As feminists, we know this about the COVID-19 pandemic:
It will show, with brutal clarity, what the 5000-year old patriarchal system and this modern incarnation of capitalism really is – a social construct created for the privileged few it serves and devastating for everyone else, including the planet. It will also lay bare, especially for our friends in the United States, how fragile democracy has become in the face of unprecedented concentration of power and wealth.
Both history and lived experience tells us that this crisis will disproportionately affect women who will take on the bulk and danger of caretaking, as usual.
The crisis will divide us in two: Those who believe this crisis is short term. A Blip. And those who believe it marks the birth of a new world.
More on the positive side, we will be astounded, even in this age of deep political and social divisions, by our capacity to reroute our lives, give and minister to disruption. The meaning of the term inter-independence is now on full display. Social cohesion, which we usually take for granted, is the platform that supports all of us. Self-interest overtakes long defended beliefs. Just watch those neo-liberals, meritocracy disciples and anti-government libertarians rush to fill out forms for government help.
As we enter into police or drone enforced lock downs, we now also know that this is not a simple interruption of business as usual.
This is a historical trigger event, an event so powerful that the entire world takes an abrupt turn down a new political, social and economic path.
Will it be a turn for the better, as when the bloody French Revolution gave birth to greater equality, expansion of human rights and political participation, and new ways of thinking about how government and economies can work better — to serve human flourishing rather than the other way around?
Will it be a turn for the worse, as when the scapegoat fueled evil of Nazism took hold of Germany during the world-wide economic collapse of the Great Depression.
The current pandemic, projected to sicken and kill in the millions, has delivered a severe shock not only to the global economy but our faith in the values that have been driving it. The trigger has been pulled. The question now is, how will we react to it?
A critical majority of people may well be open to new ideas previously thought too bizarre to challenge the current status quo or to change thought too painful to implement.
For feminist leaders, entrepreneurs and creators, our work in this new very moment is critical. We can’t unpull the trigger of the pandemic. But we can certainly summon our unique foundational strengths and serve as death doulas for the old; Midwives to the new. We can shape the future that will emerge from it.
Consider this from Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower:
In order to rise
From its own ashes
So what to do at this critical moment, beyond social distancing, washing hands, keeping sane, staying afloat economically?
All of that is important, of course, but I want to talk about the future – or what kind of work we need to embrace if we are to create the kind of future we want to emerge from this shocking, painful rupture.
I have five suggestions — informed by the thought leadership of such feminists as CV Harquail (feminist values), adrienne maree brown (Emergent Strategy and pleasure activism) and Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower; God is change) — that I believe can help us find our feet during this cosmic interruption and work with others to shape and accelerate a world without partriachy, greed and gross inequality.
1. Create a new-world vision board: Pull out that Bristol board (or the online version). Take the time to think deeply and engage in wide-ranging conversations about the world you want to see emerge in the next 24 months. Consult with friends and family. Make it a staff and team activity. This is a given: Pandemic measures will be with us now in some way for up to 18 months and this experience will change the world irrevocably. Everything we do now and moving forward is based on assumptions we make about the world, what and who we are, what and who will be here for us, what systems we can rely on and what systems have failed us. Our assumptions need a reset, so a few questions to ask: What role does/should government have? What are/should be its priorities? What policies matter/should matter most? How will enterprises and communities change/should change? As feminist entrepreneurs, we must ask ourselves this: How relevant is my enterprise and creative work in light of the change I want to see? Is my lifestyle in step with emerging realities and opportunities? What inner work do I need to do in order to figure out how to engage with new opportunities and ways to serve? We don’t have to finish this work in a week. In fact, we can’t. So let’s put time into creating a new vision board for our world, enterprises and ourselves. Read visionary fiction to open your mind to possibilities. Step back from the process. And repeat the process.
2. Take action because activism matters, now more than ever: With the pandemic, critical issues did not suddenly disappear overnight. Climate change, Indigenous rights, the rise of hate, racism, ageism and weakening democracy in many parts of the world will, in fact, be more amplified by this crisis. We need to continue fighting for a world in which all can flourish. As feminists, we need to be vigilant — to speak loud and clear — to ensure that the specific needs of womxn and other marginalized communities are appropriately addressed in government aid packages. They must apply a gender and social-justice lens — rigorously. If you don’t have time for activism, support organizations whose mission is to advocate on your behalf. The Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce are just two of many (and yes, LiisBeth too). Go ahead and sign one of the many important petitions going around, but they come and go. We are better off strengthening organizations who will advocate for us over the long haul.
3. Respect and value the dynamics and power of inter-independence: If you have never mapped out or “pod-mapped” your personal and enterprise ecosystem, now is a good time to do so. Pod-mapping is a term that arose out of specific transformational justice work but is now broadly relevant. Even if you are a sole-preneneur, you have clients, suppliers, professionals, colleagues and numerous others who make up your enterprise pod or web. Map them. Analyse them. Find ways to strengthen this ecosystem. Think about ways to lift all boats as we transition to a new world. Consider each action, as Harquail recommends, by asking these three questions: “Who might benefit? Who might be hurt? Who might be left out?” Or, using management guru Mary Parker Follet’s framework, ask “who do I have power over, where do I power under, and where can I exert power with.” If you have power (and we all do, to a degree) use it fairly and in ways that serves many rather than one or a few. Remember, this moment will change but people have long memories.
4) Spark generativity: The world has just cracked open, and paused in many ways! What a tremendous time to apply your imagination, experiment and play. Get out the paints. Make art. Journal. Connect with strangers (at a socially distant space!). Join a new think group such as LiisBeth’s Feminist Enterprise Commons. Create a group by inviting 10 people from your social media lists you have never met but always wanted to get to know. Get creative in how you engage online. Interact in new ways. Take chances. Play music together or share poetry. All this can lead to uncovering new opportunities, connections, interesting solutions and recovery ideas. For example, Catherine Chan, founder of Fit-In, was inspired by conversations she had on social media and subsequently pulled an all-nighter to come up with a new service for her customers — a live feed during business hours that keeps kids engaged while parents work at home.
LiisBeth advisory board member Valerie Fox now actively looks for international futuristic think tank conversations and Zoom talks that have popped up online. “I didn’t have time for this before. I just love what I am hearing and learning—it gets me outside of my bubble.”
Creating new conversations and tapping into communities you don’t normally hang out will generate a sense of greater belonging and maybe even the “AHA” you need in your life right now.
5) Focus on Pleasure: In her prescient book Pleasure Activism, adrienne maree brown writes “I touch my own skin, and it tells me that before there was any harm, there was a miracle.” Allowing ourselves to feel pleasure, intimacy, desire, and lead erotically powered lives — even in times of pain — is a precondition towards becoming truly liberated from oppressive narratives. It will break open what limited our imagination, will lead us to live in right relationship with our full personal and collective potential. Now is the time to explore our desires as living, sensual beings capable of accessing incredible relational, creative and communal power. Don’t worry, shelves will get stocked with toilet paper. Free your mind to connect with long-forgotten or new sources of joy. Surrender. Adapt.
Afterall, what is a better world, if not one that capable of generating danceable levels of joy.
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