An Unfinished Revolution

Toward a new kind of power

One of the articles in Gender (IC#16)
Originally published in Spring 1987 on page 17
Copyright (c)1987, 1997 by Context Institute

Joyce Marshall is a co-founder of Realistic Living, a non-profit educational organization in Dallas,Texas (7100 San Mateo #130, 75223), and an editor for their journal. She is a musician, a teacher of piano and voice, a feminist, a bioregionalist, a co-counselor, and a teacher of innovative programs on theology and ethics. The following is excerpted from The Reign of Reality, a book to be published this year which she is co-authoring with her husband, Gene Marshall.

HOW WE TELL the history of male/female relations is, I believe, a primary issue of our time. This is my current telling of that story for men and women in the United States in the past several decades.

An economic breakthrough for women occurred during World War II in the 40s, when women were hired by defense plants to do work they had supposedly been incapable of doing a few months prior. When the war ended in 1945, Rosie the Riveter and her friends were sent home, admonished to take up their former roles of wife, mother, cheer leader, beauty queen.

But in the 50s,the American male could no longer feel complacent about his pretense of superiority – to women, to men of "lower class", to other races. The foundations of the patriarchy were shaken sufficiently to make his sense of power feel less stable. I think of the outward posture of the 50s male as insecure bluster. Archie Bunker is a caricature of this style.

I call the role of the 50s woman coy adjunct. Everyone knows that Edith Bunker isn’t as dumb as she pretends to be. The "little woman" is an adjunct to her man, happy to support him and the children in their endeavors. She learns from earliest childhood to be modest, docile, playful, sweet, and, most of all, dependent. The 50s woman learned to hide her competence, particularly in areas that might be threatening to men. Both men and women sensed that the issue was manhood.

A movie of that period, "Rebel Without A Cause," depicted young men in high school desperately attempting to prove their manhood. James Dean, as a character in this film (and in his personal lifestyle as well) exemplified the beginnings of a new role for men. In "Rebel," the character he played experienced the loneliness of playing the old male role. He wanted a more honest relationship with the girl in his life. Like James Dean, the young men of the 60s began to reject the 50s role model. They did so by growing long hair, making new kinds of music, and protesting war, environmental destruction, and meaningless work. By the 70s, women were putting pressure on men to change. Men were learning from women to be in touch with their emotions and to be more deeply related to the people in their lives. I call this new approach of 60s and 70s men tender empathy.

The woman of this period began to wake up to the patriarchal game. She quit playing coy and got her angry energy going. I call the woman in this new phase the angry achiever. She learned to be self- sufficient, asserted herself, and competed with men on their turf.

The issue of this period was womanhood. Women began to take themselves seriously, to demand respectful treatment, to demand to be listened to. Sexist language became an issue as awareness of exclusion grew. Inclusive language was demanded and is now expected.

The steps taken by men and women in the 60s and 70s were important, creative steps. That women have gotten really angry seems to me quite necessary; it is part of the force needed to get movement started to correct the oppressive system. However, we are becoming clearer about the basic issues and taking another step forward in directing our angry energy not at men, but at oppressive systems. Women are also more aware that trying to be men, having the same kind of status and control that men have and being as tough and macho as men are "supposed" to be, isn’t satisfactory. We don’t need women to become men. We need a rearrangement of values so that status and control lose the primacy they have had for so long.

That men began to become aware of the unrealistic nature of their attempts to control themselves, women, and the world was a major step. It is encouraging that many men are learning to feel and express their emotions and to relate to women intimately. But men need to move on to discovering their real inner power, their natural male power, a different power than the dominating violence of the patriarchal model.

So, what are the next steps for men and women as we look to a future that replaces the values of power over with those of power to? Robert Bly describes this with images like goodwill and compassion on the one hand and authority and resolve on the other. So let us call this new model for men compassionate resolve.

And how is it that women regain their naturally powerful spirit and their down-to-earth sense of humor and confidence? Certainly we want to overcome the pretense of any "niceness" we don’t really feel. And we want to use our power to change society effectively in a straightforward fashion. A statement of commitment used in women’s groups, which I like very much, says: "I solemnly promise that from this moment on, I will treat every person I meet as if they are perfectly capable of handling the real Joyce Marshall (substitute your own name)". I call this style confident earthiness.

The journey for women toward their confident earthiness is no less difficult than that of men seeking their manhood. We must seek our own sense of goodness and integrity without blaming men for the situation we are in. This is tricky, because the past has left all women with a good deal of hostility which is sometimes still unconscious and may erupt in sarcasm and criticism of the men in our lives. Learning to move positively in powerful, yet kindly ways demands our best energies. And women must overcome the timidity and fear of being powerful people. We tend to feel guilty for taking up room, space, time – for even thinking well of ourselves. And we have a more realistic guilt for not realizing our potential. Women need to remember that our growth does not impede others; it inspires them.

The theme of the 80s is not manhood or womanhood, but mutuality. we are engaged in the endeavor of empowering both sexes, using our inherent power- within to act effectively and creatively, living lives of delight, patiently gardening the earth with care.

   50s  60s-70s  80s
 Men  insecure bluster  tender empathy  compassionate
 Women  coy adjunct  angry achiever  confident
 theme  manhood  womanhood  mutuality

This is a time of momentous transition. The models from all the recent decades live in each of us. Each style fights with the others, and this battle takes place in the most personal areas of our lives. How do I dress? How do I express my sexuality? Who do I date? Who pays? Do I marry? Who cooks? Do we have children? How do we raise them? It may be exciting, but it is also embarrassing and uncomfortable to be unsure about such basic things.

Many far-reaching changes have taken place. Nevertheless, much unfinished business remains.

In the workplace, women are still paid less than men for comparable work. They often face subtle and blatant sexual harassment and a general lack of respect.

Many women work long hours at jobs that require docile subservience, allow little creativity and offer meager compensation; then they go home to more hours of housework and child care, often with no help. Single women with children are all too frequently trapped in serious poverty.

Obviously, times have become ripe for a major change in human morality. The key to the new revolution is power to. Power to, as a style of human behavior, creates pleasure, brings delight, and gives form to profound human longings. Power to assumes an openness to the world, to others, and to our own emotions and senses. Power to involves paying attention to everyday matters of life: eating, sleeping, housing, clothing, being close to others. Power to means a scrappy refusal to defer to old ideas of superiority. It upholds human equality for all. Power to means the autonomous use of our power, the power within ourselves. And it means working outside ourselves for the well-being of all people, indeed of the whole earth. Power to is realistic; it is natural. It is desirable and possible. It is necessary.

The new revolution includes a new image of the heroic: ordinary women and men, with intense determination, moving step by step, nurturing and caring delightedly for all of life, not out of some sacrificial, ascetic duty, but because it is brings pleasure to do so, because doing so is fulfilling.

Now, here is a critical point: This unfinished business cannot be completed within the present social system. Our bureaucratic monolith, in its impersonal pursuit of profits, growth and control, neglects the natural world, women, and men. The completion of the liberation of women – and the resulting liberation of men – can only come about in a society in which every individual has a creative role in deciding his or her own destiny and the destiny of the planet which sustains us all, beginning in our own local place. We must, step by step, bring about an overwhelming and fundamental shift in the values of all of the people of the planet. And the starting place is ourselves.