Alternative Editorial: The Virtual Feminine

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By Indra Adnan, Co-Initiator AUK

On International Women’s Day yesterday, a women’s project that I have been developing, independently of The Alternative UK, was set to launch. Fem Counsel (FC) is a prototype for gatherings of 13 women (one for every lunar month), where each of them is already running a project that captures what Scilla Elworthy refers to as feminine intelligence. Or Femme Q.

The motivation behind Fem Counsel, is that despite major developments in so many areas of public life, feminine intelligence is still not playing its necessary part in shaping our shared futures. As I described in my IWD Editorial this time last year, we’re still suffering from disconnected policy-making, emotionally illiterate institution building, overly competitive behaviour and decision making. All symptoms of a more masculine culture that is continuing to play a significant role in the multiple crises we are facing now.

By forming a Fem Counsel (FC), we create a constitute – a temporary constitution – within which to consider current affairs of all kinds, consciously holding feminine values and ways of responding, at the centre of our discussion. This is unlike the current, general, public discourse, where women have been obliged to adapt to – and too often, successfully embody - what has been historically established by men. Fem Counsel will give them the chance to deepen their own sense of the feminine in public life and begin to develop different responses to events, than the familiar ones.

But the ambition of Fem Counsel is more than simply wishful talking – it’s more like science fiction, actively prefiguring the future. In monthly meetings, Fem Counsel would share news of the work they are doing, as if they are Ministers of a virtual government, reporting back from the frontline of a transformed country. In a similar way to how AUK is acting in the broader political sphere, it would work at the systemic level, bringing together the elements of what Buckminster Fuller called ‘a new model’. And through exchanging experience and information, working out the connections between them.

For example, on this FC was Sophie Varlow, Founder of The Commons Platform – described in this interview with Intelligent HQ as “an open source, decentralised commons-owned social network for community organising, activism, resource-sharing, crowd-sourcing, open access research and data, independent media, ethical commerce and a new economy. Based on the Smart Planet paradigm in which people and living things live together and benefit from each other. Through their non-negotiable values of safety, ease, commons ownership, all people and contributions are valued, and trust, collaboration and commitment can truly happen in a sustainable way”.

As people become disillusioned with Facebook and WhatsApp as safe places to live their virtual lives, Sophie is not simply attacking the current establishment (see Elizabeth Warren on breaking up Amazon and Google) but creating an Alternative. Working with people in community to design it. Using the language and metaphors of nature, she shared with us that they are very close to establishing the DNA of what ‘creates the conditions for collaboration’ to occur on line. And when they have it, they will share it with everyone.

In our virtual government, she might be the FC-Minister for Collaboration.

At the same table, was Ashleigh Brown, Co-founder of Eco-system Restoration Festivals which we blogged here.  Ash also thinks and acts systemically, connecting daily life practices, needs and desires, to regenerative outcomes. Why not use a festival, itself a celebration of human connection and expression, as a vehicle for healing the land it takes place on? Their first experiment took place in Murcia, Spain in 2018, their second in Mexico and a third about to take form in the UK.

This project (still in planning) is to develop a 40-acre plot in SW England, donated by a farmer who wanted to use the land to generate livelihoods for the local community. How can regeneration become our work? Probably not by some major contractor building houses on the land, paying minimal wages to the local services and creaming off the profits to remote owners. However, for an Alternative to take root and grow into something meaningful for the community will take time and patience. No doubt, a communication platform like the one Sophie is developing would enable and accelerate its development. Could Ash be a FC-Minister for Regeneration?

Teohna Williams, Executive Director of A Business Plan for Peace, works with the author of that book, thrice nobel nominee Scilla Elworthy, to help us move from a war to a peace economy. With over 20 years of experience in international development and peacebuilding at the UN, multilateral regional organisations, donors, NGOs, as well as the private sector, Teohna doesn’t hesitate to name her life’s work as abolishing war.

Our FC-Minister for Peace Business?

Pinny Grylls, Co-founder of the Birds Eye View Film Festival and now award-winning documentary film maker recently founded The Herland Collective. Inspired by Mary Beard’s manifesto ‘Women and Power’ Herland is a place to share stories of female power, creativity, collaboration and circular economics. Drawing from the original Utopian novel by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1915, Pinny talks about re-wiring our society to put the flourishing of children first.

Our FC-Minister for Children? How much would she impact decisions about shorter working weeks to give parents more quality time with their children, peaceful neighbourhoods. And urgent climate change action that reflects the priorities of RegenA?

You get the picture. These women are working from different starting points than our current focus on maintaining the growth economy at any cost. Pursuing their goals through relational and wholistic practices that make the connection between person, community and planet clear. The feminine economy (see our most recent blog here) driving connected communities, healthy business and a sustainable planet. To give us a future at all.

All very well you say, but so unrealistic. It just isn’t going to happen. It will be just another women’s project that calls out in the dark, competing for attention. Another question might be, what’s the difference between what is currently emerging from community projects all over the country – the very thing A/UK champions every week? As much to do with men as women? All good questions.

Which brings me back to why this project has been put on hold for now. We – and you, our readers and co-creators – are working hard now. We are all trying bring forth what is nothing less than new civilisational models and prototypes capable of the future. But it feels as if this ‘constitute’, Fem Counsel, is too early to have any effect. There is no structure, or coherent project, to be advisory to. Public engagement is bound to become defensive rather than pro-active.

Instead, 2019 is a moment of prioritising collaboration with the builders of Citizen Action Networks – community building in the face of national and global failures to respond adequately to the interconnected crises of psychosocial wellbeing, social division and climate breakdown (I, We, World). As these prototypes begin to take shape, bringing together existing projects, the vast majority will be doubtless led by men - so Fem Counsel might well be called for. Not so much the 13 women we gathered in London’s cosmopolitan hive. But 13 local women, capturing the feminine intelligence of that city or region.

 Until then, on International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the work of the women who have always held our society together. Rarely noticed by the spotlight, except in all the most important moments of our personal lives – birth, death, sickness, emotional pain, self-development. Midwifes, nurses, social workers, carers, personnel managers. The Yin brigade - content to remain in the shadow, making it possible for their sons, daughters and fathers to take the stage. Your era of influence is arriving.

 RIP Mary Kane.