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Women’s Public Authority: The only equality worth fighting for (the only separatism that’s sustainable)

OK, I admit it. I am confused about the current women’s movement. 

On Jan. 21, 2017, I was glued to my computer, watching the livestream of the Women’s March from Washington, DC, periodically flipping to scenes of Women’s Marches in cities around the world. Two months shy of my 66th birthday, 66 years of lifelong activism, I was feeling the groundswell that made me think I might finally have company in the trenches I’d been digging all my life: regular participation in a real democracy on basic survival needs.

Unfortunately, as the next four years showed, most U.S. women were still using the same old playbook:
— Pass the ERA (never more than an abstract, negatively phrased sop)
— Elect a women as president or at least vice-president (one woman here, one woman there…)
— GOTV get out the vote (not participatory democracy)
— Run for “something” (not specific enough: run for power, worry about the details later?)
— Resistance without insistence (fighting against Trump, etc., without developing a women’s platform for ALL women)

So far as I know, no female candidate for the 2018 mid-terms — incumbents or first-timers — ran on impeachment. Incumbents, including Speaker of the House Pelosi and my long-time Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky were noticeably dragging their feet on impeachment. In 2020, we had one top-notch candidate for president (Elizabeth Warren), with very specific platforms. Despite her popularity with women and girls, her candidacy was snuffed. She did of course see the coming attack on abortions as health care, the growing criminalization of poverty, SCOTUS packing with unqualified jurists, etc. — also endorsed by some women.

But even Elizabeth Warren didn’t see the coming terror of female erasure, men in women’s sports, men in women’s prisons, men as head of rape crisis centers — also with the endorsement of some women. And in 2022 we women find us thrust into a gaslighting, existential struggle that most of us did not see coming around biology, gender identity, and misogyny (unparalleled in my lifetime). Thanks to those who did see this coming (e.g., Janice Raymond, George Orwell) and to those who are fighting tooth and nail, especially Women’s Declaration International and the individual country chapters, including my home country’s WDI-US chapter. 

Unfortunately, neither the U.S. feminist women’s movement or the global feminist women’s movement are 
— strong coalitions
— unified behind a comprehensive platform
— well organized around a strategic plan

In fact, based on what I know about the U.S. as a 70-year old lifelong feminist, the women’s movement has never had a well-articulated, concrete goal (see my 2018 blog on my thoughts about the Equal Rights Amendment, Women’s Authority, Women’s Lives: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace). I would like to offer one now as a goal for consideration by every group of women, in every neighborhood, jurisdiction, and country, and every woman in the world: Women’s Public Authority. Not just rights, not just safety, not just privacy and dignity, but authority. Authority in political decision-making, economic decision-making, social decision-making, and spiritual decision-making. Authority that belongs only to women.

As I will try to explain in the rest of this blog, #WomensPublicAuthority is the only equality — equality among all women — that is do-able and worth fighting for. I would add that women’s public authority is the only separatism — political and economic separation from men — that is (a) do-able (there are historical models), (b) sustainable over generations, and (c) worth fighting for. Both women and men are realizing that without such collective authority, women will not thrive, humanity will not survive, and the earthly web of life will be torn to shreds.

NOTE: The concept and details of women’s public authority were developed out of my learning about the women of the Haudenosaunee League, as explained in Section A. I myself am not Native American so if I have misinterpreted or misrepresented this information or otherwise offended Native Americans, I hope that someone will let me know.

A. Women’s Public Authority: The Haudenosaunee League
B. Women’s Public Authority: Applied to 21st century 
C. Coalition building: Who might support #WomensPublicAuthority?
D. Other BLOGS on #WomensPublicAuthority (2018-21)

A. Women’s Public Authority: The Haudenosaunee League

For 500+ years, beginning well before European contact, the League had been run by a bicameral government codified in the Great Law of Peace — women’s councils and men’s councils. In the late 1700s, when the founders of the U.S. were drafting a constitution, they were already familiar with the Haudenosaunee model and incorporated some Indigenous concepts and structures into the U.S. Constitution. Once the Constitution was adopted (1789) and the new country was official, Indigenous genocide and League eviceration continued apace. 

So far as I know, the League’s governance is still organized in women’s and men’s councils. Contemporaneous details are not readily available, but Prof. Barbara Alice Mann has documented the historical League at great length, concentrating on the separate roles, responsibilities, and authority of the women. Any woman who is interested in equality and separatism would do well to read Mann’s 2000 book, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas. Prof. Mann is a meticulous and prolific scholar (Humanities, U. of Toledo) and a Native American (Bear clan, Seneca) who seems to have had access to the oral traditions and histories of her people.

I have written about the basic details frequently, most succinctly in Women’s Authority, Women’s Lives: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace (2018). The separatism and equality codified in the Great Law of Peace are the kinds that 21st century women would do well to learn about and replicate.

I call such equality + separatism “women’s public authority” — #WomensPublicAuthority. I believe that it would undergird the personal authority and autonomy that modern feminists have been working for. Here are some details.

Definition of gantowisas (p. 16):

An Iroquoian equivalent of “woman” is gantowisas, yet the term conveys more than woman.  She is political woman, faith keeping woman, mediating woman; leader, counselor, judge. Gantowisas indicates mother, grandmother, and even the Mother of Nations, as well as the Corn Mother, Herself, whose shining new face lies beneath the ground to rise again, each year.  In the first decades of the twentieth century, the revered Cayuga Chief Deskaheh (1873-1925) of the Canadian Six Nations Council at Grand River, Canada, defined gantowisas as a mature woman acting in her official capacity. Her official capacity was public in every way.  Her duties were frankly political, economic, judicial, and shamanic. Gantowisas, then means Indispensable Woman.

Political separatism
Women’s councils:
(a) set the agenda for men’s councils including preferred options on a given issue
(b) appoint and remove chiefs
(c) initiate and end war
(d) decide legal identity, who is a citizen

Economic equality
Women-run structures that assured economic equality for everyone:
(a) distribution hubs
(b) “ownership” of the land
(c) farming

Mann’s book also has separate chapters on women’s social roles and spiritual roles, but I believe that those roles were not codified in the Great Law of Peace. It would be better to consult someone who is more expert than I am on the details of the Great Law.

Also not codified but important in supporting and reinforcing women’s day-to-day authority are other aspects of Haudenosaunee economic life. Prof. Mann identifies two key economic mistakes that the founding fathers made in modeling the U.S. Constitution on the Great Law of Peace:
(a) ignoring the reciprocal economic system of the Iroquois in favor of “bullyboy” economics
(b) “unfunded sovereignty”—trying to create a self-governing model without providing resources to voters. In other words the League had a basic guaranteed income.

A final codification — the Great Law’s 5-year sunset clause — also reinforced women’s public and regular participation in League governance. Such a clause theoretically makes the Iroquois Constitution a living document with a constantly engaged populace, including women.
In order to understand the full impact of this clause vs. the U.S. Constitution, it’s useful to ask U.S. voters today:
—When has any woman ratified the entire U.S. Constitution? Answer: Never.
—When was the last time that any U.S. voter had a chance to ratify the Constitution? Answer: 1789.
—Has any U.S. voter alive in 2022 ratified the Constitution? Answer: No.

B. Women’s Public Authority: Applied to 21st century

To flesh out the idea, here’s some cursory thoughts on how #WomensPublicAuthority might be codified in 21st century U.S.

First, let me make clear that by #WomensPublicAuthority I do NOT mean the election of a woman president or more tokenism in board rooms, universities, government departments, etc. I mean ALL women coming together to decide what’s good for everyone, in every neighborhood, every jurisdiction, and every situation.

Second, in order to be meaningful, #WomensPublicAuthority must be well articulated and codified into law or some other relevant document (e.g., a corporation’s by-laws).

a. U.S. House of Representatives
Parallel to the Great Law of Peace, this was my first thought for codifying women’s public authority in the U.S. Constitution: Make the entire U.S. House of Representatives all women, only women. Because appropriations must originate in the House, this would provide women with an economic authority that would also mirror the agenda-setting function of women’s councils.

b. U.S. Monetary Authority
Because our monetary and banking system seems to embody so many disfunctions of our patriarchal economic systems, I recently blogged about nationalizing the Federal Reserve System and establishing a U.S. Monetary Authority designed and staffed by women to more equitably manage the U.S. money supply. This is an adaptation of the NEED Act, introduced by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich in 2012 and currently being updated by the Alliance For Just Money as the American Monetary Reform Act (AMRA). Details are described in: THE MONEY QUESTION: Old and New

c. Food Policy Councils
Over the 17 years that I’ve been active in U.S. food & farm policy, women have consistently comprised 70-80% of all food & farm activists at all levels — local, state, and national. This includes all parts of the food system — production, processing, distribution, waste management, research, non-profits, officials, etc. from farmers and academics to organizers and compost companies. This is equally true on food policy councils (FPCs), the governance model that began in 1982 in Knoxville, TN and has now grown to 200+ FPCs in North America.

So far as I know, no FPC codifies women’s membership per se, but many FPCs are governmental bodies. This type of women’s public authority is more accurately described as de facto and is not, in my opinion, as authoritative as codified.

d. Commissions on Status of Women
In the U.S., the Commission movement began in 1961 when President John Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. State and local commissions  were created at a rapid pace, reaching a high of 230 but declining in recent years.

From a grassroots perspective, the Hawaiian commission seems to be very active and is often in the news, most recently with a COVID recovery plan that centers women. I don’t hear much about other commissions although the National Association of Commissions for Women suggests there might still be close to 200 in the U.S.

e. Housing
I have no specific suggestion for codifying women’s public authority over housing, but the need for affordable housing is growing more acute, especially for families with children. As shamanic teacher Sandra Ingerman recently said in a podcast, human society would radically change if all women rose up and insisted on food and housing for all children. (Sandra’s uncle was Abe Beame, the mayor of New York City during the 1970s.) Homeless mothers in Oakland, CA seemed to have been effective in making that demand to Oakland officials.

f. Labor Unions
Another de facto type of women’s public authority that seems to be fast-growing is labor union leadership and labor organizing. Obvious recent examples are: flight attendants, teachers, and nurses. 

C. Coalition building around #WomensPublicAuthority

Being an activist, I’m always looking for the next step. Along those lines, I put these questions to the universe (and any readers who care to respond):
— Would these current initiatives, scholars, and activists support #WomensPublicAuthority?
— Is there a current initiative, scholar, activist, etc., that I don’t know about, who is already promoting women’s public authority?
— No doubt I have left some organizations and people off of this short list; who should I add so that other women know about them?— Who might initiate a pilot project?

Women’s Declaration International (WDI)
Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF)
League of Women Voters
Red Tents in every Neighborhood
Marshall Plan for Moms

Scholars, Publishers, Activists
International Academy HAGIA for Modern Matriarchal Studies
Maternal Gift Economy Movement
Suppressed Histories Archives
Women Also Know Stuff
Spinifex Press (Australia)
Inanna Publications (Canada)

D. Other BLOGS on #WomensPublicAuthority (2018-21)

There are many other nuances to the issue of women’s public authority, some of which I have explored in other blogs as I tried to muddle my way to a clear goal for 21st century feminists. In reverse chronological order, those blogs are:
The Reality of all Realities: Biology and Liberation  March 2022
THE MONEY QUESTION: Old and New  Feb. 2022
A CONUNDRUM: Transition to a Gift Economy — Who gifts to the mothers?  Jan. 2022
SPIRITS IN GIRL BODIES: Gender Dysphoria or Raging Feminism — a Baby Boomer’s story  Dec. 2021
BIRTH OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Do you hear what I hear? (I mean, Is anyone listening?)  Dec. 2021
WOMEN’S PUBLIC AUTHORITY & the ERA: Wishing & working for what we want (instead of against what we don’t want)  Dec. 2021
WORKING THINGS OUT: Gender identity, violence against females, and language confusion in a Chicago-area high school and suburb  Nov. 2021
Women’s Ways of Knowledge  Nov. 2021
THE “PERSONAL MISERY” OF ACADEMICS (and other U.S. folks): Some Remedies and Resources  Nov. 2021
EXPLODING LISTSERV: Industry & lobby groups “administratively redefining” farmers and women — I’ve been cancelled  Nov. 2021
To survivors & other women, “I’m sorry,  20th century feminist strategy was wrong”  Oct. 2021
IS CONFUSION THE DEFAULT SETTING of the 21st century American mind? Aug. 2021
Camp Auschwitz and an Ancient Women’s Peace Center (Chicago)  Feb. 2021
#MeToo in the U.S. Food & Farm Movement  Dec. 2020
MY AMERICAN DREAM, 1951 — ?  Oct. 2020
WHO’S YOUR CLAN MOTHER? Saying STOP is women’s public authority—including Impeachment   Sept. 2019
U.S. 2018: For Women who are Feeling like Livestock  Sept. 2018
In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start Here: The Great Law of Peace  Sept. 2018
Women’s Authority, Women’s Lives: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace  March 2018  
Food-and-Farm Policy: Manifesting Feminism in Illinois   May 2018