“The phrase “kindred spirit” evokes for women who grew up reading the stories of the adventures and misadventures of Anne Shirley Anne Shirley a young woman, an orphan, who desperately wants to have a shared relationship that is a true and lasting connection between people as deep as a connection of kin but as individually affirming as friendship.” At least that is what I said in the K entry in 2016’s A to Z.
This year K is being revisited as K terms which link to iconic Female elements in culture and for individual women. I am not terribly well informed about Hinduism having only formally studied the Bhagavad Gita in a ancient literature class in college. But in this post, written the same day the K entry is to be posted — argh, I am examining the Kindred Kali, which may (or may not, I don’t want to tout my abilities beyond what is reasonable) clear up some of the problems I have noticed in Western world friends’ interpretations of Kali who often view the deity Kali through a feminist lens.
I do not want to go over territory previously covered. However, I want to draw in the one aspect of the word kindred that is conceptually important for contemporary women; that of the kindred that is reflected in the title of the novel by Octavia Butler: Kindred. This work had some challenges that stemmed from being first published in the 1970 from feminist interpretations at a time when feminism was primarily a white woman’s tool. Womanist interpretations of identity are more inclusive of individually contradictory, but accepted, aspects of a culture reflected in individuals as a whole than feminism.
I hope to show the breadth of the concept of kindred by featuring two very distinct icons which reflect aspects of the concept.
Kindred spirits live in the domain of women. Kali is the fierce manifestation of the mother goddess.
Butler looks at how a contemporary woman who sees beyond the limitations placed on her by a set of historical facts, ultimately comes to accept that she cannot know those shaping forces without having experienced them directly. We all live in worlds we did not make, but we do have the power to shape our world by learning and experiencing all we can so we can work with constraints we inherited.
Kali created the domain that is women’s, and men’s. She is the warrior who is counterpart to Shiva. She is unbridled energy that creates and destroys and part of the cycle of time. Shiva often is shown throwing himself under her feat to stop her raging. Kali is untamed, beyond the constraints of humanity. She protects her young, but she is life and death as these states are inseparable. She does not tolerate evil deeds or demons.
In kin, and kindred, we often ignore the terrible as we want to gloss over the aspects of people and life that make us uncomfortable. Ancient Hindu tales of origin and deity understand the contradictions inherent in a world that was here before we were and that continues on after we are no more.
The kindred of whom of whom Butler writes are many: ancestors, people who share a race, people who share a lineage, women of your time, and women who came before. Sex, race, and status, as well as slavery are the themes of Butler’s Kindred. Butler is usually called a science fiction writer and she was one of stand out greats of speculative fiction. She died young, while in her 50s, but left a good body of work. Kindred is a time travel novel in which a young black woman from 1976 is repeatedly pulled back through time where she make life and death decisions about an ancestor of hers, a slave owner. This is a gross oversimplification, but that is the action that feeds the plot.
This is a great vehicle to examine race, gender, and sex in our contemporary world. A 20th Century black woman who is well educated, independent and partnered to a man of another race has to face the reality of the horrors of slavery and the complexity of family where people own and are owned by relatives, abused and treated as property by fathers who raped and owned their mothers.
Can generations of time mute the cries of indifference and cruelty that were part of all that brought all of us to the present? Time is Kali’s domain, as is night.
Kindred spans time as well as space. Kindred spans race. Kindred crosses gender and the sexes. But as Butler shows by having a woman first deal with this bit of the past that is herself, women shape the story, the history of of what comes down through families. Determining kindred is ultimately determining family and thus self.
It seems that all of the great mothers of ancient humans are complex creatures, iconic crones, frightening. The Hindu deity filling this niche seems to accept the complexity of all that is associated with the wonder and terror of life and death. Learning to see these same traits with us, within our roles, brings together the personal and historic by illuminating the mythic within us that cannot be understood, or contained, but rather respected and accepted.
This time of year makes me think of gifts and what women are giving to the next generation.
This year, 2017, has been an extremely tumultuous time. To use a kitchen and baking metaphor our cultural batter is being is being whipped up, over-beaten, into a flat mess that may have a difficult time rising to the occasion.
I like to incorporate “homey” historic language into writing about current descriptions of our lives and culture because collective memory is built from language. Our society is attempting to cope with a degree of change and an influx of information that is unheralded in human history. In times such as these, in unstable times, we humans have a tendency to cling to what is familiar. So if baking analogies seem quaint, please bear with me, I do it to draw our complex, heavily compartmentalized, split into silos information culture back to a common ground.
And such plain language is neither cornball or quaint. It reflects a far better nature behind word choice than using violent words of war and turns of phrase such as
- attack a problem
- declare a victory
- wage a war
- collateral damage
- target a competitor
So much of what we see and feel around us these days can seem alien. We can shift away from alienation through our words. Women are great communicators and we can draw out the commonality, the uniting threads of all that is transpiring around us. Inclusive language need not seem like a lecture from a women’s studies course, inclusive language can come from slowing down, simplifying, and reframing the what of which we speak through the how of the words with we choose to use.
Some of the best gifts we can give our children cannot be boxed and wrapped. The stories of strong women can be framed with anecdotes from our own family and history.
Language is powerful. Language constructs and supports power. I will leave the interpretation up to you, but Merriam Webster has announced that the word of the year for 2017 is feminism.
One of the strongest messages I intend to personally construct and convey in the next couple of years is how close we are in time to the period when women lacked the right to vote. My mother was born before the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified. . I am one generation away from political exclusion. My mom was a small girl when women were granted suffrage. I hope to make sure my daughter, step-daughter, and grand daughters all understand how that moment in history relates personally to my life and to their family history.
What do you want to make sure others know about women from your personal history?
More In-depth Reading on these Ideas
- Military Terminology and the English Language
- Reframing Feminism
- Word choice: Hidden meanings can influence our judgment
There is a reason I use the word history, and not herstory, as might be predicted by my role as a feminist. I grew up in a time and in circumstances where I could not grow to be anything but a self-declared feminist. However, in many ways I am a traditionalist, though a quite progressive one. I love change, I advocate for change in processes where I believe it might be of benefit, but I also love to examine the way we pass on information that requires continuity and structure. I chose to study anthropology and have multiple degrees in that area of study as no other discipline cries out that the “Emperor has no clothes,” “the map is not the territory,” and that “the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.” Our processes are difficult to parse as they are, we do not need to add unnecessary obfuscation to them by using words that distract from understanding. Herstory confronts history in so many ways as to obscure the content in her story.
Culture, women’s culture, fascinates me. Each generation of humankind recreates the connection of individuals to the body of knowledge that is culture. What makes us each a member of humanity is not what is transcribed in our genes, but that body of learned knowledge that we have accumulated and transmitted through words, through mentorship, and through structured training and education.
This might sound as though it is a process that flows in one direction, from the elders to youth. But it is not. No essential process in a living system can be anything but negotiation. Flexibility, give and take, feedback, exchange, and discussion provide the living stuff of culture to what would be one dimensional edict or dominance hierarchy without it.
At this moment in time all things are in flux, they always are, but more-so now than ever. The contemporary information system truly is global and flows at nearly instantaneous speeds. The complexity of such a system boggles my mind.
I am not a systems expert, and I would venture to say there are no living system experts. So take what I say here, about the subsystem that is women’s culture, as so much detritus left behind as the fracturing of the whole that is cultural information into small bits of that whole thing. This particular whole cannot, and does not, exist by itself, other than as a conveniently sized artifact for human examination. Taking anything out of the ecosystem in which it exists, even in an evolutionary thought experiment, destroys the life of that thing.
Women’s communication processes do exist though they cannot be frozen in time or space to examine. Processes are not things. At the most fundamental level of understanding we speak of matter and energy. Information is more akin to energy than matter. The flow of information can be disrupted. Just like energy information flows around the disruption.
Women’s communication systems have been subjected to unnatural limits in historic times. Every construct is socially produced or fabricated, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. This is nowhere better stated than when my mentor, Myrdene Anderson, spoke of her mentor’s work, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, in Sharing G. Evelyn Hutchinson’s fabricational noise.
evolutionary evolutionary wandering folds into developmental trajectories, surprise fertilizes suspense, means can become ends, medium may be message, and chaos can sort itself into provisional order… and vice versa, Möbius-fashion.
Fabricational noise also describes the self-organizational behavior in a far from equilibrium system.
Life is a self-organizing system and thus strives toward a balance. As our system becomes global and rate of exchange of information turns over faster and faster, a tension is created between information and the slower physical processes it orchestrates. As the saying goes, “something ‘as gotta give.”
The emergence of women’s information into this global exchange is predictable. As I like to say, “information flows toward freedom.” The physical constraints placed upon women’s behavior by spatial limitations such as gardens, nunneries, and harems in historic culture, and behavioral limitations in economic, political, and religious spheres are now classic examples of the way territorial concerns and property concerns try to create closed systems over which control is exerted. Persistent open-system characteristics that mock these closed-system delusions include leakage, explosive concentration, and overt escape of information, energy, and stubborn girls.
These behavioral spheres of economics, politics and religion are parts of the escalating pace of global information flow. The discontinuity between the most static of these constraints and the fluidity of the process related spheres creates a tension, a pull, like the taut and thinning elastic band as it encircles an every expanding bundle of letters.
All of this is why I believe it is critical that women collectively celebrate their ways of knowing by sharing what they know about the lives of their mentors including the stories and lessons passed on to them as they participated in the global system in areas deemed appropriate for women. It is now time to rewrite the lyric expression of the wonders of commerce expressed by Joseph Addison in the final paragraphs of his May 19, 1711 essay in The Spectator, number 69, “The Royal Exchange” which I found in a collection of essays from The Spectator published in 1894:
For these reasons, there are not more useful members in a commonwealth than merchants. They knit mankind together in a mutual intercourse of good offices, distribute the gifts of nature, find work for the poor, add wealth to the rich, and magnificence to the great. Our English merchant converts the tin of his own country into gold, and exchanges his wool for rubies. The Mahometans are clothed in our British manufacture, and the inhabitants of the frozen zone warmed with the fleeces of our sheep.
When I have been upon the ‘Change, I have often fancied one of our old kings standing in person where he is represented iu effigy, and looking down upon the wealthy concourse of people with which that place is every day filled. In this case, how would he be surprised to hear all the languages of Europe spoken in this little spot of his former dominions, and to see so many private men, who in his time would have been the vassals of some powerful baron, negotiating like princes for greater sums of money than were formerly to be met with in the royal treasury ! Trade, without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire. It has multiplied the number of the rich, made our landed estates infinitely more valuable than they were formerly, and added to them au accession of other estates as valuable as the lands themselves.
We need to create a fictive or conceptual, if not literal, Information Exchange akin to the Royal Exchange so that we might lyrically celebrate the wonders of the inclusion of women into the global conversation as Addison did for the inclusion of colonies into imperial commerce.
Our conceptualization of these processes is still skewed, biased, and woefully simplistic, and it contains glaring judgments that are not even obvious to us at this time. But that is where we are.
Processes within and between ecosystems are fluctuating wildly. Fundamentalist fringe groups attempt to reclaim control over women, a small group of governments attempt to maintain control over monetary exchange, pharmaceutical corporations attempt to exert control over life and death, agrochemical corporations attempt to maintain control over food supplies. Petrochemical companies attempt to force continued reliance on fossil fuel caches they control.
Unsustainable boundaries are fracturing as I write this. The limiting constraints have reached the point where they snap. For the most part women are no longer sequestered behind walls and veils. Economies still are. As climate shifts there are viral escapees colonizing new niches where no agro- or pharma- remedies even pretend to have control.
We can watch as everything disintegrates around us, white-knuckles clasping imaginary controls over processes we do not understand, or we can adopt practices that leaked out of, or escaped from the supposedly closed systems over the years and thrived.
Where have women thrived, what inroads have we walked? That is what I hope to help others share so that we can learn from our collective wisdom and mitigate system collapse into system reorganization.
The real story of Mother’s Day is beginning to be be recognized. What is so often thought of as a day to be nice to your mother has far more complexity, spirituality, and politics sewn into it than most contemporary people know. No matter how you slice it, the history of Mother’s Day is intimately connected to the grief borne by the mothers of the soldiers and casualties of the Civil War. We are only 150 years removed from the horror that was the War between the American States. Women and peace are at the heart of the acts that led to the establishment of Mother’s Day.
We honor our mothers, buy flowers, take mom out for a nice meal, but we might also want to spend a few minutes contemplating the efforts of our foremothers to create a world of peace and plenty. This is, after all, what all mothers want for their children. One of these days we should give that to them.
Anna Garvis’s mother, Ann Reeves Garvis, was one of the women of the mid-19th Century who worked to create good out of the evil of war and poverty. She and many other women held Mother’s Friendship Day gatherings after the Civil War to bring Union and Confederate families together to heal in a spirit of peace. Her daughter, Anna Garvis, successfully lobbied for official status for Mother’s Day. She lobbied to undo the status, unsuccessfully, when the holiday became commercialized and no longer resembled honor for the type of work her own mother and others of her mother’s generation toiled to achieve.
Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe was one of the women engaged in such peace-building activities after the Civil War. She wanted there to be an international gathering of women for peace and her proclamation, an Appeal to Womanhood Throughout the World, now called the Mother’s Day Proclamation, is inspirational and has enjoyed a resurgence of recognition in these days of worldwide connection where information cannot long stay buried. The full text of the proclamation follows:
Appeal to womanhood throughout the world
Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.—Julia Ward Howe
A popular, well-circulated, version of the Mother’s Day Proclamation omits the first paragraph, because “nice women do not discuss politics.” Yeah. Right. And the mention of Christianity is also often removed, probably to appeal to secular interests. I firmly believe that when edits are made to great and significant texts, the edits should be noted. For the sake of history, we cannot rewrite it, and should not rewrite what is remembered of it.