Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Simplicity Asks of Feminism

About seven years ago, I began attending a discussion group entitled, "Voluntary Simplicity," that incorporated a slim book collection of writings about simple living. I only attended a few sessions, but the energy and lessons of those thrice attended meetings lingers today.

A few months ago, the connection between feminism and simplicity began to knock around in my head. Simplicity, often confused with "going-without" and "cheap" terms, concerns itself with the center of desire, determining what is most necessary for sustainability and advancement, and then choosing that exact thing. It's about mining toward the gold - whatever that might be - and focusing on that, without frills or whistles.

The companion workbook is excellent. Several authors rouse the readers with essays on consumerism, satisfaction, human need, and fulfillment. It's spiritual in its essence, but it's anything but light. What does that have to do with feminism?


To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one’s work for peace.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one's work for peace. The frenzy. The activist.

I have been meditating upon these ideas, these ions of brilliance and it leaves me wondering what kind of pupil for peace I have been. As a western-born North American, everything can easily become about production. More, more more, and better, better, better. Even in our strategizing for peace and equality, it soon becomes about awarding the most profound of the profound, recognizing the great art from the art, and advancing forward in our agendas.

The frenzy of the activist neutralizes one's work for peace.

Choosing one, or a handful of commitments has stood next to impossible. Every time I read, my heart follows the author. In my mind I have been in raided factories with blood-stained walls, I have filled my mouth will soil to stifle my cries after my children were killed in front of me, I have wandered in the streests defeated by schizophrenia. How can an activist choose when there is so much that needs to be done, so many voices that need to be projected?

Then I think of my life, my one, singular solitary life in which I was given, like everyone else, only two hands, one heart, one voice. And like so many others, I am limited by circumstance, resources, and a culture of self-serving apathy regarding the poor and disenfranchised. To make up for what others do not care about, I become a promiscuous activist, wanting everything, but committing to nothing.

It's a frenzy alright. A carousel of passion, fury, pain, and exhilaration. Activism, however, should not be a carousel, it should be walk. A never-ending walk of life that adapts to the speeds and slows of my life, of who I am. The frenzy can burn you out. The frenzy can haze and distort you. What I fear the most of frenzy, is what it can take from you. It takes away hope, potential, and the exchange of ideas.

There is nothing, nothing more sacred to activism than the safe exchange of ideas and honesty.

Simplicity, as outlined by Voluntary Simplicity, questions our human need to hoard and settle. It questions our constantly gathering arms full of berries, shoes, books, lamps, and shoestrings. It wonders aloud, "What do you need?" It asks this of our spiritual, psychological, and material worlds. It prefers a choice that endures through time and mood. Little to do with price, simplicity guides the Conscience to answer to the earth, the environment, the less fortunate, our neighbors. Money, time, technology, farming are all related in our quest for contentment.

As a Feminist Simplicist or a Simplistically Feminist writer, I question my choices. I question my inability to choose. I have taken second and third glances at how many frivolous news and reports ruffle my feathers and I allow myself to be taken away once again, by the carousel. I hve chosen, on numerous occassions, to minimially understand ten issues instead of mindfully engaging in one. There has never been a time where I considered myself to truly know and be known to one thing. Why is that? Am I afraid? If I am, what of?

Last night, I attended a lecture by Vandana Shiva, a stunning author from India who has written dozens of books about the mass food production, corporate globalization, and its impact on the farmers, women, children, the poor, and all of our health. Her latest book (which I have not yet read), Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed, is the most current tool in digging up the truth of where our food comes from, why it tastes the way that it does, and discovering who is growing our seeds. From the earth, into our mouths, Shiva delivers bone-quivering truths about the business practices of our leading nations, and the cost to our bodies.

She teaches, "To get rid of immoral laws you must creat moral laws. You must create laws of equality, law of stability. You must create laws that celebrate the eco-friendly and non-violating methods."

I listened, pondering again, simplicity, the art of choice, the expense of peace and non-violence.

"It's like Starbucks Chai Tea. 'Chai' means 'tea.' They just put words together to make it sound exotic. When you order, all you're really saying is 'Tea Tea.'"

The crowd murmurs. No doubt the Starbucks down the street will go down in profit this week.

Some other points Shiva's lecture included is to get rid of convenience; understand the real price of things; ask where the farms have gone; get rid of convenience; question why you eat seasonal vegetables year round; support local growers; get rid of convenience; eat from your community and natural regional harvest. Get rid of convenience.

Somewhere in my path as a feminist activist, confusion of identity and placement clouded my vision. How often have I let myself get swept away by cheaper things like shoes and bananas; how much more often, however, have I let myself get swept away by ideologies that I do not agree with but do not engage in debate? Who have I let grow my feminist food? Who have I taken information from? Whose agenda have I swallowed and what has it done to my body? How many times have I forgotten what I, I want to work for instead of what the world insists is important? Even among, or rather, especially among, feminist circles, how have I supported and expanded my own feminism to be more inclusive, more deliberate, and more relevant? How many times have I stepped aside instead of stepping up because of my inability to reign in my emotions? Passion and emotion are two distinct, and necessary, qualities, but allowing the latter to run free distills the potency of the former.

Frenzy, no more.

No to More.


  1. I moaned aloud in agreement with this. After working on a college campus dedicating myself to supporting activism of all kinds, all I can say to this is YES, YES, YES. What is needed is a depth of knowledge, dedication, and a greater acceptance that commiting to one cause is not hating the rest. Other people will come to aid in all the work that needs to be done. For activism to be sustainable, you HAVE to remember that. And you have to respond out of abundance and not guilt.

  2. this is great, thanks.


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