Until Women Have Their Own Historians

“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter” — Hamutal Gouri’s address at a special ‘Suffragette’ screening hosted by the Dafna Fund and Women Media Center Israel.

It is a rare pleasure for me to be with you here this morning, at this special, festive screening of Suffragette. This joyous event, that brought together feminist activists from a variety of communities and fields, is a joint initiative of the Dafna Fund and Women Media Center Israel. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Vered Cohen-Brazilay, Director of the Women Media Center Israel, for the partnership and creativity.

Celebrating feminism at a screening of Suffragette

I am very privileged to be managing the Dafna Fund. The first and (for the time being) only Israeli feminist fund. The fund was established by Professor Dafna Izraeli: sociologist, researcher and thinker, activist and feminist philanthropist, founder of the program for gender studies in Bar Ilan University. Our mission is to promote gender equality and feminist agendas through grants, capacity building nurturing and strengthening networks and advancing philanthropy through the gender lens.

The film we have gathered to watch is an important one. It tells the story of a critical chapter in the history of feminist struggles; the struggle of English women for suffrage; a fight and a victory that brought a profound change in the status of women over the past century, all over the world. It is thanks to this struggle that only recently women from Saudi Arabia participated as voters in municipal elections, for the first time in the country’s history. This movie is an act of appreciation to the giantesses on whose shoulders we stand. Women who sacrificed so much so that we can take voting for granted.

Paying tribute to Israeli feminist icon, Ester Eilam, who came to the screening

Those of you who know me have probably heard me say that appreciation is a political, feminist, subversive act. Within the poisonous discourse that surrounds us, it is a privilege and a duty to offer appreciation to women and to meaningful texts. Paying tribute to all the inspiring women I have learned from would take all day (and then some), and so I have chosen a few milestones; women and words that were etched in my mind, gifts I received, which I take with me everywhere.

First milestone — 27 years ago, when I was pregnant with my firstborn, I arrived at the SHATIL offices, then located in Ramba”n St. in Jerusalem. A poster was hanging on the entrance wall, with a proverb that said: Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. The ability to tell our own stories is –and not be trapped as a supporting character in stories others are telling about us — is far from obvious. To that end we need to create spaces where our stories can be molded and find their way onto the history pages.

A second milestone is my meeting with Dafna Izraeli’s heritage. One of the greatest gifts Dafna left us is that of curiosity, the invitation to ask questions, break the boundaries of thought and discourse. Not accept things as they are because someone says “this is the state of things”. We all have the ability to change things on the most profound level. Dafna also taught us the importance of different types of knowledge — theoretical and practical, knowledge formed during activity in the field, knowledge developed in the academia, in communication channels, in organizations. Looking at you, all of you, I am thinking how much knowledge and wisdom we are blessed with in this theatre this morning.

A third milestone is the gift of compassion. Adrienne Rich wrote this marvelous line in one of her poems: “It is only now, under a powerful womanly lens, that I can dechipher your suffering and deny no part of my own”. This line is the few that holds the many. It is the essence of compassion toward ourselves and toward the woman standing in front of us. Suffragette (the movie) offers quite a few of these moments.

A fourth milestone is a text by Lilla Watson, an Indigenous Australian artist and thinker who wrote:“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” I would like to thank the young activists from the Young Women’s Forum who are sitting in here today, for reminding me how important and true this saying is. How much we need each other to learn, grow and become stronger.

An inter-generational get-together

A fifth milestone is the gift of a spirit of fighting alongside resilience and perseverance. Audre Lorde, Afro-American poet, thinker and activist wrote: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. Acting for social feminist change is, to say the least, not always easy. Sometimes it feels like pushing an enormous rock up a mountain. And we must protect ourselves and other women from weariness and apathy. Or, as the Hebrew Humus ad would have it — social change is made with love, or not at all.

It seems only right to end with another proverb: if you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far — let’s walk together. Within a venomous, divisive political discourse, we must create spaces of solidarity for ourselves, of collaboration and mutual support. Sometimes it seems like certain struggles are not our own, but all struggles for freedom from violence of all kinds, for fair employment, equal pay, political representation and visibility in the public discourse, for the right to live with dignity, to grow old with dignity, our right on our bodies, the fight against racism and exclusion, supporting human rights struggles — all these struggles meet at the deepest root of commitment to life in a just, containing and equal society.

Walking together in this ongoing, challenging journey against injustice, oppression and inequality — let us take with us in our travel packs the gifts we were given by our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers: curiosity and breaking down the boundaries of the discourse, compassion toward ourselves and other women, collaboration and mutual commitment to growth, courage, strength, and strong faith in the possibility of change. And delight and the joy of doing.

And appreciation, lots and lots of appreciation.

Thank you, all of you. Thank you for doing, for the wisdom and knowledge you bring to the world. Thank you for your decisiveness and passion, strength and courage.

Let us walk together and go far.

Dafna Fund Executive Director, Hamutal Gouri, addressing the audience before the screening

Originally published on the Dafna Fund blog: http://www.dafnafund.org.il/en/info-center/blog/item/268-appreciation-as-a-political-feminist-subversive-act