Gender Equality and the
Empowerment of Women
Appreciating Jyothi Singh
Silencing “India’s Daughter”
The New Yorker, March 6, 2015
BY ANDREA DENHOED
The documentary “India’s Daughter,” by the British filmmaker Leslee Udwin, recounts the infamous and brutal rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in 2012, an incident that sparked protests and spurred a national conversation about women’s rights and safety. The film was scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC in India this weekend, but a last-minute intervention by the Indian government banned its release.
The details of the crime are already well known in India. A twenty-three-year-old medical student named Jyothi Singh was walking home from a movie with a male friend at 8:30 P.M. A group of men who had been out drinking picked them up in a privately owned bus, and asked them what they were doing out so late. The men beat Jyothi’s friend and took Jyothi to the back of the bus to rape her. The details of the attack, from which Jyothi was left beaten, bitten, and disembowelled, are truly gruesome. She was somehow still alive when the men left her and her friend on the side of the road, but she died of her injuries several days later...more
Critical Areas of Concern for Women
Appreciating Jyothi Singh
The point is blindingly obvious. All of us, without exception, want to be happy. This is true of you and me, and it is true of Jyothi Sing, featured in the documentary above. She was a young medical student in India who was brutally raped and disemboweled on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Like Jyothi, we want to survive with satisfaction relative to the situations at hand and to flourish.
Whitehead proposes that this desire for satisfaction is the very essence of life: not human life but all life. Other animals desire satisfaction, too, and so do living cells. Life is not simply an energy or a force; it is also an eros, a seeking. There is subjectivity everywhere.
Respect and care for others begins, not simply with a sense of obligation, but with a recognition that others want to be happy just as we do. Whatever their gender and sexuality, they are like us in this way. Moreover, as we recognize their desire to be happy, their desire becomes part of our own consciousness in a small way. In the language of Whitehead, their desire for happiness becomes part of our own desire for happiness. We may hide from this fact, but still, deep down, we know it. We know that if we harm them, we are harming a piece of our own heart.
Deep down, the men who raped Jyothi Sing knew this, too. Inwardly, they had to work very hard to hide from this fact. They had to anasthetize themselves from her feelings and her cries, shielding her cries from their own hearts. Hatred begins with anaesthesia, with what Whitehead calls negative prehensions: blocking out of the feelings of the other person.
Entanglement and Respect
Some might disagree. They think that our desire for happiness can be satisfied individually, apart from community with others or with the earth, and that we are not really parts of one another. A cult of individualism, born in the West and now spread across the globe under the guise of capitalism, accentuates this tendency We come to picture ourselves as skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of our skin, such that my desire for happiness can be sharply separated from your identity and your desire for happiness.
If we think this way, we are tempted to subordinate others to our own self-will. We may think like the six men who raped Jyothi Singh. Women and girls become property.
But most of us know that this cult is based on an illusion. Truth be told, our identities and lives are intertwined or entangled with others and we cannot really separate ourselves from them. As Buddhists put it we are nodes in a web of inter-being.
This does not mean that we lack autonomy. We are creative nodes whose very existence lies in responding to those around us, and in our creativity there can be great joy. We can exercise personal agency in constructive and destructive ways. Patriarchy, for example, is one such culture. But we can also transcend those cultural influences, inwardly sparked by constructive ideals.
The ideal of an ecological civilization is one example,. It is the idea of a nation or a people whose culture is shaped by a sense of respect and care for life, such that people share in the desires of others to be happy. The practical application of this idea lies in building communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, egalitarian, multicultural, humane to animals, and ecologically wise with no one left behind.
Gender equality and women's empowerment is the heart of the matter. The development of these communities begins with a recognition of the rights of women to be happy for their own sakes, a full commitment to gender equality, and active celebration of women's empowerment. It also lies in a recognition that, as women are empowered, men can be empowered, too. Whiteheadians call it relational power or mutual empowerment. It is the better hope -- and perhaps the only real hope -- of the 21st century. To the extend that we dedicate ourselves to these ideals, we honor the memory of Jyothi Sing and provide hope for the poor men, trapped in patriarchy, who saw no way out of it. It is time for us to seize an alternative.
-- Jay McDaniel
Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
Much of the spread of fresh thinking about body and spirit is due to the rise of eco-feminism. This movement profoundly rejected the Cartesian dualism that is also the object of Whitehead’s philosophical critique. Eco-feminism grounded the critique in concrete experience, especially that of women. It enriched the understanding of experience with perceptive gender analysis. Eco-feminist influence is expressed in all the tracks in this section and in others scattered through the conference. Its importance is such that a thematic treatment is needed. This will be the sixth track in this section.
-- John B. Cobb, Jr., describing the Sixth Track of Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization
Section IX, Track 8: Ecofeminism
The convergence of ecology and feminism offers many possibilities that will be explored in depth in terms of basic assumptions, essential history and analyses, compelling issues and promising directions. Ecofeminism, like Whitehead, rejects Cartesian dualism, and grounds its critiques in concrete experience, especially that of women.
Section XI, Track 2: Entangled Difference
How in this shaky millennium do we gather force and future from those transformed identities? Sex or gender, race or ethnicity, class or economics, and then–what about ability, and religion, and don’t all these differences nestle uncomfortably in one voracious species? Where does the list end but in the “embarassed etc.”(Judith Butler)? The series of these identities has always been shifting, assymmetrical, internally contested—signifying both world historical transformations and dismal disappointments. Process thought has supported and been furthered by the language of the 20th century social movements, especially in theology. But how now might Whitehead’s propositions intensify the evolving solidarity of our liberatory differences—beyond their political essentialisms, their single-issue causalities? Does the “obvious solidarity of the world” (Whitehead) help us to counter the obvious violation of the world? Might the planetary manifold of social difference gain strength through recognition of its shared economic subjection and ecological peril? Our differences individual and collective come already entangled—so problematically, so promisingly. How does the radical interdependence of our differences ply the practice of its theory? Might the “mutual immanence” of the events of becoming, rendered efficacious, shift our series to an intentional entanglement?
Vandana Shiva and Whitehead
We cannot know whether Vandana Shiva and Alfred North Whitehead would agree on all matters. But what do know is that many who are influenced by Whitehead's philosophy are enriched by Vandana Shiva's perspective and appreciate her way of bringing big ideas down to earth. She seems very much in the spirit of the Pando Populus movement. If we were to imagine a process philosophy inspired both by Alfred North Whitehead and by Vandana Shiva, it might go like this:
See also The Sixth Track: Ecofeminism and Whitehead