Mamas Day 2014: Learning to Walk: Gender, Economy, & Ecology

Friday, May 02, 2014

This post is part our #MamasDay blog series. This piece by Jovida Ross is cross-posted from the Movement Strategy Center's blog, "Let's Talk: At The Heart Of Movement Building."

I am learning how to walk again.

I lost my walk after an intensive yoga training -- the third of nine I am undertaking to strengthen my personal practice and my role as a movement builder. I had just moved into a forward fold when I suddenly felt as if a taut piece of elastic had unhooked within my body. My breath caught as a profound ache spread through my chest and my body shook with sobs. “Grief” is the word that best describes this sensation, but no real thoughts or concepts accompanied the pain. No story rose with the tears, just the sensations of deep release.

For the next few weeks the muscles of my legs and pelvis felt confused. For a while I couldn’t trust my own legs. I found myself taking a step and feeling muscles pull tight for no reason; felt looseness where I expected strength. Sometimes each step was painful as my piriformis muscle fired compulsively. Other times I felt tentative and unsure whether my muscles would even function.

While this realignment was disorienting, it was also instructive. I had to pay careful attention to each step so that I could find another way to walk. I discovered that I had been bracing my body in my old walk, a habit that was actually getting in my way. I had to learn to use my legs in new ways.

We must all, of course, learn to walk anew as we face the unfathomable damage of our fossil extractive economy. Making the transition to “a new economy”, “local living economies,” “solidarity economies,” or “sharing economies” will require us to “let go” of deeply held tensions, releasing what is not serving us and trusting that we will find another way to organize our world. And we will need to walk without the gender definitions that have been woven into our extractive economy.

I was raised by a single mom, so I learned to question the gender of economics early on. With amazing creativity my mom got by on minimal child support and the salary from her low-paying job. We often shared rent with housemates. More than once we went camping for weeks when we were “between homes”. My mom cooked everything from scratch with simple ingredients, turning us into frugal vegetarians and making sure I knew how to pull food together for family meals while she was at work.

The contrast with the life of my father -- who lived in a beautiful home, ate in restaurants, bought new clothes, and took vacations -- struck me as profoundly unfair. While my parents did their best to navigate cultural assumptions and legal constructions of family as their marriage dissolved, my mom was still defined as the primary caregiver. And her sense of her own possibilities were limited to roles that fit squarely within accepted definitions of “women’s work.”

Now, as an adult, I understand how our current economic structure is built on a history of colonialism and patriarchy; how the values of an exploitative social order are baked into the way we organize our world. This is reflected starkly by poverty statistics showing women, specifically women of color, experiencing poverty at dramatically higher rates than men of any race or ethnic group. These gender statistics are yet another indicator of a financial system that is out of balance, one which will eventually topple and possibly take our planet with it.

To shift to a new economy, we will need more than equal pay for equal work. To remake the economy we will need to fundamentally remake how we relate to one another. Our friends at Movement Generation point out that the roots of the word economy mean “management of home”. Our new economy will mean organizing our relationships within a specific place to take care of that place and each other. We will need to find more cooperative ways of living, that affirm the dignity of all people and the health of the planet. And we will need to be open to new ways of expressing gender.

This is a moment of rich creativity around gender. I am inspired by birthing justice circles forming around the country; by the stories told in the Other Worlds anthology on Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives; by the worker-organizing by leaders with Mujeres Unidas y Activas and similar worker co-ops; by the way the Brown Boi Project is linking masculine-expressing people around a commitment to gender justice; by the work that Family Independence Initiative is doing to draw attention to the way that low income families self-organize to navigate the challenges of poverty; by the World March of Women; by the many people who are teasing gender apart and reconstructing it in new ways. I am encouraged that together we will find a new way of organizing our world.

As I am – quite literally -- learning to walk in a new way, I wonder: what will carry us through the collective transformation that is needed? In my personal journey, the practice of yoga is grounding my process of discovery. Trusting this practice has allowed me to continue on even when I am struggling. It has guided me, in tangible ways, to new freedom.

As we move collectively towards a new economy, what practices will ground us as we let go of what is known and open to new ways of walking? What will help us create a world that than can actually sustain and nurture us; a world that can last?

Jovida Ross brings over 15 years of leadership experience with grassroots, community-based organizations to her work as a Senior Fellow in Gender Justice at Movement Strategy Center. She has supported organizations in bridging essential direct services with proactive social change strategies, particularly in the LGBTQ, anti-violence and reproductive justice sectors. As the Executive Director of Community United Against Violence (CUAV), Jovida led the organization through a transformative process that engaged a full range of stakeholders in re-visioning how to move towards a safe, resilient world where everyone can thrive. Jovida has been deeply influenced by the work at the intersections of gender justice, economic justice, and immigration at The Women’s Building of San Francisco, where she spent a nine years serving as the Associate Director and then as a member of the Board of Directors. Jovida has been a LeaderSpring Fellow and a Coro Community Fellow, and is a graduate of Mills College.

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