09 July 2006

let the poets cry themselves to sleep.

Something about deserts sparks intense periods of self-reflection (i.e. quarter-life crises) for me. I think it's the vastness of uninhabited space that makes me think about myself in relation to the world and the impact I want to make on it. That, or the heat fries my brain. Both are equally likely. Today at work I found myself pondering my five year plan and why I've placed so much value on things like winning a Marshall scholarship and going to Oxford instead of things like the Peace Corps. I've always been critical of people more interested in having a legacy than making an impact, but I'm realizing I have more in common with that mindset than I'd like to admit. I disagree with the notion of "philosphers" on principle - yes, they're brilliant thinkers, but if each one had written one less book about the origins of the world's problems and actually gone out and done something to fix it instead, imagine where we'd be today. I can't handle people who complain or say they have better ideas, but then don't do anything to implement them. That's why I want to work for the US government - I believe it can leave a positive impact on the world. I won't change the world, but at least I'll have gone down fighting. But I'm realizing that I want someone to notice my fight and remember my name, and that's obscenely selfish and arrogant. I want to go to Oxford partially for the quality of education, but partially for the prestige that comes with the name and the respect it garners. But prestigious names alone shouldn't garner respect - I shouldn't be worth a damn to anyone until I've made a positive impact somewhere. I know that in my heart, but part of me still wants to be impressive before the fact, and that saddens me. I suppose admitting you have a problem is half the battle, but it's disheartening to realize you have so much in common with what you condemn.

The women I'm working with embody why it's so much more beneficial to all parties to forego recognition and just throw yourself into making change. Rita became passionate about stopping trafficking in women as sex workers when she counseled women in prison in Israel. Although she won a major international award for her work after seveal years, that didn't motivate her to start and she only uses it now as a means of gaining audiences for her cause - as an internationally recognized advocate, she can reach the ears of Knesset members and other policy makers. I want to model myself after people like that - people who are recognized for passions they already have, not people who work for recognition. I want to work in reconstruction Iraq one day, but I've been putting it off because I want to go to a prestigious graduate school and do exciting research in order to be hired at a high enough level to be important. But I have just as much potential to work on a more grassroots, entry level position, and probably a better chance of impacting American-Iraqi relations. If all politics is local, then why am I so fixated on titles and legacies? Last year's quarter-life crisis just changed my professional and academic future, but now I'm tearing down my entire world view. I should stay out of deserts for a while, or else I'm going to end up having to change my life plan again, and this is getting stressful.

On the topic of life plans and causes, Visaka arrived today for the conference. We spent the morning in a coalition meeting with representatives from the other organizations talking about their particular causes in the greater peace and feminist movement. Visaka talked a lot about how she got involved in the Sri Lankan peace movement - she has three sons, two of whom serve in the Sri Lankan military, and one went missing in 1998 (he still hasn't been accounted for). When the government refused to answer her inquiries, she joined forces with the families of other missing soldiers and hasn't looked back since. Her organization, the Association of War Affected Women, is composed primarily of widows and mothers on both sides of the conflict encouraging dialogue to ensure that no more women suffer what they have. I find it impressive that she is able to work for peace and speak directly with LTTE representatives who oversaw either the capture or killing of her son. I'm not sure I'd be able to put aside personal grief for a greater cause like that. But because of her personal stake in acheiving peace, her passion inspires others to follow her and leaders on both sides to trust her.

Tamla took issue with Visaka's tactic of focusing on women's traditional roles as mothers of missing soldiers, because she thinks it undermines the feminist movement for equality. Visaka defended her organization on the grounds that women are fully capable humans, and motherhood is just one of many roles a woman can fill. Furthermore, leaders on both sides of the conflict identify with the notion of a grieving mother - as Visaka said, "every general has a mother." She and AWAW have campaigned for both sides to wear and respect the wearing of identity tags by soldiers to aid in the indentification of war victims. By appealing to both sides as mothers, not as politicians or other biased groups, they can unite across the divide to make the effects of war more real to those fighting it, she argued. I agree. Tamla's attitude is the reason I don't call myself a feminist. I take issue with the idea that women have to constantly define themselves by defying traditional roles and blaming men for the situation. Feminists are isolating and limiting themselves by rejecting traditional roles as somehow oppressive. And by laying the blame on men, they're alienating half of their potential allies. Men find it difficult to support feminist movements because it often means taking blame for a historical repression not perpetuated by them. I suppose I'm more of a "humanist" (in no way related to the psychological school of thought) - I believe in equality at no one's expense. Women are "less equal" than men in many countries, but so are poor, handicapped, and racial/religious minority men and women, and nothing makes women in general particularly special. While I like the idea of groups like Isha transcending the political conflict to work for their mutual benefit, I don't want them to lose sight of the greater struggle for equal rights for all. Working directly in a generally feminist organization, as opposed to an issue-based organization like I'm used to, is really helping me define not only what I believe in, but how I want to see it acheived, which is as important, if not more so. I'm idealistic enough to believe the world can change, but cynical enough to know it will take a long time, and I don't want to see others cast aside during that process.

1 comment:

mbn said...

"I won't change the world, but at least I'll have gone down fighting. But I'm realizing that I want someone to notice my fight and remember my name, and that's obscenely selfish and arrogant."

You picked those words straight from my heart. I am struggling with the same thing, in a very big way.

I hope we are able to help each other find what really matters and then stay focused on it.

Thinking of you often.

-matt