Erin McKenna. American Journal of Theology & Philosophy. Volume 24, Issue 1. January 2003.
Introduction and Definitions
As you all know, there are many kinds/forms of feminism. Alison Jaggar, in her classic work Feminist Politics and Human Nature (1988) presents four schools of feminist thought: liberal, socialist, Marxist, and radical. Today many add ecofeminism. What is decidedly missing from any of these discussions, however, is any mention of pragmatism. This is not a great surprise since American pragmatism is not taught in many graduate or undergraduate programs. This is, in my opinion, an unfortunate state of affairs for many reasons, not the least of which is that American pragmatism is a great resource for feminist thought.
In teaching my Women and Philosophy class, one book I use discusses liberal, radical, psychoanalytic, postmodern, Marxist, socialist, existentialist, multicultural, global, and ecofeminism. Yet, there is nothing on pragmatism. Nonetheless, the conclusion asks readers to be flexible feminists who see growth, change, and pluralism as strengths rather than something to be avoided. This is a pragmatist stance, but it gets no development and the reader is left unaware that there is a school of thought that could be a valuable resource in developing the notion of “flexible feminism.” Another book I use does have a section on pragmatism. It has excerpts from Jane Addams, Jessie Taft, and Charlene Haddock Seigfried. I consistently find that students like the Addams reading. I link this to the reading on Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who appears in the socialist section of the book, to develop a conversation about pragmatism and feminism. The students like these works because they see them as “engaged philosophies.” These are not just abstract theories, but they are theories that are informed by experience and used to guide action.
As Seigfried laments in her book Pragmatism and Feminism, why do twentieth, and now twenty-first, century U.S. feminists ignore their own philosophical heritage? Why do we turn to existentialism and postmodernism, especially when we still find these wanting? We must begin to explore the tradition of American Pragmatism if we hope to achieve the “flexible feminism” our increasingly interconnected and complex world demands. I would also argue that the tradition of American pragmatism, which is undergoing a revival of sorts, stands to gain from examining its historical and theoretical links to feminism (theory and issues). Not only can pragmatism and feminism provide useful mutual critiques and extensions, but I believe that the development of a consciously pragmatist and feminist perspective will result in a dynamic, flexible, pluralist, engaged philosophy that can transform our ways of thinking and living.
I will use a basic definition of feminism which entails the beliefs that the subordination of women is wrong, that the absence of women’s perspective distorts and limits traditional social and political theory, and that addressing male bias in both theory and practice will result in a society more inclusive of diversity. Add to this Seigfried’s working definition of pragmatism and the possible links between pragmatist and feminist theories begin to emerge. She says,
Pragmatism, as a philosophy that stresses the relation of theory to praxis, takes the continuity of experience and nature as revealed through the outcome of directed action as the starting point of reflection. Experience is the ongoing transaction of organism and environment; in other words, both subject and object are constituted in the process. When intelligently ordered, initial conditions are deliberately transformed according to ends-in-view, that is, intentionally, into a subsequent state of affairs thought to be more desirable. Knowledge is therefore guided by interests or values.
Ongoing, transactive experience is also a starting point of feminist analysis, as is the notion that knowledge and ethics are not “neutral and objective” but rather are guided by our interests and values. Seigfried lists three characteristics of feminist theory: “(1) it begins with women’s experiences as the basis for social analysis; (2) its aim is to benefit women; and (3) the researcher is not a neutral observer, but is on the same critical plane as the subject matter.” These themes all gain support from a pragmatist analysis, just as pragmatism is further supported and developed by including a feminist perspective. Pragmatism and feminism share philosophical roots in rejecting dualisms, taking a perspectival stance, developing values from concrete experience, and giving feeling a role in experience and knowledge.
A pragmatist and feminist perspective will, specifically, reject the traditional dualisms of academic philosophy which include: male/female, mind/body, reason/emotion, theory/practice, objective/subjective. For both pragmatists and feminists experience is essential to forming theory and knowledge is influenced by one’s situatedness. I believe pragmatism is inherently feminist and that feminism in all of its diversity can be informed and modified by pragmatism.
As Seigfried points out in her book, both William James and John Dewey took actions that promoted individual women and causes of equality. Lucy Sprague (Mitchell), Gertrude Stein, and Mary Whiton Calkins (first woman president of both American Philosophical Associations) all studied with James. Mitchell studied with James at Radcliffe (where he and others repeated their Harvard courses so women could take them). She also met Dewey and was greatly influenced by his views on education as the result of attending his lectures. John Dewey advocated women’s suffrage and birth control, and had contact with many active feminists of his time: Jane Addams, Ellen Gates Starr, Julia Lathrup (and other Hull House residents), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Emma Goldman, and Elsie Ripley Clapp. Clapp earned a M.A. in philosophy at Columbia (1909) and took all the courses necessary for a Ph.D., but never completed the degree. She took fourteen courses with Dewey and was his assistant for twelve courses. Dewey acknowledged Clapp in the 1915 preface to Democracy and Education. While Dewey is quite specific about Clapp’s substantive contributions in his letters, in the publication she is left out of the body of the work. Dewey did name Clapp to be his successor for the Education classes at the Teacher’s College when he retired in 1927, though she was not appointed to the position.
Despite these concrete cases of supporting and influencing the women of their time, we also see the failure of James to translate this into a wider theoretical stance on women. While going out of his way to teach his courses at Radcliffe, he can still support the notion of “separate spheres” and write that John Stuart Mill’s call for reciprocity in marriage “threatens” the “conception of a wife as a possession” (ECR, 253). Seigfried says “James fears the `extremely revolutionary import’ of Mill’s substitution of friendship for love as the basis for marriage, since friendship requires the equality of the sexes, while love requires that women be subordinate to men.” He writes that “the wife his heart more or less subtly craves is at bottom a dependent being.” For James, the “supreme female function” is to “sympathetically reaffirm the importance and moral worth of their men.” Women have the function of “laughing, talking, blushing, nursing us.” Similarly, despite the fact that James worked with and encouraged the leading black academics of his time, he was overtly racist in his writings. In arguing that the analytic mind is a sign of higher development, he contrasts it with the mind of savages (using a black man as the example), with the Irish, and with women. There is no good excuse for this. John Stuart Mill was much admired by James, but James determinedly dug his heels in and refused to see the compelling nature of Mill’s arguments to end the subjection of women. Further, his views contradict his own philosophical calls for pluralism, openness, and tolerance. His own philosophy is more than compatible with a feminist critique of philosophy. James’s pragmatism is actually an asset to feminist philosophy. Unfortunately, as Seigfried says, “It seems that sexism can very well coexist not only with individually cordial relations with women but also with philosophical perspectives that systematically affirm difference.”
Seigfried focuses on what she calls the feminine style of James’ philosophy. She says, “Images of fluidity and merging abound; boundaries are permeable; and nuances usually lost in focusing on an object are recalled in his appeal to the fringes and horizons of knowing. He develops a metaphysics of relations and an epistemology based on sympathetic concrete observation. His ethics required responsive sensibility to the inner life and worth of others.” While James ultimately asserts the superiority of analytic reason and the male mind, he sees the importance of, and makes room for, female intuition and insight. While he mistakenly assigns sympathy as something natural in women, he does take the bold step of suggesting it is an important moral attribute that all should develop. He understands that the view from the margins is an important corrective to dominant views and encourages the participation of those who can contribute a unique perspective. His emphasis on pluralism makes it possible for these voices to speak and to be listened to. His own insight into the fluidity of the world makes it possible to resist old habits and customs and remake our social arrangements.
Dewey’s philosophy, similarly, commits us to a radical remaking of our world. Dewey does not hold the kind of blatant antifeminist sentiments that we find in James. Dewey is a great resource for feminist philosophy. His focus on the centrality of experience, the realization that one’s situatedness in the world affects how and what one thinks, his rejection of dualisms (doing/thinking, making/reflecting, body/spirit, practice/theory, changing/fixed), his realization that ignoring perspective is oppressive, his understanding of the role of feeling in experience and knowledge, his view that judgments and values arise out of concrete situations, and his call to make means and ends consistent all find voice in feminist theory. And feminist theory can benefit from his nuanced and detailed discussions of these issues.
However, it can be argued that Dewey did not go far enough to imagine how the philosophical engagement of women might look and how it would transform philosophy. Nor did he fully acknowledge the influence of women on his own work. As Seigfried notes, Clapp’s influence is lumped together with “students and instructors and later references only list particular male students and scholars. He does explicitly mention his wife, Alice Chipman Dewey, and Ella Flagg Young, District Superintendent of Coty School in Chicago, and Jane Addams, founder and head of Hull House. But they are named only once and then elsewhere referred to inclusively with a “we” or as the “teachers of the school.” Further, their contributions are often acknowledged in footnotes instead of in the body of his work. These same women and others, however, often name Dewey as an influence on their thinking and action. The female lineage is obscured and the male line highlighted. Further, Dewey often assumes the “private realm” will go on unchallenged, even as he undercuts fundamental philosophical assumptions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and experience. Although he does not actively preclude challenging the status quo (as James does), he does not go far enough in considering the changed possibilities to be seen as consistent with his own position.
While there is a mixed personal record with regard to the lives and work of James and Dewey. a feminist philosophy emerges in the tradition of American Pragmatism nonetheless.
Pragmatist theory itself provides strong resources for feminist thinking since many of its positions address current feminist interests and debates. Among these are a pluralism and perspectivism that go beyond theory to advocate the actual inclusiveness of appropriately diverse viewpoints, including those of class, color, ethnicity, and gender, as a precondition for resolving problematic situations, whether these involve political, economic, epistemological, or ethical issues.
Theoretical Overlap and Insight
In the area of overlap and insight, among other things, pragmatism and feminism both require the rejection of dualisms and hierarchical thinking. Specifically, thinking and doing should not be seen as separate, neither should mind and body be distinguished, nor theory and practice divided. The rejection of these dualisms is a rejection of the superiority of a fixed Reality over the notion of changing realities. It is the embracing of plurality and process. Seigfried says, “Dewey advocates that philosophers cease trying to formulate general theories which seek to settle for all time the nature of truth, knowledge, and value. Instead we should find out “how authentic beliefs about existence as they currently exist can operate fruitfully and efficaciously in connection with the practical problems that are urgent in actual life.”
This focus on concrete practical problems has obvious connections to feminist research and activism concerning such issues as housework, childcare, and body image. These are not seen as philosophical issues from the more analytic, traditional perspectives of philosophy. However, as women’s perspectives are introduced, the perspective of philosophy is expanded and so too the issues it addresses. Pragmatism also demonstrates the way in which knowledge itself is perspectival. The notion of “objective” knowledge is overcome, but subjectivism is not embraced. Seigfried says, “Dewey’s philosophy is a major achievement precisely because it combines explanation of the perspectival character of our grasp of reality, which is active and transformative, with analysis of the ways in which we can legitimately distinguish merely subjective from warrantably objective claims about reality.” People’s lived experiences come to matter. Experience and feelings form the basis of both knowledge and values. And knowledge and values shape one’s experiences, feelings, and environment. Once one realizes this transactive nature of experience and feelings it becomes important not to universalize one’s own particular perspective. Many feminists argue that the history of western philosophy is an example of taking a particular perspective-privileged male-as if it were universal. It becomes the standard by which all “others,” and their experiences and feelings, are judged. Not surprisingly, those “others” usually fail to meet tle standard. We need to count these “other” experiences and feeling No one’s experiences are to be taken as totally objective, nor as completely subjective. This is yet another dualism to dismiss.
Experience has “objective” components in the physical and social structures that exist at the time. Such experiences, however, are had by people. We must learn to respect and incorporate a plurality of perspectives and see that “defenses of the objective character of experience can be made without denying that gender, as well as race, class, sexual orientation, and many other distinctions contribute to its objectivity, and therefore it is not only appropriate but imperative to question whose experience is being used as paradigm for explication.” Both pragmatism and feminism understand that solidarity is possible because of, not in spite of, differences. This focus on plurality also causes one to see the fluid and changing nature of the world and knowledge. Nothing is static. While this can be upsetting, it can also be empowering as we realize that our world is malleable and that we are responsible for how it is shaped.
Pragmatism and Feminism: Making a Difference for Visions of Utopia
If pragmatism and feminism are so similar, and pragmatism comes with some sexist baggage, why bother to bring the two together? To help bring this discussion to life, I will give you one example of how these two diverse schools of thought can usefully inform each other and help us become philosophers engaged in shaping the world. As I have argued in The Task of Utopia: A Pragmatist and Feminist Perspective, utopian thought helps us to understand ourselves as we are and as we might be. Such visions can help us decide what to do now to improve the society in which we live.
Utopian literature has fallen out of favor because it tends to propose final perfect end-states. The twentieth century is littered with examples of why this model of utopia is unacceptable. Visions that seek specific ends run the risk of unleashing on the world genocide, nuclear destruction, sophisticated genetic engineering, to name a few. We need a new model of utopia-a process model of utopia-based on a pragmatist and feminist political theory.
The keys to this process model are what Dewey calls lived experience and critical intelligence. Dewey’s model of democracy requires that we recognize that the unfolding of the future is not determined separately from us, but is intricately connected with us. It requires that we recognize how our participation affects what the future can be. It requires that we recognize that there is no end-state at which we must work to arrive, but a multiplicity of possible future states which we seek and try out. Dewey’s process model of democracy is compatible with feminist theory and can provide the foundation for community without resorting to authoritarian control. Dewey’s vision dismantles hierarchies and dualisms and embraces diversity and change rather than seeing diversity and change as threatening to social order and progress. Diversity and change are seen as the challenge for us to participate in the world; they are a necessary part of any world of actual human experience. We learn that “[flo cooperate by giving differences a chance to show themselves because of the belief that the expression of difference is not only a right of the other persons but is a means of enriching one’s own life-experience, is inherent in the democratic personal way of life.” Recognizing diversity and accommodating change can lead to a flexible and workable social order that deals with conflict constructively and addresses problems pragmatically.
Dewey believes that we must try to “make a future such as we desire.” The conditions of such futures, however, are present in and limited by what is now, and our task is to apply critical intelligence and imagination to our present situation and make the possible the actual. “The mode in which the inevitable comes to pass is through effort. Consciously or unconsciously, we all strive to make the kind of world that we like. And although … we may regard criticism of the past as futile, there is every reason for doing all that we can to make a future such as we desire.” This ongoing process of making the future is what Dewey calls lived experience.
Lived experience is characterized by an intense participatory relationship between the environment and the live creature. This engagement with the world gives experience structure and enables one to live the experience and integrate it into another, more complete experience, which in turn will become the ground for yet another experience, and so on. Lived experience is dynamic and has a cumulative effect. It is important to keep in mind that, even with lived experience, it will happen that one runs into obstacles. Every solution creates new problems; progress is neither inevitable nor continous. Lived experience embraces the possibilities of this movement.
If one comes to understand the dynamic nature of experience, if one connects with what Dewey calls the rhythm or relational nature of living creatures and their environment, then one is in a position to apply critical intelligence to understand one’s past and present and to guide one’s future. With an understanding of one’s embeddedness, namely, that one’s potential for growth is interdependent with the possibilities of growth for others, then one is what Dewey calls a unified individual. The unified individual realizes that as the present carries us forward to some end-in-view, that future end-in-view will become, itself, a present which will be carried forward to another end-in-view, and so on. There is no disjunction of means and ends. As each end-in-view achieved eventually becomes the means for achieving new ends-in-view, it is important to select carefully the ends we, as individuals and collectively, want to achieve. We must recognize the indeterminate nature of the future and realize the impact of our individual and societal choices upon it. We must accept responsibility for creating the future, develop a critical method of directing it, and not wait for it to unfold separately from us.
It is also important to realize one is embedded in a particular past history, a present culture. and certain sets of habits. The unified individual is able to act with foresight. Proposals for the future, however, that are developed without an understanding of our interdependence and connectedness are more likely to fall short. Without an understanding of our interdependence and connectedness it is not possible for individuals to make informed decisions; it is not possible to exercise critical intelligence. Without such understanding critical foresight is not possible. I believe that some feminist utopian fiction provides such critical foresight.
Sally Miller Gearhart offers a working definition of a feminist utopian novel.
A feminist utopian novel is one a) which contrasts the present with an envisioned idealized society (separated from the present by time or space), b) offers a comprehensive critique of present values/conditions, c) sees men or male institutions as a major cause of present social ills, and d. presents women not only as at least the equal of men but also as the sole arbiters of their reproductive functions.
The first two criteria seem to hold of any utopian novel. It is the critique of male institutions (and sometimes men themselves) and a focus on developing female equality and autonomy that make a novel feminist. Carol Pearson says, “Feminist utopian fiction implicitly or explicitly criticizes the patriarchy while it emphasizes society’s habit of restricting and alienating women … (It) assumes that the patriarchy is unnatural and fails to create environments conducive to the maximization of female-or male-potential.” It is important to stress that pragmatist feminist utopian novels seek to make a better future for everyone, not just for women. These novels demonstrate an understanding that the interests of any one person or group are intricately connected to the interests of other individuals and groups. They also point out
that our task now is to explore the political implications of the transition from a teleological view of the future to a deconstructionist view of the future. To what degree is the retreat from a totalized or absolute representation of the future a democratizing and antipatriarchal act, encouraging the reader to participate in the creation of alternative possible worlds, … and to what degree does it represent our “incapacity to imagine utopia” (Jameson 156) . This is a troubling question.
Even here there is the recognition of a move to a different kind of vision, but a hesitation to call it utopian because it does not offer a totalizing and absolutistic vision. Pfaelzer goes on to say, (I)n the 1970s and 1980s, the new utopias are part of political practices and social visions which have repudiated most totalizing solutions. Utopian dynamics reside in a context of local, disparate, and autonomous politics: hostility to worldwide corporate structures, critiques of centralized and homogenized media, demands for control of the workplace, and resistance to the commodification of special activity. Recent utopians call for individual sovereignty, local community, sexual pluralism, and the creative devastation of class, region, gender and race.
It is clear that Pfaelzer’s description of these new utopias is very much in line with what I am calling pragmatist feminist utopias.
The two novels to be discussed in this paper are pragmatist and feminist novels. They embrace a notion of process and change, see the importance of diversity, and seek to avoid the division of means from ends. They see that how they get to the future is part of what they achieve. Le Guin says,
Our curse is alienation, the separation of Yang and Yin. Instead of a search for balance and integration, there is a struggle for dominance. Divisions are insisted upon, interdependence is denied. The dualism of value that destroys us, the dualism of superior/ inferior, ruler/ruled, owner/owned, user/used, might give way to what seems to me, from here, a much healthier, sounder more promising modality of integration and integrity.
I believe that, as seen here, many pragmatist commitments have come to be part of most feminist theory, though the connection is largely unacknowledged. I think a model which acknowledges these commonalities can strengthen both feminist and utopian theory and enliven pragmatist social/political theory.
In her book Partial Visions, Angelika Bammer also argues that the notion of utopia as perfection is a dead concept. She also sees a change occurring in the feminist utopians of the 1970s. They begin to embrace a vision in process. “The difficulty faced … is sustaining the very principle on which it is predicted, namely the idea of future as possibility rather than a present goal. The difficulty, in other words, is to sustain the concept of utopia as process. In the face of external and internal challenges to legitimate both its ends and its means, it is all too easy for even the most progressive movement to foreclose process and construct an image of utopia as historical telos.” Even the title of her book brings to mind the pragmatist and feminist notion that vision, all knowledge, is partial and subject to change. Lee Cullen Khanna elaborates,
For women, however, the “best social order” is dynamic. The inevitable changes of life are not denied or down graded in the rush to produce and accumulate. Rather, each stage of life is respected, attended by communal concerns and ritual, even celebrated. In addition, the recognition that change is necessary allows for tolerance in human development and a more relaxed sense of human interaction, certainly a more fluid political structure. The good society is thus viable only so long as it is constantly reevaluated, revised, responsive to individual and communal growth … In fact, women’s utopias differ markedly from the male utopian tradition in the importance attached to both change and creativity.
I would suggest that when Khanna distinguishes the male utopian tradition from women’s utopias she is really pointing to the problems of the end-state model of utopia. While I would agree that this has largely been a privileged, white, male tradition, we need to be careful about assuming that being of a different race, class, or gender would be enough to prevent one from seeking the more fixed and final kinds of visions. However, it does seem to be the case that women’s utopias do tend to avoid the idea of a fixed and final solution and when such a vision is employed, there is usually more than a hint of critique implicit in the novel. This focus on, and acceptance of, growth, variety, and change is central to both pragmatism and feminism. This is something that the two novels to be discussed here-Always Coming Home and The Wanderground- represent.
Both books stress the social embeddedness of individuals and the connectedness of every living creature and its environment. Where the Kesh of Always Coming Home imbue everything with a sense of spirituality and purpose, the Hill Women of The Wanderground literally communicate with and work together with the world and the creatures in it. In both books there is a stress on learning to live with the world and all its inhabitants. Both of these books embody Dewey’s idea of lived experience. They both stress an understanding of the relational nature of things in order to save the future from individual men who lack such understanding. The Hill Women have a deep psychic bond with the earth and all living creatures in it (a process called enfoldment), which reveals the rhythm of lived experiences and moves their experiences forward in a fulfilling way. So too, the Kesh have discovered their relatedness with all things and the transactional nature of this relationship. To act with an awareness of the purpose and connectedness of all is called mindfulness. Both novels present a fluid structure that embraces growth, variety, and change. Both require that a person internalize a sense of others as part of her own experience and understanding. There are social arrangements, rituals, and practices that encourage and reinforce such an understanding and habit of flexibility in each community and there is a real sense in which people (and this can include the reader) understand themselves as active participants in the formation of their future. They do not represent final perfect endstates, but possible futures-in-progress.
The Process Vision of the Kesh and the Hill Women
In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel Always Coming Home we find the Kesh-a possible people of the future. The format of the book itself is active. It is not a novel so much as a collection of stories, poems, plays, songs, dances, recipes, explanations of social practices and arrangements, some maps, and a language that is explained (complete with dictionary). There are descriptions of marriages, eating, medicine, instruments, playing and architecture. There is also a tape—“Music and Poetry of the Kesh”—that accompanies the book. The reader is asked to participate in the making of the world; the author does not present a finished picture or solution. The Kesh are not perfect untroubled people, nor is the world a perfect untroubled world. There is pollution left from the industrial age, radiation exposure has led to a high infant mortality rate, several deformities are common, and debilitating sickness affects many in middle age. The Kesh see the spirit of life in everything and work with the planet to heal it as a whole. Those who fail to see themselves as part of the continuum (like the Condor people) and live only for the present-hoarding, owning, using up, and destroying-are considered unmindful. As with Dewey, it is necessary that the individual understand herself as a socially embedded yet active agent. As the Kesh put it:
Personal energy was of course a personal matter; the individual made the choices, and the choosing, wise or foolish, mindful or careless, was by the person. But no choice could be made independent of the superpersonal and interpersonal energies, the cosmic/social/self-relatedness of all existences. Another word very important to Kesh thinking, tuuvyai, mindfulness, might be described as the intelligent awareness of this interdependence of energies and beings, a sense of one’s place and part in the whole.
In this book people are dealing with the aftermath and possible resurgence of violence. Rather then trying to eliminate the people who are considered violent, though, there is instead a focus on transforming the way people look at themselves in relation to the world and other creatures in it. They do not seek to achieve a specific arrangement, but to form the ability in each person to develop, try out, and evaluate a variety of plans. They seek to create a society inhabited by people with critical and flexible habits of mind. These people have to unlearn old habits (seeking rational control to gain a perfect world) and learn new habits that help them to be continually adaptive (participating in free and open inquiry). There are social engagements, rituals, and practices that encourage and reinforce an understanding of the relational nature of things and help people to see themselves as active participants in the formation of their futures. For example,
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: p. 290 … he learned arboriculture with his mother’s brother … and with orchard trees of all kinds. We would be more likely to say that he learned from his uncle about orchard trees; but this would not be a fair translation of the repeated suffix oud, with, together with. To learn with an uncle and trees implies learning is not a transfer of something by someone to someone, but is a relationship. Moreover, the relationship is considered to be reciprocal. Such a point of view seems at hopeless odds with the distinction of subject and object considered essential to science.
Similar to the Kesh, Sally Miller Gearhart describes the lives of the Hill Women in The Wanderground. Again, it is not one sustained story, but a variety of stories of different parts of different women’s lives. A distinguishing feature of this book is the nature of the changes that take place to arrive at this future. The earth itself revolts against the violence, industry, and pollution that have ripped her apart. One day all the machines and motors quit working, guns do not fire, animals refuse to carry men, and men become impotent outside the cities.
Some of the women who made it into the country had telepathic powers that all the women of the wandergound eventually learned. They have also learned to procreate without men and only girls are born. Each child has a flesh mother and seven sisters who help raise the child. They share cooking duties, serve on rotating councils, and share guard duties in addition to whatever task or craft they practice. They also serve on rotations in the city, disguised as men, to monitor the continuing violence there. Theirs is not a perfect world; it is a world of conflict. There are some men who help and befriend the women on rotations. They are the Gentles.
The community of Hill Women is one of many communities in the wanderground. When there are decisions to be made, all the communities meet in what is called a gatherstretch-a connection of minds. In such a meeting, problems are presented for discussion and everyone who wants to may speak. When the discussion is ended, a vote is taken to see if there is a clear wish, i.e., unanimous agreement. If not, those who disagree discuss whether they can yield. They are not asked to yield, just to express their willingness to do so. If one or more are not willing, they can separate. It is this freedom that is the basis of their unity and strength. “I am called to remind us that at any moment we can cease to be one body. No woman has to follow the will of any other. Always we must know that we can separate, even splinter or disperse one-by-one, for a little while or forever. We rest our unity on the possibility.” If there is willingness to yield, the involved parties continue to argue until agreement is reached, they decide to come back to the discussion another time, or people do as they please.
In one gatherstretch they come together to discuss meeting with the Gentles. To be asked to meet with men brings out the most basic anger, hatred, and fear in many of these women. Some see the men as violent and power hungry. Yet, the Gentles blur this absolute essentialist view. After much debate, several women decide to meet with the Gentles on their own. They make it clear to the men that they are acting on their own and nothing they do or say can bind anyone else. These women see the need to get beyond their essentialist view of male nature and see individuals for who they are. With the changes in these men (the development of their own telepathic powers) they can now move into the gray area where absolutes do not apply. The situation has changed and so must the relations of the Hill Women and the Gentles. The overwhelming urgency of the task and the presence and development of the Gentles allow for no static essentialist views, no absolutes, no final ends, but require the women to modify and expand their vision for peaceful coexistence.
The societies of the Kesh and the Hill Women promote free and open participation by all the people in the society in order to develop critical and flexible habits of mind. They see education and learning as a collaborative effort-it is an activity done with others. In fact, these people see living as a collaborative effort. Everyone has individual responsibilities, but each understands her connectedness to others. Given this sense of embeddedness, individuals are more likely to see participation in social decision making as important and necessary. Through participation in long meetings and many discussions, the people form the critical and flexible habits of mind needed to act with understanding and foresight and to guide their future intelligently.
Gaining a sense of ourselves as integrated individuals, realizing our connectedness to all things, means changing many habitual ways of conceiving ourselves and others. It means changing how we relate to the earth and the other creatures in it. While the pragmatist and feminist model may require more of us than we are prepared to give now, visions based on it can show us the possibilities of the future if we are willing to try to change and become integrated individuals.
The Future of Utopia-Engaged Philosophy
On the process model it becomes important for us to critically examine the goals we choose to pursue as what we choose to pursue now defines what we will be able to pursue in the future. We need to see life, and our visions of what could be possible, as an experimental process-an experimental coping with conflict and difficulties. Rather than seek perfection, the pragmatist and feminist model of utopia seeks to create and sustain people willing to take on responsibility and participate in directing their present toward a better, more desirable future.
Two women who had such visions of the future and acted on them in their lifetimes are Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman-both discussed in other papers in this volume. Addams and Gilman lived in a time of social experimentation with communal living. Hull House was part of a movement that included other Settlement houses and various other experiments from the Owenites, to the Shakers, to the Fouriests, to Brookfarm, to Fruitlands, to Oneida, and many more. All tried to put social theory into practice. Gilman actually wrote feminist utopian fiction and proposed various forms of communal life in both her works of fiction and nonfiction. I believe that in the work of Addams and Gilman we find the same model of the social individual, the changing and fluid nature of the world, and the call for critical intelligence that inspires both the fiction discussed above and pragmatism and feminism in general. Addams and Gilman are both informed by the American pragmatists and their work coincides with the height of this school of thought. They are not, however, usually included in the canon of American philosophers. If Addams is studied, she is studied primarily as a social worker. Gilman is studied almost exclusively in literature departments. However, if we look at the lives, thought, and work of these two women as lived philosophies, I believe we find good examples of what can come from merging pragmatism and feminism. They are, and can inspire us to be, engaged philosophers-people who understand the responsibility each of us has to “make a future such as we desire.”