Over the past two years I’ve been undertaking several feminist studies and none have been more rewarding than my exploration with Feminism School founder, Dr. Kimberly B. George.
Kimberly specialises in the intersections of contemplative and creative practices, feminist and critical race theory, and decolonial trauma studies. Today Kimberly takes us on an intellectually rich ride exploring feminism, sensorium & the witch hunts.
This conversation was initially offered as part of The Future Is Embodied virtual conference & it was wildly popular, so I wanted to share it with you.
In this discussion we explore:
- Feminism. It’s not about angry women & why every human (including men) should be educated by feminist foremothers
- What the sensorium is & why it’s so key to orientating to our body-based knowing
- Exhaustion, burnout & why women’s domestic labor is viewed as a ‘natural resources’ that just magically happens
- The European Witch Hunts – what drove them & how are they impacting women’s power today?
- What a feminine economy looks like & simple practices to redistribute resources
We adapt to the sensorium that is normalized, so if I hear or feel things that other people say don’t exist, that puts me in the category of ‘crazy’ or ‘irrational’.Dr Kimberley B George
About Dr Kimberley B George, Feminist Scholar & Writer
Dr. Kimberly B. George specializes in the intersections of contemplative and creative practices, feminist and critical race theory, and decolonial trauma studies. She studied religion and gender at Yale University and Ethnic Studies at U.C. San Diego, among her 5 programs of graduate work. She is the founder of Feminism School, which opens the enclosures of academia by offering people around the world graduate-level self-study courses and feminist leadership trainings. Her deepest passion is not only her own creative work, but collaborating with other creatives who dare to imagine (and thus help us all perceive) the possibilities of a just and flourishing world.
Resources mentioned in this interview:
- Find out more about Dr Kimberly B George, Feminist Scholar & Writer at www.feminismschool.com
- Audre Lorde reading her essay Uses of The Erotic
- Silvia Federici with the New York Times – The Lockdown Showed How The Economy Exploits Women. She Already Knew
- Kimberley’s Emotional Self Defense Course
- Caliban & The Witch by Silvia Federici
- Gloria Anzaldúa
- Feminine Embodiment Coaching Certification
We have incredible collective power, but if we’re disconnected from ourselves, we’re probably disconnected from that creative power.Dr Kimberley B George
Prefer to read?
The full transcript is available here:
So a very warm welcome to our guest today, Dr. Kimberly B. George. I’m very excited to have Kimberly join us today for our conference. Kimberly specializes in intersections with contemplated and creative practices, feminist and critical race theory and decolonial trauma studies. There’s a lot in that first sentence. And I think that gives an indication of the richness of the conversation we’re about to have today. Kimberly has studied religion and gender at Yale University and ethics studies at UC San Diego among her five programs of graduate work. And she’s the founder of Feminist School. And this is how we have come together because in January, 2020, I actually enrolled in one of Kimberly’s emotional self defenses classes. I was curious about what this work is. I felt a sense of curiosity in my body and as I listened to Kimberly’s work, I experienced a lot of ahas. Because things that were presenting to me with my coaching clients and with myself around our personal explorations of power. Kimberly was really eloquently and concisely and powerfully providing frameworks around these experiences at the macro level. And so I’m really excited to bring you Kimberly’s work today because I really very much admire her body of work. And I very much think that she is an amazing teacher in the realm of feminist studies. Really very embodied, critical approach to thinking about these things.
So as we welcome Kimberly, I’d like to acknowledge the land that we’re all coming together today for this discussion and this conversation, we welcome you and the land that you’re joining us from. I’m joining you from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands today. And as we welcome Kimberly, I’d love to hear where you are joining us from today.
Dr Kimberley B George:
Yes. Thank you so much for having me, and so good to be in conversation with you. I’m on the West Coast of the United States and I do move back and forth between the West and East Coast of the United States but here I am at right now in this COVID spring.
Beautiful. So as we dive in, we have a really diverse range of humans that are joining us for our conversation today. And just before we started recording, we were discussing that I think it would be really useful for us to just really get clear on why the women and I mean, women in the widest sense of the word.
The women who are joining us today, why should we be concerned ourselves with educating and receiving the wisdom of feminist foremothers and really getting involved in, we’re going to be having discussions today that very much center feminism and the feminist movement. So why do we as humans, as women, why is this an important education and why is this relevant for us?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Such a beautiful question, it’s really the question that pulses at the heart of my life and my passion, and so many different ways to answer it. But for one, we know we live in systems of dominant power or abusive power I don’t want to talk about power, so it’s always abusive. There’s this a creative power, a spiritual power, but there’s systems that dominant power that erase revolutionary knowledge and erase histories of people who actually worked for other realities on this planet. Realities of connection and kinship, and not based in dominant systems of value and feminist foremothers, whether they use the word feminist or not, have been people who’ve partnered, have done a lot of collision based projects. So feminist foremothers are very concerned about embracing difference, thinking at the edge of race and class and sexuality. So it’s an intellectual and creative and spiritual history, where people have come together across a difference to think about how to reimagine the world. But we are often systematically kept from those knowledges because in short, patriarchy doesn’t want us to be intimately connected to these knowledges, because these knowledges would dismantle patriarchy.
So that a ratio of women’s knowledge is very core to the perpetuation of patriarchy, core to the perpetuation of settler colonialism and White supremacy. So this work of educating ourselves also invites us to think about what is knowledge? What is education? If we don’t do it in white male dominant models and what knowledge is. So we do it in a way that’s much more connected with the mind, body and spirit. So it’s also rethinking and refeeling the very nature of what is education.
Two things to pull out of what you said the first is to re-think and to re-feel. And this is so central to exactly what you were describing. If we were to reimagine the world, And if that world was to be imagined where there wasn’t necessarily a hierarchy with mind over body, we would use language that centers how do you feel about that? As being equally as important and relevant and powerful as what do you think about that? So I hear you just shed so much, and this is one of the key things that I hear, I think is really relevant to our explorations today. Because if we are to reimagine a world that is more embodied, it’s so critical to acknowledge that we’re standing on the work of centuries and centuries and centuries of people who have been trying to work towards and rediscover more of this. Thank you so much. It’s beautifully put.
So in this exploration then if we’re thinking about re-thinking and re-feeling so many of us do, particularly in a time of a global pandemic find ourselves feeling somewhat numb, or feeling like our emotions are too much, or we’re too sensitive, or there’s too much pain or suffering in the world. To the point whereby we don’t want to feel that. And we would rather dissociate or keep ourselves busy, or we don’t have the energy to feel that because these systems are keeping us exhausted. And I think that it is no accident that so many women and I use the word women in the wider sense of the world, do really have this sense of disconnection, true feeling to our bodies. We could describe that as disembodiment.
And so I wanted to begin our conversation today by inviting you to share your thoughts around the concept of the sensorium. Because this is something I first learned from you, and my mind exploded when I learned this concept from you. And so I’d really love you to share with us what is a sensorium and how does this relate to the concept of reimagining the world as you’ve just described?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Well, I also had my life changed when I learned the concept of a sensorium in graduate school. So there’s different fields of study that help us think about the history of the senses. So anthropology of the senses does this, anthropology can be a pretty colonial mission, but doesn’t have to be. There are those who within anthropology are aware of the power dynamics of the field.
Also those us scholars of religious history do a lot of work with their senses, because a lot of religious practice is deeply embedded in sensory practice. So when we think about the sensorium, it can be something we take for granted this idea of the five senses, but anthropologists of the senses like Catherine Lynn Gertz would tell us that’s actually Western folklore. So when Western colonial systems did the land grab and divided up the earth’s resources and took over land and waterways, it also exploited ways of thinking about knowledge. And how we think about knowledge is actually also connected to how we feel the world, which is connected to our sensory experience. I want to say that this piece is important. We adapt to our environment. We adapt to the norms around us and I want to give credit to April Freeman, a participant at Feminism School who was in conversation with me this week on this idea of adapting to the environment. She gets it from one of her amazing teachers, Katie Bauman. And the reason I want to say this is that if we are inherently creatures that adapt, we will adapt to the environment around us. So we’ll adapt to the sensorium that is normalized in a given context. So if I hear or feel things that other people say don’t exist, that puts me in the category of crazy or irrational. And there are many children and adults who sense a lot more than is acceptable to sense, but they’re not given ways that their knowledge is mirrored back, or they’re not given practices for holding all of those sensory experiences. And so people do shut down or they do dissociate, because if we don’t have a community structure or a cultural structure that holds these ways of sensing, for instance, not everybody senses time is linear. Some people sense the past, present and the future as cyclical. They don’t sense it as these demarcated past and present. If you hold that kind of sensory experience of the world, actually requires a lot of practices to live in that kind of knowledge. So people dissociate because it’s overwhelming.
So wise when I think about my young child and I see her experience of how she relates, how she expresses, how she experiences the world. It seems to me, so overtly simple to reduce her experience to say there’s only five senses; sight, smell, taste, touch. And for all of those senses to be senses that are externally orientated, just seems utterly ridiculous to me. Because as you and I know, there is so much more and within every human’s body, within every individual’s body, particularly within women’s bodies, there is so much more. And I think that when we have the opportunity to actually see that relation of how our senses are interfacing us with the world. To have it named, and then to question is this my system of belief, it’s actually a really invocative practice because there is so much more going on within this encyclopedia that is our body.
In my lineage of learning, I have learnt one of the key senses that is so important, essential in how I navigate the world as essential as my sight or my hearing or my touch. I describe it in the language that I’ve learned is my internal felt senses. That kaleidoscope of root textures and internal felt sensations that are telling me how my body feels, and what my truth is through the knowing the sensing of it.
And there are a lot of schools of thought that would discount this as being irrational or as being invalid. You described it as being non-logical or non-linear. And I think that there are a lot of different feminists foremothers who have spoken about this internal felt sense, using different language and using similar terms. And one that comes to mind is Audre Lorde’s use of the term erotic. And I know we were speaking about this before we spoke, but I just would love to hear your thoughts on Audre Lorde uses that word erotic as that noble, that intangible power that exists within. Do you have any other language or thoughts around that, that you would feel called to share with us?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Yeah. So first I just want to invite those who haven’t listened to Audre Lorde recite this. You can actually google Audre Lorde uses of the erotic and there’s YouTube clips and her language is so essential and so beautiful. So to hear the words on her tongue, it’s just really incredible to get to do that. You can also read it. But you also… Audre Lorde 1977, of course, there are ways the conversation has shifted. It’s a pretty binary gender language that she’s speaking of men and women. And of course now feminism is in a different moment of the conversation. And we don’t think about gender as just a binary system. But what Audre Lorde was doing was really reclaiming what had been minimized and pathologized in women’s experiences and Black women’s experiences more particularly. So if you come from a system that says white men are the knowers, they are the rational knowers, which is the colonial white supremacist patriarchal system. Audre Lorde is saying, “Well, actually your knowledge lives within you, in your creative process, it’s in your body, it’s messy, it doesn’t just follow a rational linear process. It works in imagery, in sensation, it works in pleasure.” And she was really reclaiming the value of this knowledge that had been dismissed by the dominant systems. I think if she were alive today, she’d probably speak about the integration of these different ways of knowing. But in that moment, in 1977 it was very important to reclaim what was being pathologized and dismissed within this hierarchy system.
So as a natural follow-up to that, we must consider and I’m interested in your thoughts on why does our current system, particularly our current economic system, why does it conquer us and continue to unname and unvalue or undervalue and distort this inner resource, this inner power?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Why does abuse power want us to be disconnected from ourself? So we live in a world where certain things are set up, it’s just that’s the way it is, just Bezos made billions of dollars during the pandemic while the food lines were very long around me in New York City. And children were hungry and adults were hungry, and we’re exposed to accept that that is how the world is set up. That the world is set up according to systems of abuse and inequality. The reality is, we have incredible collective power, but if we’re disconnected from ourselves, we’re probably disconnected from that creative power. If we’re exhausted all the time because the economic system sets it up that way. And particularly for women, particularly for racialized people and people who’ve been denied family intergenerational inheritance. Because the system is a white supremacy. If we are exhausted all the time, we are supposed to be cut off from our creative pleasure and power. Once we have the conditions where we can connect to that creative pleasure and power, and connect to one another, things would change. Their consciousness would shift once we’re redistributing resources, we have the power to change things collectively. But, if we’re exhausted every day and cut off and dissociated, we’re in survival mode, that’s what we’re supposed to be in, survival mode.
And Audre Lorde puts it as women we have… She says something along the lines of we’ve come to really distrust this power that arises from this non-rational place of knowing. And so as a result of that, in a result of distrusting our own core asset, there’s this sense of okay, so then we must move into a space of greater survival. And the economic system is built to keep us exhausted, and to keep us in that space of survival. And in that place of burnout is a common word and has been a common word for as long as I’ve been working in the health and wellness industry. And I think that’s an evolving language, that describes the fact that this isn’t right, and this isn’t sustainable for our bodies and this isn’t the way that it is meant to be. It’s not natural and it’s not normal. And yet it seems so normalized because it’s the system that is perpetuated every single way around us. It is the very bread and butter that makes up, everything that we see.
Dr Kimberley B George:
It really is. And I want to bring in one definition of trauma from one of the feminist foremothers who influenced my spiritual life the most, Gloria Anzaldúa. She’s a Chicana, queer, mystic, feminist. She talks about one element of trauma – is having your life energy owned by the capitalist system. So she grew up among farm workers. So having your energy more or less be stolen and exploited every day, in service of the wealthiest in society. So this is a class critique, it’s traumatic. And I want to add a piece to that around, we are doing the best we can to adapt to the conditions. It’s not about just an individual solution, it’s about collectively changing the conditions. So she’s thinking very much in this way as well. But what I think is also really powerful about what Audre Lorde is teaching us is she is very connected to the realities of class conditions and exploitation. And she’s also telling us, we literally cannot afford to be cut off from our creative pleasure. We cannot, it’s a non-negotiable. Our creative pleasure is connected to how she defines the erotic. And we absolutely must collectively value all of us being able to live in vibrant relationship with our creative pleasure. Even under the conditions we’re in right now, so how do we make that possible for one another?
Tell me what are some of your practices or principles or reflections around how you do that at the moment in this time?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Well, so I’m going to go back to what you said about sustainability. I just finished my last graduate program a year ago, a couple of days before the pandemic hit New York. In the North American Academy, we are expected to have such a high rate of production of ideas and rigor, that it’s not sustainable. And there’s a lot of throwing kind of fertilizer on the soil. So another cup of coffee, or just being coerced to dissociate from our bodies to produce at the level that we’re supposed to produce. I had a wonderful PhD advisor, Dr. Shelley Streeby, who was aware of these conditions and wanted something more for her students. But the reality is the institution said, “You can study the mind and the body, but you’re going to have to disconnect to survive it.”
So for me, now I wrote for instance, the content and emotional self-defense course alongside my dissertation and my advisor supported that. Because she knew I had to have a creative writing as part of my intellectual work. It’s similar to if you’re growing crops and you don’t rotate the crops in the soil, we need a diversity of how we arrive at our knowledge. And I needed a creative writing as part of how I was going to theorize what I was theorizing within academic discourse. But when I finished, was really when I felt more permission to rest, and of course then COVID hit. And then I’m getting in my own like everyone else, but in our own survival mode.
One of the things that I do every morning is I do a body scan. So I wake up and I bring my consciousness to different parts of my body, because of course your consciousness doesn’t have to just be in your head or your mind. You can actually drop your consciousness into different parts of your body. Our organs have something to teach us, often there’s held emotion and places in our body that isn’t being moved or processed. So I do a lot of work, movement practices, walking is very important to me, the bilateral stimulation is very important to my creativity and just noticing what’s around me. So letting my sensorium feel alive with noticing what’s around me. So there are these ritual practices that really matter. So for every page of writing that I do, I want to walk a mile and that is a privilege to be able to do that, to have a body that can do that. But for me, there’s an unconscious process that’s part of the creative process. And it’s how do this knowledge that’s being held in our body, how does it actually become transformed into language or visuals? For me, I do a lot of that through movement practices and meditation practices around what I’m sensing internally, similar to you. And I actually believe you can feel what an organ is holding. I mean, I think we can learn from our organs like it’s really that specific.
And this is why I love you as a feminist teacher. You are so inherently deeply embodied. And there is absolutely something to be said for these practices of coming home as an act of at the micro level, almost taking that…so if we’re speaking about revisioning the world, it can seem such a big separation between that systemic cultural change that we desire, and what’s actually happening day to day in the moment. But when each individual orientation shifts, and there is more that is required than just that in the moment shift, but that is an incredibly rich place to start. And when that happens every single day, it deeply shifts the orientation in terms of what we will accept in our life. Which has ripple effects to how you run your business, your feminism school, how you show up in every other way.
And I see this, like sometimes I know from my experience it feels like the change that needs to happen is so big and complicated and challenging to get my head around. And yet at the same time, I can be sincere with what’s true and what’s needed inside my body right here right now. And that’s my personal embodied activism. That must always come first, if anything more or else is to be creatively sustainable, as you were describing.
Dr Kimberley B George:
Agreed. What you said about what we will accept feels also, so that’s really the heart of what Audre Lorde is saying as well, that once you taste the pleasure of your creative energy, then it is unacceptable to live disconnected from that power within us.
I want to say a couple of things about that piece though that I’ve noticed in my work with students and participants and clients is, there’s a tremendous amount of grief. But is usually unconsciously held when we start to move back into creative process, because we realize we’ve been cut off and disconnected and systematically so, and it’s painful, it is painful to reconnect because we long for it so badly. So sometimes people get blocked just because there is grief to move through. So it’s one thing I wanted to say.
Two, there are actually ways we can within our community support one another having the energy. So a lot of feminist foremothers talked about like, “Okay, well, I’m going to take care of your kids on Saturday, so you can finish writing that essay, or you go take care of my kid.” I mean, there’s in terms of how we share reproductive labor, I also see over and over with participants in my classes that especially if they’re in a heterosexual partnership. For them to reconnect to their creative energy, is going to probably bring up hard conversations with their male partner, about his socialization as a man and the things he’s not seeing that needs to be done in the home. Because she’s not able to reclaim her energy unless there’s more gender equality in the home. So even though we’re talking about something that seems like, “Yes, let’s do this. Let’s reconnect our creative energy.” The ripple effect of doing that actually changes our relationship, and changes the community norms around us.
It is incredibly complex as I’m recording and speaking with us today, my husband’s in the kitchen cleaning up. And they have certainly been times where there’s been a question mark of, what will my mother-in-law think? And shouldn’t I be the one to do that. And so many of these internalized stories of what it means to be the ideal housewife, which is a conversation that I want us to have in a moment. Like taking a few steps back from how we actually even arrived at the ideal housewife. And I find it is a constant exploration of realizing the depth of the internalization of these systems. I have not yet found the bottom of the ways that my body is internally scaffold to, these ideals and these standards and these expectations. That over centuries have perhaps been suggested and reinforced and coerced onto, whatever identity it is that we choose to center. Right now I’m centering my identity because that’s my lived experience.
And just today I was having a conversation with one of the women who was recently started in the personal mastery stream of our feminine embodiment coaching program. And she was expressing, it feels so heavy. Has anyone else had this sense of just immense white and getting started with some of these embodiment practices? And I can really relate to that because, so many of us have a lifetime of stuff in storage that hasn’t had space or compassion, or the skill or the bandwidth or the safety, to be allowed to be expressed and completed and liberated through the body.
And I just want to put like a clause to that like, my body has a certain level of intergenerational trauma and privilege, and there are many people with very diverse experiences to mine. And at times I can’t even comprehend the weight of some of the burdens that people in my community and the wider community are carrying. It literally boggles my mind how much our bodies have and continue to endure, you’re so deeply injust.
Dr Kimberley B George:
It is. And starting with the principle and really mirroring it back to ourselves over and over that we have adapted to the conditions, and that we can adapt to the conditions is amazing. That means we’ve been able to survive. Children have to do this. We have to do it as adults. We are adapting. Which also means we can readapt, which means we can change the conditions and adapt again, which is really exciting.
It also means that patriarchy has to be reproduced for it to exist. It’s not transhistorical, that term means it hasn’t existed everywhere in the same way for all time. It’s very culturally specific. But it’s actually the hope that it… Like because it’s not natural, because it’s not transhistorical, it has to be reproduced so we can interrupt its reproduction. One way to interrupt its reproduction, is for men to learn about this concept of women and non-binary folks should have access to our creative energy. And that creative energy is also a form of reproductive labor. So we value of course reproductive labor of raising children. But all of our creative energy is a reproductive labor.
Because it’s reimagining and changing the world, especially if we think about queer, non-heteronormative models of reproduction, we can learn a lot from a queer feminist who write about these things. So there is this way that we have to move into different kinds of partnerships and many to do their work, for women to be able to reclaim their creative and intellectual lives. A lot of our creative pleasure is suppressed, and as much as we are told that intellectual life is disconnected from the body, so many women are so hungry for intellectual life.
Hand up. Yeah. And there’s a certain enjoyment that I have I mean, I’ve been through an academic system and I had the privilege to have some bachelor’s, etc.. But actually experiencing, learning and intellectualization of concepts. Like I’m specifically talking about your work and studying through your programs as well.
When it really relates to how I show up in the world that I’m creating now and for whoever comes next, there is such a hunger within me to learn and to know through all dimensions of my body. Which is a very feminized style of learning, but I really… I feel it’s really important to celebrate because it’s a different way to learn. It’s a metabolization and ripple of actually what we’re taking in, to dismantle.
Dr Kimberley B George:
I love that. And maybe one thing for all of those listening to this conversation is when you encounter an idea for the first time or an idea that maybe you knew in your body, but didn’t have language for, or representation for maybe you’re an artist. So you think in terms of visuals, or feel in terms of visuals. Feel what that idea feels like in your body, because ideas don’t feel disembodied. When I experience a new idea, I feel this energy like loop up from my feet all the way through my body. I mean, it really does feel similar. There’s an intellectual virgin of orgasm where your whole body feels the ripple of that idea and what it means for your life and even for the world.
This is the learning I love to teach and that we have been disconnected from that, makes us sometimes think that the intellectual work isn’t important. But the intellectual work is really important and it’s deeply embodied, and it’s fun and central and exciting.
So beautiful. So I want you to recenter one of the core reasons that I think it’s… I want to just take a detour with our conversation here. I asked our community what they really wanted to hear about when I was getting ready to have these discussions. And the feedback from a number of people in our community was that they were really interested in hearing more about the witch trials. And that was a really interesting consideration for me, I have European heritage myself, my family traces back from places like Ireland and Malta and England and Poland. So the idea of the 15th and 16th century witch hunts were actually really interesting to me, and it really got me thinking about what are the correlations between the persecution of women at that time.
And as we’ve been discussing our relationship to the internal felt sense, to the erotic, to the inherent power that exists within ourselves and how we relate to that now. Because I know there is correlation and there must be correlation. So one of the things that I would love to ask for your perspectives on what do you notice is the connection between the witch hunts, and our modern distrust of these internal felt senses, these whole body orgasms that you’ve been speaking about and this erotic sensorium. I want to acknowledge that I realized this could be an entire, this answer could be an entire PhD on its own, but I would really love to hear your thoughts on the relationship between the then and the now.
Dr Kimberley B George:
It’s a great question. And yes, I’m thinking of a colleague of mine who is writing her dissertation, on the witch hunts, maybe you can speak with her in the future. I mean, her body of work on this it’s so nuanced, because each location and context of the witch hunts looks very different throughout Europe.
So I teach about the witch hunts from Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban on the Witch. Which is one important text within many important texts. So I’m going to be deploying mostly from Federici whose book by the way within COVID, a lot more people are getting in touch with her and saying, “Oh, those things you were writing about 30 years ago, or researching for 30 years, we really need.” There was just a long article in The New York Times…
So I think that there’s a lag time with feminist researchers that people realizing why these ideas are so important. So first of all, one of the questions Federici asks is why did male historians not think it was important, that women were systematically murdered as witches in the transition to capitalism? Why would that be an oversight in how we think about what was happening historically?
So just to think about the emission of this even mattering, and the gendered components. She also wants to situate that violence alongside the rise of Western colonization and the transatlantic slave trade. So there’s many different histories to connect to. We’re in a process with the rise of capitalism of mechanizing the world. So the world going from an organic enchanted place, to the world going into the machine model. Also to the extent that the church was part of persecution, which was of course, women’s bodies and sexuality were demonized and pathologized. So there was something about women’s bodies and our sexuality that was a threat to the church.
And this is specific to different contexts of how the witch hunts played out.
We also have to think about what was happening in terms of the community spaces. The land was being privatized in the transition to capitalism within Europe. And of course, indigenous land was being taken over globally in the following centuries with the loss of community space, as a loss of community.
And what Federici argues is that the ruling class wanting to control the labor power of women, that people didn’t know actually want to acclimate to the conditions of the rise of capitalism. We wanted to be connected to the earth, we wanted to be connected to our own bodies, we wanted to be able to forage and grow our own food and have access to the land. So that piece is really important. So there’s a whole kind of disconnection from what we call the magic of the universe. That happens in the rise of capitalism. Now Federici says that women’s communities often those who were resisting the church. So heretical lineages, mystical lineages, who believed God spoke in different ways, not through power structures of men in the church and into different realities. And that their voices were very threatening to have the ruling class and threatening to the church. And of course the church owned a lot of the land in Europe. So she would say that before capitalism, there was a counter revolution that people actually did believe in different ways of organizing society. And you can see this with the challenges to the church.
But a big piece of this is reproductive labor that we’re supposed to make invisible women’s reproductive labor. And that if we keep making that piece invisible, that’s how one of the ways capitalism prevails. And this leads us full circle to talking about exhaustion, that women actually, women and I would add non-binary and trans men are reproducing the worker for capitalism. There’s specific forms of reproductive labor, and that… So her argument, so she spent 30 years researching this and connecting it to the history of the witch hunt. So it’s not an easy argument. People really rustle when they read this book, Caliban and the Witch, I have a course on it. But it does start to make the connections between just literally your exhaustion every day.
So much in what you just shared, and it is so rich and I’ve read the book and I’ve taken your course and I highly recommend them both. I’m also going to put links to Federici’s work, The New York Times article with her, which is a wonderful contextualization during COVID. And thank you for so concisely summarizing this, there’s two points that I want to pull out from it.
The first was you spoke about women in particular who had other ways of knowing, beyond the indoctrination of what the church was at that time. So if you had another way of knowing, put if we name that differently, an erotic, sensorium, an internal felt sense. Something that connected you to the universe, something magical and greater. Then that was a threat to the existing power hierarchies and thus an excuse to persecute you as a witch. So literally, in some very simplistic way we could consider that knowing yourself and your source of power, and for that power to reside in your body, rather than in a figure-head which the church would have you devote to.
And I’m wanting to be really aware that I’m not criticizing different forms of devotion here. I’m simply trying to name some of the ways that that particular religious structures have persecuted other ways of creating faith and of creating diversion. But if you have a different way of knowing in your body, then that is actually some… That’s an excuse, or that is a reason for you be persecuted, trialed, executed as a witch. So that was one really important piece that you spoke to.
And the other piece that you spoke to was around, women becoming the key foundation of reproductive labor. So women’s bodies literally becoming the gestational grounds whereby, the future workers and the people who are going to till the fields being…I don’t want to put this too crudely but, being the mechanism through which all of the workers could be made, even if those women did or did not want to actually reproduce. And so then we see it this time a lot of people who have awareness around menstrual cycles, which still holds a lot of shame. Or midwives who knew how to create abortions, just saw some horrific news around abortion laws in the UK recent, sorry, in the US recently. And so all these different ways of women having sovereignty and power over their cycle, and the ability to reproduce. Any woman that was involved in any of these practices, any woman that was suspected of aborting a pregnancy that she didn’t want. And we haven’t even touched on the idea of women’s treatment and the legal authority of what the conditions around rape and use of women’s body was at that time. And let’s not even open that can of worms.
But we see here, the position of women’s bodies as a resource to birth, labor is for capitalist economy. And I see that still in some subtle ways in my own household. So the reproductive labor, I’m not talking about gestation and birthing a child, I’m talking about the reproductive labor of running a household. It appears to just happen effortlessly as if it was just a magical natural resource, as easy as the air that flows in and out of our home, and it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work for me and for so many women around the world, and it has not always been this way. And it is very deliberately that women have been put into this position, so that there are more workers to earn more profit, for people who are at the top of the spectrum.
So those are the two really key points in what you shared from Federici’s work which is so powerful. And I see you taking notes. So I think you have something to share in response.
Dr Kimberley B George:
You do such a great job of just slowing down and finding things in the storyline and integration, and I just appreciate the flow of conversation with you, because I do think that we have to layer the pieces and then slow down, and go back and do some stitching and knitting. So hopefully you’re able to write down some of those points there.
I do want to see to the first thing you thought about religion and patriarchal religion in particular. So this can make it complicated to listen to me teach, but I do have to mark that the category of religion is highly controversial. Because religion looks a lot of different ways on how we think about religion can be overdetermined by Western colonial models of Christianity. Okay. So having marked that for my religious history training, because it is important.
I want to say that to your point, when we talk about religion or whatever religion is or looks like, it’s very important to not make it monolithic and to not make the term be owned by patriarchs. There’ve been a lot of women who’ve changed history by saying, “God told me what I needed to do, and it’s not what men are telling me and I’m going to follow the divine. I’m going to follow God.” And you cannot divorce that from feminist history. It’s been such a power that women have held by listening to their spirit or their visions, or however they think about the divine. So I wanted to emphasize the importance of your point there. And if you’re being tied up in this history that is not connected to religious and spiritual feminist history, suture that and disconnect because it’s really important.
Two, I want to talk about what you said about reproduction, and this is one of the things Federici tries to do, and it’s hard to do it well but it’s important. When you have the rise of the transatlantic slave trade, you have the production of the raw materials that fed the industrial revolution, the led to more of this mind, body disconnection going on in factories. But you also have enslaved Black women literally being forced to and coerce to produce though the…Well, it’s just such a different level of violence on Black women’s bodies because their children become the commodity and the worker at the same time within that capitalist system. And so this is where thinking about which women are we talking about, what is her experience with her body, her experience with reproduction, just want to mark that. I do have a course on Black feminist history that is helpful for thinking about this.
And then the third piece, now I can’t read my own writing. Let me see if I can find it.
Eventually I got to the point where I was speaking about my domestic labor as a natural resource.
Dr Kimberley B George:
Yes. So think about that in terms of what we do to the land in the waterways, within the settler colonial system. So this is not inherently true of indigenous systems, but it’s true of settler colonial systems. So how settler colonial systems treat the land and everything that goes into the production of the equipment we’re using to record this podcast right now. The exploitation of the land. There are parallels with the exploitation of women’s bodies. And also, I really appreciate what you said about abortion and contraception and midwives and herbalist, because this is very key part of the story. Whether women have sovereignty over their own reproductive processes.
Absolutely. And I do deeply love the parallels you draw with the environment because, under a system of capitalism which looks different and is constantly evolving and yet which is still the dominant system of exploitation over bodies and people, it is coercive to everything that is not profit. And that includes the earth, and that is unsustainable. And I do not know, in a few generations time what kind of earth we will be living on. One of the really big awakenings for me in the 2019 Australian bushfires, I had a fire five meters from my front door, and I had a three month old baby asleep by my bed. And there was this reckoning of this bush which has never been on fire before, is literally burning because of climate change outside my front door literally. What the fuck. And there is certainly a level of immense overwhelm. And I think when we’re speaking about either environment or systems of oppression or historical and ancestral traumas, patriarchy, capitalism, all of these things can seem so big and overwhelming and complex. And I really value the conversation that you’ve bought today around, just eliminating more of the education of connecting the dots between our lived experience. What we experience on the day-to-day level, our ability to really resource what fuels us, what brings us balance, what brings us stability and joy, which you touched on and centered so beautifully. And also our capacity to feel deeply, the reality of what is here and to not dissociate from that. Because that does not create a future, that is embodied. To separate ourselves and to not feel that does not do anyone including ourselves a disservice, even if it feels heartbreaking to admit and to open too fully.
Dr Kimberley B George:
And I know that it takes internal and external resources to be able to be present with these deep kinds of grief. Because if you’ve heard trying to survive every day and just making sure there’s enough food on the table for your kids that day, you literally may not have the bandwidth to be thinking about global warming and climate change. So I do want to just honor that we people are trying to survive really, really difficult conditions right now. And this is where, when we think about the practices of feminism, it really is redistributing all kinds of resources by which I don’t just mean money, to create communities where people can access their ways of knowing and their creative power.
One of the exercises I give people in my live classes is, what if you woke up tomorrow and patriarchy was gone, but nobody told you or you just started seeing how different the world was. What would you first notice about what was different in the world? And then it starts adding up and you realize patriarchy was healed overnight, and the world looks very different. What are the first things you notice? So sometimes women say something as simple as my husband cleaned up his mess in the kitchen, and I can think better that morning.
I love this contemplate of practice because it is an invitation to kind of instead of thinking about what is the problem, it then reshifts our focus to what is the solution? Well, I had a real light bulb moment. I was listening to something of yours and you spoke about… And I’ll ask you to share the story because it is your own. You spoke about responsibilities to people who were doing reproductive labor in our life particularly people like cleaners during times of COVID. So if we just take a second and we’re coming close to time, but I just would love to center this in a really practical way. If you would share with us in terms of a feminized economy and what it might look like for us to redistribute resources, in a way whereby more loss can have greatest stability and can be better resourced to contemplate these bigger questions. Because there are enough resources if we share and collaborate and distribute them equitably. So I’m really interested for you to share with us that story of… How should we take care of our cleaners during COVID? If we have one, if we have the privilege of having one, for example.
Dr Kimberley B George:
I really do believe that people need external and internal resources to survive, that so many people because of the systems we’re living in, have to use all their energy towards survival. And those very people, know so much about the system and have so much knowledge about the oppression of the system. You may also be holding really profound and ancestral knowledge about how we change the world, but we’re forcing people to just survive and tread water every day. Instead of being able to access their very gifts that I think could lead us into change. I mean, when I think about the history of the world, I think about how many souls have come to this planet to lead us to a better reality. And they cannot literally survive in the systems. So we have to recognize all of the knowledges that are not valued and make our own economy. So an example that just came up this morning before our podcasts, I was going back and forth over text message with a friend who is a personal assistant to somebody who has plenty of money. And the person who cleans her house lost a loved one. And so he was trying to coordinate for that person to have a week off, and a person with tons of money said, “No, we can’t afford it.” And so he and I were going back and I’m like, “We could easily do a GoFundMe.” Like this is possible, we can give her a week off. Like if the boss doesn’t want to do it, our community can do it. This is not that much money. And everybody should be able to grieve the loss of a loved one who says we don’t have the power to create time off for that person. We have that power and let’s just do it. And so it’s things like that, that’s just having the action point of like, well as a community, then we’re going to solve for this and this is solvable. One thing that I really appreciated about my friends who have enough financial resources is they kept paying for the labor of those who are taking care of their children before COVID. Even if the childcare centers were shut down but, what’s more important than people have helped raise your children in the world. Of course, we want to… Like if we have any practice with feminism, and if we have the resources, we really need to redistribute what we have. So I also think part of this is the redistribution of money, but it’s also recognizing that money is one resource we distribute, and there’s lots of other resources to distribute.And I do a lot of bartering at Feminism School, which I absolutely love. I love how it rewires my brain. So somebody’s really passionate about something that they do creatively, great, let’s barter in exchange for a class. I love working with creatives. Like it’s not that money isn’t important because I have to pay my rent too, but I also love going into these older economies.
So many rich examples there, and I think very practical and relatable, particularly for a woman like me who is in a position of being able to consider that and contribute more, more actively. Thank you for sharing that. We’re coming close to our time and so I want to pose you this one final question as we move towards wrapping up. From your perspective today in this moment, if the future is to be embodied, then what will it ask us to remember or to be, or to create?
Dr Kimberley B George:
Yeah, I have to slow down with this question for a minute. It’s a rich one. If the future is to be embodied, what will it ask us to remember, to be, or to create.
Well, to create communities where people can move out of the fight or flight and exhaustion and survival mode, but these systems keep us in and move us into… Our bodies have deep healing capacities, when we’re not in that fight or flight survive. So for people being able to live in different relationship with their nervous system requires belonging and care. It’s giving somebody a week off for time to grieve a loved one. We can all give not… I shouldn’t say we can all, because not everybody has those resources. But if you have a hundred dollars to give towards that, if that doesn’t take away from the food you have on the table that week, we can do that for each other. So we can do those kinds of things to live in a relationship when people feel safe in their bodies, that they can survive, that they have enough for their families. We can really move into the power our bodies and spirits and psyches are already holding. So that’s my first answer.
What we will remember, is that we know how to do this. We’ve done this since ancient times. We know how to be connected to the universe and the planet and the waterways and our bodies. We know how to do this. This is ancient old knowledge.
Where can we find more about you and your work for those that are interested in going deeper?
Dr Kimberley B George:
So as you know, I’ve been moving away from social media to get back into my own contemplative, slower practices. So the best place to find me is at www.feminismschool.com. They don’t send newsletters that often, but you can find it for them. It’s a good way to keep in touch with me. There’s also a contact form, if you just want to reach out and you hear more about things, I’m available.
I’ll put the links to that with our video. And I would highly recommend any and all of Kimberly’s work that you feel inspired or curious. So inexplicably drawn too, I have really enjoyed and will continue to enjoy studying with her in different and dynamic ways. So I genuinely highly recommend that. And as we wrap up today, I wanted to say a very warm, thank you for this diverse and rich and varied and partnered conversation, and all the wisdom that you’ve shared with us today. You are a marvel of a woman to have taken and metabolized and really so solidly and cleanly assimilated all that you hold. And it’s such a gift for me, for all of those who are joining, to be receiving of this. So thank you so much for coming to join us today.
Dr Kimberley B George:
Thank you for the gift of such a grounded presence. It’s really such a pleasure to be with you in, I said this about your teaching as well in your courses. But you have a grounding to your spirit and body that I think helps people settle into their nervous system and connect to themselves and their knowledge within them. So that’s a gift.