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NATURE, BUSINESS AND THE SACRED GIFT OF FEMALE INTUITION

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. – Albert Einstein

“Women know. Maybe they can’t read or write, but they know. Believe me. They know,” Vandana Shiva declared to a captivated audience of 100+ people of all ages and backgrounds jam-packed in a small room on the first floor of an old building in Vienna’s Währinger Strasse Saturday night. “Ten miles,” she continued. “That’s the distance a woman is willing to walk for water before the alarm bells sound and she acts.”

My mind reeled. Ten miles in the US is like hiking from Times Square, NYC to Jersey City, NJ. In Austria, that’s like going from St. Stephan’s Cathedral to Klosterneuburg. Now I will be the first to admit that if Stuart Freeman announced on the FM4 morning show that Mama Dip was firing up her down home southern cooking in Klosteneuburg, you best get outa my way, cause I will be bypassing dachshunds and Nordic walkers to scoot my hungry little self up the Danube faster than you can say with collard greens and slaw on the side. But if I were required to make that hike every day to fetch a life essential item like water, I’m sure my arms would start to resemble Donkey Kong’s in length, my face Waldorf’s in grimace and my attitude Garfield’s in work ethic.

But that wasn’t the point. The point was, at 10 km the women recognized something was seriously off and were no longer willing to complacently go along. In the case of water, women in a small village of India were forced to walk 5 miles twice a day to fetch water because their wells had dried up. An international soft drink company had been drawing up hundreds of thousands of liters every day from boreholes and wells depleting the town’s ground water. The women protested and were eventually successful. The license to the company was no longer renewed.

According to Vandana Shiva, those women, like all women, intuitively know how to provide for their loved ones in the best way possible. In many of the rural villages of India, she said, perhaps the women cannot read or write, but they are rich in knowledge of the land. They can identify which seeds will grow best during a dry year and which during a wet one. They can tell when it will rain and which patch of earth can be used for which plants at which time to yield the best bounty. Only when the natural instincts are called into question or over-ruled by so-called “Smart Solutions” by “Smart International Companies” does the natural balance tip. Farmers become dependent on genetically engineered seeds that do not grow easily in the earth at hand. This forces them to, in turn, purchase pesticides and fertilizers that go on to destroy the natural organisms that would be doing the same jobs with the use of the traditional seeds. The farmers then plummet themselves into debt to pay for these “progressive,” “smart” solutions. They find themselves and their communities entangled in a sticky web of dependency on international corporations selling patented seeds and cancer-inducing poisons.

During Vandana Shiva’s talk, I experienced a lot of Ah-ha moments. I admit, even during my undergrad studies of international relations, I had never quite warmed up to economic measurements such as GDP as the basis of gauging a nation’s economic health but I could never quite pin down why. Vandana Shiva could. GDP is about money being spent and products being made from other products. Therefore a completely self-sufficient community that produces and consumes its own food, for example, where no money is exchanged, would appear “poor” accordingly to the traditional economic measurement tools. She argued that the world needs new indicators for economy that will not measure money flow but rather well-being. Again, and again, Vandana Shiva challenged the status quo and proposed alternatives. “Let us start measuring the health per acre of farms; instead of the wealth per acre. Let us decentralize and built local food sheds, similar to local water sheds in order to feed communities locally in much the same way we provide drinking water. Nature shrinks as capital grows but capital can never grow large enough to replenish nature.”

‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘We know. We can. We will.’

Ah, the bliss and exhilaration that lingers when you have one of those rare encounters with someone who thinks, questions, challenges and acts. There’s nothing quite like it. If only it weren’t so short-lived.

Less than 24 hours later, I found myself in my beloved Café Bräunerhof. What should have been a relaxing Sunday afternoon listening to some live classical music, sipping an espresso, reading a newspaper, and basking in the intellectually stimulated aftermath of Vandana Shiva’s talk, instantly went up in a “Are you out of your fracking mind?!”

In big bold letters spanning the front page of the Friday’s edition of the Times of London was an article entitled: “Women don’t understand Fracking.” In it, a Professor Averil MacDonald, who also declined to report how much the shale gas company pays her, criticized women in Britain for, according to her, not being smart enough to support shale gas exploration (apparently only 31.5% are in favor of it in the UK). Prof. MacDonald accused her fellow British sisters of being “concerned because they don’t want to be taking something on trust” and “acting on their instinct to protect children from threats.” And indeed, I would presume, they probably are guilty as charged. But I don’t agree with Professor MacDonald that it’s because they “haven’t had very much in the way of science education.” I would even venture that it is probably also not because the resulting freak earthquakes have endangered the precision of the steady white lines of their French manicures. No, I would say, that the highly intelligent, obviously intuitive British women were simply trusting their instincts. And rightly so. Something that Vandana Shiva would applaud and Prof. MacDonald would be well-advised to do in the future.

Follow up – May 2016 – the women are uniting in battle! You go girls!

Read more on the topic in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/29/women-lead-the-call-to-arms-as-anti-fracking-fight-intensifies

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Women according to Men

March 8 – International Woman’s Day

And in the feminine tradition, with a woman giving the last word.

Me and my friend at the Lifeball 2014

Happy Women’s Day, Ladies!

1)      “The great question …which I have not been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul is: ‘What does a woman want?'”
– Sigmund Freud ((1856 – 1939), Austrian psychoanalyst, Psychiatry in American Life

What do we want? Everything we can’t have. It’s what keeps life interesting.

2)      “God created woman. And boredom did indeed cease from that moment – but many other things ceased as well! Woman was God’s second mistake.”
–          Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) German philosopher , The Antichrist

Or perhaps the second mistake was creating them second? Twain said God created women and felt sorry for men so then he gave them tobacco. Or maybe he meant football.

3)      When asked, ‘In a world without women, what would men become?‘

Esther statue adorning front porch of Ernst Fuchs' Museum / Otto Wagner Villa in Vienna

Austrian Artist, Ernst Fuch’s ideal woman – Esther

“Scarce. Mighty scarce.”
– Mark Twain / Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 – 1910) American author and humorist.

Smart man, Twain.  Probably also explains why he spent so much time in Vienna — smart, very smart.

4) “Warum ist uns das Weib so nötig wie rätselhaft? Weil es der falsche Schlüssel ist zu einem Tor und es dennoch öffne.” (Why is a dame so necessary and mysterious? Because she is the wrong key to a gate that opens nevertheless.)
– Albert Paris Gütersloh (1887 – 1973), Austrian painter and writer.

I am still wrapping my head around this. Insult or compliment?

5) “Die Frau betäubt den Mann angenehm, so dass er es gar nicht merkt, dass er kein Genie ist.”  (Women have a way of numbing men so comfortably, that they don’t even notice, that they are no geniuses.)
— Peter Altenberg (1859 – 1919), Austrian poet and coffeehouse writer

My lovable old grump, Altenberg, translating the world for the rest of us to understand it better.

6) “Eine Frau verzeiht alles — aber sie erinnert uns oft daran, dass sie uns verziehen hat.” (A woman will forgive everything — but she will often reminds us, that she has forgiven us.)
– Karlheinz Boehm (1928 – ?) Austrian actor and philanthropist.

Makes you wonder what the good old Karlheinz did. I bet he won’t do it again, though.

Tricky couple in Salzburg

This woman is keeping her man up in the air

7) “Wer die Frauen kennen will, muss die Männer studieren.” (Whoever wants to know women must first study men).
— Ferenc Molnar (1878 – 1952) Born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and fled to the US in WWII to escape the Nazis. He was a dramaist and novelist.

Makes you want to go after good old Ferenc. But true in a way. And I would argue, if you want to know a woman, study her father. Even if we are able to grow beyond these influences, I think you can’t underestimate the extent a good dad or a lousy father can affect a little girl. So guys, be good dads!

8) “Es ist nicht wahr, dass man ohne eine Frau nicht leben kann. Man kann bloss ohne eine Frau nicht gelebt haben.”
(It is not true, that a man cannot live without a woman. A man can simply not have lived without a woman).
– Karl Kraus (1874 – 1936) Austrian writer and journalist, known as a satirist, essayist, aphorist, playwright and poet.

I greatly admire Kraus’ shameless wit and uncompromising humor but when it comes to women, good old Karl is lacking wit, humor and good common sense. The quote above is one of the rare occassions when he was nice to us ladies. At least I think I was being nice. Maybe he wasn’t. You never know with Kraus. Which makes me admire him all the more.

9) “Eine Frau holt gerne den Rat ihres Mannes ein, schon deshalb, um ihn nicht zu befolgen.” (A woman likes to ask the advice of her husband, just so she can disobey it.)
— Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931), Austrian physician and writer.

Don’t judge Arthur Schnitzler by the film “Eyes Wide Shut.” Schnitzler is one of my favorite Austrian authors and a master at deep POV.  In his day, he was also quite the ladies’ man and is said to have kept a tally of his conquests, but poor Schnitzler lived a tragic life nonetheless. No study of Austria could be complete without reading some of his works. A quick intro to his writing could begin with his short story, Fräulein Else.

10) “Die Frauen bleiben immer dieselben, sie sind immer veränderlich.”  (Women always stay the same, they’re constantly changing)
– Daniel Spitzer (1835- 1893) Austrian writer

Agreed. Print This Post

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The Spoils go to the Victor – Book Review of A Woman in Berlin

For most of history anonymous was a woman. — Virgina Woolf

Anonymous. A Woman in Berlin: Diary 20 April 1945 to June 1945. London: Virago, 2006. Print.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary is one of those rare books that you end up reading by chance and think to yourself, “Why hadn’t I ever heard of this book before? Why aren’t people talking about this? Why didn’t Oprah Winfrey get her hands on this?”

Book cover of A Woman in Berlin

A Woman in Berlin

The story of war, told from the perspective of one of war’s spoils – a young woman filled with hope and ready to jump back up every time she is kicked and held down. She is funny, insightful and optimistic and for all these reasons, an inspiration to all women and men and a light of hope for humanity in a seemingly inhumane world.

The subtitle of the book is “Diary 20 April 1945 to 22 June 1945” but the book is much richer than a simple play-by-play of a young woman’s experience for two months in her worn torn city. Perhaps because the author was a journalist before the war, the book is a thoughtfully written, at times objective eye-witness account of Berlin as the victorious Russian forces greedily devour the spoils of the vanquished city – women, property and resources.

When the book begins, the narrator is a 34 year old woman living alone in war-torn Berlin hunkering down with her neighbors in the local bomb shelter and scavenging for food.  Rumors abound that the Russians draw ever nearer and women exchange at first in hushed tones, and later in downright vulgar terms what dark fate is marching toward them.  The author is afraid but she writes, “But there comes a time when you’re so mortally tired you stop being afraid. That’s probably how soldiers sleep on the front, amid all the filth.” (Anonymous 49)

Only the resilient survive

The women are repeatedly raped, degraded, worked, and used as the men see fit and still they continue to get up in the morning and live. “What will become of us? I feel so dirty, I don’t want to touch anything, least of all my own skin.” (Anonymous 80) The author’s ability to speak basic Russian is perhaps a blessing and curse. “By the same token it’s also easier for those who don’t understand a word of Russian. For them the Russians are more alien; they can talk themselves into the idea that these men aren’t people but savages, mere animals.” (Anonymous 99) Because of her language skills, she is fetched to prevent a rape. Together with another Russian soldier, she talks the two perpetrators out of raping a neighbor only to have the two wait for the third soldier to leave so they can ambush and rape her instead.

Perhaps one of the great casualties of war – besides the death of innocence — is women’s view of men. “These days I keep noticing how my feelings toward men –and the feelings of all the other woman – are changing. We feel sorry for them; they seem so miserable and powerless. The weaker sex. Deep down we women are experiencing a kind of collective disappointment. …Among the many defeats at the end of the war is the defeat of the male sex.” (Anonymous 62)

To the victor go the spoils

She and the other women learn to align themselves with specific men to assert some kind of control over the situation. “I…feel as if I’m performing on the stage. I couldn’t care less about the lot of them! I’ve never been so removed from myself, so alienated. All my feelings seem dead, except for the drive to live. They shall not destroy me.” (Anonymous 87) Later she writes, “…as long as I’m nothing more than a spoil of war I intend to stay dead and numb, without feeling.”

Rape becomes so common that women exchange their stories about it over tea in a manner once reserved for the news of the day. “…here we’re dealing with a collective experience, something foreseen and feared many times in advance, that happened to women right and left, all somehow part of the bargain. And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help the other, by speaking about it, airing their pain and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they’ve suffered.” (Anonymous 174).

Together they manage, survive and persevere. And as a kind of order is established and life begins to return to a new kind of normal, the survivors of the war – women and men — must acknowledge there is no return to the blissful ignorance of the prewar error.  If the husbands, fiancés and boyfriends return from the front, the women silently wonder what they did to the women in the villages they had conquered. And the men are confronted with a new, stronger, more outspoken woman, a woman not so easily bossed around and impressed with muscle force and one that has most likely survived ordeals he would rather not know.

But return to life also puts an end to the collective sharing of the rape experience of the women, placing an invisible muzzle on the women best evidenced perhaps most sadly and blatantly in the author’s experience with the publication of her diaries. Ten years after the war, the diaries were first published in English-speaking countries and not until five years after that, a German edition followed in Switzerland in 1960. But reaction to the book in the German-speaking world was negative and accusations were hurled that the author was tainting the good name of German women with her tales of rape and survival. The backlash was so tremendous that the author refused to allow publication again in her lifetime. A Woman in Berlin was first republished in 2003 but the identity of the author still remains secret. A woman who managed to survive ongoing rape and humiliation had to publish under Anonymous.

“All I can do is touch my small circle… What’s left is just to wait for the end. Still, the dark and amazing adventure of life beckons. I’ll stick around, out of curiosity, and because I enjoy breathing and stretching my healthy limbs.” (Anonymous 206)

Read this book. Don’t skip the foreword. Then pass it along for someone else to read. The lessons extend beyond Berlin in WWII, way back to Cicero who considered the rape of women in war a mere property crime and the ancient Greeks who considered it socially acceptable behavior to Bosnia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and the list goes on and on.  The Women under Siege project includes information about how sexualized violence is used as a weapon of war. These atrocities must be shared until they are stopped.

Perhaps of interest: Guardian Article by Gloria Steinem and Lauren Wolfe on how collective raping is used by some men to fortify a false image of manhood,”Sexual violence against women is the result of the cult of masculinity.”

Also worth checking out: Ms. Lauren Wolfe’s Women’s Media Center project on sexualized violence in conflict, Women under Siege.

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