house. Our common house is the planet Earth.
To return to the original meaning of a concept is nothing but normal. However, in this case it means a big challenge, too: We place women’s mostly unpaid caring work in the center of the economy and economics. This is a big change, and it is a threat for all the so-called “economists” and business people who have systematically marginalized women’s contributions to our wellbeing, placing money and profit in the center instead. It’s a threat, and it’s a way out of the deadlock of mainstream economics that is ruling and often destroying our world. It’s a re-framing: The center of the economy and economics is our natality, our neediness, the naturalness of all human beings, and our capacity to care for ourselves, for other human beings and the world.
This movement “Economy is Care” is my contribution to a postpatriarchal good life of all humans. It is linked to many other life-friendly movements around the world. We have already launched a campaign “Karwoche ist Care-Woche” (“Holy Week is Care-Week”) we organize events and roundtables, we exchange with economists, we publish texts, we discuss on Social Media (#economyiscare), we have produced an explanatory film, we participated in the big Swiss women’s strike on 14thof June 2019.
Together we are on our way towards a viable future for all humans and all living beings. May the LOVING PRESENCE IN-BETWEEN be with us.
Thank you for listening!