Graduation Student Keynote Address.

by Vic Crawford, New Zealand

It is an honour and a privilege to share my graduation address as the final entry for the 2011 IPSI Bologna blog.

Friend

Do you remember
that wild stretch of land
with the lone tree guarding the point
from the sharp-tongued sea?

The fort we built out of branches
wrenched from the tree
is dead wood now.

Allow me to mend the broken ends
of shared days:
but I wanted to say
that the tree we climbed
that gave food and drink
to youthful dreams, is no more.
Pursed to the lips her fine-edged
leaves made whistle – now stamp
no silken tracery on the cracked
clay floor.

Friend,
in this drear
dreamless time I clasp
your hand if only to reassure
that all our jeweled fantasies were
real and wore splendid rags.

Perhaps the tree
will strike fresh roots again:
give soothing shade to a hurt and
troubled world.

The poem I opened with is called Friend and it was written by Hone Tuwhare – one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important indigenous poets. Through his poetry I came to understand perspectives on NZ’s staunch anti-nuclear stance, our participation in the so-called ‘Vietnam War’ and the ongoing tensions between his people, the Maori, and my ancestral people, the white settler population. From this particular poem, I have taken the most important idea of all – the idea of ‘jeweled fantasies’ and it is to this idea that I will write.

We all came to Bologna from different backgrounds and for different purposes. Some of us for advancement in our education, some of us to try and figure out a new direction in life, some of us to network and build alliances and most of us to eat a lot of gelato.

But, from what I have observed, we all came with jeweled fantasies. What do I mean by jeweled fantasies? Dreams that are lofty, aspirations that seem distant, ideas which challenge the status quo. And for some of us, ambitions that are completely unacceptable to others in our society. Ambitions that we have paid for with our freedom and with personal loss.

I want to encourage all of us to hold onto these jeweled fantasies and to keep them at the core of all we do going forward from here.

It is all too easy to become exhausted, compromised, frustrated, feel under-valued, futile in the face of power and ideology, morally outraged by seemingly senseless violence and limited by narrow mandates.

But, we have all come to this path because of a valid and important vision, no matter how big or small, and we owe it to ourselves and to the people whom these dreams serve to remain positive and committed to our visions.

I am not encouraging an uncritical idealism – that does not serve our purposes well and can in fact be detrimental. Rather, I am encouraging all the participants not to discount themselves and their personal power. We have seen and heard that everyday acts have a huge impact. We have seen and heard that one single person or event can change the course of history. We have seen and heard the power of pragmatism paired with creativity.

My personal jeweled fantasy belongs to that much talked about, but woefully ill-defined field of gender equity and I want to consider the topic in this forum. In particular, I want to consider a form of violent conflict which was not covered much among the ‘high politics’ and bloody ethnic wars we focused on: gender-based violence. I heard from many of the participants that they cannot speak to violent conflict, as they do not come from societies where violent conflict is present. I disagree wholeheartedly with them. Violent conflict is present in all societies, because in all societies women, men and children suffer from physical and sexual abuse – not at the hands of a dehumanized ‘other’, but at the hands of people they trust and love. My own country is considered one of the most ‘peaceful’ countries in the world, but, we have a very high rate of family violence and child abuse. There is something wrong with that picture.

I encourage all of the participants to further consider these ‘conflicts underneath’, as I term them. The conflicts which occur behind closed doors, because, from personal experience, I can tell you that these are just as viscous, just as psychologically traumatic and just as political.

When I first came to feminist and gender-based theory five years ago, I came across a maxim that has underpinned my entire approach to this field: “the personal is political.” To me, this means that everybody’s personal stories of conflict in some way reflect wider, even international, issues. It is something which I witnessed at the symposium regularly as people began to see outside ‘the bubble’ of their own conflict and found connections with others.

A huge lesson I have learned over the past month is that a commitment to my jeweled fantasy is difficult to achieve in an unfamiliar context. I have been guilty of sidelining my own issue and, as Joyce Neu pointed out, of avoiding being ‘the gender person’.

So, something that I have taken away from IPSI is the resolve to be a persistent and consistent ‘gender person’. I resolve to remain open-minded in the face of tired and outdated arguments and to continue to strive to temper my passion with reason in order to engage as wide an audience as possible.

I also learned other important life lessons over the month in Bologna, which I will take forward with me as I attempt to hold onto my jeweled fantasy of gender equity. First, that it is paramount to think creatively in order to avoid repeating past mistakes. That a common adversary can be as important as a common cause. That external does not necessarily mean imperial. That so much of our work and approach remains US-centric and we need to work on balancing this. That we are working in a field that uses an extreme amount of bizarre acronyms.

On a final note, recurring phrases that I noted during the course of the simulations was ‘but this would not happen in real life’ and ‘that doesn’t reflect reality’. While a grip on reality is of course necessary, I challenge everybody to think beyond ‘real life’, to think of the possibilities of our field, not the limitations. We experienced many of the possibilities over the course of the month in Bologna and they give me a lot of hope for meaningful change. To paraphrase Nelson Mandela: don’t be afraid of yourselves and your potential.

Friend,
in this drear
dreamless time I clasp
your hand if only to reassure
that all our jewelled fantasies were
real and wore splendid rags.

Perhaps the tree
will strike fresh roots again:
give soothing shade to a hurt and
troubled world.

2017-09-01T16:46:17+00:00

Leave A Comment