Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that basic needs (food, shelter, safety) must be satisfied before higher level needs (social relationships, self-esteem, self-actualization) can be given much attention.
A University of Illinois study published in 2011 challenges this assumption. In fact, even in countries where survival is a daily battle, people report a need for relationship, accomplishment and a feeling of effectance (personal power) in the world. We can, it seems, concern ourselves with many things at once.
The day after the election, the women’s movement needs to remember this.
The forces that want to turn back the clock on women’s rights, on reproductive rights and “issues of the womb” are counting on the old paradigm to be true. They are hoping that women will be so distracted with these core issues of safety and security in our own bodies that we will leave their war rooms and policy rooms bereft of our voices. This would be a big mistake.
There are extremists who want to put women and their bodies back under the control of a single conservative perspective. The laws and regulations they are proposing need to be challenged and beaten back. But I believe that this group is small, loud and beatable.
Women born in the last 30 years may have grown up without the need to grab the feminist flag, but they will rally if the rights they have enjoyed since they were born are in danger. And their mothers and grandmothers, who fought for those rights years ago in the trenches, will know how to lead them.
The larger danger comes from those who want to preserve and extend the balance of the past, the long-held reality that debates about economics and military policy and international policy are held almost exclusively in male voices.
Their use of Maslow’s psychology is simple: Keep the pot overflowing on the stove and the drawing room will remain cigar-friendly. Whether this is by chance or design, the resurgence of old feminist battles risks usurping too many women’s voices, and leaving critical issues without our influence. It will be no one’s fault but our own if we let that happen. Women have won many battles by uniting our voices. I believe, the day after this election, we need to hold our ground, and respond with a chorus of diverse feminine voices from every powerful position we own.
Here is how progressive feminists can do this.
Moving Forward with Four Action Steps
First, as a community, we need to encourage our members to put their energy and resources where they will make the most impact. I want female engineers talking about energy policy, and female economists talking about financial policy. I want them not only to feel free to do this, but to be applauded when they put their time and energy where they have the most credibility and where it will have the most impact for good.