All human beings are practicing historians. As we go through life we present ourselves to others through our life story; as we grow and mature we change that story through different interpretations and different emphasis. We stress different events as having been decisive at different times in our life history and, as we do so, we give those events new meanings. People do not think of this as "doing history"; they engage in it often without special awareness. We live our lives; we tell our stories. It is as natural as breathing.
Patriarchy is a system of dominance based on the "invention" that arbitrary differences among people can be used to construct categories by which the unequal distribution of resources and power by small elites over large and diverse populations can be justified, explained and made acceptable to those exploited. In short, "difference" can be used to create and maintain power. The differences used can be based on race, class, sex, physical makeup or any other arbitrary distinction, body image, sexual preference....
Lastly, we need to keep a basic principle in mind: It is not "difference" that is the problem. It is dominance justified by appeals to constructed differences that is the problem.
I have a German name which is unpronounceable by English speakers and thus is inevitably mispronounced. I accepted that mispronunciation as the proper form of address for me, came to use it myself and have done so for fifty years. I became aware of the disjunction only when I spent some time in German-speaking countries and heard my name pronounced correctly. Each time that happened, it gave me pleasure. That made me realize that it pained me that my own children, my husband, my best friends could never really pronounce my name. I had buried that pain and refused to acknowledge it. It was, so I thought, a trivial matter. I no longer think so....
The Nazis robbed me of my mother tongue, but the rest of the separation, of the violent severing of culture, was my own choice. My writing, my intense drive to become an "American writer" had pushed me into leaving the language of my childhood behind, never counting the cost. Through my writing, I had found the way back, but now the cost seems enormous. The return of the mother tongue has brought some healing of the other losses, but memory is different now. Before, what was lost, sank into a deep hole of oblivion - one covered it up and built anew forgetting the cost. Now memory includes what was lost and what it cost and what might have been had I been able to be a writing in my own language. Healing the split between feeling and thought, between the conscious learned faculties and the rich vibrations of the unconscious, I might have "tapped my way along the guiding rope of language" and found a richer, more poetic for for what I had to say. In translation, one becomes a trickster, too clever by far and too concerned with mastery. I envy those who live in the power of their own language, who were not deprived of the immediacy by which creativity finds its form.
There are works that cannot be translated. There are wounds that can never heal.
In this age, when warfare involving major nations has become unthinkable, the theories and practice of transforming social movements offer the only real hope for social change. Feminism represents such a movement.
It would be unrealistic to think that women alone can transform patriarchy and create less hierarchical and divisive forms of societal organization. It will be necessary to build a series of coalitions and alliances among a number of movements whose goals entirely or partially overlap, such as the world peace and the ecology movements and the gay liberation movements of men and women. All of these are characterized by their cross-class, cross-national character, their marginality to current political institutions, their enmity to militarism, nationalism, exploitation, injustice and prejudice. They are natural allies, and I am suggesting that feminist theory can provide a coherent common philosophy for forming coalitions that can endure. Feminist practice, in its non-hierarchical model, its merging of feeling and action, its making the personal political and its dedication to inclusiveness and humane transformation, offers a good model. This is not to ask for or advocate women's dominance over others in such a coalition. In fact, any such social movement will be viable only if it learns how to replace power over others with the empowerment of all participants for the attainment of the common good.
I try, in my private life, to live as simply as possible and to be mindful of conserving resources and respecting nature. I try to be part of and build community in the various aspects of my life and to move from self-absorption to altruism. In none of this am I sure that I can succeed, but I can and must strive to succeed. As a survivor of several major disasters I remain, as I said at the outset, a skeptical, and at times despairing optimist. As all such creatures, I need an utopian vision - mine is a world in which women and men will have freed their minds from patriarchal thought and which will therefore be free of dominance and hierarchy, a world that will be truly human.