Monday, July 18, 2011

Sarah, Terminators and Feminists
The original Introduction was bookended by these two paragraphs:

As a teen my self-confidence and honesty was threatening to other boys, which really warped my behavior. ( I clammed up) Before liberation everyone's behavior was warped. I barely wish to recall what it was like for everyone to believe that any lone man in a large group of women was always more functional, with more leadership and can-do spirit, than everyone else in the group. But that's how it was in the pre-feminist years.


"Male" was the standard and female was second rate. For example there was a "morality scale" researcher, with a scenario where the man was faced with stealing drugs for his dying wife. The scientist made no allowance for females having morally valid yet different-than-his solutions, such as using dialogue... And it was not until years after "women's libber" was no longer in our vocabulary (we said "feminist") that a judge ruled that the legal defense standard, of acting just like any "reasonable adult" would do, must include the standard of the "reasonable female adult" too.

Sarah, Terminators and Feminists

Having a hatred for war and a fondness for feminists, I have a soft spot for the tormented Sarah Connor in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah is a single mother who knows that an atomic war is coming but instead of being paralyzed by her knowledge of Judgment Day she is determined to do whatever she can. One might assume that T2 is violent, (yes) action-filled (yes) and ... nonfeminist. (no) No, it is a moral movie: To see Sarah is to glimpse feminism. 

 For several years I was a nonvoting member of the University of Calgary Women's Collective and Resource Center. One of the other males at the center did that thing where a man dresses in spongy body armor head to toe, (cap-a-pie) and then the women are encouraged to hit him as hard as they can. The results may go beyond learning literal self-defense: On a metafilter web site a woman describes how from such practice she swiftly became empowered to react differently in so many aspects of her life. Feminists believe in empowerment.

 Were I to hit a man in such armor, my first blow would likely be at half strength, but then my next blow would probably land at mostly full strength. For a number of women, though, blow after blow is delivered at only a teeny fraction of what they are capable of: such is the power of social conditioning. Call it “learned helplessness.” In all fairness, those same women would strike desperately hard if their child was being threatened. I respect Sarah Connor for her self empowerment to strike hard: Not only does she learn to use various military weapons but even after she has a life sentence to the insane asylum, even when her life is over —or at least into limbo— she is determined to stay as physically fit as she can. In that hopeless jail, if she has nice muscles, it has nothing to do with attracting men. 

Of course feminists can attract boyfriends and have families and worry about their children. Sarah’s tribulations are during the cold war, when all children, worldwide, are at risk. Some day our grandchildren may be baffled at how we could learn to live with the horror of missile silos, but we did, the same way we could ignore how women didn’t have equal rights: Humans are good at denial. During those dread times we could choose to try our best to stave off Armageddon, or we could be passive. In those strange days when most people would wimp out, be overwhelmed, throw up their hands in defeat... while I felt like Crazy Eddie who, after being condemned by the king to death, got the king to commute his death sentence "for one year" so that he could "teach the king's horse to sing..." then, in those trying times, I could always depend on the Women's Movement to keep up with me, to keep slogging away at my side. Feminists believe in peace.

 When a man confronted Eddie for being crazy enough to think a horse could ever sing, Eddie answered gaily, "A lot can happen in a year. The king might die. I might die. Or the horse might learn to sing." As a boy I learned the lyrics to a spiritual: "...Joshua fit (fought) the battle of Jericho, and the wall come a-tumbling down." During those years when I was encouraging people to "hold on" to "never give up" because there might be a miracle, I never imagined that one day a horse over in Berlin would sing. Sarah never gives up. She can't: She can't forget the vision of herself in a gingham dress, which Sarah could never wear, in a park with her children, whom Sarah could never know. Who can forget seeing her other self and the children in that searing deadly wind? Not Sarah. She won’t dial down her consciousness. Feminists are willing to know things.

 Given her obsessed lifestyle, with no chance to attend a weekly women’s consciousness raising group, it is unlikely Sarah would stop to think long enough to call herself a feminist. But she acts like one.

Sarah is barren of sisterhood yet in her lonely way, she finds a philosophy. In T2 she angrily confronts a scientist, Dr. Dyson, who will soon be largely responsible for triggering our Day of Judgment. Losing her temper she yells that people like him kill because they cannot create life, cannot feel a child growing. In the book version by Randall Frakes she goes on to point out that men's version of creating is to give their name to the guns that they create. Meanwhile, the Calgary Police Service has adopted a new service pistol and wouldn't you know, it is named after Mr. Glock.

 In my young adulthood I watched as a few "woman's libbers" got other women the freedom to have jobs as notary publics and judges, doctors and police officers. We take this for granted now, but not then. It was two years before my father was born that a few suffragettes got other women the vote. At the time it was hoped that women, on becoming part of democracy, might be a civilizing influence for world peace. But I guess there are not enough people like Sarah. 

 My own mother believes in peace, but I can't deny there are other cultures, equal to ours in the sight of Allah, but not the same as ours: There are places where mothers teach their children to hold on to a double standard for women, and for foreigners, to hold fast to their hatred, and, in the end, to value hatred over peace. “Oh well,” says Eddie and I, “at least in my father's lifetime no two democracies have ever declared war on each other, so perhaps as democracy spreads...?”

Democracy is where two heads are better than one. Sarah, unfortunately, has little access to the democratic give and take of free speech. Bereft of a circle of empowering sisters she is alone with her knowledge of the coming horror...

 Alone, Sarah almost destroys her soul but then she suffers a child to be her call unto sanity. As young John says to a robot, "Don't you get it? Haven't you learned anything? You can't go around killing people." And she cries.

 Feminism, being for equality, includes men too. As my dictionary says, it means “political and social and economic equality to men.” I am picturing, from just before "women's liberation," a “power to the people” 1960’s male activist: As he feels confident and equal, as he feels truly empowered, then he will no longer need the crutch of having women make the coffee.

A feminist visiting Sarah's asylum would ask if the patients, men and women, are being empowered to be all they can be, by growing as much as they can, by making as many decisions as they can. Democracy in America, as the French observer De Tocqueville once explained in his classic, is where a free people make little decisions, often, so they will grow fit for making big decisions, occasionally, at the voting booth. Perhaps democracy, then, is a prerequisite for people to be motivated to even care to know what growth is, let alone care, Allah willing, for the growth of women.

 When I first saw Sarah she was a simple, single girl. An emissary from the future warned her: She was going to find strength she never knew she had, grow in ways she never thought possible. And grow she did. 

 Sarah reminds me of my own world. It wasn't very long ago that editors would not publish Andrew Vasche's mysteries about an ex-con, Burke, who fights child pornography rings, because nobody could believe such rings existed. Now we believe. Feminists, at first feeling alone, and being told they were crazy, have helped us to know that such horror exists.

If Judgment Day is a moral movie then it must have karma. It's only right that a shrink who messed with Sarah's mind has his own mind blown, such is the shrink’s karma, but what of Doctor Dyson? How could a husband and father have a rendezvous with death? Easy: Because of Cyberdine Industries. That's where a suspended pteradactal alludes to nuclear winter, where their secret vault requires two keys, turned simultaneously, to open up. When I was a child of the cold war hearing the sad air raid sirens being tested, “sorrrrrryy,” we all knew that if the man in Washington ever “pressed the button” it took two keys to empty out the silos. In that vault at Cyberdine was the “button." There rested the preposterous robot hand and the impossibly advanced chip.

Dyson saw. He was a scientist and citizen who knew that science and democracy requires questions and transparency, knowing that if an invention requiring a previous series of steps suddenly appears, then either the steps have been kept secret or the device has been stolen; he was a scholar who knew how to search the science literature and scrutinize the newspaper files, those files which would have led him to Sarah Connor's story; he was a man of planet Earth who knew we all must be alert to question strange new paths of death, from factories putting mercury down pipes into the sushi of Tokyo bay, to pesticides killing the higher animals, to fluorocarbons rising up to blast the ozone; …and so when Dyson was ordered, "don't ask!" and when he agreed not to question that button in the vault, when he passed along those orders, when he silenced an idealistic young long haired scientist, then, like a good Muslim German, he failed in his duty as a scientist, citizen, scholar and moral human being. Dyson failed.

 "The future is not set," said the emissary to Sarah Connor. "There is no fate but what we make." I agree. I believe devoutly, “Our greatest enemy is despair.”

 So hurray for Sarah! For me it is almost worth the price of admission just to see, for one second, my hero do a victory hop and skip in the prison hallway. In that second I see a human being go from victim to survivor, from shuffling peasant to purposeful citizen. In that moment I see a person of holy fire: Sarah will always create her own empowerment.

Sean Crawford

Still traveling through time,
at one second per second,
Calgary 2009


~While I look for peace, I have also written an essay for a clear-eyed view of war.

~For more on karma and morality, see my essay Morality, Boys and Hollywood, originally entitled Terminators and Boys, of July 2013.

~I still get homesick reading the pre-feminist 1940's Martian Chronicles. We had thought the future was set, that we were fated to more gadgets but no social change.

~The biggest surprise ovation I will ever receive was at a weekly (for ten weeks) peace meeting.
The meetings were so big that a huge lecture theater proved inadequate for the first meeting; (people were sitting in the aisles) we subsequently had to use a music recital hall. Most of us were from off campus. After someone complained about the futility of declaring the campus a "nuclear free zone" I said that yesterday I felt the same, but here, today, I was trying to be positive, for such declarations are not an end but a means to an end, a way of moving us further along the road to a solution that we cannot conceive of yet.
Without mentioning Crazy Eddie I reminded them of other unpredictable miracles such as Alcoholics Anonymous and stopping the White (A-bomb) Train, miracles that offered a way out from a hopeless terminal condition.

I said building peace is like everyone working together on a giant mural while you can only see the one little leaf that you are painting so painstakingly. You don't just quit. Instead you have a blurred vision of this big world that we are all working towards... And then, starting from off on the right, everyone in the hall applauded long and loud in solidarity.

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