Is it a new year or a new decade. Giving short shrift to this “debate,” dd asked, “when did the 80s begin?” So this is the first, not the last year of the 20s. Ah, Fitzgerald. We will no longer think first of you when we talk of the twenties. Hear us roar.
How salutary it was this morning to hear Blanche Cook, biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt discuss her life and work on Democracy Now! First of all, her own life, which as she so aptly put it, was by accident – she was on track to be a competitive gymnast, with Olympic dreams, but an accident put an end to that. She studied history and political science. She came across a “stupid” book about Eleanor Roosevelt that simply could not fathom what her letters to Lorena Hicks could be about. Because they could not be what they appeared to be.
Well Blanche Cook had none of that and went on to write a 3 volume biography of the 4-term First Lady whom President Truman would call “First Lady of the World” for her work in advancing human rights, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
While generally soaking in the interview and enjoying that heady, bubbly feeling of thoughts sprouting forth in all different directions, finding points of connection in places that one might have considered unexpected anywhere other than among scholars and radical (by which I mean deep) thinkers, whom we can count on hearing on Democracy Now! …
suddenly what do I hear but that the only other woman delegate to the convention / drafting committee was Hansa Mehta from India and it is thanks to her insistence that the UN declared the rights of human beings and not of “men.”
Thank you Hansa Behn!!
So many times in so many decades have I endured conversations with people who accepted or “didn’t care” that men was used as a default and women could be “implied” but need not be stated as such. No need to mention. Even when a bold new political party took the national stage it chose to make “admi” its middle name and I had to have the whole debate all over again, this time with people telling me that I did not know Hindi and hence was not qualified to speak on the subject. Of course some of these were the same people who tried to “explain” to me that man was a generic term in English, discounting the struggles of women to speak and be included, not merely understood in that unspoken oh so feminine way.
Thank goodness some Indian feminists spoke up. Not that the party listened. But I did. And I cared. The party had everyone’s hopes up a decade ago. In that rush of hope the pesky question of women was trampled. A senior member of the party explicitly told me not to raise that question as it would either go nowhere or it would sow division and derail the potential progress that the party could make. I saw it as a waste of time to engage further on that question and indeed to engage further with that party though I did give the benefit of the doubt and on a few occasions I did participate, albeit sans cap.
Today I hear calls for “insaniyat” and I just wish we had woken up to this long ago. Of course one has to temper the “garv se kaho insaan hum” with humility and recognition of our proper place within he ecosystem and the reparations we owe the planet.
Amidst such somber thoughts it was uplifting to hear of the role of Hansa Mehta. Thank you Blanche Cook and thank you Amy Goodman. Couldn’t have started the new year (new decade) on a braver note.